153. Wanted (3)
The room was filled with a smell that was very close to death. Ashen sunlight seeped through the church’s windows, and the musty dust particles rising from the old quilt floated in the sunlight. I looked down at the Bishop’s torn body and sighed. Whether he had treated his wounds alone, the table in the room was messily covered with blood-stained cloth, scissors, and thread.
“It might be better to call Aisis.”
“It’s fine. I’ve taken all the necessary measures. He won’t die right away.”
Surprisingly, the voice answering was clear. Of course, I couldn’t imagine that person responding with a dying voice. Perhaps he’d have a gentle smile on his face even at the moment of death.
“What happened to the others?”
“They scattered. Aryen… didn’t bother to chase us out of spite. Thanks to that, we survived.”
The Bishop’s smile turned bitter.
“Fortunately, my back wasn’t sliced, so I could treat my wounds myself. My limbs weren’t severed either. However, it’s difficult to move my body properly for now.”
The Bishop turned his head towards me with a creak.
“What do you plan to do with the mercenary?”
“I don’t know yet. I don’t even know what happened to him.”
A shadow fell on Bishop Andrey’s face. The Bishop’s blurry, ashen eyes half-closed, then opened again.
“Aryen seemed to be controlled by something at that time. He took the attack from the fog-like thing of Saccaman instead of me. And then… he suddenly started swinging his sword.”
“Was he possessed?”
“…I really don’t know.”
The bishop lowered his head. I furrowed my brows.
“Even though an evil presence may have seeped into his body, his consciousness seemed intact, and we could communicate. It seemed like his attention was elsewhere, though. I couldn’t say he wasn’t a mercenary.”
I glanced at Isil, and she nodded in agreement with the bishop’s words. It was strange. If that guy wasn’t consumed by darkness, there should be a reason for his sudden change. What on earth happened to Arion?
“…Do you have any guesses?”
“None at all. He seemed to be constantly pondering something while we were together, but I don’t think it was a shallow concern like whether or not to betray us.”
His subordinates were killed, and he was severely injured. It was a situation where he could lose his sanity, but the bishop remained calm. No, rather, it might be that the shock had gone beyond the threshold, allowing him to regain his senses.
“Any notable points? Anything in particular?”
“…He was strong. Not in terms of power, but in technique.”
The bishop frowned, seemingly annoyed.
“That was the decisive reason why I thought he wasn’t possessed. Usually, when something strange enters one’s body, their magical output increases abnormally, or their strength surpasses the human level. But… that wasn’t the case with Arion.”
It was as if he had unleashed the skills he had been hiding, the bishop added.
“I thought I could hold my ground against him in a one-on-one fight, but I stood no chance. The mercenary overpowered and toyed with me. It was as if he was slowly playing with me before killing me. Thanks to that, I managed to find a gap and escape. Or maybe he deliberately let me go.”
“Where Arion went is…”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think he could have gone far, though…”
The bishop looked at me wistfully.
“It’s complicated. I cannot simply tell the hero what to do. I’m sorry that I can’t be of any help in this state.”
The bishop gave a powerless smile, and I shrugged myshoulders. His words seemed to lack strength, perhaps he had said too much.
“Will you set out immediately?”
“We need to catch him before he causes more trouble. We can decide on his fate later, but we need to prevent any further incidents, don’t you think?”
I gently pressed on Isil’s shoulder as she tried to stand up with me. Isil hesitated, glanced at the bishop, and sat back down. To her questioning gaze, I lowered my head.
“Isil, I think it’s better for you to stay here. Please assist the bishop.”
“Yes, I understand.”
I had realized it before, after facing that darkness. The journey to find Arion this time was not something anyone should accompany me on. It was a challenge I had to face alone. With that resolve, I grasped my holy sword.
I would soon meet that twisted one again.
The words left by the darkness. They weren’t meant to deceive or bewitch me. I felt that those words about being twisted meant more than a simple distortion of personality.
Suddenly, I heard Bishop Andre calling me. I lowered my head to look at him.
“The deaths of the inquisitors are natural. Please, do not let any emotions influence you. Excluding us from your judgment of value, act solely on your own thoughts and decisions.”
It was a difficult thing to say. I couldn’t just nod my head. It was no different from being told to turn my back on the death I knew. I had no confidence that I would not mention that death when facing Arjen.
“I can’t promise you that. But please just remember what I said.”
I nodded heavily and turned my back. A stifled wet cough reached my ears, as if it had been held back. I could also hear Isla moving in a flustered manner. I left the church, leaving all that behind, hoping that the bishop would safely get through tonight.
“One room. Is it for three days initially? 20 gold coins.”
The innkeeper handed me the key, looking sullen without taking his eyes off the booklet he was reading. His short, roughly cut hair and muscular body covered with flesh suggested that he was once a successful adventurer. He must have earned enough money to open an inn and retire – a life that every adventurer would envy.
“Um, I have a question.”
I was facing the innkeeper, wearing an old hood like Arjen used to. He lifted his head, seemingly familiar with such guests.
“You’re not the first one to come and ask questions. Do you think I’ll just answer you…?”
The innkeeper stared at me for a long time, as if trying to read me. His eyes seemed to be trying to see who was under the hood. I released a handful of mana to block him. The sudden oppressive aura caused the booklet in the innkeeper’s hand to fall to the floor.
“… Who are you?”
With a voice that seemed to be covered in cold sweat, the innkeeper asked. If he had the instincts of an adventurer who had survived until now, he would know that it would be foolish to ask further.
“No, I asked the wrong question. What do you want to know?”
“Do you know anything about this person?”
I showed him a poster with a montage of Arjen. The amount written below was 8 million gold coins. The innkeeper received the paper and frowned.
“I see… So, you’re also here to catch this notorious 8 million gold bounty?”
“Do you know anything?”
The innkeeper glanced around. As I looked at him with a puzzled expression, he lowered his voice and whispered. His gaze was directed behind me, towards a table filled with adventurers with fierce expressions. They were all sizing me up and quietly discussing something.
“Can’t you see the atmosphere is tense? It’s not usually this quiet here. It’s all because of those who went after this 8 million gold bounty recently.”
The innkeeper tapped the number 8 million on the poster. I let out a long sigh. It seemed that Arjen’s actions were more aggressive than I had expected.
“Ten hunters, mercenaries, and adventurers who made a name for themselves teamed up to catch this Arjen Elmion. I’ve heard of this guy before, too. But now…”
Both Arjen and the whereabouts of those ten adventurers had been unclear for several days.
“Adventurers are quite on edge. Some are afraid of retaliation, and others want to chase after this 8 million gold bounty like those ten missing adventurers. In my eyes, it all looks like foolish struggles.”
“You’re not wrong. It is a foolish thing to do.”
I replied, picking up the key on the counter. I could feel that some people with sharp ears were focusing on the conversation between the innkeeper and me. If they were sane adventurers, they wouldn’t bother the innkeeper, but once my conversation with him ended, they would swarm like a pack of dogs.
“You seem relaxed. I’m sure you know what’s going on.”
“I understand that you want to play a trick on me, sir.”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Didn’t you think those guys were like moths to a flame?”
“That might be the case.”
I laughed bitterly. It had been quite a while since I felt this tested.
“Please answer just one last question.”
The innkeeper smiled.
“Those bounty hunters you mentioned who disappeared, where did they go?”
“Borderlands. Well, I don’t think Argen Elmeon is still there.”
I turned my body around. Hostile gazes flew towards me like arrows and pierced through me. I could hear the innkeeper’s voice behind me.
“Will you be having dinner? We have potato stew today.”
At his nonchalant question, I frowned beneath my hood. It was hard to believe this was the same person who had been terrified just moments ago.
“Yes. Please bring it to my room.”
“You seem to have some potential. Good luck.”
Ignoring the innkeeper’s words, I took steps to leave the inn. My footsteps echoed through the quiet inn lobby. With each step, the adventurers’ heartbeats echoed as well. Did it seem like I knew something? Thanks to that, I could guess what would happen as I approached the entrance.
As expected, my way was blocked. A burly man obstructed the door, with several adventurers backing him up. I quietly stood in place, deciding to listen to their story.
“Speak. I don’t want to pretend to be friendly.”
The burly man’s voice. I saw a resemblance to Georg in him. Though he was larger, his presence was nothing compared to Georg’s. The approaching adventurers weren’t of very high caliber either. How could I avoid hurting them and dissuade them from chasing after Argen?
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The door locked. I glanced at the innkeeper who pretended not to notice, feigning interest in a book. The predatory gazes. In the end, they probably wanted the 8 million gold.
“Well, shall we begin by praying for the souls of the bounty hunters who went ahead?”
“[So many annoying people.]”
I let out a long sigh and gathered my magic.
The space began to tremble.
“Open the door.”