154. Wanted (4)
It didn’t take long for the closed door to open again. Rather than revealing my face here and spreading unnecessary rumors, it was better to be a bit aggressive and make them keep quiet. I narrowed my eyes as I looked at the inn’s lobby. Some couldn’t withstand the pressure and had collapsed on the floor.
The burly man who had been blocking the door fumbled with the locked door, but it wouldn’t open. As I took a step forward, he panicked and punched the door, breaking it. Attempting to escape, he flailed about, but soon misjudged his footing and slammed his head into the floor. It wasn’t hard to imagine the expression the innkeeper would be wearing behind me.
“Ask them to pay for the door.”
Geohan nodded repeatedly without understanding what I was saying. I sighed and walked out of the inn. The adventurers who were about to enter the inn froze in their tracks like statues when they saw the broken door and me stepping out.
“[You seem to be enjoying this secretly.]”
“… It would be fun to be an adventurer after defeating a hero.”
As I passed by, the adventurers’ murmurs erupted. I quickly walked away, in case their attention focused on me again.
The border areas with other countries, excluding the Holy Kingdom, were dangerous places. The further away I got from the central area, the more I thought so. The southwest coast wasn’t so treacherous or difficult to live in, and the north was more about their duty, discipline, and pride that emphasized solemnity.
“You should know how lucky you are, you bastard.”
“What a fool. Haven’t you been beaten enough? You blind dumbass.”
Every street here was like a dark alley. Every ten steps, there was a fight, and another ten steps, there was a chase between a pickpocket and the hunters pursuing them. Amidst the few buildings with unbroken windows, the church remained intact.
“What a strange sight.”
“[Everyone needs salvation, don’t they? You know that better than anyone else.]”
I smiled bitterly. At some point, the buildings scattered and gradually disappeared. There were many abandoned buildings along the way, which seemed like useful hiding places for fugitives and their pursuers. I considered searching them but soon gave up. I couldn’t imagine Arujeon hiding and fending off pursuers in such a place.
“Area is under control.”
At some point, a soldier blocked my path. It was the road to the border. Apart from me, there were hardly any people around. I noticed some suspicious figures lurking and glancing around. When the soldiers glared at the approaching people, they quickly turned around to avoid eye contact.
“Is this your first time around here?”
The soldier grabbed me and asked. I immediately showed the pass issued by the queen. The soldier stared at the card I held out, checked the seal on it, and stepped back. He seemed like a well-trained soldier who didn’t overreact. He then went to another soldier on duty, whispered something, and returned to me with him.
“I apologize for the inconvenience. We will let you in right away.”
“Is the area control due to the wanted criminal?”
The soldier shrugged with a troubled expression. Arujeon seemed to be quite a nuisance. Beyond the soldier’s spear, a knight and his soldiers were conducting a search.
“Recently, several adventurers were found dead on this road. They were brutally murdered without even putting up a proper resistance.”
A sigh mixed with the soldier’s voice.
“We can’t be sure if it’s the work of the wanted criminal. There are no witnesses or remaining evidence. However, considering that they were quite skilled, there is no one else who could do such a thing.”
The soldier gestured towards the path behind me. The searchers, who were walking around and staring at the ground, seemed more like they were pretending to follow orders rather than genuinely searching for clues. Well, I couldn’t blame them.
“Are you here to catch the wanted criminal?”
The soldier seemed to vaguely think I was someone of high rank. There was no advantage in revealing all the information to the soldier, so I ignored his question and took back my pass.
“May I go in now?”
“Ah, yes. I apologize for the inconvenience. You may enter now.”
The soldier withdrew his spear. I stepped onto the path, extending my senses. I quickly passed by the casually searching knight and soldiers without being noticed and entered deep into the border area where no human presence was felt. No human presence at all. I frowned. There was no one here now.
“Arujeon seems to have moved to another place earlier. I can’t feel anything.”
“[Will you go back? Or will you cross the border?]”
“…No. Let’s quickly skim through. That guy could be deceiving my senses. If that’s possible, it’s even more urgent. We need to find him quickly.”
If he’s already crossed into another country, then it becomes a problem outside of my jurisdiction. I stared at the long, stretching road with a heavy heart. What does Arjeon want? Come to think of it, I didn’t know why this guy left with Bishop Andre, or why he suddenly headed towards Baktins when the comet was falling.
“[You don’t need to think that’s your responsibility, Eloi. Don’t weigh yourself down with that.]”
“It’s not a burden. I just think I didn’t look around properly.”
What would my sin be as a possessed person? Perhaps there’s the sin of taking the protagonist’s place and neglecting the actual protagonist. If I could have talked to him then, maybe I should have tried more.
“First, I think we need to go to the scene where the bounty hunters died, and maybe even to the border.”
It was a relief to have someone to talk to when organizing my thoughts. If I were to mutter to myself, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my mind focused on chasing Arjeon.
The terrain became more complicated. The border area is divided into roughly 1-kilometer-wide strips of land. This place belongs to no one. It’s a brutal wilderness where fugitives, pursuers, and monsters mingle. But now, I didn’t feel any signs in this land.
“[It seems like he killed all the monsters and disappeared.]”
“Or they all went to another area.”
I expanded my senses further, more. There was a pungent smell that very subtly stimulated the tip of my nose. I followed the smell, taking steps. Somehow, I felt like a hunting dog. I had never tracked anything by following a smell before.
Suddenly, I recalled the words that the holy sword had whispered into my mind.
“[Why is that?]”
“You said it was the remnants of the evil god.”
“[The evil god was sealed, but its traces have not disappeared from this world. So, people who serve those traces as evidence of the divine are born.]”
“…That remnant seemed to know Arjeon very well.”
It said we would meet the twisted one soon. The holy sword remained silent for a while after hearing my words. I continued to follow the lingering scent.
“[There is no transcendental being that controls time. Even the words that claim to see the future are ultimately just bluffs. The ancient gods did it, and so did the heroes who became constellations.]”
The holy sword spoke in a roundabout way.
“[The way the gods fulfill prophecies is very cunning. If they have enough power, manipulating events is also possible. If a statement thrown without any information becomes true, it eventually becomes a prophecy. Gods gathered faith by moving people and fulfilling prophecies like that. It was the same for both evil and good gods.]”
“[There is no immortality, Eloi. As long as something exists, it has an end.]”
I furrowed my brows.
“That sounds like something followers of the evil god would say.”
“[The evil god uses the fear that those words bring. There is no being that does not fear the end.]”
“Are those who turn away from the present because they fear the end, them?”
“[Everyone knows that. But what about those who don’t even have the strength to live in the present?]”
“…They’d be convinced. Too easily and naturally.”
Was Arjeon convinced like that? He, who lived more fiercely in the present than anyone else? I just couldn’t believe the words that someone who might be as wary of the end as me had been convinced by someone else. If Arjeon was dead, then he was dead, but he wasn’t the type to listen to someone else’s words.
“[First, it would be good to investigate the scene.]”
Blood was scattered everywhere. Not just scattered, but gruesomely splattered all around. It seemed as if ten people had all died here. How they died was evident. Bloodstains on the sharp, protruding rocks. The path taken by the sword was clean. And then, as if there was no intention to hide the traces, the bloodstains formed a dotted line in one direction.
“It’s like it’s intentionally made for me to follow.”
I knelt down and gauged the path created by the blood droplets. The path stretched far. And it didn’t meander but had a clear purpose. Without hesitation, I started walking along the bloodstains. The search party probably wouldn’t have followed these bloodstains, seemingly left as an invitation to come and see. If Arujeon was waiting at the end, it would be akin to a suicide mission.
“It’s like… it was left for me.”
What was waiting at the end of the bloodstains? Would Arujeon be sitting there? An unknown anxiety kept pressing on my heart. I felt as if something, a trap, was lying in wait with its mouth open for me.
The bloodstains led to a thicket. The thorny, twisted trees looked as if they had once been burnt. In front of the thicket, I could see a piece of paper fixed firmly to the ground with a rock. The paper seemed as out of place as a polar bear in the desert.
I slowly bent down and picked up the paper. The writing was on the other side. Brushing off the dirt on the paper, the writing became visible. The words were much shorter and more bewildering than I had imagined.
To the hero who banished me.
I remembered. Everything. What you took from me, and what I originally was. Now it’s my turn to find what I lost.
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