A False Confession
Fortunately, the search ended quickly without much difficulty.
Because of the magic words that Elviniraz accidentally unleashed into the universe, I couldn’t relax until the recon group returned.
When they came back safely, I felt a wave of relief.
Nevertheless, with this mountain we couldn’t let our guard down until the very end.
The paladin knights walked in front, with the priests following behind and the imperial knights covering the rear.
If healers get injured, then they can’t use their powers properly until they’re completely healed, so they are usually guarded above all else, regarded as important manpower that should never be endangered.
It goes without saying that such protection is an enormous consolation, since it enables us to walk with confidence.
However, one problem does arise here….
And it’s the shortcoming of my pace.
Being the slowest among the priests, accompanied by Cabel’s leading command of the Nickel Knights behind us… Well, goddamn it.
“Lily… please don’t abandon me…”
The mountain is really rough, as predicted.
I had mentally prepared myself, as well as stretched and walked in practice, but my legs are still trembling in a way that’s impossible to shake off.
To make things worse, the road is uneven, and the stone steps that appear from time to time are so steep that they’re impossible for me to climb.
Others are walking just fine, but I’m tripping over stones and gasping out of breath…I could feel a judgmental gaze burning into my back.
I knew who it was without turning around.
Up until now, the typical line-up had the priests walking in the second half of the procession, followed by a few soldiers, so I didn’t know just how bad I was.
It was impossible to slow down now with the imperial knights right behind me.
I was definitely going to die.
My feet were burning, and everything from my calves to my thighs were overstrained.
We’ve been walking for ten days now, but I haven’t seen so much as one muscle develop on these damn legs…..!
Even Lily, who would wait for me occasionally, whispered to me to walk quickly, supporting me from time to time to make sure I knew that the Nickel Knights were close behind.
So I pulled from both real and nonexistent strength, but even so, I heard a brief sigh behind me.
Damn, how can a single breath be recognizable? Its existence is revealed too clearly.
A low voice came out clearly and struck down.
It could have been a lamentation or admiration.
But either way my head was bowed in shame, hik, hik.* Because of my slow pace, I eventually was brought all the way back to the front of the Nickel Knights.
[tl/n*: sobbing noise]
I’m struggling through, in my own desperate efforts, but the people behind me are so comfortable.
Even now they are leisurely looking around.
In the end, I couldn’t help apologizing, turning my upper body halfway with my head down.
I thought he was going to say an apology wasn’t really necessary, but there was no follow-up remark.
Instead, the voice of the vice commander, who was walking behind him, resounded cheerfully.
“It’s nice being able to look around comfortably! You don’t have to worry about it, Priestess!”
……It became even more shameful.
Fortunately, it was time for a short break after reaching the halfway point.
However, the ten-minute break passed quickly; before I could feel any sense of recovery, it was time to get up again.
I’d spent the last ten minutes sitting down, but now that I’m back up, it’s harder than ever.
Thinking during the break, I’d reached a final conclusion.
I looked at Lily, who had gone ahead earlier, following her back with a distant gaze.
Then, I carefully turned my attention towards Cabel.
“I…..anyhow, I’m afraid I’m holding everyone up too much.”
There were no words to be heard, but his answer could be seen through his gaze, ‘So, you know.’ It was so embarrassing.
I lifted my head slightly to confirm that mercenaries were following behind the Nickel Knights before continuing.
“Since all the knights are falling behind because of me, I’ll just follow along after them.
There is also a mercenary team, so I can go with them….”
My words were cut off.
One of the mercenaries trailing behind the Nickel Knights from far away suddenly fell.
A piercing scream reverberated through the mountain.
As I was staring blankly at the figure of the fallen mercenary, Cabel suddenly drew his sword.
The sharp sound of friction between metal and wood was heard, leaving me too petrified to admire the appearance of Cabel’s sword emerging from its scabbard.
It was because the sword swung in front of me in a flash.
Thwack, the sound swept by my ear.
Something pierced through the tree next to me.
It was an arrow.
An arrow that would have pierced me if Cabel hadn’t struck it with his sword, was now very deep in the tree behind me.
The moment was so shocking that I couldn’t remember how to breathe.
My mind was clouded by white noise.
My mind distantly registered hearing a cry, “It’s an ambush!” As if everything had been submerged in water, all I could hear was a distant, rumbling hum.
In an instant, I was in such a panic that I began to tremble like crazy.
Even now, it seemed that my legs would give way.
The image of the mercenary falling by an arrow in front of my eyes wouldn’t disappear.
Quickly followed by the troops of Vios, who were waiting in ambush, beginning to slash through the mercenaries.
Crimson blood, splattering throughout the air.
—Suddenly, my vision became dark.
Something covered my eyes, and a beat later I recognized Cabel’s hand.
In an instant, chaos had spread throughout the whole area, even reaching Cabel and surrounding us with noise.
I could hear the Vice Commander, whom I’d always pictured with a cheerful smile, issuing sharp commands in a firm voice….But at this moment, it felt like all the noise around me had been blocked.
I no longer saw people bleeding out in front of my eyes.
In my mind, only Cabel’s hand existed, covering my eyes tightly.
Even my exhalations were trembling, and the more they did, the deeper Cabel pressed into me.
“Immediately turn around.
Run and don’t look back.”
A low, firm voice pressed into my ears.
I was out of breath, my throat beginning to tear.
The steps I took were clumsy, stumbling as my legs threatened to collapse.
I had taken off running without any thought, so it was strange that I didn’t fall off the beaten track.
I ran and ran without looking back, until I could no longer hear people’s screams or sharp cries.
I couldn’t recall how I arrived.
The only thing that I could remember after my mind turned white under extreme tension was that I ran out of breath and passed out, although whether it was from fear or lack of oxygen, I didn’t know.
As I was told, there was a large villa at the foot of the mountain.
A surprise attack overtook the rear, so some paladins were dispatched from the front, but the rest had to stay and safely evacuate the priests.
In such a hectic situation, Lily had arrived first.
She was worried about me, so she jumped and ran to me as soon as she saw me staggering down the mountain.
Lily wrapped her arms around me and asked if I was okay.
Looking at her with a blank face, I felt numb, letting my legs cave in from exhaustion.
They felt like they were going to crumble.
Lily gave a short shriek, thinking I had fainted.
Afterwards, she quickly checked my condition and tried to heal me.
In fact, I had fallen over five times while running like a madwoman, and incurred many scratches in the process.
I wasn’t feeling well, but I stopped Lily.
I had witnessed the blood and gore that would soon be arriving.
I couldn’t waste this divine power on me.
“Renée! You’ll collapse any second now.”
“……No, I won’t collapse.”
When I recalled the traumatizing events, my breath choked inside my throat.
But then, I would instantly feel the vivid sensation of that hand covering my eyes and blocking my senses.
While all this was going on in my mind, on the outside I sputtered, touched my face, and eventually formed a hollow smile.
Lily seemed a little distressed since I was sitting on the ground and smiling in a situation like this.
Nevertheless, the wry smile wouldn’t subside easily.
All these moments seem to be part of a dream.
Perhaps a nightmare, that will leave behind heavy consequences.
Considering the fact that I wasn’t in an alley, it seemed unlikely that I would die.
So I roused from my stupor, standing with Lily’s support.
Meanwhile, other paladins also gathered around us, making sure there weren’t any injuries.
Among them was Gardiel, who raised his arm to me, as if saying that he wanted to help Lily with supporting me.
But when he saw my arm trembling, he reached for me without asking for my opinion anymore.
The long wooden chair by the villa was nearly ripped from its place by Gardiel.
In fact, my legs were too sore to walk in the first place.
Lily hurriedly brought a blanket and draped it over my shoulders, and Gardiel even acquired a warm tea and placed it in my hands.
I thanked them in a daze, but Lily kept apologizing.
She was blaming herself for going first without me.
I responded as playfully as possible, saying that it was my fault for being slow in the first place… but I felt my body start shaking again, so had to take a long, slow breath.
Lily’s face was full of concern.
The delayed shock of the arrow flying at me finally hit me.
If Cabel hadn’t been in front of me at the right time, would I have been hit by that arrow? Would it have been an instant death? I had all kinds of thoughts.
Moreover, I thought of the mercenary who stumbled and fell after being hit by an arrow.
I knew him.
He was the one who would cheer me up with a bright face every time I fell behind because I was too slow.
…Was he dead? If I had run over to him right away and healed him, would he have been alright? But even if he could have been healed… Would I have been able to run over there?
I was so shocked by the situation right in front of my eyes that I couldn’t breathe properly again.
I might have died on the spot while keeping my mind running in circles.
However, even with these negative thoughts racing, I could conjure up Cabel, who kept covering my eyes.
The memory of clinging to that little bit of warmth against my darkened vision gave me strength.
His hand was so large that it enveloped my nose along with my eyes, so it goes without saying that he felt my breath shaking.
He held me in such a way that I was able to breathe without passing out, even though he was covering my eyes tightly, not allowing even the smallest ray of light to break through.
These thoughts ran through my mind dozens of times until it blackened into a jumbled mess.
So, I ended up being unable drink the tea that Gardiel had given me.
Instead I just wrapped my hands tightly around the cup.
Only after the feeling of warmth dissipate was I able to raise my eyes that were staring at the ground vacantly.
I was sure that Gardiel was in front of me just a moment ago, but when I raised my head, I came face-to-face with Elviniraz, who was on his knees before me.
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