Chapter 71

We kept walking like that for a while.

Lima with an unconscious Maru in her arms, putting one foot in front of the other like a prisoner heading for the gallows, and me glancing in every direction for the only path to survival. A path that was eluding me.

We can do this, I thought to myself. We can still make it out alive.

Of course, that wasn’t exactly true. When I looked at the girls in front of me, I did it with the knowledge that the versions of them that had entered the dungeon this morning had been killed in the carnage we had left behind.

The aura of death surrounding us was thick. The dead reminded us of their existence by their absence: the occasional wave of laughter, the jokes, the taps on the back, the awkward eye contacts, and the simple warmth of their presence… had all been replaced by a deafening silence.

However, outside of this dungeon were living people who would be swept up by the consequences of what Balrosh had done, unless the three of us did something about it. Unless we buried the truth along with the corpses. That alone was a good reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

How noble, Ikun Omi teased.

I know what you’re thinking, and it’s irrelevant, I thought, grimacing from putting too much weight on my wounded leg. I don’t see how wanting to save myself keeps me from genuinely wanting to save everybody else.

I sense anger, she replied. Aimed at me. Why?

I didn’t say anything, mainly because I knew that the sole intent of her comments was to make me doubt myself. I wasn’t going to waste time on her games anymore. She had done enough damage.

To avoid Genoneva and the Red Cross causing a bloodbath, I had to make sure that the real circumstances of Bali’s death never got out. And for that, we needed to kill Balrosh and the three warriors following him before they could spread the news… But there was a problem.

The second knight’s token was in their possession and they could use it at any moment to leave the dungeon.

No… they came here ready to die, so they will want to make sure that the job gets done. As far as they are concerned, the two delvers are still alive, so the Red Cross could still be reasoned with… They will either stay where we left them, try to chase us with Khat’s help, or wait outside for us to come out.

While waiting outside was the safest option for them, they had to know that the Red Cross would eventually send a search party for us. Which meant that there was a bigger likelihood of Balrosh only ordering one of his men to wait outside in case we somehow managed to leave the dungeon with the third knight’s token…

Assuming the third knight even had one.

“Lima,” I called.

There was only silence, despite the fact that there was no way she could have failed to hear me.

“Are there any info the hunters shared about the third knight?” I said nonetheless. “Or about the enemies we will face in the forest once night falls?”

“The witch,” she said. “The few that were dumb enough to stay until nightfall all say that she is the only one roaming the forest at night.”

Then again, it’s possible that she came after them simply because they weren’t on the path.

“… You’ve been watching me go without saying anything for a good moment now,” she said. “Are we somehow on that path that only you can see?”

“No. I just figured that since we’re lost, it doesn’t matter which way we go.”

“I have been trying to feel the wind… but there’s nothing,” she said in a murmur.

She abruptly stopped walking and I did the same. I could still see her slouched back shake despite the quickly declining light, and hear her trying to control her breathing. The dried blood of her friend was on her sleeveless leather armor and on her arms. It hadn’t fully dried yet and clashed violently against the green of her skin.

“Edward…” she said. “You’re a delver right? Everybody says that delvers have divine items they get from the real dungeons. Can any of your secrets help us get out of here?”

“No,” I sighed. “And even if they could, it would be a bad idea. There are too many ways things could go wrong outside. It’d be better to deal with Balrosh after earning more ether.”

She turned around. Her tears had stopped.

“You were serious,” she said.

“I still am.”

“Is it because… Do you want to kill th-them for-”

“I liked your friends, Lima,” I interrupted. “From the short time I spent with them, I can tell they were all good people, people you could trust to have your back. But I would not risk my life just to avenge them. Nor would I allow you to.”

“You are way too confident about what you can and can’t do, Edward,” She said with her head raised in defiance. “But if not for that, why then?”

“Because it’s the only way to make sure there is no war between the Red Cross and Genoneva. The little I’ve seen from Bokwen’s people tells me that they won’t hesitate to claim her throat for Bali’s death, and from what I’ve been told, no one in the shard would survive it. That includes anyone from the Temple.”

She lowered her eyes, and I felt like shit for using those words. But the fastest way to make her realize the gravity of the situation was to remind her that she still had loved ones she could lose, and her help was needed.

“So you’re telling me that the only death that mattered today was that girl’s?” she muttered.

“That’s not the point,” I said as I hopped to a nearby tree I could use to sit down, avoiding another truth that would have just caused unnecessary pain. “What I’m telling you is that there are too many lives on the line for us to not do what has to be done.”

Including ours.

“Let’s take a break,” I added, pointing at my leg. “I need to get this mess under control.”

To think that this was me after having almost dodged the arrow made me grateful to Kinoa for not having killed me despite her life being threatened. I had seen her use her bow on enough occasions to know that she could have done it despite the distance. She must have wanted to give me a chance.

“… Sure,” Lima said noncommittally, and a cloud of condensation formed in front of her mouth.

The temperature is falling, I realized as I slid down against a tree. It could mean anything, and whatever that is, we’re not ready for it.

We were losing time, but we’d be dead anyway if something caught up to us in our current state. I saw Lima carefully lay Maru against a nearby tree, and try to fix up the delver’s red hair in a useless gesture of kindness that made me hope she didn’t think the girl was now her responsibility.

I opened my inventory and summoned a few items that would definitely be of help: a can of Green Blossom Broth and one wooden mug of Siegbrau. I handed the can to Lima.

She looked at me with confusion as she took it. “What’s this?”

“That’s the stuff I ate with Sarn the other day,” I said as I fixed my bloody bandage as well as I could. The goal was to limit the bleeding to a minimum. “It will boost your stamina regeneration, but don’t eat it all. Take half, and give the girl what’s left.”

“What about you?”

“My stamina’s fine,” I said as I took off the mug’s lid and started to pour its content down my throat.

What I needed was some help with my wound.

The golden liquid felt like lave as it burned everything on its way from my mouth to my stomach. I had to stop drinking midway in a coughing fit I couldn’t repress anymore, then began drinking again until the last drop.

Minor HP regeneration

Intermediate Respite of the Undead

I threw the mug away, satisfied with what I was seeing in my status. The pain was gone, replaced with only slightly distorted senses. I was trying to catch my breath when I spotted Lima staring at me with a raised eyebrow.

“The hell… are you waiting for?” I managed to blurt out. “You haven’t even opened the can yet! I thought there was a witch after us?”

She tore open the can with just her fingers, and the delicious smell of the steamy broth filled the surroundings, making me realize how hungry I was myself. She had to close her eyes for a good moment after the first bite to savor the rich taste born from the harmonious marriage of vegetables and meat.

“Sarn wasn’t exaggerating,” she then said with a softer voice. “This is the best thing I have ever tasted.”

Slowly, I stood and tentatively put some weigh on my wounded leg.

Still no pain. Good.

The hole in my leg hadn’t magically disappeared, but at least the bleeding had stopped. Considering I only had one mug of Siegbrau left, the best case scenario would be for us to kill the third named creature before my status went back to normal.

Lima put down her can and glanced up at me, “Was that… Alcohol to numb yourself?”

“Kind of.” I cleared my throat and wiped my mouth. “It’s a drink that numbs and heals. I won’t get drunk, don’t worry.”

Speaking with each other felt difficult now. It could probably be attributed to how distorted my senses were, but each time our eyes locked, I saw what she wasn’t saying and then went on to wonder when she would let it out.

That your mere presence killed her friends? Whispered the foreign voice in my head. That if you had listened to her and not joined the hunt, they would all be alive?

Be quiet.

Again, anger and anguish… they are swirling inside of you more violently than usual, Ikun Omi noted in a detached tone. You would gain much from understanding their origin.

I know what your trying to do. Trust me, it’s not going to work.

My intentions have never been hidden. Not from you, my dear. But not only do I doubt you understand them… I have a feeling that your current distress has nothing to do with me.

“You know damn well that-” I stopped myself, realizing that my irritation had allowed my thoughts to escape my lips.

I looked at Lima. She had not stopped eating, but now had her eyes on me.

“What was that thing… you drank again?” she said between two generous mouthfuls of food.

I heard groans and saw Maru raise a hand to massage her temples. Then her eyes started looking for someone she knew she wouldn’t find.

“That was nothing,” I said. “Give me the can, I’ll make her eat. We need to get moving already.”

“If it makes you speak to yourself, Edward…”

“It doesn’t.” I summoned her glaive and handed it back to her. With its size, I could hardly picture anyone but her using it. “… But even if it did, it would be fine as long as it helped us come out of this alive.”

She took her weapon with a pensive look and I brought the warm broth to the delver. However, after crouching at her side, I stopped myself from handing it over.

The look of rage and pure hatred she gave me made it clear that it would have been a bad idea. But considering it was closer to the reaction I had expected from Lima, it felt normal.

“Listen-”

I saw her hand move but didn’t react. Sometimes you have to give some to get some.

The slap cut me mid-sentence and I tasted blood in the inside of my mouth.

“They killed her,” she said, “and you did this to me. You made me powerless and caused her to face them alone… Even though it was for you. Even though this is all for you!”

Her breathing was irregular and her hands were balled into fists as she waved at the trees.

“You’re right,” I said. “And I’m sorry for what happened to Bali. But what I did to you, was done to keep you alive.”

“Give me a fucking break!” She smashed her fists down and cracked the roots surrounding her. “All you care about is yourself! Am I supposed to thank you now? What’s the point of staying alive, if it’s in shame! Bali will be avenged, of that I am certain. But they were slaughtering your comrades back there and you turned your back on them… What kind of man does that?”

She put her face in her hands.

“You, Edward. The kind of person who’d sign any deal, and throw away anyone as long as it makes their life easier. Using logic to justify what you do doesn’t make you right… You’re heartless.”

“Are you done?” I said calmly.

Her hand shot forward again, but this time I caught her fist before it could reach my face.

“If you want to hit me once we’ve dealt with Balrosh, I won’t try to stop you,” I said. “But for now, we need to move forward.”

She opened her mouth, but failed to find the words to express what was boiling inside of her with enough accuracy and ended up just glaring at me. I put the can in her hand.

“It’s food, you should eat while it’s warm,” I said. I saw in the look she gave me that she was about to throw it away so I kept my fingers around her wrist, and added, “It’s one of the items I bought from the inn’s terminal. It will refill your stamina so that we can head to the third knight.”

“Let me guess,” she said with disdain. “You’re after his locket because it’s the only way to escape?”

“I’m actually after as much ether and loot as we can get our hands on,” I replied. “We are too weak to face them now, but if we clear this dungeon we will have a chance… There’s only death waiting for us if we allow them to go back to Bunker. We will do what has to be done.”

She stared at me with suspicious eyes before finally lifting the can to her lips, somehow convinced by what she had seen. Tears started silently rolling down her cheeks soon after.

 

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