|Author: Tsunose Bun||Original Source: Syosetu||Word Count: 3024 characters|
|Translator: Jiro||English Source: Re:Library||Word Count: 1862 words|
Merc didn’t even think of dodging her old friend’s unexpected outburst, so she merely accepted the punch.
Astard’s fist landed squarely on Merc’s cheek. His punch was so feeble that a toddler who was used to fighting might have delivered a far more powerful hit. Merc didn’t feel any pain.
Rather, it was Astard who shrieked in pain.
He crouched, as if in excruciating pain, and massaged his right fist with his left palm. For the man known as the Great Sage, it was a rather sad sight.
Merc’s entire body was currently coated with hardened Mana. That, of course, included her face. Hitting her in the face with a fist felt like striking a block of iron. Pain was unavoidable.
Astard’s fist or wrist bone would have been broken if he had delivered a well-honed punch. He had gotten away relatively unhurt thanks to his poor strike.
“You’re such an idiot.”
Merc mumbled angrily as she looked over at Astard, who began to breathe on his right hand. Astard, naturally, rebuked her, crouching down and gazing up at her.
“S-Shut up! Just what is wrong with you?! It’s a cowardly move to use Mana Hardening! Just take it like a man!”
“I don’t want to hear that from the man that always has a barrier around himself… So? What was that punch for?”
“Payback. It’s punishment for dying off on your own and leaving me and Iriem without saying anything.”
“Dying off on my own… You sure say some reckless stuff.”
Even Merc was troubled by the way Astard expressed himself. It wasn’t like she had died because she wanted to.
“Look here. It’s not that I wanted to die, but we didn’t have any other options at the time. Back then, the only way we could win was for one of us to give up his life.”
“I know… Foldia said the exact same thing. You’re implying that one of you had to become the bait in order for the other to take advantage of the situation.”
“So you do get it.”
“I do. But I can’t accept it! It feels as if you saved us. As if we’d only sacrificed you.”
Astard slowly got up, his shoulders stiffened as he diverted his sight away from Merc, unable to hide his rage.
He wasn’t his usual calm self, and it was clear that he didn’t know how to control his emotions. He may have been baffled by this unexpected reunion with Merc, a long-time friend.
As she observed her longtime friend, Merc sighed with mixed feelings.
“Good grief… I don’t believe I saved you or sacrificed myself for the sake of the world. At that time and place, I was just the ideal person for the job. I just reasoned that if I became the bait and the hero did the work, the odds would be greater.”
“You’re good at acting tough as ever… It seems like that part hasn’t changed even after your death.”
As he made his sarcastic comment, Astard gave a small smile.
“Oh, shut up.”
His smile was essentially only a small lifting of the edges of his mouth, which was difficult to see because his hood was hanging over his face. Merc, on the other hand, was able to feel relaxed when she spotted Astard’s smile. This nostalgic exchange reminded her of those treasured days.
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“Now, I’ve got a lot of questions for you, but first, let me answer yours. I bet you’ve got a lot of questions as well. So, what will it be?”
“That’s quite nice of you. It’s true that there’s a ton of stuff that I’d like to ask, but I already said it, didn’t I? The one thing I really want to know is why you disbanded Gust of Wind. So? What happened?”
Astard looked sarcastically for a moment when Merc asked her question, then narrowed his eyes as though ridiculing her.
“What happened? That’s obvious.”
Then he gently raised his right index finger towards her.
“You, the Sword Saint Estert, died. The reason we disbanded is quite obvious.”
“Huh? That can’t be! Our party wasn’t one to break up over something like that.”
“The party without you in it was.”
Astard sat cross-legged on the dungeon floor after speaking in a tired tone. It was an extremely daunting gesture.
Originally, there were few Gai on the fifth floor. In reality, only three or four Gai could be seen right now. And none of them seemed to care about Merc and Astard at all, instead concentrating on collecting the dungeon’s Magic Stones.
Astard appeared to be commanding them, so it was no surprise that he was sitting there so brazenly and vulnerable.
“Just as you said a while back, you were the one that founded Gust of Wind. You made it after inviting Foldia, and with my and Iriem’s aid, you turned it into the most powerful party ever. No one can deny that.”
Merc, who was about to sit on the floor like Astard, was taken aback by the abrupt words of appreciation and froze in an unusual position. She couldn’t think of anything to say.
Astard continues to speak while looking up at Merc.
“However, it is precisely because no one could refute that that we began to question why we were still in that party despite the fact that you, its founder, was not there.”
“Huh? That’s b̲u̲l̲l̲s̲h̲i̲t̲. It’s not unusual for parties to remain even after their founder dies. Also, there was no set leader in Gust of Wind. It’s not like I was in charge, so I don’t get why you’d ask yourselves such a thing.”
Merc sat down abruptly, scratched her head, and tilted it to the side, perplexed. She had been associated with numerous parties in her past life as an adventurer, but she had never seen someone ask themselves the questions that Astard did. It was beyond Merc’s comprehension.
“It just didn’t feel right.”
“Following our victory over the Falgaro, the three of us took on several requests and worked together to complete them. Naturally, we were able to complete all of the requests without difficulty. Because our individual talents were so exceptional at the time, each of us could have easily completed the requirements on our own.”
“So where’s the problem?”
“Estert. Why did you form Gust of Wind?”
“What? That’s because I’d have dependable friends who could help me complete requests that I’d have difficulty completing on my own. Being a lone explorer isn’t particularly enjoyable.”
Astard nodded his head in agreement as Merc responded to his sudden question.
“What if, in theory, one individual had the ability to fulfill the majority of requests? Would such a person really need a party?”
“It’s true that this defeats half of the point of creating a party, but what’s the problem? If that individual already had a party, why would he go to the trouble of disbanding it?”
“Didn’t I tell you already? Because Gust of Wind just didn’t feel right without you there?”
“By nature, I’m not a particularly sociable person. I prefer to spend my time alone in places like this dungeon, where there are no other people. That’s why I didn’t spend much time talking to Foldia. I also didn’t speak with Iriem since I was too conscious of it.”
“Well… that’s… that’s…”
Astard’s comments stirred Merc’s mind and brought back memories of their time in Gust of Wind.
Merc was reminded that she had seldom seen Astard and Foldia talking to each other outside of formal exchanges. Not to mention Iriem.
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When they’d talked about trivial matters and other things, Estert had always functioned as the middleman. Merc had been completely unaware of it at the time, but there was no doubt that that had been the case.
She was about 10 years older than them at the time, so she had taken it for granted.
“They were quite thoughtful of me, leaving me alone with you on several occasions. They would go on idle scouting trips or simply go somewhere to give me an opportunity to let off steam, particularly when we got together to drink.”
“They did what? Were they really that sharp?”
To Merc, Astard looked to be speaking sweetly about Foldia and Iriem, but somehow it looked that he genuinely did think highly of them. In fact, Merc, herself, began to recall the moments that Astard spoke of.
Now that I think about it… I always looked after Astard when he was drunk.
“After you died, Iriem became extremely devastated and sealed herself off. She appeared to blame herself, believing that if she had woken up a few minutes sooner, she might have saved you.”
“That’s… She shouldn’t blame herself over that…”
“Foldia, too, didn’t seem convinced by the victory he’d achieved by using you as bait. He would often stare up at the sky whenever he got the opportunity… I assume he was thinking about you at the time.”
“That idiot… I told him that I’m fine with it…”
Merc was perplexed and dismayed by the disparities between her own and his peers’ perspectives.
It was uncharacteristic of them to be concerned and upset over such matters. But it was none other than Merc herself who had forced them to do something so out of character. Merc felt dejected once she realized that.
“Each of us became more capable, so there was no need to team up, and it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Above all, when the three of us were working together, we were reminded of the one person who was absent, namely you. Because of these reasons, we ultimately chose to disband Gust of Wind. Please try to understand.”
Merc, who was overcome with anguish and looked down at the ground, peered at Astard, who talked in a casual manner, unwilling to forgive him.
“How could I possibly understand? Because of my death, you who vanquished the Falgaro and were dubbed heroes should run away like this! We were the strongest party!”
“Estert… You really don’t know anything about yourself.”
Astard was calm, and as he gazed at the ranting and enraged Merc, a soft smile emerged on his lips.
Merc couldn’t see Astard’s entire face because it was obscured by the hood, but she could tell he looked at her with compassion.
“You, yourself, said it. Foldia led us and Iriem supported us. While I was the one that protected us.”
“Then let me say this. You describe yourself as a burden, but that is not accurate. You were the one that connected us. You were the one that tied us together. It was only inevitable that Gust of Wind would come apart now that you were gone, don’t you think? Don’t you believe we don’t need to push ourselves to keep the party together if you, the founder and the one who got us into this, isn’t there anymore?”
“With you there, I’m sure Gust of Wind was the finest party there was…”
Astard muttered to himself as he gazed up at the dungeon’s darkened ceiling. Meanwhile, Merc was rendered completely speechless.