I remember those ruins.
I remembered witnessing a large fire... coming out from somewhere far. I couldn’t see it clearly. I was just... unable. But seeing the ruins of it, made me understood where the fire came from.
I remembered Roro told me a story of a mercenary. He told me that the mercenary was a great actor. He was so good at it till Roro recommended him to stop being a mercenary and join the theater.
I wonder... I wonder where he is now.”
Atop of the chapel tower, the White Nightmare stands. Bathed in the light of the full moon, she has stared the remains of the corrupt noble’s mansion. Hidden behind the mask she wears, she smiled when seeing the ruins. It reminded her of Rodan.
“I will surely find you, Roro. I will!”
Before long, the wind’s powerful blow began to push her. And shortly, she disappears along with the wind. Nobody notices she was there that night. Even when the clock strikes midnight, the bell rings loudly, nobody would know.
Back to five years ago...
During the moment where Bartz charged into the flames of the collapsing mansion, many people tried to hamper him from going, but were unable to do so because the mercenary was a giant compared to their bodies. Bartz had gone into the flames, trying to seek out his master.
Inside the mansion, only smoke and fire can be found densely raging. The mansion slowly crumbled, from falling ceilings to furniture breaking apart as the tongue of red flames licked them.
Bartz knew that the fire was concentrated in the kitchen, just as how Rodan gave the command to his subordinates. He avoided the path that led to the kitchen.
“I see why Rodan told me to let myself in Lord Stupeyd’s house despite me saying it was prohibited for me to do so. It was meant for me to memorize every possible path!”
He ran straight through the flames. He covered his mouth with his bandana to not inhale any of the thick smoke. He avoided many falling objects from above him with great agility, despite the body of a giant he had.
“I believe Lord Stupeyd would not die along with the flames. He was quite far from the kitchen by the time the ignition started. It is possible that he is still alive and is attempting to escape. The only place Lord Stupeyd would go if he wanted to escape... and that place is no other than the basement, where there is a secret tunnel that led outside...!”
The heat of the flames finally broke his stability. His armor was overheating, yet he did not pay attention up until now. He quickly took his armor off while moving, but shortly, he found a dead end. The path ahead of him was blocked by wreckage of burning wooden furniture.
“Tch... a dead end, but this is not the only way to get into the basement. There is another path I can use, but that would take too much time to travel through! What should I do? What should I do?!”
He knew he had little time. His exposed body only covered with thin layer of undershirt made him able to feel the hotness of the fire easily. The more he exposed to fire, the shorter the time he had in the mansion. He must do something quickly, or else he would die along with the collapsing mansion.
Then, he found an idea. He looked at his armor below him—which he had just dumped—and realized that the armor weighed over 50 kilograms.
He picked his armor again. He lifted it above his shoulders and with mighty strength he threw it right at the wreckage that blocked his path. Despite the risk that may cost him his life, it actually worked! He managed to break through and opened up a path. And with that, he rushed through before the mansion got the best of him.
To the long corridor he went, before finally stepping into the doorway leading down towards the basement. There, he found out that the door was not closed properly. He saw the hinges on the door were breaking apart, as if was forcefully opened by someone.
He opened the door and rushed down. Through the passage where prisoners were held he went, before finally ended up where he tied up the Rodan mannequin. There, he found his master trying to pry open the wall where the secret tunnel was.
“Why...?! Why is it not opening?!” he cried out loud. “Somebody... somebody, help me!”
“Lord Stupeyd!” Bartz yelled his name, which caught his attention immediately.
“Ahh... bless the gods! Bartz, you’ve come to save me!” the noble cried as he crawled near the mercenary leader.
Shortly, cacophony of multiple objects breaking apart and the sound of collapsing ceilings were heard numerous times. The mansion was falling apart. As of now, there might be zero chance for both of them to escape through the front door.
“Please... get us out of here, Bartz! Help me open that wall! It won’t budge at all!” he said in a panic while grasping on Bartz’s arms.
“W-Wall...?” Bartz replied not understanding. Though he actually knew about the hidden passage, he was faking his already-dead emotions to fool his master to think that he had no idea about it.
“Y-Yes! Through this wall, there’s a secret tunnel for me to escape! Help me open the wall so that I can get through!” Stupeyd said while pointing at the wall. “Get your butt moving, Bartz! I don’t want to die like this! Open the wall for me, hurry!”
“...” Bartz only replied with a dead silence.
“What are you doing, Bartz?! Come on! Get that wall open with your big muscles! With your strength, I believe that wall can be opened!”
Bartz did not give a reply. He simply stood up and approached the wall where the noble had pointed out. Instead of trying to pry it open, he took a stance as if he was readying an attack. He then charged at the wall and tackled it, causing it to crumble apart. As a result, the hidden passage was completely impassable.
“NOOOOOO!!! W-Why?! Why did you that, Bartz?! Have you lost your mind?! That’s my only way out! I gave you command to open it, not to destroy it!”
“...You are no longer... my master, Lord Stupeyd Dumias.”
His shock was sounded by the collapsing mansion above. He didn’t understand why his mercenary said that.
“What do you mean...? I am your one and only boss. I paid you, BARTZ! I OWN YOU!”
“No, my lord, somebody else has promised me something bigger than what you can offer.”
Stupeyd stepped back a little in disbelief, “Impossible! Nobody in this city has greater riches than I am! Damn you, Bartz, just because you’ve become a mercenary, you would only take jobs from those who pay you big?”
Bartz stared down at the noble, “That’s right,” he answered quickly. “After all, I am a ‘man of contracts’.”
With an aura spewing out killing intent coming from the veins of the giant human, he stated with sharp look in his eyes like a tiger preying on a puny hare.
“The contract was that... ‘I kill you’.”
Stupeyd crushed under the weight of the mercenary’s words. He could not stand up anymore. He was only able to stare at the death gaze Bartz gave.
“NO! You’re trying to mess with me, Bartz! I-I understand, I, I will pay you three times better than whoever paid you! No, even better, five times! I promise you land, ladies, gold o-or anything you like! Please don’t kill me!”
Stupeyd sweated profusely. His eyes trembled as he stared at the mercenary, ready to kill him at any moment. His body was shaking out of fear as if they’re going to crumble at any moment.
“...Not even that will change my mind. I believe you’ve known about it, Stupeyd. Mercenaries sold themselves to the highest bidder.”
“You mean... that’s not enough...?!”
Bartz stomped the floor, causing it to crack under his foot. It shocked the noble and made him reflectively cowering to the corner of the room, where the Rodan mannequin was tied up.
“I get it, I g-get it! Fine, take all of it! My entire treasury! I’ll give it to you! Just let me live!”
“...Nothing can change my mind anymore, Lord Stupeyd. Even your entire fortune could not alter the agreement I’ve made with someone. He promised me something far more valuable than the entire gold you have!”
In the end of his word, Bartz clenched his fist, causing the noble to get scared down to the bone—
—Then he collided with the mannequin beside him and instantly looked at it.
“W-What...? R-Rodan... he’s... dead...?!” he said as he noticed Rodan did not move nor did he breathe.
Bartz looked down at the noble. With a heavy voice, he said:
“Soon, you will join him, Stupeyd Dumias, in the deepest part of hell.
Many people tried to snuff out the fire with whatever they have. Guards worked together with the people to fight off the raging fire. Adventurers who had water and earth magic were obliged to help taking out the flames, or else the fire might spread further to other places.
Even after an hour, the fire still raged.
That midnight, a horrifying sight could be seen from far distances, even from the top of the giant tree in the Red Forest.
Rodan Rouge watched the fiery smoke curling up into the sky, polluting the clear night sky with its ashes and clouds. That midnight as well was impossible for anyone to look up for stars. Rodan then noticed a group of soldiers approaching the Red Forest.
It was the mercenary group.
Rodan hopped down from branch to branch before finally landing down to greet them in person. On the surface, Nono was standing still on the road, waiting for them to return.
But upon their arrival, Rodan was shocked. They may had succeeded in bringing out prisoners of that corrupt noble, but among the mercenaries, Rodan could not find Bartz.
“Eh, where’s your boss?” he asked quickly.
“I don’t know, sir. He told us to leave the city immediately when the captives have been saved,” one of the mercenaries stated.
Rodan clenched his fists irritatingly, “Shite, that big guy... did he really intend to do that...?!”