Hours had passed and the fire has diminished to minimum.
The mansion that was engulfed in flames now only left in ruins. A majestic household of a baron that was standing out from the others now were no different than the dirt on the ground. After all, everything shall return to earth one day. Nothing lasts forever.
Somewhere, not far from the fallen mansion, a wide trapdoor existed near the lake in the city. Beside that door, a man lied down beneath a dead tree. He had minor injuries from burning, bruises, and scratches. That man was Bartz.
He could not lift his large body after the horrible deed that he had done. He had killed the noble and put the body just beside Rodan’s mannequin. Then, he was barely unable to escape the scorching fire that crept into the basement. But in the last moment, he broke through the destroyed wall and successfully escaped.
As of now, he could breathe in relief. The darkness of the night that accompanied him shall not attract anyone to come into him. But after giving a thought of what he had done tonight...
...his tears dropped off.
He remembered his past life, a horrible life before he became a mercenary.
“...I was only seven years old, living my days as a poor boy who worked as nothing but a mere farmer. My father was a soldier, while my mother was a courtesan. But... one day... my father left home to go to war. He never returned, possibly died in the war.
Mother got so anguished and became a drunkard. Nobody was giving funds to our family anymore. My father was gone, my mother went mad.
One day... I found my mother not breathing anymore. Her body had stiffened out cold, while her hands were still tight gripping on the bottle of wine she bought. Soon, I realized blood was oozing out of her mouth. My mother died. Though, I was unsure what killed her that time.
I was alone, and forced into labor in order to make a living for myself.
In my age of ten, my village was assaulted by a large army. Many of my people were slaughtered. Men were caught and killed, women were sent into slavery.
I could only curl, hoping that they wouldn’t find me. But my efforts were useless. They found me. I thought that time, this is it. This is where I die.
Surprisingly, I did not. They sent me into slavery instead.
I was treated horribly. I was unable to talk freely. I was forced to work whatever job was given to me, no matter how impossible it was for a mere child like me. I must follow what the slave master said to me, or else my life would be the cost. If we were attacked by monsters, we must protect ourselves. If we were injured, the slave master won’t do anything to heal us. He simply left us to rot.
I spent half of my life as a slave. Because of my strong body, I protected my fellow friends from monsters, often using my body as meat shield for them and the nobles to go. I earned respect from my friends, and eventually had my own set of followers. They called me ‘Sarge’.
When I heard about mercenary, I asked many of my fellow slave friends to join me. Together, we trained hardly, learning the arts of sword and bow, and how to survive the battlefield. We learned how mercenaries do their job. I worked hardly for eternity, until the point I could let myself become a mercenary. My former master was happy that I’ve become one. He promised me something in return for my achievement.
I thought my life will finally take a turn. But I was terribly wrong.
We were sent to Gantz city to work under the most influential noble there. He tricked us, along with those who were with me in that time. We may be taking the name mercenary, but we were still a mere slave, this time to a much more horrible being.
That horrible being... was Stupeyd Dumias. He was also a slave master.
I learned something that day. Those nobles could not be trusted! I swore to take my former master’s life by my own hands. But till now, I was unable to do so. I eventually learned the reason he sent me away from his lands was that I could become a potential threat to him.
Then, in the hands of Stupeyd Dumias, he often used me and my friends as his tool to destroy his opponents. We were forced to fight those who were stronger than us, far more experienced, and much better equipped. We fought for years. Because of that, I grew stronger than ever along with my fellow friends. I lost many of my partners because of the dirty work Stupeyd gave us. From thousands of endless fights I’ve been, I quickly understood the arts of warfare. Since he paid us so cheaply, it forced us to become creative and craft our own set of equipment.
Because of that as well... I’ve become a blood-thirsty killer. I was feared by many. I was called as Stupeyd’s dog.
There was someone I cared for when I got into the hands of Stupeyd Dumias. I got myself attached to him and made him my idol. I followed in his footsteps. He even thought of me of his younger brother and gave me his family name: Totemhand.
He was Rodrigo Totemhand. A powerful mercenary in the Gantz city, one I considered as my big brother.
But alas, his fate was worse than mine. He was killed in the fight against a giant salamander. I was unable to do anything but watch his body getting torn apart by the monster. That time as well, Lord Stupeyd was watching along, but in an evil look in his eyes. He was giving an example to us of what will happen to slaves who don’t follow their master.
Rodrigo was killed because he was lost against a knight in a duel. He was ordered to win by Lord Stupeyd, but he lost. The knight praised him, yet the baron did not. That ignited my hatred to Stupeyd Dumias. I wanted to kill him with my own hands.
As time passed, I thought the mother-nature had given up on me. I thought these chains would never get off my feet. Even light no longer reflect in my eyes as I saw my face on the mirror.
But... This red-haired man I’ve met...
He often quarreled with Lord Stupeyd. From foiling his plans to take slaves into his custody, and even going as far as crushing his treasuries. That lasted for so long, until he put the final nail in the coffin.
One day, I was told to disassemble a cart Lord Stupeyd had confiscated from a commoner. I didn’t question at all, for a slave was meant to do whatever their master wants. When I disassemble the cart, I saw Stupeyd’s wagon arriving. I thought he was going somewhere. But in that moment as well... that red-haired man appeared from above the roofs and jumped down. He crushed the baron’s wagon. He saw me, and simply gestured me to shush and not tell anyone.
In the next day as well, I saw his face on the guild house wall magazine. In the same day, I was ordered to capture him, alive. But what did I find when I met this man in person?
He promised me something that not even money can buy.
He told me his plans as if he was our commander. He looked like a lazy bastard, but in contrary, he is a brilliant strategist. He gave us the look of a man confident that he will win the fight in front of him. I approve that, despite the mad plan he told us. But when we did exactly what he say, it felt like every door leading to many roads was opened widely as if welcoming us to go through it.
I’ve... I’ve never seen anything like it. He was different from everyone I’ve met in my life. He opened a path that allowed me to kill the man responsible for the death of my comrades and my big brother with my own hands.”
Back to present time, where Rodan felt worry that he might’ve sent his worker to death because of something he said before. It was when they’re planning out how they’re going to kill the baron.
“Let someone burn the house...?” Bartz asked.
“Yeah, let the fire writhe to him and kill him slowly. You must leave before the fire starts,” Rodan replied.
Rodan winked once while saying out to him in a joking sense, “Or maybe... you can atone for your sins and die along with the fire, ha-ha-ha! Ah, just kidding, just kididng. Forget it.”
Back again into the present, Rodan got himself sweating up.
“I was just joking that time... did he take it seriously?! How dense he could be?” Rodan muttered to himself, yet was heard by Nono.
“Roro, should we go into the city?” Nono asked as he recognized his partner’s concern.
“No need, sir,” one of the mercenaries declared.
“Sarge would never let himself die on his own,” another mercenary added.
“He is not a man that seeks death as atonement. He said it to us before, that if we want to atone for our mistakes, then, work hard for the good of people. He knows that greatly and made it his guidance to keep on living.”
“Sarge said to us as well: ‘Death would be a punishment too kind for the likes of us. I will not permit any of you to suicide.’”
“Yeah! Because of that, Sir Rodan, you must not worry of him. He will return. I’m sure of it!”
Rodan and Nono could not say anything in reply. They could only watch the road together, hoping that the mercenary leader returns to them.
As daybreak comes...
Nono discovered a horseman riding fast to the Red Forest through his binoculars. He quickly informed Rodan and the others.
When the horseman arrived, the man that got off from the black horse was standing like a true giant. Many of burn marks scattered around his body. Even his undershirt was burnt. In that moment as well, he spoke to the crowd of mercenaries:
“I’m home, boys.”
Immediately, the mercenaries rushed to him and welcomed their leader.
“SAAARGE! Welcome back!!!”
“Sarge, what happened out there!”
“Sarge you’re not dead, right?!”
Meanwhile, Rodan and Nono watched from behind.
“Damn, they say not to worry about him. They’re the one crying the loudest,” said Rodan frowningly while crossing his arms.
“Well, obviously, Roro. It’s their leader we’re talking about. From the way they greeted him, it appears Sir Bartz was greatly respected and loved by his followers, don’t you think so, Roro?”
Rodan went silent for a moment to enjoy the sight of leader and followers greeting and talking to each other. Their interactions made Rodan thought Bartz to look more like a father figure to them.
“Roro?” Nono called.
“...Hmph, it appears so. He really nailed it, huh? What a badass bastard he is. Come on, Nono, we’ve got some business to finish with them.”
Nono smiled as Rodan walked forth to the mercenary group. “Yes, Roro,”
As the sun began to shine over the land, rinsing the land with its warm light, news were spread out rapidly to the entire city and its surroundings of the baron’s death.
Nono was in the guild house, reading one of the copied papers while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.
BARON STUPEYD DUMIAS WAS KILLED IN THE FIRE
BARTZ TOTEMHAND WAS KILLED TRYING TO PROTECT HIS MASTER.
“Hm-hmm... a hot chocolate in the morning really suits me well. Unlike Roro who chooses to eat green apples with a mug of coffee...”
Nono let out a long breath of relief.
“At least it really worked out in the end, huh...? It was found out as an accident. To be honest, Sir Bartz was quite smart to make it that way. By letting the world know that he is killed then he could start over his life as a completely new person. His name dies... but his soul and body lives on. What a man, heh.”
Shortly, Nono folded the paper and found a pamphlet slipped between the papers he read.
“Eh, what’s this?” he wondered as he grabbed the paper. He read out the paper as follows:
“...meh, I don’t think Roro would like to go watch circus. He’d spend the day on the couch again, perhaps.”
That pamphlet was left along with the copied paper on the table. With that, Nono left the guild house and rode back home.