Chapter 8:

May Fortuna Bless Your Journey, Brother

White Nightmare

Nono arrived back at the giant forest. But he was not just with Rodan, the mercenary troops had spent the night there as well. The giant tree proved to have enough empty space for them all. Bartz, their leader, promised that they will leave the day after.Bookmark here

Rodan, as the prime owner of the giant tree, accepted him and welcomed him... for a price.Bookmark here

Nono just climbed up the ladder to the tree, where the door was broken down by Bartz last night. There, he saw them mercenaries were working hardly in return for their stay in the tree. Some were constructing new rooms, and some were tasked to clean up and carry goods to fill in the space. Bookmark here

Though last night, Nono wanted to refuse to make them work like that. It was Rodan’s idea to make them do such thing. Nono remembered last night he quarreled with Rodan for him saying that he had some ‘business’ to finish with the mercenaries.Bookmark here

It was last night, when they were celebrating their leader’s return, and suddenly Rodan talked to them in a casual manner.Bookmark here

“Whew... I don’t want to rain on your glorious parade, folks. But I reaaally can’t believe what you’ve done back there, big guy. I’m impressed,” said Rodan complimenting Bartz.Bookmark here

“Heh-heh... I suppose it was all thanks to you, Sir Rodan. Your plans worked well, even opening the path for me to end his life,” Bartz replied while taking a seat on a bench...Bookmark here

...but suddenly, it broke in half due to his giant body.Bookmark here

“—Ah. I’m sorry, Sir Rodan.”Bookmark here

The nerves on Rodan’s forehead became visible. His eyes twitched, trying to hold in his burst of rage. “Y-Yeah... sure, right, it’s okay... goddammit now I must add more to my buying list?! First, the door, now my favorite bench, huff... last month’s savings gonna dry out instantly!”Bookmark here

“—Don’t worry, I will fix it,” said Bartz assuredly as he stood up.Bookmark here

“—Sir, sir, and SIR! Shut the traps, man. Rodan will be fine,” Rodan grumbled. He disliked being referred ‘Sir’ by him.Bookmark here

“A-Ah... I’m sorry. ...Ow, oww...”Bookmark here

Rodan looked at the group of mercenaries. All of them were concerning for their leader’s wellness. He noticed the injuries he sustained after returning from the burning mansion. Bookmark here

“Huff... Tell me, big guy, you don’t actually plan to leave this early in the morning, do ya?” Rodan asked.Bookmark here

“...Well, I wish I could leave as soon as possible.”Bookmark here

“Not with those injuries, I suppose. Not with your boys worrying about ya. In the meantime, till you get enough rest and patched up, why don’t you stay in my place?”Bookmark here

“Eh? A-Are you sure?” Bartz stuttered.Bookmark here

“We’re over fifty people, you know?” One of the mercenaries stated.Bookmark here

“HA! Don’t underestimate my house, youngsters. Do you think this giant tree, which is the most visible thing in this Red Forest, couldn’t house up to your numbers?!” Rodan yelled funnily.Bookmark here

“...Well... if you’d allow us to, then we will accept your offer,” Bartz stated slowly. Soon, he kneeled before the red-haired man and bowed before him.Bookmark here

“Thank you for having us, Sir Rodan.”Bookmark here

Shortly, all of his subordinates followed him and bowed before Rodan. Altogether, they said loudly, “Thank you for having us, Sir Rodan!!!”Bookmark here

Meanwhile, Nono was taking care of the horse that was ridden by Bartz to reach the giant tree. He glanced at those mercenaries who bowed before his senior.Bookmark here

“Roro... you actually have a noble heart, don’t you—eh, where’s he going?”Bookmark here

Suddenly, Rodan went to the tree trunk and opened a secret compartment. There, he picked a crate and returned back to the bowing people.Bookmark here

“...Then, big guy... if you’re gonna stay in my place, then let me borrow your men. You won’t mind, riiight?” he said while showing off hammers in both hands.Bookmark here

“Eh? EH?!” Nono didn’t realize his mouth was opened.Bookmark here

“Hmph... it appears you’re really a rascal, eh? Very well, then, my boys will do whatever work you give to them.”Bookmark here

Shortly, Nono rushed to Rodan and yelled rapidly. “Roro, what’s the meaning of this? They’re visitors, right? Shouldn’t we treat them with respect?!”Bookmark here

“Hah?! What are you grumbling about, Nono? They’ve accepted it, then so be it!”Bookmark here

“That’s not how you treat visitors, Roro! At least you—ah?”Bookmark here

Rodan crept to his ears and whispered rapidly: “Our house is a pretty mess now, right? Right?! Then, these fellas shall do the job in our stead! Moreover, for free! Our savings can be saved!”Bookmark here

“Ah, you’re right,” Nono replied quickly. He then took a quick turn to the mercenaries and said: “Well, then everyone, looking forward for your hard work!”Bookmark here

Everyone affirmed him and was eager to work that night. They chopped some parts of the tree from the inside to make new rooms, brought the goods into those newly made rooms, and tidied up the mess in Rodan’s tree house until daylight came.Bookmark here

And now, Nono felt a bit remorseful for making them work that way. But even though Rodan bossed them around, he did not give any work to the mercenary leader. He said to Nono that he just wanted to let him rest to recover his strength.Bookmark here

As the sun was above their heads, the mercenaries ended their work. They had lunch that was given by the Red Bean Debauchery community for free. Rodan had communicated of his massive amount of visitors to his friends and asked them to help out. Of course, the community accepted.Bookmark here

“Phew, glad we have Red Bean Debauchery in here. If we went to the city and ask for an ample amount of food for free, we would be suspected for plotting something, don’t you think, Nono?” said Rodan while embracing Nono by his shoulder.Bookmark here

“Well, that’s because you’re pretty notorious for your wicked attitude, Roro...” Nono replied.Bookmark here

“Humph... they’re just foolish to not understand how we do our lives. If they could understand us, the Red Bean Debauchery will never exist and then you and I would live on our own in this tree.”Bookmark here

“Grgh, you don’t plan to hang out in the city at all?” Nono retorted.Bookmark here

“Well, I’d love to, but perhaps when I want to.”Bookmark here

“H-Huh...”Bookmark here

When the sun went down, the mercenaries had done their job. Moreover, Bartz had enough of resting in the giant tree. His injuries were healed up, though not entirely. When he woke up, he saw many of his subordinates wore a headband and were working hardly. For the first time in many years, he conjured a smile.Bookmark here

As the sun prepared to sink below the horizon, Bartz and his mercenaries were preparing to go. They didn’t plan to stay for too long, or else the people in the city would know of their setup. He told every mercenary to carry a bag and carry their personal belongings and some supplies for the journey ahead.Bookmark here

After arraying his men, Bartz took some relieving breath and sat down on a huge branch facing the sun. The view was pretty clear as there were little amounts of red leaves on the branch.Bookmark here

“Leaving already?” Rodan asked. He suddenly appeared dangling from above the mercenary leader.Bookmark here

“...Yeah. We couldn’t afford to stay here for too long, lest we’ll endanger your peaceful life, Sir Rodan.”Bookmark here

“Just call me Rodan, big guy.”Bookmark here

“...I see. I’m sorry, S-Si—Rodan.”Bookmark here

“What a strange expression... but, oh well. HUP!” Rodan flipped as he jumped down to Bartz’s side and sat together.Bookmark here

“The view is very nice from here, don’t you think?” Rodan asked.Bookmark here

“Yeah... it felt like... forever since I saw this view,” Bartz replied.Bookmark here

“Huh? Did you work underground all this time till you don’t see the sun?” Rodan asked rapidly.Bookmark here

“No, it’s not like that, Rodan. I’ve been working too hard trying to reach my goals... until I shrouded myself with that thinking. I’ve ignored and forgotten the beauties the nature presented us. That’s why... it feels greatly refreshing to see it and remember again.”Bookmark here

Rodan witnessed the eyes of that big man. Last night, he saw not a single reflection of the torches illuminate his eyes. But now... he saw the shining reflection from the sun in his eyes.Bookmark here

“...I see. Well, I suppose it does refresh your head a little. Well, then...” Rodan stated. In the end of his words, he stood up and faced Bartz.Bookmark here

“If you’re leaving soon, then it is time for me to give you your payment,” he said while patting his cloth a bit, followed by Bartz standing up.Bookmark here

“Bartz Totemhand... this may not be much, but you deserved it. Rodrigo was a nice guy. He never saw me as a weirdo, unlike most people in the city. But alas, I didn’t know he had died and you continued to take on his footsteps as a mercenary.Bookmark here

But you know... you are not a mercenary. You only worked as that fatso’s private army, taking on some stupid jobs that seemed impossible to handle, yet you always emerged victoriously. You’ve been treated badly, having to eat leftovers, sleeping in the open field and sometimes attacked by monsters. I understood that. You’ve done a good job surviving till this day.Bookmark here

But now... you don’t have to be someone’s dog. You don’t have to fight for someone you hate. Those days are over.Bookmark here

Because today... I hereby declare that you and your boys are free.”Bookmark here

Bartz felt the chains that had entangled his body for years finally breaking off. The weight of his shoulders wore off immediately, and it felt so relieving for him. He felt like his body turned lighter. He felt like he could soar up in the sky. He could feel the wind blowing above his skin freely. His heart no longer felt weighed heavily. Without him noticing, his eyes were teary. He gazed down at Rodan. He kneeled down, crying silently. He grabbed his hands, and gave him a thousand thanks in a low voice.Bookmark here

“Thank you...! *sob* Thank you! Thank you...! *sob* Thank you!”Bookmark here

The sun was slowly sinking underneath the horizon. That evening... Bartz and his fellow slave friends were set free by Rodan Rouge.Bookmark here

“Since the beginning, I would never have the cash to pay them greater than that noble. But I realized what they’re truly after. I knew too well that mercenaries won’t live around here. They’re mostly seen in a bigger city, not like Gantz. But when there was news of mercenaries under the infamous noble, I quickly realized that they’re not mercenaries.Bookmark here

They were slaves. No mercenaries would sign a lifelong contract to fight for someone. I know very well that mercenaries fight for those with a bigger purse. But hearing Bartz daring to swear fealty to a noble... those words are impossible to be said by a mercenary.Bookmark here

That’s why... what’s more precious than gold for slaves? That’s right. Freedom, and I gave that to them. They deserve a better life. They longed for it.”Bookmark here

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The mercenaries had gathered in front of the giant tree, already wearing their armors and had their backpacks fully supplied. They were preparing to leave.Bookmark here

Bartz, along with his mercenaries, gathered in front of Rodan Rouge. He did so to give his goodbye.Bookmark here

“Rodan, I can’t thank you enough for what had happened. But from here and then, we will start our lives anew. We will go to the neighboring country through sea. That’s why, we want to say thank you for the last time before we leave.”Bookmark here

“Hm,” Rodan nodded. “Careful on your way, big guy, if you ever find a dead end in your journey, don’t hesitate to go back here.”Bookmark here

“H-Huh...” Nono frowned in disbelief that Rodan said something like that.Bookmark here

“Very well, then. Thank you, Rodan. We will take our leave!” Bartz stated as he bowed down, followed by his men.Bookmark here

“Thank you, Sir Rodan!”Bookmark here

“Hm,” Rodan nodded again. “May Fortuna bless your journey, brother,” he wished to him.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I wish you the best as well,” Bartz replied. But suddenly, he remembered something and quickly dug his waist bag. “—Oh, right... I nearly forgot...”Bookmark here

“Here,” he offered a pair of tickets. Rodan and Nono looked at those tickets in his hand.Bookmark here

“These are?” Nono asked.Bookmark here

“Ah, my boys found these from Lord Stupeyd’s mansion. They’re a bit of kleptomaniac in terms of breaking into someone’s house, heh-heh. Anyway, these are VIP tickets for the upcoming circus in Gantz. It’s unusable for us, so I thought you might find some use to it.”Bookmark here

“Nah, we’ll pa—Bookmark here

“—WE’LL take it, Sir Bartz!”Bookmark here

Nono quickly took the tickets before Rodan could deny the mercenary’s offer.Bookmark here

“Oi, Nono, you seriously taking it?”Bookmark here

“Of course, Roro, these are VIP tickets, you know? V-I-P! It’s a chance for us to go to an event from a really nice view and get some good services!”Bookmark here

“O-Oh...”Bookmark here

“I see you’re going to use it. Very well, then, Rodan, Mr. Nono, we will take our leave. Farewell!”Bookmark here

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And with that, the mercenary group now set off on their journey, leaving Rodan and Nono on their own lives.Bookmark here

“Yaaaawn... Let’s go, Nono, I’m getting sleepy now. Some green apples might do me good, too...” Rodan stated lazily as he yawned. He went back ahead.Bookmark here

“Fine, fine, let’s go.”Bookmark here

Meanwhile... in Gantz city, a large circus tent had been assembled. In that tent, there was a cage concealed with a thick layer of blanket. In it, a pair of glowing red eyes were watching restlessly.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.