Chapter 23 – Fugitive

 

I was waiting anxiously in front of the Mercenary Guild. I didn’t know whether to enter or not. It had been 4 days since I first came to this place and entering it would tell me whether the rescue succeeded or not.

 

I managed to gather my courage and went in. It seemed like nothing had changed since my last visit. As soon as he saw me, Blutch came to talk to me with his usual sly expression showing signs of stress.

 

“Ah, there ya are, kid. I have some bad news for ya.”

“…”

“As promised, I gathered a few of my mates and we sneaked into the jail. However, the target wasn’t there.”

“Wasn’t there ? What do you mean !?”

“Well, long story short, the kid isn’t in the normal part of the jail. I gathered some information and it looks like he’s been put into a cell of the deeper part, where only the most dangerous criminals are thrown, ya know ?”

“And… ? Does that mean you cannot rescue him ?”

“No worries, you have paid so I have to do my part of the job, ya know ? However, I am going to need more prep’s and time if I want to make the operation a success.”
“How long are we talking ?”

“I need at least one more week. Give me that and I can manage it for sure. However, here’s the problem : the kid’s already been in jail for more than a week and he’s accused of trying to assassinate the Emperor’s son. I highly doubt they’re going to make his execution wait. They want to make an example out of it while the assassination attempt is still fresh in people’s mind, ya know ?”

“So you’re saying you might run out of time before you can successfully carry out the operation ?”

“Exactly, dear client. Well nothing I can do about it. If we arrive too late, then I’ll just give ya your money back, ok ?”

“I don’t care about the money ! Do you think 500 Gold coins means anything in front of the life of this person !?”

“… “

 

The rat looked indifferent to my troubles. Well, there was no point getting mad at him. I just had to wait and hope now.

 

***

 

More bad news arrived a few days later. It was the day of the operation. I was anxiously waiting in the Mercenary Guild for Blutch’s return but I felt disappointment taking over my body as he returned alone, once more.

 

“Where is Zwölf !? Did you rescue him ?”

“Here are the 500 Gold coins back, mate. Our job couldn’t be done unfortunately.”

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT ?”

 

The face of the rat was irritating me even more by the second as I directed my full anger towards him.

 

“Calm down, kid. We couldn’t rescue him because the target already escaped.”

“Escaped… wait, what ?”

“Yeah. It’s impossible to escape alone from the deeper part of the jail so that means someone else beat us to it.”

“Who could it be ? Wait, I don’t care about that, where is he now ?”

“No idea. From our information, the kid comes from a place called Aldenaf, in the border of the Porcephone Empire. It’s not too far from here so chances are he mighta’ tried to hide there. He’s a fugitive now, ya know ?”

“A fugitive…”

“Yeah, a bounty’s placed on his head now. By the imperial family apparently. 2,000 Gold coins. Wanted posters of him everywhere. There’s no way he’s going to hide in Naxus with so many people after him in the capital, ya know ? That’s why Aldenaf seems like the most likely choice.”

“Alright I see. Thank you.”

“It’s my job, no need for thanks mate.”

 

I hurried and left the Mercenary Guild. Looks like it was time for me to head towards Aldenaf.

 

One might have thought that it was strange for a 14 years old kid to be wandering around all day long. Well in fact I was ditching most of my tutored lessons so I could be sure to get a good nagging from Father as soon as he’d learn about it.

 

Never mind that though. Right now my priority was to make sure that Zwölf was safe. I bought a map of the Porcephone Empire, ran towards the town’s stables and bought a horse. After all, I was currently carrying over 500 Gold coins with me.

 

Thus I rode my horse for 4 days straight, only stopping to eat and sleep. Despite my tutoring sessions, one thing I was bad at was reading maps. This led to me ending up in the wrong town.

 

I was in front of the gates of a small village called Ardamant. I heard the name from one of its guards and after closer inspection, it was actually a neighbouring village of Aldenaf. From there, only half a day by foot would be necessary to reach Aldenaf.

 

Despite this, I was feeling physically tired and so was my horse. A break was needed. I let my horse in the nearest stables and made my way through the village, asking around where to find an inn and then headed there.

 

***

 

After having rested, I decided it was time to go and walked towards the stables. I was so focused on my objective however, that I didn’t pay attention and bumped into a boy around my age.

 

He was carrying two bags of herbs that fell on the floor when I bumped into him.

 

“Hey watch where you’re going !”

“Ah sorry, I’m in a hurry.”

“You bumped into me so it’d be polite to at least help me gathering the herbs…”

“Ah… yes you’re right.”

 

I apologised and started helping him.

 

“So, what are you in such a hurry for ?”

“It’s… a long story. I just need to head to a village called Aldenaf. It’s close by, right ?”

“Aldenaf ? What a coincidence, I also need to head back there.”

 

The boy glanced at me and I took a closer look at him. He was slightly taller than me and definitely built like a warrior despite his age. If I had to say, his face reminded me of someone but I couldn’t clearly see who.

 

“Are you walking ? If it’s alright with you, you could ride on my horse with me. It’s to apologise for my rudeness.”

“Really ? That’d be great, thanks. I was meant to go back three days ago already but I got slowed down due to some unexpected events so I’d appreciate it.”

 

I couldn’t afford to waste more time here so having this boy guide me to Aldenaf was a great help. We headed back together and made our way towards the village.

 

“Wh-what… is this ?”

 

After only one hour, we arrived to the location on the map. However, there was no Aldenaf there. Or should I say, there was no longer anything there.


Much to the boy’s and my surprise, a giant crater now stood in front of us.

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