Chapter 376: An Exchange of Souls
…The army will threaten the royal capital Arche, and during that tension, a small number of people will invade the royal capital.
When I said those words, Matia opened her mouth with a screaming voice. It was probably the loudest voice I had ever heard of her. It was not suitable for Matia, who was called a Saint.
For the first time in a long time, Matia spoke while showing her emotions.
「I think a madman is a little more obedient than you! You can’t listen to people’s words, can you?」
The voice that pierced deep into my ears was strangely heavy and powerful. It was as if the emotions that Matia put into her words came to me with a deadly force.
As expected, I didn’t have to say that much for her to freak out. In fact, I could get hurt, badly. After all, it wasn’t an ordinary strategy. It was an insane plan.
But even if it was an insane plan, it was still necessary. Therefore, I had no choice but to do it. Even if it was a thorny road as the only way to go, then I’d have no choice but to cross it.
I worked out my words while adjusting my uniform.
「Calculation and reason are the specialty of the Heraldic Order, aren’t they? Matia, this strategy is the one that causes the least damage.」
It was an undeniable fact. If the old man Richard and his adjutant’s words were to be true, even if the army were to stand against Arche, they would just dance in the palms of the demonic beings.
Countless of humans and elves would die even if the army reached the royal capital. They would die as insects. It was the absolute truth. I didn’t know any cases where the human army had won an effective victory against the magical beasts led by a magical devilish being.
If so, it would be best option to scratch the enemy’s ruler’s sleeping head with a small number of people. In the old days, this strategy would’ve been the best course of action.
It didn’t matter whether it went well or not. This strategy was the best we could find among the bad choices.
I said so while loosening my cheeks, but Matia still seemed unconvinced. Her sharp eyes pierced my face.
「To be honest, I have mixed feelings about that idea. Especially when it comes to your intention to invade.」
Her eyes were staring straight at me. I couldn’t even avoid her gaze.
Damn it, I didn’t expect Matia to be this persistent.
It was true that I was somewhat uncomfortable in participating with the elite, but even so, I was the first person to announce this invasion plan. There was no way that I’d show my back and run away. Of course, the old man had thought about a similar strategy.
Besides, this was it.
It would take a suitable number of days if we agreed with the plan to attack the royal capital with a large army. A plan must be devised first and foremost, since there was no way Matia would take such a foolish tactic as simply charging. Waiting inside was an option too, but not a feasible one since it would be useless in the end.
My throat was slightly hot. I didn’t want luxury, but a little drink. The strong, spicy ale from Belfein. I opened my mouth while narrowing my eyes.
「But Matia. Do you realize how many soldiers will die if we just attack with the army? How many times are we going to hear those screams?」
The soldiers who were killed in front of the gate. Their cries as they reached their death. My cheeks were increasingly burning while I stared at Matia. My breath was incomprehensibly hot.
「Or should I sit back while the elite go to the royal capital after ordering them to go on my behalf? If all of them have their necks cut off by the enemy, what kind of face should I make then?」
So, Matia, I continued. I just didn’t understand her.
Was there a difference between the value of my life and theirs? What was the value of the soldiers who fought to the end to protect the royal capital? What about those brave people that would go with me to invade the royal capital in order to fix this problem? I didn’t believe that I had a better value than them.
Letting others go on my behalf. These were certainly not the words of a man who led an army. I had to put my life on the line for the soldiers who brilliantly put theirs every second.
Matia implied that I should safeguard my life since I needed to lead. She said it was the kind of position that was required of me right now.
Ah, but If I did that…how could I possibly make a difference with this life?
Wouldn’t I be doing the same thing as the people who once looked down on me?
Those people didn’t respect me because I had no talent. They had no respect for my life. I was a mediocre human whose life was not that important.
That was the harsh reality. A big wall where I couldn’t even break.
So how could I, who once suffered, do the same thing? How could I say the same thing? I just couldn’t.
It would be an insult to my soul. Was she asking me to kill the old me with my own hands?
I chew those emotions, and then transformed them into words in a way Matia couldn’t guess what happened in that past. After that, I looked into her eyes.
「Don’t worry. I’ve come back before. I’ll be back this time. Can you trust my sword’s skills a little bit more, Lady Saint?」
Matia showed her emotions for a moment, making her eyebrows distort in response. She seemed at a loss of words.
Still, she adjusted her expression and stuck her thin finger to my chest.
「…I understand. Yes, that’s fine. I knew it. You really don’t listen to what people say. But if that’s the case, I’ll give you this and you’ll give me yours in return.」
To give and return. She involuntarily asked back something. I didn’t quite understand what Matia was referring to.
Matia pulled out the ring on her finger before answering. Then, she put it in front of me.
「This is my Heraldic heirloom. It was given to me when I became a Saint. I’ve never taken it off my skin until now.」
The Heraldic heirloom. A ring engraved with the emblem of the Heraldic Order was reflected in my eyes. Many Heraldics had rings and items engraved with the Heraldic Order’s emblems, but not many were given their own unique emblem.
To the Saint, even for Matia, that unique emblem was irreplaceable. I had a bad feeling about this. Matia kept looking me in the eye as she held it out to me.
「Your life in exchange with these rings. You must vow to bring mine back. Of course, you must bring it back alive…The testimony of this will be the recording officer.」
I see. So it was a contract. Come to think of it, I had also been entrusted with a handkerchief from Ariene, asking me to return it someday. This was something similar.
I felt like the promises and oaths were entwined with my limbs. Still, I had no intention to refuse them. I had to do what I promised.
In front of the impatient recording officer who was summoned, I pulled out the ring engraved with the golden emblem from my finger and passed it through Matia’s slender finger. It seemed like the size was a little too big, but it still fit well. Then, Matia’s ring passed through my finger.
Matia said after carefully collecting the words.
「This is our oath. I swear that I will never betray you for the rest of my life.」
Matia swore to me. In any case, I should not be ashamed of such methods. Though I still felt a little embarrassed.
I nodded slightly and shrugged my shoulders to reply.
「I swear. I will never betray you for the rest of my life.」
Matia, who had kept a stiff face for quite some time, finally showed a smile. She looked shy but showed the pure smile of a Saint.
A mixed army made of the soldiers from the Heraldic Order, Ghazalia and Gharast. Saint Matia lightly strengthened her fingers while watching how the elite group left its marks on the death snow. Then, she shifted her gaze to the ring she worn on her finger.
She had Lugis’ hand put the ring on her own finger. She bent her fingers so that she could feel his warmth. Matia felt his touch and her cheeks relaxed. The feeling of ecstasy when he was giving his ring still stuck to her spine.
Of course, he didn’t understand what that meant. He only accepted the exchange of rings as a vow to his Saint.
Even so, that was enough of a concession. However, for the Heraldics, the exchange of rings with emblems had a deeper meaning.
For the Heraldics, a ring with an emblem was more than a soul. It contained the essence of a person’s nature and soul. In other words, Matia and Lugis exchanged souls.
For the Heraldics, it meant only one thing…the marriage of souls.
It was a manifestation to never betray that person again. That person’s soul would never leave you for the rest of your life. Lugis swore before the recording officer, albeit unofficially. It remained an indisputable fact.
With this, Matia wouldn’t hand him over to Ghazalia anymore.
Matia came to an understanding after looking at his relationship with Ninz and Richard. The human named Lugis saw the relationships with people as something meaningful. Be it in the name of a foster parent or in the relationship of a teacher and student.
And Lugis was too naive about such relationships. He didn’t realize, but he officially separated the close relationships from the formal ones. It could be a weakness if he forged a close relationship with someone unworthy.
It wasn’t advantageous. He was no longer in a firm position within the Heraldic Order. Since he unconditionally listened to the words of a limited number of people, it would be difficult for him to forge an amicable relationship with the Heraldic elders.
Therefore, Matia thought that she should be the one to forge that close relationship. She had to do it in order to manage him. He may be unyielding, but if she created a proper relationship by closing that gap, people would be more accepting.
Besides, if she were to marry him, the elders wouldn’t be able to get their hands on him so easily. Matia concluded that this was the best thing for him, and for the Heraldic Order.
“…Ah, yes. For myself too.”
Matia caressed the ring in a loving manner, then adjusted her expression. She couldn’t reveal everything yet. This contract would only make sense after everything was over.
Therefore, she should fully support him now. They had to mobilize the army without hesitation and put together a plan to get the enemy’s attention.
Matia no longer believed that Lugis wouldn’t return. She knew he would defeat the enemy.
After all, they both made a deal. A deal not to betray one another. So she believed in him.
Matia deepened the color of her eyes and just stuck the expression of a Saint onto her face. Her eyes were filled with a bewitching atmosphere that she could not hide.
Wow, Matia is so cunning…I wonder what the other girls will say when they know about these vows…