*Disclaimer note: This is merely a translation of the original Chinese version. I do not claim any part in the creation of the original story.
I slowly blinked open my eyes, feeling a faint sense of déjà vu…… If not for the fact that I'm very sure I had not drunk last night, I would have said that I had had another drinking spree again and am lying in one of the pub's rooms.
As my memories started trickling back, I muttered, "Oh that's right, I had passed out after using up every shred of holy light I had left to purify the cave."
My brows then crinkled together in a frown. My body was starting to regain its senses, and I could tell immediately that I had not been left to sleep of my exhaustion in a room as I had initially thought, but that I had been abandoned in the middle of a forest!
My eyes were watering from the bright rays shining into them; and my whole body ached – an unmistakable sign that I had been lying on hard ground the entire night.
I painfully got up, looking around me.
Great. A very normal looking forest. All around me were tall trees and the ground was covered with mud and decomposing leaves. Thank goodness it isn't a lavishly decorated palace, or snow white marble flooring…… or I would have believed myself to be in the God of Light's heavenly embrace!
But, where the hell are Alstier and my teacher?
It was only when I had painfully stood up that I noticed the piece of paper fluttering down from its previous position on my head to the ground. I picked it up, instantly recognising my teacher's handwriting. His handwriting is as elegant and beautiful as he himself, full of powerful slashes and magnificent flourishes, a piece of art all unto itself. The only drawback about it is…… it's too beautiful and magnificent that I can't really tell what he wrote.
After three years, more slashes and flourishes had crept into his handwriting…… Now, is this word 'student'? Or 'skewer'?
Since it's a note left to me, it should be addressed to 'student', right?
But if the purification had failed and he hadn't managed to get the Eternal Serenity, there's a possibility that it could be 'skewer'…… It could be a message saying that he's so angry with me that he wants to skewer me alive, and that he's left to find some firewood so he can roast some 'skewered student' over the fire?
Oh, forget it! I'll just assume it's student and read on.
The purification was extremely successful, and the Dark Land is now an ordinary cave. We got the Eternal Serenity successfully, and it is now hanging around your neck.
A surprised cry escaped from me as I looked down to see a shimmering blue crystal secured around my neck by a very sturdy looking chain……
Why did he put the Eternal Serenity around my neck for? It can't be that the crystal has some dangerous properties, can it?
I hurriedly looked back down at the letter.
Don't worry, the crystal isn't dangerous.
…… he really knows me well.
It is just that the amount of energy it gives off is staggering. If I were to keep it on hand, I'll be constantly faced with mages challenging me for possession of it. Therefore, I've decided that only you with your immense holy aura are capable of overpowering its water aura and hiding it from anyone else's notice. So for now, I'll keep the crystal on you. DO NOT take it off. If you do, others will be able to sense its existence and you'll be in a lot of trouble then.
Warning: Don't you dare sell it off! If I do not find it when I come for it, you're dead.
And he insists that it's not dangerous…… The crystal itself might not explode, but it can draw mages who can make things explode.
I felt like crying, for what else can I do? I dared not go against my teacher's words, so I had no other option but to hide the crystal under my clothes, hiding it from sight less it provide temptation to others.
After keeping away both the crystal and the letter, I took a moment to look around, realising that I was nowhere near the cave. I have no idea where my teacher had dumped me off; surrounding me on all sides are tall ancient trees. How the heck am I supposed to get back to Leaf from here?
I guess this leaves me with no other option but to use my mage sight, I thought with a sigh. Who would have believed that this immensely valuable and coveted skill is most useful to me when I'm lost?
As I had no idea how far away from Leaf I am right now, I extended my mage sight in all directions as far as I could go. It wasn't long before I found them. They weren't actually all that far away from me, only half a day's walk from my current position. This surprised me. Alstier must have used his powers and flew me quite some distance whilst I was unconscious.
But right after I had found their presence, I immediately sensed something even more surprising. Not too far away from them is an extremely strong dark aura…… they had actually managed to catch up to the Dark Knight?!
Even though I knew that even a Dark Knight could not hope to defeat the Son of War, an uneasy feeling was brewing in my gut. Their auras seemed to be lower than usual, indicating that they had just exerted a lot of energy not too long ago. And the only thing that would cause warriors to lose so much energy would obviously be battles.
And in particular, Leaf's holy aura seemed to be seeping out of him at an alarming rate! It was disappearing from him too quickly and not at all as if he was merely using his holy light……
A jolt shot through me as my hand crept up onto my chest and I cried hoarsely, "Dragon's Holy Robe, in the name of the dragon's successor, I order you to activate!"
Even before the Dragon's Holy Robe had fully activated, I was already rushing forward in their direction, running as swift as the wind.
As I continued to sense Leaf's holy aura fading more and more rapidly, the anxious feeling in my gut grew heavier. It spurred me on to run faster and faster, with no thought to resting my body as I leapt over bushes and around trees. My heart was beating rapidly and heavily like a drum, as if it would explode in the next second; my muscles were burning from the exertion I forced on them; and my lungs laboured to draw in more oxygen for my tired body, my mouth open and gasping at the air……
Hurry! I have to get back to Leaf's side!
With the added speed from the Dragon's Holy Robe, I managed to cover what would have been half a day's journey in just two hours. Just before I reached Leaf and the rest of them, I paused to change out of the robe before leaping into the clearing. My vision was suddenly flooded with light after the darkness of the forest, but I paid little attention to the painful glare, for my heart had clenched in horror……
The clearing was devoid of any remaining trees, having long since been destroyed by a horrific battle. The charred ground and craters littered all over the clearing only added to the display.
Michael was covered in wounds, his armour battered beyond redemption. As if unable to support even his own weight, he was half leaning against a broken tree stump, staring at nothing.
Ann was sitting on the ground; she, too, looked dazed.
Alston was diligently casting his pitifully limited array of healing spells, and all of them were on Leaf…… Leaf who was lying on the ground, his bow on the ground beside him, but not clenched in his hand.
Just then, Michael and Alston finally noticed my presence. They raised their heads to look at me, all pale-faced and ragged. Alston opened his mouth to speak, but could not find the words to speak to me.
I walked over towards them, my gaze fixed on Leaf's face all the while. His eyes were closed as if unconscious.
"Leaf?" I called out softly.
I didn't get any response from him. Instead, it spurred a reaction from the other three. Ann wailed in despair, slumping to the ground and burying her face in the ground as she tried to muffle her sobs.
What's she crying for? Honestly, it's not like there's anything to cry about……
As I walked to Leaf's side, I could feel the holy aura that once filled him dissipating, only to be replaced by dark aura.
Just then, a whisper slid unbidden through my thoughts – a common enough fact known by most.
'It is only when holy knights have fallen from grace, or have died, that their bodies are slowly taken over by dark aura.'
Leaf! A jolt of pain shot through me, and my heart ached so badly, as if about to tear itself apart……
Unable to stand the sight a second longer, I turned and stalked over to Michael. I grabbed him – so hard that it felt as if my fingers could pierce through what remained of his armour – and shook him, roaring angrily, "How could Leaf have died?! With you, the Son of War, at the front of the fight, how could you still be alive whilst the archer who remains at the back is dead?! "
'If-if I find out that you had purposely allowed Leaf to die, all of you will pay!'
Upon hearing my accusations, Michael turning a shade paler as he answered hurriedly, "We'd finally caught up with the Dark Knight and had fought with them for a whole day and night, but still we weren't able to defeat them…… In the end, they managed to get past all of us, but chose to only kill Aimer."
Alston, too, cried out hurriedly, "Sun Knight, please calm down, they…"
Even though he was asking me to calm down, Alston's voice himself was trembling. "Before they left, they left a message for you."
I glared at Alston, but didn't do anything else to him as I was unable to overlook his numerous wounds. I did not doubt that they had just gone through a fierce battle, and truthfully, the wounds on Leaf were lighter and less numerous than Michael and Ann's.
Alston took a few deep breaths before forcing out the rest of it. "They said that, even if you were to go after them after you've cast the resurrection spell, you won't be able to defeat them, so it's useless to chase after them."
My face turned white at that. I see, so killing Leaf was only so they could delay me.
Even though Michael and the rest were defeated, the opponent would have been heavily injured too. If I were to chase after them, I probably could have caught them…… Hold on! I felt a little doubtful at that string of thought. Why would they fear me so when I've been showing such a weak front all along?
I shook my head at that and threw the thoughts to the back of my mind. My mind's in a mess right now and I can't think straight in such a state. No matter what the reason, if it weren't because I had mastered the resurrection arts, they never would have dared to kill Leaf.
That Dark Knight was very strong; he must have been someone of importance in the Church of Chaos, to have dared to kill the Church of Light's Leaf Knight. If Leaf were to really die for good, it would have incited a full-out war between the Church of Light and the Church of Chaos.
But my whole body had chilled at the realisation…… the Resurrection Arts again. The last time, Adair had nearly been killed, and now, Leaf had been killed for real.
The Resurrection Arts…… is it really saving lives? Or just leading people to their deaths?
Once one knows that people can be revived, do they no longer value human life?
Just then, Ann who had been silent all along suddenly leapt up in fury and yelled at me, "What right do you have to blame Michael? You who weren't even here while we were engaged in battle! Where were you, huh?! Where were you?!"
I let go of Michael at that and stumbled back. Even though I had left to investigate, but after having found out about the suspicious figures following us, I had not immediately returned, but had instead fooled around with my teacher and Alstier for a few days.
"I thought there wouldn't be any problems…… The Son of War, a warrior priest and with Leaf and his bow… and the opponent only had a Dark Knight and a Wind Mage… how could they have lost? How is it possible?..." I mumbled, trying to find something - someone - to push the blame onto. If not, the first person I would want to kill to avenge Leaf's murder would be…… myself!
"They had another powerful ally, a very powerful one……" Alston's breath hitched at the thought of that person and a shudder ran through his body. "It was a Chaos priest."
'Chaos priest.' The words rang through my head, and I immediately understood.
Holy priests specialise in healing, the warrior priests focus on spells or 'buffs' that strengthen their comrades, while chaos priests excel in attacks themselves. Their method of attacks is very similar to necromancers. In fact, one could say that chaos priests are an improved version of necromancers, for they are necromancers blessed with the favour of the God of Chaos.
Fortunately, their numbers are very, very small. So rare are they that the Church of Chaos hardly dared to allow any to leave their church, for even the death of one would be an immense loss to them.
"That chaos priest was so strong…… how could they have gotten so strong? It's just not possible……" mumbled Alston.
"That Dark Knight was very strong as well," said Michael darkly, "I wouldn't be at all surprised if he turned out to be the God of Chaos's champion!"
I shot a look at the Son of War. He really wasn't the person in charge of his church's affairs after all, to be unaware of even this fact. The God of Chaos's champion isn't a Dark Knight at all. But even if he wasn't the champion, Michael's guess probably wasn't too far off the mark in that the Dark Knight was a very important figure in the Church of Chaos, or he would never have been able to battle the Son of War for a whole day and night.
But all that is irrelevant…… for now.
I took a deep breath before turning to the three and said, "I'm going to perform the Resurrection Arts."
The three of them were blindsided by that announcement, but Alston quickly recovered and asked politely, "Should we leave?"
I shook my head and said, "No, I need your protection. Don't allow a single thing to approach me, not even a single blade of leaf!"
They nodded in determination. Alston, in particular, looked rather bright-eyed, but this was hardly surprising. Any priest who knew that they would have the opportunity to witness a resurrection would have the same look. If it were the Bright Light Priests, they would have been dancing in joy and excitement.
"How long has Leaf been dead?" I asked carefully.
"More or less two hours." Alston answered vigilantly.
I nodded my head at that. I have plenty of time. I drew a large circle around Leaf before turning to the others and said, "From now onwards, no matter what I do or say, do not speak a word to me, and don't allow a single thing to enter this circle."
Once again, they nodded solemnly and stood up to take their positions around the circle, forming a triangle with Leaf and I in the middle.
I felt rather relieved to see their determination. With them here, I have nothing to worry about except for the Dark Knight and the chaos priest returning…… I paused at that. Could that be their plan all along? Taking the opportunity to kill us off whilst I'm reviving Leaf?
I examined Leaf carefully. His death was caused by a single thin blade through the heart; the wound was small and it was a clean cut. This relieved me, for the chaos priest should be aware that the more the body had been damaged, the harder it would be to resurrect the dead. If their intention was to kill us all they wouldn't have killed Leaf with such a clean cut.
Even though I still had a lot of doubts, I could not hesitate anymore. I drew the Holy Sun Blade from its scabbard hanging at my waist, and using the blade as a pen, I began carving the ritual's runes on the ground.
With that done, I then looked at Leaf quietly. Even in death, he looked to be at peace. If it were not for his colour being a little too pale, no one would have thought that those eyes of his would never blink open again. He even had a faint smile gracing the corners of his lips……
He's always been so cheerful and happy-go-lucky, and accepting of everything. Even though this is the Leaf Knight's characteristics, who amongst the Twelve Holy Knights is really as they portray? Earth was in no way loyal and down-to-earth, and no one who really knew me would call me kind and loving.
"Speaking of Earth…… when we were still young, Earth and I used to get into such huge fights; it's always been you who would get caught in the middle, running between the two of us, smiling through our black moods and horrible tempers until we would finally relent and make up."
'There was one time when no matter what we refused to make up. In the end, you had burst into tears and sobbed so loudly that even Judge had heard the commotion and came over. He'd glared at the both of us so scarily that we didn't dare to continue our fight and could only plead with you to stop crying.'
As I thought back, my memories flew back to the very beginning……
"I still remember the first time I met you; you were always with a smile on your face. I could smile brighter than you, more trustworthy and better looking than you, but I could never smile a smile from the heart as you did; your smile was like a breath of fresh air……"
I fell silent for some time before speaking again, "But to tell the truth, I really hated your smile. It was as if your smile were mocking me, mocking how fake my smile was. Your kind nature was mocking me too, telling me that you were the one who was truly kind, not me.
"That's why I've always liked to bully you, even till now…… but you've never once gotten angry. Is it really so hard to shout at me once in a while? But in the end, your only way of rebelling and letting out your frustrations was to nail little straw dolls!
"Do you have to be so kind?! You idiot!" I cried out.
I kept thinking back, thinking back on all our memories until my face was streaked with tears, streaming down my face and falling to the ground beside Leaf. I kept thinking and recalling, until I could see nothing but Leaf opening his eyes once more, nothing else.
'I won't let you die, and I won't let you revive with any defects, Leaf! You're not allowed to return except in your original condition. You won't have any other defects! Never!'
I closed my eyes, suppressing the urge to sob and looked up to the sky. I looked up at the sun that shines so far away from me, at the unseen God of Light.
Slowly, word by word, I called out clearly, "O' God of Light! May you hear me out in my regret and listen to me despite my foolishness. I have always claimed that the Sun Knight values his holy knights, that all holy knights belong to me and that no one is allowed to harm them. And yet, I had left behind Elmairy Leaf, and when in his time of need, I had not carried out the responsibilities of a comrade, I was not at his side……"
I took another deep breath and pleaded, "Lay all the blame with me, as it should be. My sin is too much for words, and I accept any and all punishments you see fit to give me. I only plead that you spare Elmairy Leaf; I beg you not to take him back to your side.
"My God of Light, I swear this to you: I am willing to sacrifice anything to see Elmairy Leaf open his eyes once more. With the blood from my left hand, please bring back life to his left hand; with the blood from my right hand, please bring back life to his right hand……"
Using the Holy Sun Blade, I pressed its sharp blade to my left arm and let the blood run down the blade onto Leaf's left hand. It was then followed by my right hand, then both my legs…….
Only when Leaf's body was covered with my blood did I stop and continued on to the next step of the ritual…… I pierced the blade of my sword into the wound on his heart.
I then kneeled down and looked up. With my arms raised high, I prayed to the distant and unseen God of Light……
'Please return a whole and complete Leaf to me. I will pay the price, whatever it is.
'Please return him to me alive and well.
'Return him to me!'
I looked back down, and carefully holding the Holy Sun Blade, I started releasing holy light and focused them into the sword, directing the holy light through the sword and into Leaf's body, pushing out the dark aura that had crept into his body and filling it with my light aura, until at last, Leaf was glowing with so much holy light that his figure could no longer be seen, only a glowing ball of bright light.
I maintained this for a long time, doing my best to hold it out for as long as possible……
Finally, when I felt that I was almost out of holy light and only had enough to finish the remaining parts of the ritual, I slowly stopped sending out the holy light and stood up, slowly drawing the Holy Sun Blade out. And as I drew the blade from Leaf's wound, the remaining holy light slowly healed the fatal wound that had killed Leaf.
At last, when the Holy Sun Blade was finally clear of Leaf's body, I flung away the sword and threw out a blast of holy light at Leaf's heart.
Just then, Leaf gasped a breath of air and arched into the air as his body writhed and spasmed. He began coughing and his expression looked to be in great pain.
But upon seeing this, I felt as if a heavy burden had just been unloaded from my chest, and I could feel the prickle of tears in my eyes. At least, he's alive.
After coughing for some time, Leaf finally had the strength to turn to me. "Su-Sun……"
I stared at him fixedly. Good, he looks like he has his wits with him, and his voice sounds normal. His appearance doesn't seem to be altered in any way either.
My vision started to go out of focus as black started to creep into my vision, until at last I felt myself crumple to the ground……
When I regained conscience, the first thing I registered was someone calling out my name and pulling me up. I turned to see who it was, but nothing greeted me but darkness. Huh, did I not open my eyes yet?
I blinked. That's not right, my eyes are wide open.
I heard Leaf's voice coming from somewhere very near…… I turned to look in his direction, but this darkness wasn't letting me see his face, damn it! How can I check to see if he had escaped any side-effects from the resurrection like this!
I frowned and stretched my arm towards where I had last heard his voice coming from until I reached his face. 'Hmmm, feels like any other ordinary face.' I let out a sigh of relief at that. At least his face is okay.
Just then, Leaf's trembling voice penetrated my mind. "Your eyes……"
I stared blankly, finally remembering about it. My eyes……
After a while which consisted of Leaf breathing rapidly whilst he cast numerous healing spells on me, his breathing turned steadily more ragged and breathless. He sounded panicky, like he didn't know what else to do……
In the end, I turned and smiled at him. "I'm fine now. I'd just woken up earlier, so my vision was a little messed up. Probably because I was too tired. I'm sorry, I must have frightened you."
Instead of being reassured, Leaf sounded more upset at my words as he asked pressingly, "Sun, tell me, how many fingers have I got?"
I kept quiet at that.
Leaf sounded very close to tears. "Sun……"
A muffled chuckle burst from me as I said laughingly, "Hahaha! It's two, alright? Look at you all panicky and all. Really, I was just tired just now, nothing to it."
Leaf was stunned for a moment before he cried out, "You! You scared me! Didn't you say you've repented? And here I thought you wouldn't bully me anymore."
Oh, he heard that?…… Darn it! "I had repented, but I never said anything about not doing it again!" I shouted a little embarrassedly.
"Honestly,…" said Leaf, sniffing. "Do you have any idea how worried I was?! Argh, you're so mean!"
Alright, this could be considered shouting in anger, right? I felt reassured that my years of campaign to anger Leaf had finally borne fruit! Praise be the God of Light!
"Alright, let's stop fooling around. We have to hurry up and chase after that Dark Knight that dared to kill you. Michael, you guys, get over here so I can heal your wounds!"
I picked up the Holy Sun Blade and stood up, laughing. I was about to walk in their direction, but missed the crater in front of me and stumbled. If I hadn't quickly used my sword to stabilise myself I would have fallen to the ground again.
A tense silence descended on the clearing.
I hurriedly straightened and smiled, asking, "Why's it so quiet? Resurrecting someone is no walk in the park, okay? I was just weak in the knees."
The hitched sob was back in his voice as Leaf interrupted me. "Sun, you can't see, right? Don't lie to me. Don't try to keep it from me by purposely going after the Dark Knight and letting them slash at your eyes. I know what you're thinking, please don't do that, I'm begging you……"
I fell silent at that before forcing a grin and saying, "What are you talking about? I saw you had two fingers, didn't I? Now how could a blind have seen that? You're so silly, Leaf."
Leaf suddenly grabbed my hand tightly and pleaded, "Please……"
I merely said calmly, "I'm not blind, Leaf. You're thinking too much."
"Enough of this nonsense." Just then, Michael cut in impatiently. "Sun, how many?"
I paused before replying, "One."
Michael then asked again, "How about now?"
"Do you think me an idiot?" I asked exasperatedly, "You don't even have your arms raised!"
Michael muttered something at that before saying aloud to Leaf, "Aimer, stop crying. He really isn't blind!"
"I don't understand……" said Leaf, sounding lost and confused.
"You've just been resurrected, so you might feel a little confused. Stop thinking about it too much," I reassured him. "You need a night's rest, don't worry. You said not to chase after the Dark Knight, and I think maybe you're right. You really should have a good rest, and I'm also tired after performing the resurrection ritual. Let's head back to Leafy Forest Town and recuperate there, it's not too far from here."
When I didn't get a reply from Leaf, I asked again, "Is that okay?"
Instead of answering me, they all went quiet. I had no idea what was wrong now, but dared not ask again in fear of saying the wrong thing. After a while, Leaf quietly spoke up, "I'd nodded my head just now, Sun."
"Oh, I hadn't noticed," I said calmly. "I'm sorry, but I'd just ran all the way here, and then had to perform the resurrection arts on you. I'm really tired and need to rest. Stop thinking nonsense again or I'll start wondering if you really are suffering from some side-effect from the resurrection, like hallucination and stuff."
After a moment, Leaf spoke up, "Alright. We'll talk about it after we've rested. Let me carry you to the town."
"No way," I refused tiredly. "You've just been revived; you shouldn't be doing anything strenuous. You need to rest even more than I do."
Just then, Michael cut in, saying, "I'll carry you, and let Ann carry Leaf."
When I heard his suggestion, my poor opinion of him improved immensely. After nodding my head in gratitude, I threw an elementary healing spell each at Michael and Ann. Even though it wasn't much help, and Alston had quite a few injuries himself, I really couldn't do much more than that.
After climbing onto Michael's back, I fell into a restless doze, waking up a few times intermittently. But each time I woke up my mind felt cloudy and I soon fell back asleep not too long after.
When we finally reached Leafy Forest Town, I was able to leave the rock-hard back behind and lay upon a soft bed. I faintly recalled them asking me something, but I wasn't really listening and merely replied 'up to you' before turning over and ignoring them. Only when I was unbearably hungry would I call out for them. I would then be carefully fed before lying back down to sleep on my comfy bed once more.