Gia hastily erected a towering wall to block the oncoming wave of emotions, much like a dam against the surging tide.
However, the wall seemed to waver without the strength to block anything, eventually opening a gap without any intention of preventing it.
Densely packed emotions seeped through the revealed crack, not missing the opportunity.
Despite struggling futilely to escape, Gia’s resistance only caused her to sway helplessly. Ironically, within the wall erected to push emotions away, they overflowed and filled Gia, causing her body to float as if in a storm accompanied by waves.
Before she could even identify what those emotions were, her body was swept away in an instant.
As Gia descended beneath the surface, her emotions locked up as if her heart would suffocate.
Even hitting her forehead didn’t make those emotions disappear. Frustrated, Gia bit her lips, pounding the ground with her heels.
The nature of these emotions remained elusive, more frequent than breathing. Unable to define them, Gia’s mind became more complicated.
It was something she had never experienced in her life.
Gia, sitting and gazing into the distance, felt a presence.
Turning her head, she saw Kalion, with a face so clean it was hard to believe he had just woken up. As if it were natural, scars adorned his handsome face like ornaments.
“Did you sleep well?”
In response to Gia’s question, Kalion nodded his head.
“Yes, uh, yes.”
Gia handed him water as Kalion coughed harshly, his throat seeming to be blocked. Taking the water without drinking, Kalion, looking worn out, was about to hand it back when Gia took it back and firmly opened the tightly closed lid.
Mechanically, Kalion gulped down the water and then sat beside Gia.
“Aren’t you tired?”
Feeling sorry for Gia, who fidgeted alone, Kalion, in his current state, was not in a position to talk. His body was a mess.
Would he be able to descend from the mountain in this condition? Frowning at the overwhelming worry, his thick eyebrows gathered, creating wrinkles on his forehead.
With a body like this, he would be a burden to both the members and Gia. If Morrison decided to pursue them, it might be an easy capture.
As the leader of the knights, it was time to make a decision.
When the resolute Kalion lifted his gaze, he met clear brown eyes that had been watching him all along.
“Let’s eat quickly and go down when everyone wakes up.”
Kalion paused for a moment before spitting out what he had wanted to say onto his dry lips. What should he say? How would Gia react to the words he was about to speak?
Kalion forced his lips, which had been sealed shut, to open with effort.
“I have a request.”
Gia, tilting her head mockingly, gestured as if urging him to speak.
“Could you lead the knights down the mountain in my place?”
As if not hearing correctly, Gia asked the question again. Kalion stiffened his jaw seriously and continued to explain calmly.
“As you can see, my mobility is not free, so the descent from the mountain will be slow. In the meantime, Morrison might catch up, or there could be a monster attack…”
As if saying it was not worth hearing, Gia interrupted him and abruptly stood up.
Expressing frustration, Gia put her hands on her hips and forcefully kicked the ground, making a noise. The other members who had been sleeping were stirred by the commotion and gradually woke up.
Seeing Kalion sitting expressionlessly, Gia’s stomach churned as if she had swallowed a hundred sweet potatoes at once. Her anger seemed to flare up like wildfire, but it also simmered like boiling water about to erupt.
‘What should I do with this honest and kind guy?’
She knew he had a good and straightforward personality, but this time, it felt like he was being too much. How could a person be so selfless and sacrificial? Although she thought his nature was good, this time, the irritation was too much to bear.
‘How does he see me?’
To easily say to leave him behind made Gia wonder if she had so little credibility with Kalion.
To quell the rising anger, Gia blew a gust of wind from her mouth, and with each strand of her bangs that lifted higher in the breeze, her hidden frustration seemed to subside.
“Hmm… Hey, Kalion.”
“Do you see me as someone who would abandon their comrades?”
“It’s not like that. This is for everyone’s sake…”
“But aren’t you part of that everyone?”
Unable to speak, Kalion, as if he had a mouthful of honey, closed his mouth at Gia’s question.
“Well? Say something. Answer me.”
Resisting her anger, Gia’s voice forced Kalion into silence, and he lowered his eyes.
“But if we delay like this…”
“No ‘buts.’ Either we all live or we all die. Do you think the members here would abandon you?”
The members who had unconsciously risen were now looking at Kalion with displeasure.
“You. Are you going to leave your leader and go?”
Even in hindsight, the anger returned, making her breath rough. The members, in response to Gia’s words, nodded vehemently with frustrated expressions.
The confident voices resonated in agreement with Gia’s opinion.
“It will slow down the pace because of me…”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll carry you down if I have to.”
“Stop with the useless thoughts and eat some jerky.”
Though there was much to say, Gia held back, offering dried meat to Kalion with a face that seemed to endure.
He stopped his intended objection as Gia, with determination, threatened to stuff it into his mouth if he didn’t take it willingly.
Suppressing her irritation, Gia chewed on the jerky with an atmosphere that was steadily calming. Even kindness has its limits. Gia, still munching on the jerky, handed it to Kalion. He, who seemed to have decided not to argue further, took it quietly.
Gia’s atmosphere of chewing the jerky became increasingly tranquil. Like calming a storm, she chewed the dried meat with determination. Turning away from Kalion as if she would not listen any longer, Gia gazed at the cloudless sky.
‘Is he some kind of messiah or saint? What’s with him?’
Still struggling to comprehend Kalion’s decision, Gia tore into the tough jerky with her teeth.
‘But he’s so kind.’
Although Gia was aware of Kalion’s sacrificing nature for the sake of others, the more she thought about it, the less she understood. Gia found it difficult to contain her boiling anger.
‘Why am I so angry? Damn it.’
She couldn’t understand the reason. Frustrated, Gia roughly grabbed her bangs.
Would she have easily abandoned everything if it were her previous world? Probably not. In that world, it was natural to die if you became obsolete.
If someone suffered irreparable damage, it was easier to kill them and move on rather than try to heal. The injured party either agreed or chose suicide.
In the chilly atmosphere, the members watched Kalion and Gia silently, glancing between them. Sensing their gaze, Gia, trying to quell her anger, abruptly stood up.
“Where are you going?”
Even though Kalion, rising unsteadily, asked, Gia tightly sealed her lips. She didn’t want to answer or even look at him, but because of the persistent nuisance following her, she halted her steps. She expelled a hot breath through her nose, and the warm vapor rose.
“Then, let’s go together…”
“Forget it. Go wherever you want with that leg of yours. Everyone, get ready to descend. I’ll do some scouting ahead and catch up.”
Upon Gia’s words, Kalion returned to his seat. Frustrated, he watched Gia’s retreating figure, stroking his head in frustration.
It was for the sake of others who needed to survive. However, Kalion couldn’t shake the feeling of becoming a sinner.
* * *
The descent was steeper than the ascent.
For Kalion, whose injured leg made it harder to step forward than to distribute his weight behind, walking with a focus on the back was twice as difficult.
Despite clenching his teeth tightly to avoid showing any pain, the groans that seeped out were unstoppable. Sweat poured down Kalion’s face like rain as he forcefully exhaled.
The air entering his lungs felt cold, and even the breaths came out as steam, indifferent to the weather. Sweat dripped down, not caring about the chilly air.
“Does it hurt? Do you want to take a break?”
Gia, who was supporting Kalion from the side, pricked her ears at the audible groans. Kalion slowly shook his head in response to her concerned question.
“We’ve already delayed too much time.”
Originally, they should have crossed over half of the ridge by now. It had been three days since they started moving, and yet, they were still far from the vicinity. Kalion felt a pang of guilt, thinking it was all his fault for being injured.
‘Indeed… Everything is slowing down because of me.’
Despite Kalion’s efforts to conceal his bitter feelings behind an anxious expression, Gia, quick to notice, raised her eyebrows with keen awareness.
“Hey, are you spacing out again?”
“I can see it all.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I see everything. So don’t entertain useless thoughts.”
Embarrassed by Gia’s words, Kalion looked around.
Gia, who had been supporting him by holding his waist, twisted her lips mockingly as if finding it amusing. Gia’s fingers pressed between the sturdy muscles of Kalion’s waist.
“Can’t even lie.”
“It’s not nothing. Instead of lecturing, if it’s tough, say it’s tough. Don’t endure it. What if you end up never being able to use your ankle again?”
Gia, revealing her most anxious and heavy concern, pouted her lips.
For those who wield a sword, the ankle and wrist are equally important. Kalion’s lips drew lines on Gia’s worried face.
“What’s so funny that you’re smiling like that? I’m going to die worried about you.”
With Gia, who stuck close to his injured leg as if worried it might get hurt more, supporting his waist with one hand and resting his arm on her opposite shoulder, Kalion raised his eyebrows.
Looking at the familiar face, Kalion forcibly sealed the lips that kept wanting to go up.
‘Where have I seen this before?’
When he looked at the swollen red cheek, it struck him that he had seen a similar thing.
‘It’s similar to a squirrel.’
He remembered a small squirrel that sometimes appeared in the training grounds of the imperial palace. After finishing training, and sitting down, a small squirrel would sneakily come out and rummage through the gap between the discarded outerwear.
Unbeknownst to him, he had put nuts in his pocket in case the squirrel got disappointed. Without knowing that, the little squirrel, cautious and sneaky, would fill its cheeks with snacks and scurry away.
Kalion, who always kept his distance and took the snacks every time, noticed that the squirrel started approaching first one day.