Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Interlude: A New Doll
It was early in the morning after Princess Amnil’s return to the castle that the dragon flew to Nordis.
Raul, as always, was the first one to hear the roar that echoed across the entire island. The Beastfallen immediately reported to Amnil, and on her orders, woke up the guards and instructed them to evacuate the citizens.
Even without the support of the Magic Corps, the evacuation went swiftly. The citizens were already familiar with the dragon attacks and knew the entrance to the underground tunnels.
They couldn’t fight off the dragon without the Magic Corps, but they were equipped to hole up and wait until reinforcements arrived.
That is, if the dragon hadn’t already wiped out Gouda and his team.
“There’s no way that man would die so easily.”
They had no means to confirm either way, so their only choice was to wait hopefully.
There’s nothing I can do without my Magic, Amnil thought as she hugged her knees tight in the warm water.
After the citizens were evacuated and all gates were shut, Amnil took a bath in the hot spring. Now that she could no longer use Magic, there was no point in taking a dip in the hot water to recover her magical power, but this bathroom was the only place that could calm her down.
She dreamt of the doll again last night. It should’ve been hanging from the ceiling, but this time it moved around freely, looked at Amnil, and said, “I found you.” Amnil shivered despite the warm water.
The dragon’s rampage and roars above reverberated all the way underground. The creature was furious, going on a frenzy like never before. Every step it took shook the entire underground shelter a little, and small fragments of rocks fell from the ceiling.
“Ah, the water will get muddy,” she muttered.
Then Amnil heard a banging on the bathroom door. She frowned.
“The princess is bathing,” Raul said, stomping his hooves.
“I apologize for my rudeness, but there’s a woman begging to go above ground!”
“What? But the dragon’s out there.” Looking confused, Raul turned to look at Amnil, as if asking for a decision.
The princess took one deep breath and got to her feet. “Wait. I’m coming.”
When she got out of the bathtub, she felt a little calmer. After Raul helped her dress up, they returned to the castle together with the soldiers.
Amnil could hear the commotion even before they reached the square. It was completely out of control. Everyone was yelling at each other. There were only a few members of the Magic Corps here, and guards who couldn’t use Magic alone were not enough to quell the unrest.
Shaking her head, Amnil walked up to the Magic match venue, still set up in the center of the square, and rang the bell as loud as she could. The sound echoed through every corner of the underground tunnels, silencing the citizens in an instant.
“What started this?” Amnil asked.
All eyes darted to one woman. She stared boldly at the princess, her face wet with tears.
“The entrance was blocked while my child was still outside! I asked them to at least let me out, but these people don’t care! They want to let my child die to protect themselves!”
The evacuation was terribly chaotic. Amnil herself hadn’t recovered from the shock of losing her Magic, and in their haste to take shelter, all entrances and exits were blocked immediately.
“It’s too late!” one shouted.
“The kid’s already dead anyway! If you leave now, you’ll die as well, and you’ll put us all in danger!”
“That’s right! The best thing to do is to hide until the Magic Corps arrives!”
Best, the princess mouthed. It felt like someone planned this situation.
“God… are you testing me?”
Was it best to put her people in danger for the sake of one child? No. Was it just to tell a mother to abandon her only child? No.
Amnil could no longer use Magic.
“I will draw the dragon’s attention,” she said. “Find the child while it’s distracted and take them to safety.”
But she had to do it.
Some smiled in relief, while some—members of the Magic Corps—looked anxious. They knew Amnil had lost the ability to cast Magic.
Too dangerous! Pressing a finger to her lips, Amnil cut the soldier off with a “Ssh,” and cast him a gentle gaze.
Whether she could use Magic or not was of no concern to the people. The only thing they cared about was whether or not their ruler would protect them.
“Raul! Get me my armor, and the fastest horse you can find!”
The Beastfallen neither argued nor hesitated. He simply followed Amnil’s orders and galloped away. He would no doubt bring exactly what the princess wanted, and swiftly.
But the Magic Corps still wore disapproving looks. “How are you going to draw the dragon’s attention?!” one said. “A horse won’t make it to Altaria’s royal castle. You can use the fastest horse around, but once it slows down, the dragon will catch up!”
“You’re right. Getting to Altaria is impossible,” the princess replied. “But I can make it to the sorcerer’s lair, at least.”
Argentum’s lair was warded to prevent the dragon from finding it. Once she was in the forest, the dense trees would block the dragon’s vision and attacks. She had a good chance to outrun it.
“Your armor, princess,” Raul said.
Nodding, Amnil spun around. What she saw made her speechless. The Beastfallen indeed brought what she wanted, but that wasn’t all. Raul himself was donning a silver armor, a full set that was forged for a jousting tournament from way back.
“Why are you dressed like that?” the princess asked.
“What? You said you wanted the fastest horse,” Raul replied.
“You’re more than just a horse! This is no time for jokes.”
“This is our best option, Princess. Unlike an ordinary horse, I can use weapons. I can handle a little injury, and I won’t flinch at the slightest problem. I will never drop you.”
The only time Raul had ever picked up a weapon was in a jousting match he had participated in for fun in the past. He was predicted to lose early, but he defied all expectations, winning and advancing to the following rounds with ease. He even had to lose on purpose in the final match so his opponent could save face.
“You have been protecting me all this time,” Raul said. “Even if we stopped you, I know you will go anyway, so at least take me with you. You can’t stop me. If you take a different horse, I will follow you anyway.” Raul flashed a smile that lifted Amnil’s heart.
If she could ignore the fact that she didn’t want Raul to die, this was indeed the best option.
“Someone, saddle up Raul,” Amnil ordered. “We’re leaving through the main gate!”
The door opened a little on cue, and Raul raced out with Amnil on his back.
Territorial and wary of intruders, dragons basically preferred high places. And in the city of Nordis, sprawling along the slopes of a mountain, the castle was in the highest position.
The dragon had destroyed part of the castle. It lay coiled in the rubble, watching for any sort of movement.
When Raul and Amnil emerged, the dragon immediately gave chase. There was no way it wouldn’t pursue them. Purring with the delight of slaughter, the dragon flapped its gigantic wings and soared into the sky.
Waiting for this exact moment, the Magic Corps attacked all at once, blocking the dragon as it swooped down. In addition, they fired a cannon as well, a relic from the age before Magic. Fewer and fewer people were able to man it due to the frequent dragon onslaughts, but the sailors who washed ashore the other day could operate the powerful gun with no problem.
However, they could only stop the dragon for about ten seconds. They had to end their attack before the dragon changed its target, and closed the door to the underground tunnels immediately.
“Raul! It’s coming!”
“Don’t worry. We’ll make it.”
Raul kicked the ground with his horseshoes. A natural wooden canopy covered the road between Nordis and Altaria. Once they went in, the dragon lost track of them from above. Hoping to mow down Amnil and Raul, the dragon descended several times, toppling trees, swinging its legs and tail, but the Beastfallen dashed past all of the attacks, leaving the dragon behind.
Amnil swallowed at how fast Raul was going. He wasn’t lying when he said he was the fastest horse around.
“We’ll be leaving the forest soon and entering the valley,” Raul said. “I’m going faster, so please hold on tight!”
With his armor on, weapon in hand, and Amnil on his back, Raul accelerated even more. The sky opened up and rock walls loomed on either side.
The dragon’s huge body prevented it from landing in the valley, but it continued its assault, tenaciously thrusting its neck and legs towards Amnil.
Raul snickered. “It looks like it really hates you.”
The Beastfallen’s calmness said he wasn’t afraid of anything. His comfortable breathing even suggested that he was enjoying galloping at full speed.
“I wouldn’t let you go if I wasn’t sure I could protect you,” Raul said. “We’re almost through the valley. Don’t worry. It’ll never catch up to me.”
It was as if the Beastfallen had already taken everything into account—what lay on the road between Nordis’s castle to Argentum’s lair, how fast he could run, how fast the dragon could fly.
They made it through the valley. Argentum’s lair was just past the woods on the left. With nothing in its way now, the dragon once again charged forward, but Raul seemed to be toying with the creature as he raced through the forest, deftly avoiding the trees that lined the path.
Their vision widened, and a lake came into view.