Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“We made it!” Amnil said, but what she saw left her shocked. “No…”
The tree standing in the middle of the lake had burned down, the lush foliage reduced to ashes, leaving only scorched branches. There was no trace of the narrow bridge that spanned the lake.
“Princess! Please stay put!”
Ignoring Raul’s words, Amnil jumped off his back, heedless of the dragon’s roar and the sound of its flapping wings.
Without thinking, Raul jumped into the lake, still wearing his armor, and grabbed Amnil’s arm.
“We can’t stay here!” he protested. “We have to get to Altaria’s royal castle! The dragon—” Raul looked up and frowned. The dragon was only circling in the sky, not descending. He thought the barrier was still up, but he realized there was another reason.
“I get it… It doesn’t like water!”
Immediately after Amnil’s spell went out of control, it started raining. That was the reason why the dragon retreated. Rain continued to fall the next day, so the creature did not come down from the volcano.
Raul immediately took off his armor, picked up Amnil, and dove into the lake. As the princess gasped for air, Raul pressed his lips to Amnil’s to share his breath. He peered beyond the crystal clear. The dragon roared furiously then flew away in search of another prey. The Beastfallen stayed underwater for a while just in case before crawling back up with Amnil in his arms.
Raul lowered Amnil, who was having a coughing fit. Raul gave her back a rubbing, but Amnil shook off his hand, staggered to her feet, then ran into the burned lair of the sorcerer.
Raul followed, his eyes downcast at the harrowing scene. Even charred, he could tell. He could see a head detached from its body.
“Master… No…” Amnil fell to her knees. She tried to pick the skull up, but the old man’s brittle bones crumbled through her fingers. With a grief-stricken moan, Amnil plopped down on the spot.
“They said they didn’t kill him,” she muttered.
“What?” Raul looked confused. Immediately realizing Amnil’s misunderstanding, he exclaimed, “No! It wasn’t Mercenary! He was still alive back then.”
“Then who else killed him?!”
“It was a priest,” said a shrill voice. It sounded like a girl. “A priest from the Church came.”
Taken aback, Raul and Amnil looked around, searching for the source of the voice. And there it was, in the fireplace. No, it was there.
Letting out a shriek, Amnil rose to her feet. “The doll’s moving!”
It crawled out of the fireplace and patted its soot-stained purple dress. “Oh, thank goodness,” it said. “I almost burned to ashes. This is the first time we’ve met each other outside of a dream, Princess. Do you remember me?” The dirty doll gave a curtsy.
Amnil took a step back. “Wh-Who are you?”
“Me? I’m a friend of Argentum’s. My name is Sanare.” Its expression was unmoving, but its mouth split all the way to its ears. “Pleased to meet you, my new doll.”
We chased after the dragon, mobilizing all the horses and wagons that we had left at Altaria’s castle, and raced down the road at full speed.
Gouda led the party, and I was running alongside him, Zero on my shoulders. Behind us were horse-drawn wagons carrying the priest and the Magic Corps.
What can they even do against the dragon without Magic? They didn’t even have a plan, let alone a chance at winning. They were simply charging blindly to Nordis.
I didn’t dare voice my thoughts. A look at Gouda’s face and I could tell he was more distressed than I was.
If the worst happened, I’d be fine as long as Zero and I survived. But Gouda had the lives of the citizens on his shoulders. Power was definitely not something I would want. A king or a commander bore too much responsibility for their privilege. Especially a man like Gouda, who had such a stern personality.
As I shot a glance at Gouda, my nose caught a whiff of blood. Somewhere nearby, someone was injured.
“Halt!” Gouda roared, stopping us in our tracks.
We were on the border between Nordis and Altaria, just before the narrow road between cliffs. I looked closely and spotted a bloody person down on the ground. I could see the uniform of the Magic Corps even from a distance.
“Hey, isn’t that…”
Right. I believe that was his name. After arguing with Gouda, he stayed behind in Altaria’s castle, but we didn’t find him there. I didn’t expect to see him collapsed here, though.
Jumping off his horse, Gouda ran over to the young Mage. Zero climbed down from my shoulder as well and crouched down beside the boy.
“Thank goodness. He’s breathing.” Gouda breathed out a sigh of relief.
He was alive, but he suffered severe injuries. Even through his pants, I could tell that his bones were shattered to pieces.
“Hang in there. We’ll—”
Zero cut Gouda off. “Step back. I will do it.” She pushed the captain away and chanted briefly, casting a healing spell on Guy’s leg.
For a moment Gouda’s expression hardened at Zero’s use of Magic, but after weighing it against the life of his subordinate, he decided to turn a blind eye. Fortunately, the priest was still a little ways behind us.
“That should do it,” Zero said. “You should be able to walk now.”
The young Mage’s expression softened, and he opened his eyes. All of a sudden, he grabbed Gouda’s clothes.
“Lord Gouda?! It’s not safe here!” he cried. “Please get out of here! Hurry! The dragon’s still around. He used me as bait!”
An ear-splitting roar shook the air. Covering my ears, I looked up to see the huge dragon glaring at us from atop the cliff.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I mumbled.
Baring the sharp fangs lining its jaw, the dragon lunged at us. Quickly I picked Zero and Guy up, pulled Gouda, and leapt into the woods.
The dragon stopped our advance by drawing our attention to an injured person. I couldn’t believe it came up with such a smart strategy.
I spotted the people behind us fast approaching. Gouda leaned out of the tree and shouted, “Everybody, spread out! Get to the woods and hide in the trees! We’re being ambushed by the dragon!”
A horse’s neigh ripped the air. The dragon had swallowed Gouda’s horse whole, spitting out the saddle and the reins.
“What a skillful use of the tongue,” Zero said. “I must learn from it.”
“What are you, some kid who spits out her vegetables?”
“How can you be so calm?!” Gouda said in a tight voice.
“It’s not that we’re calm.”
There are some situations where you have to crack a joke or two, or the hopelessnes will crush you, and this is one of them.
The dragon was right in front of us, but pressure from the Church prevented the Magic Corps from using their Magic.
What could we do in this situation? I didn’t even need to think. There was only one thing for me to do. I rose to my feet and drew my sword.
Gouda pulled on my clothes. “What are you doing?! You can’t just—”
“Shut up! I’m gonna buy us some time. With its size, it can’t go deep into the valley. While I’m distracting the dragon, gather up your useless men and head into the valley.”
“Are you stupid?! You’ll die!”
“It’s not like I want to do this either! But if we just stay here quietly, we’re dead. I’m trying to act cool here, so just let me go. Or are you tougher than me? Didn’t think so. You need to think things through!” I dashed out onto the road.
“Mercenary!” Zero called from behind. “You look cool.” She flashed the most devastating smile I had ever seen. She might just kill me before the dragon did.
I nearly fainted, but the dragon’s tail whipping inches from my head brought me back to my senses. It was not an enemy I could toy around with. In any case, I had to draw its attention and get it away from this place as far as possible.
Reaching into my bag, I pulled out some gunpowder, lit the fuse, and threw it at the dragon. It exploded near its face, making it turn its head in surprise.
Then it noticed me.
“Good… Now follow me!”
The dragon lowered its body and kicked the ground with its thick, pillar-sized limbs. It seemed to be an expert in both aerial and ground battles.
I charged straight into the creature, slipping right under its wings, and went right behind it. I parried its swinging tail then jumped into the trees. I heard Gouda gathering up the Magic Corps and leading them into the valley. All right. Sounds like things are going well over there.
The dragon plunged into the woods to chase after me.
I screamed. “No fuckin’ way I’m fighting this guy! I’m gonna die! What do I do? What do I do?!”
I didn’t think I could win. Hell, I didn’t think I’d survive.
I tripped over something and fell flat on the ground. I steeled myself, prepared to die, but the dragon’s jaw missed my head, its teeth clattering. The creature zipped past me.
I would’ve been dinner for the dragon had I not tripped.