Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“The princess is waiting at the castle gates,” Gouda said. “Once you’re fully equipped, head there immediately.” The man then left the forge in a hurry.
After meeting up with the princess, we cut across the city still scarred from the dragon attack, and out into the main road. A little bit of walking and we were surrounded by woods.
Both sides of the road sloped upwards, and the trees growing from the slope slanted towards the road, forming a sort of canopy that blocked the sky.
“I doubt you can see anything after dark,” I said. “You should cut the trees down to get some visibility. Managing roads is an important job for people in power.”
“There is no need for it,” the princess replied flatly. She was walking in front. “People rarely traverse this path, and they only travel during the day.”
“Didn’t you unite the two kingdoms after the war? There should be a lot of traffic.”
“No,” Raul interjected. “The citizens of the two kingdoms are all gathered in Nordis. No one lives in Altaria’s royal capital now. The dragon attacks have reduced the population, and all the government institutions have been moved to Nordis.”
“A war that started because of land ended with excess land. Talk about ironic.”
“Yes,” Raul agreed, breathing a sigh. “A lot of people died because of the war and the dragon. There are some who are happy about the shipwreck.”
“Because the survivors will add to the population?”
There must be some serious shortage of manpower, then.
“I’m sorry,” Raul said. “That was not proper. The festival was partly to lift everyone’s spirits up a little as well.”
“That reminds me,” Zero said. “The captain mentioned assigning roles to those who do not have the ability to cast Magic.”
“If that isn’t slavery, I don’t know what is,” I said with spite.
The princess, who had been silent for a while, gave me a cold stare from under her monocle. “We assign them jobs after assessing their capabilities. That is our best option at the moment. Some may not like it, but if they show they are capable for other jobs, we allow changing occupations.”
“I see. So amidst all this mess, the princess personally guides us to the sorcerer’s lair. We don’t really need a guide, though.”
“Master also called for me.”
Master? Oh, her mentor in Magic.
“Besides, you might kill my master. If that happens, I’m going to fight to protect them.”
“Fight me?” Zero said. “Have you forgotten your overwhelming defeat last night?” She grinned.
The princess also lifted an eyebrow and looked at Zero, smiling back. “If I remember correctly, it was a draw.”
Zero and the princess stared at each other, like two kids who just wanted to play.
Raul watched them like an older brother and said, “Settle down, now.” Zero was riding on his back, chomping on some fruit she picked along the way.
The princess told her to get off countless times, but of course Zero wouldn’t listen to her.
“If you wish to take a ride, I will dismount,” Zero said.
“M-Me? Riding a Beastfallen? I-I would never do something so immodest.”
“Then I do not see why I have to get off.” Zero turned to Raul. “Or am I heavy?”
“Hmm…” Raul scratched his cheek, examining the princess’s expression. “Not heavy at all. I think you and the princess weigh almost the same.” He turned to Amnil. “You can ride too if you want, Princess.”
“I will not!”
“But you don’t look so good. You haven’t slept much, have you?”
“I told you, you’re being overprotective. I’m an adult now!” The princess quickly walked to the front.
After a while on the road, the canopy of trees disappeared, giving way to the clear sky. However, the slopes on both sides were now replaced with sheer cliffs, with no noteworthy scenery in sight.
It was a straight road. There was absolutely no need to worry about getting lost, but there was no road more boring to travel on.
Just as I was getting tired of it, the cliffs suddenly ended, and trees surrounded us once more. But the forest was different than the one before. There were more species of plants here, and more abundant. The cliffs blocking the sea breeze probably made it easier for the local flora to thrive.
“This is the border,” the princess said. “In the forest near here, there is a lake called the Dragon’s Blue Tears. That’s where the sorcerer lives.”
We followed the princess into the forest and walked along a narrow animal path. My nose caught the smell of water, then all sorts of herbs.
There’s gotta be a house nearby, I thought. The trees that blocked my view suddenly ended.
The princess stopped and said, “It’s over here.”
There was a huge circular clearing inside the woods the size of a city block. Grass covered the whole place and there was a lake right in the middle. It looked like something straight out of a kid’s drawing. The lake was clear and blue, reflecting the clouds in the sky like a mirror. There was a field of herbs nearby that had been meticulously divided into sections.
It was like a different world. Before entering the clearing, I was suffocating, but now I felt cozy and sleepy.
The most eye-catching thing of all, however, was the large tree towering in the center of the lake.
“A tree,” I muttered.
Two huge trees intertwined and formed a house. There were walls, door, and windows, but they were all molded from the trees. To make it more astounding, it was a two-storey house.
“What the hell… How do you even build that?”
“This is brilliant,” Zero said. “A skilled witch can turn a natural object into a dwelling place, but this is not the work of any ordinary sorcerer.”
“Why do witches and sorceres gotta make their houses weird too?”
“You cannot blame them,” Zero replied. “Do you think a witch can simply waltz into town and ask a carpenter to build her a house?”
“Yeah, I don’t think they can.”
“This barrier is superb. Even I did not feel any sign of the sorcerer until I stepped into this space.”
“Hmm,” the princess mused, sounding impressed. “They said that they put up the barrier because the dragon can detect Magic. It must be a flawless barrier if even you can not sense it. I thought I was inexperienced.”
“Compared to me, you are indeed still an amateur, but this is a different matter. This sorcerer is proficient.”
There was enthusiasm in Zero’s voice, as if she couldn’t wait to meet the skilled sorcerer who put up such a perfect warding.
“I’ll be waiting outside,” Raul said. “If it’s small inside, I’ll only take up space.”
I didn’t think a sorcerer’s house would have space for a horse either. I lifted Zero off Raul. The Beastfallen then walked towards the edge of the lake and sat down on four legs.
Zero, the princess, and I crossed a narrow bridge over the lake and proceeded to the front of the house.
“Mercenary,” Zero said. “I know you are already aware of this.”
I lowered my gaze to the woman standing right beside me. “You don’t have to remind me,” I said. “I know what to do. This sorcerer is an important source of information. I’m not gonna kill them on sight.”
“A mercenary indeed,” she said. I had no idea if she meant it as an insult or a compliment.
The princess raised her eyebrows nervously at our conversation. “I will stop you if you try anything. Mind your manners, Whitey.”
“Seriously? We may or may not kill your master here. Who cares about manners at this point?”
“Hush. Master likes silence.”
As always, she didn’t listen to me. She was also adamant on calling me Whitey, apparently.
The princess stood in front of the door. Before she could even knock, the door opened by itself. I was the only one surprised. Zero and the princess both walked in as if there was nothing odd about this.
I hesitated for a moment before stepping into the sorcerer’s residence.
“Ooh,” I said despite myself.
There were a lot of books inside, parchment piled up haphazardly, and glassware that I had no idea what to use for. It looked like a typical sorcerer’s room, I supposed. However, there was one item that didn’t fit the atmosphere of the room.
A doll. It was wearing a fancy purple dress, but its body was ragged, its hair made of strings of uneven color and length. Its eyes, made of buttons, were missing.
The doll was hanging from the ceiling, a string tied around its neck.
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand how sorcerers’ minds work,” I muttered.
Zero cast me a sidelong glance. “This is morbid, even for me,” she said quietly.
“What are you looking at?” the princess asked. “Is there something on the ceiling?” Following my gaze, she looked up and let out a shriek.
Yeah, I feel you. It’s definitely creepy.
“I think you’re overreacting, though. It’s just a doll. Are you okay?”
“No, it’s nothing.” The princess shook her head and turned her face away from the doll. “Why here?” she muttered.
“Welcome, Murky Darkness Witch,” said a hoarse voice. “Thank you for coming all the way to this old man’s lair.”
Surprised, I lifted my head.