Chapter 85

The men worked quickly, and within a few hours, I had gathered ten knights beside me to head to the forbidden mountain. I wasn’t sure how many the original expedition brought, but I didn’t want to take too many and end up leaving Erika with not enough troops to defend.

“My lord, is it wise to keep the army here?” The attendant asked worriedly as I mounted the horse.

“This is a fortress. It’s the safest spot in the kingdom and the best place to utilize our forces.”

“Yes… but that’s the problem, my lord.” He made an unpleasant face. “They have to travel over three days across our country, passing dozens of towns and villages. They would assuredly sack everyone along the way. It would be a slaughter! Thousands of our people will be slain by the wildmen before they even reach the castle.”

“We’ve already sent people calling for them to flee.” I frowned.

“Sir, they aren’t nearly fast enough. We’re asking people to upend their entire home… this will assuredly look bad.”

“And what would you have me do?”

“Take the army and ride out and meet him! The queen can look for the antidote to the poison. The advantage is you and the wildmen leader are both poisoned, so you’re being weakened at the same rate. He shouldn’t be stronger than you.”

“No,” I responded flatly. “The queen is safest in the castle, and I am the most qualified to get the poison.

If the scenario was to get the cure and protect the kingdom, then this was the safest path. Just because the original lover duo had chosen to do it one way didn’t mean that way fit for everyone. I could feel the scenario trying to push us to replicate that pattern, but I didn’t care to do so. We were different people with different strengths.

“But, sir…” he tried to protest.

“I am king, the last I heard. Do you serve me?”

His expression flashed with shock. “O-of course I do!”

“Then, trust me.” I held out my hand to him. “You will follow the queen’s orders in my absence.”

He looked at it for a moment, then reached out and grabbed my hand. We shook, and then I pulled away.

“I will do as the queen orders.” He lowered his head in defeat.

Thankfully, in this scenario, I was king and I could just make things how I wanted. I waved one last time to Erika, who was watching us in the courtyard from her balcony. She waved back with an anxious expression on her face.

“Come back safely!” She called out and then blushed slightly as she realized she could be heard by everyone present.

I nodded, and then gave the order to set out. The gate lowered and the eleven of us rode out. The trip would take seven days. It was three days to the peak, a day up and down, and then three days back. Incidentally, the Wildmen army would reach our border in three days, and then in three more days reach the castle. That meant that at my speed on horseback, I couldn’t reach the battle in time.

I wasn’t worried though. With the knights remaining in the fortress, they had the power to hold off the wildmen for weeks. Adding to that Erika’s ability to construct magical barriers, and they could probably triple that time. Even if the wildmen’s strength was completely unreasonable, they would last plenty of time for me to return.

I rode the horses hard and the knights rugged. I wasn’t concerned with their comfort. I didn’t care about needing to be loved by my people or admired by my underlings. This entire scenario was a made-up illusion, and so were the people within it. I wasn’t trying to win some award. As long as I met the conditions of the trial, I was satisfied. This is why I didn’t care about abandoning those citizens. They weren’t real people, but illusions. I didn’t need to worry about my future reign in the slightest. It made sense to use them as disposable pawns when it was convenient.

Time was the only thing I was concerned about. I didn’t know how the time in here compared to the time out there. It had only been a theory that time in here was much faster, but my other self would be reaching the city soon, and with that, the brother would try to free her sister. If we were in this trial when that happened, we wouldn’t come out. I feared that might be our best chance outside of defeating the trial. Then, of course, there was Lord Maxwell, who might be doing this trial coinciding alongside us.

I wasn’t necessarily afraid of his strength, but his knowledge was what worried me. Even an evolved fish that worked on instinct at the level of prestiged had given me trouble. I didn’t want to imagine how much trouble a lord could give me, given all the knowledge and techniques that he had. I was all too aware that despite my evolutionary status, I wasn’t immortal. Until I understood this world better, I was still vulnerable to ignorance.

Thus, I continued to the mountain despite the protests and complaints of the knights. I was a king, and thus they kept their complaints to a minimum. As we grew closer to the mountains, we began to face opposition. Various sagebeasts attacked. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but every single one was based on an original animal that had seemingly evolved into a higher form.

At first, the beasts were rather simple to defeat, and I had high hopes we’d be able to reach the mountain by the middle of the second day, but the closer we reached the mountain, the more terrifying the beasts became. Soon, I couldn’t stand back and let the knights do all the fighting, so I joined in. To maintain my house, I didn’t display all of my power, and as a result, the knights began to die one after another.

Given the number of beasts we encountered, the original expedition led by the queen had likely been hundreds of knights if not thousands. They began to die one after another, and I had a feeling that this was true to the original intent of the immortal. By the time the queen reached the mountain, she could only face it alone.

“M-my…. King…” The last knight gave his last breath, looking up at me with hopeless desperation.

I pulled the sword hilt from his dead fingers and then held it up. “I wonder…”

I dropped the sword into my inventory and then pulled it back out. It was almost like the trial treated it as real. Was this place an illusion, or something more? Perhaps, the sword would only dissipate once I left the trial. Then again, maybe it would remain.

While thinking such things, I began going up the mountain on my third day. There was no time to waste. I was still losing HP thanks to this obnoxious curse, and while it was nothing compared to my current level, it still left me uneasy. I picked up the pace, feeling a sense of unease. As I rose the mountain, the sky turned dark with clouds. Occasionally, there was a bolt of lightning. The whole thing felt very dramatic.

“Is that it?” I couldn’t help but ask after half a day of climbing.

It was night, and if I hadn’t developed various other senses outside of vision, I might have been blinded by the darkness around me. However the current me could see with mana clearly, and I could see the very flower I had come to fetch. It was sitting out on a rock in front of a massive cave. Lightning seemed to strike it occasionally almost like it was a lightning rod, but it didn’t burn anything. Instead, it seemed to absorb the lightning and become even brighter. The cave had warm air coming out of it in rhythmic breaths, almost like the mountain itself was breathing. It was a unique spot.

I glanced around carefully and then started walking out toward it. If there was a red dragon, it was farther back in the cave passed my mana sense. I also didn’t detect anyone else on the mountainside. That was, until just as I was about to grab the flower. I felt a sense of crisis and then jumped back. A dagger struck right where I had been bending over.

A hidden mana signature seemed to appear out of the darkness and morph into a woman. She was wearing various furs all over her body and had various tribal tattoos all over her skin.

“That flower is mine!” She declared. “Stay back.”

I frowned, wondering if I had initiated the next part of the trial. “I’m sorry, I need that flower to make a cure.”

“As do I…” She responded. “You poisoned my brother. What now? You wish to force him to submit by using the cure?”

So, that was what the trial was about. When my queen came to find the cure, she encountered it at the same time as the wildmen’s sister. Two women trying to save a man they love from poison. I guess I did mess up the theme a bit, but perhaps it was the trial’s fault for being too rigid.


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