Pointing the tip of the dagger to the girl’s neck, “You don’t have to shout.”
In a trembling voice, “P-please, no more… I don’t want any of this...” she shed a tear.
Releasing my hand over the girl, I approached the Hero and grabbed her by the collar.
Gazing at her eye to eye, “Neither do I,” I activated Wind Whisper.
Pushing her against the wall, “You’re a hero, but you’re pathetic,” I spat an insult.
“I don’t need your opinion.”
As her tears leaked like a stream, “W-what are you saying...”
“I care more about the refugees than a Hero like you.”
“The refugees, they are suffering from your indecision and yet, you’re saving them? Such hypocrisy.”
Unable to reply, her mouth gaped and closed repeatedly.
“The solution is simple, to save them, you have to surrender.”
“B-but… my life...”
“Figure it out yourself,” I winked, “you’re a Hero aren’t you?”
Letting her go, she slid down the wall and flopped on the floor.
“...” Quietly, she stared at the floor, listless.
As I turned around, I found the girl, covering her mouth on the corner. While gawking at her figure, I muttered a chant, and upon completion, I annulled the illusion then left the structure in a sprint. Manifesting my horn in the process, I weaved through the buildings. And into a random alley, I exited with a new clip on my fringe. Then again, I blended with the refugees.
While near the settlement's border, I manifested the cloak for the third time before leaving. Once I was far enough, I returned the clip and the shard into the pouch. Then, while treading over grass, I roamed my eyes in search of any Guard post I placed around the settlement.
After I located one, I headed towards it and met with the Guard.
“Tell them I have safely left the settlement,” I commanded after the Guard saluted.
“Yes, your Highness.”
When Guard left, I took another glance at the surroundings, sadly, only a field of grass and several stones cluttered my sight.
Pulling my hood over my head, “It’s been a while since I last slept in an open field.”
It’s been two months and a half since that day, I thought, reminiscing the days I traveled with Mon.
Looking up to the east, where the moon marked the cold and silent night, I wonder how everyone in the Tribe is doing.
Shifting my sight towards the prepared twigs and branches, “I guess it’s time to light the fire.”
Before dawn, my horse was brought by another Guard onto the post.
“Your Highness,” called the Guard as climbed over the horse, “The Hero, along with the Observers have left the settlement.”
Reining the horse towards the Dukedom, “Check the settlement for any remnants, if there are any, sweep them all at the same time once the refugees started gathering.”
With a light squeeze of my knees, I urged the horse to a walk, then adding more pressure, the horse moved to a trot.
Rubbing the horse’s mane, “Don’t worry, we’ll be traveling lighter this time.”
“You reek with the smell of nature, your Highness.”
While feeling the rough surface of the warm and moist cloth sliding down my exposed back, I covered my front with another.
Surrounded by rattling noises and clopping of hooves, “Did we get enough mages?”
“Unfortunately, most of the mages were hired as healers for the war.”
Said Erina while wiping my lifted arm.
“More will arrive right?”
“Wouldn't it be weird if a generous request from the Princess to be ignored or turned down?”
Heaving a sigh, “That’s reassuring,” I relaxed my body to a hunch.
Upon arrival on the settlement, I alighted the carriage and gave out commands to the Guards.
“Organize yourselves as instructed!”
As a Guard shouted, people moved in various directions, organizing into a rank where each can be distinguished based on their roles.
“Representatives, move forward!”
Then from each of the organized groups, a representative came forward and surrounded me.
With a smile, “A pleasant morning to you all,” I greeted.
Appropriately, they greeted back.
“First, I’m sorry, but we have to cut the greetings short as the situation is dire.”
In response, they returned a nod.
“Now then, I want everyone to gather all the sick into the square, preferably, start with the ones with severe cases. Oh, and please note that some can no longer move, so please have a small unit of the mages to visit one house after the other.”
From the side, a Guard came and whispered, “the Prince’s cavalcade is approaching.”
With a nod, the Guard left.
“Anyway, I want you to dispose of any water and food remaining in the settlement then replace them with the ones we've brought.”
Raising a hand, “may I ask the reason?” a mage asked
“Small doses of volcanic ash were mixed with their food and water. There's also traces of asbestos found among the scraps that littered the streets, so be sure to wear a cloth over your noses.”
Surprised, the representatives muttered among themselves.
“Please listen,” I said. “What you’ve heard, if possible, I want you to spread a rumor to the refugees while you heal them.”
“But your Highness,” said a merchant, “why do want us to spread it?”
“Along with Prince Maxwell, I intend to announce the church’s ploy to the refugees, and for it to take effect, and for them to believe me and the Prince’s words, I want you to garner doubt into their minds.”
“I do not intend to manipulate the refugees, but I want them to learn the truth. On the other hand, if we are successful, it is possible to assimilate the refugees faster than expected. To everyone, it’s the best possible scenario.”
“Your Highness, how about their homes? Do you want us to replace the shacks with molded ones?”
Shaking my head, “no,” I replied, “I plan to mention the plans regarding their relocation so leave the houses as is. Besides, I want you to focus on treating the refugees. Their homes will be a waste if they aren’t alive.”
Given the information they needed, the representatives met with their group and briefed them on the operation. After raising questions and suggestions, they headed towards the settlement's square, branching towards the alleys as they spread.
Beside me, while observing the operation, a familiar voice asked in concern.
“How is it?”
Taking a glance, a blonde-haired boy entered my sights.
“I hope it proceeds well,” I replied.
“Then,” lifting his hand, a butler came to his side, “Lester, provide the relief in the name of Brent and Laurel’s alliance.”
“As you willed,” bowed the butler.
Lifting a smile, “Thank you, Max.”
Snorting a grin, “Shall we?” he asked.
“You don’t have to ask.”
Along with Max, we headed towards the square. After arriving, I saw the refugees filed into groups, specifying the severity of their sickness.
Unable to suppress my urge, I strode towards the group with the severest cases.
Lacking the number of glares that I expected to receive, I guess they won’t bother who I am in this situation, I thought.
As I approached, I kneeled beside a wrinkled woman, lying on a cloth laid on the grown, drenched in sweat, while uttering pained groans.
“Don’t worry,” looking into her eyes, I placed a hand on her cheeks and said, “it’ll be fine now.”
“Amelia,” commented Max, “shouldn’t you let the mages handle this?”
“Let me be Max.”
“Like always, you like to lend a hand,” he sighed a smile before committing the same actions I took.
It’s because I know the feeling of being helpless.
Muttering a chant,
O’, ruler of light I beseech you,
Cover mine hands with light,
Solemn light, seek cleanse,
Light cleanse, purged dirt,
As my hands glowed with a calming light, I slid my hand underneath her clothes and onto her stomach.
The woman, twitching in response, muttered a groan.
“Sorry,” I muttered in a serene tone, “it will only be for a while, so please endure.”
One after the other, I repeated the process of detoxifying the refugees until I felt a sharp pang in my head.
With a hand placed over my head, “Uugh...” I groaned.
Taking my free hand, “Amelia,” Max said, “you have to rest. You still have to announce something later, don’t you?”
Forced to retreat, along with Max, the guards escorted me back to the carriage, however, along the way, I caught sight of a familiar boy.
“Wait,” I said.
The boy, while I approached, looked around him repeatedly while muttering broken words.
Bending my hips to a hinge with my hands behind me, “Hello,” I greeted with a smile, “may I perhaps know the reason you are here?”
“U-umm...” Fumbling his fingers, he looked towards the ground.
“Is your parents nearby?” I asked with a slight tilt of my head.
“Ah...” halting her actions, he expressed a frown.
Straightening my back, “Ah,” I reached out a hand and ruffled his hair, “I’m sorry about that.”
Looking up to me, “I-it’s okay...”
“Do you have any other relatives?”
Quietly, he shook his head.
“Then,” offering a hand before him, “would you like to come with me?”
For several seconds, he looked into my eyes before shifting his sight to my hand. Reluctantly, he placed his hand over mine.
“Y-yes...” he replied in a subdued tone.
Gently grasping his hand, “then let’s go,” I led him back to Max and the Guards, “soon, you’ll meet more children.”
Upon our return, Max offered his hand.
“What’s that?” Unsmiling, I asked.
“A hand, what else?” he smiled.
Heaving a sigh, just for now…
Placing my free hand over his, “What an odd child this is for it to be several years older than me,” I muttered as I looked towards the boy holding my right.
With his hand grasping mine, I felt a sense of security.
I wonder when will I be able to hold this again, or will there be?
While walking towards the carriage, I glanced towards the northwest and thought.
I’ve set the stage Maize. It's up to you now.
Before dawn, 34 flickering lights bobbed over the whispering prairie, emitting hammering hoof-beats as the grass underneath were mercilessly crushed.
Within the group of flickering lights, a girl held a knit-tight rope leading the horse’s face. While her brown hair swayed in the wind breezing past her body dressed in a tattered robe, she expressed a wide grin on her childish face and uttered a snickering laugh.
“I can’t believe that that princess will help us instead! Ahahaha!”
Behind her, a black-haired girl, gagged with a cloth, tied up with ropes, and with a neck collared by a black object, tried to struggle free while moaning through the damp cloth covering her mouth.
“Don’t worry,” with a glance, “it’ll be over soon,” the horse-riding girl said.
Along with her, men and women wore a similar robe, holding reins on their left and a torch on their right.
“Captain,” beside her, a horseman said, “why did you not give us orders? We could’ve ambushed the princess in that room.”
Snorting a frown, “Fool,” she replied, “we’ve been dealing with that princess for years, she knew the risk of entering that room.”
“Still, it was a chance!” he argued in a shout.
“And what? Get myself killed?” she glared, “Besides, if I told you to move, we’d give a reason for those pesky Guards to move and eliminate us.”
Haughtily, “What? Ran out of words?” she said.
Several minutes into riding their horses, a portion of the sky was painted gradient in a tint of amber.
With her command, the horsemen scattered a black liquid on their trail towards the northwest.
“Lit them up!”
Again, with her command, the horsemen threw their torches behind, razing the innocent prairie behind them into a wall of flames.
“Now, keep moving!”
From her order, four horsemen including the girl branched out from the group and headed towards west, moving in a broken line with enough distance to pass telepathic messages between them. A few minutes after, the girl received a telepathic message.
[Captain, the other group, they were ambushed.]
Snickering a grin, “Jackpot,” she muttered.
With upright banners fluttering in the wind, marked with silver leaves, a group of light-armored cavalry stood gallantly on a hill, armed with spears, bows, shields, and swords while surveying the area.
Moments after a portion of the prairie lightning up in flames, Maize, Captain of Amelia’s Guards, lifted his three-pronged steel lance laced with a whiffling red cloth and shouted a command.
“Men! Take your aim!”
Knocking an arrow on their bows, they emitted a sound of strained strings. Then, angling their aim, they released a deep breath.
Immediately after Maize’s command, arrows swam into the air like a sparse school of fishes, but unfortunately only a few fell down their horses.
Given another order, they adjusted their aim before another batch of arrows swam into the air and fell to the group of horsemen like a shower of needles, felling a number in an instant while halting the rest.
Then, lifting their spears, “Charge!” Maize released an order.