The feet of the wooden chair rattled against the cream floor as Kanna abruptly stood from her seat. Her mouth agape, she moved her sight from Meiko towards the window on her right. “I think I need to beat someone! No, kill I mean!” she shouted with a vexed expression.
Surprised by Kanna, Meiko, while sitting on the bed, asked, “W-what do you mean?”
“I can’t explain it. But I feel the need to go! But I’m sure it’s related to Lia!” she declared. Then she turned to the door and ran towards it while shouting, “Birby! We’re going to slice and dice someone!” After turning the knob, she immediately jumped towards the hallway and disappeared to the left while leaving the door open.
“There she goes,” said Mola. Peacefully, she lied down on the second layer of the bunk bed. She then rolled to the side and peeked below. “If you want to chase after her, you can go.”
Meiko reared her head and responded with a mutter to Mola. “I...”
“Kanna will return,” said Mola with half-closed eyes. “Probably with her Highness in tow.”
“...” Quietly, Meiko shifted her sight to her knees.
“You don’t have to worry. Her Highness is not a bad person, however, she isn’t a thoroughly good one as well. But considering how the world works, that’s normal. After all, the world isn’t painted in only black or white.”
“Hmm… But you know? You still haven’t left this room.” Then Mola reared her head and lied down as usual. “Meiko, what are you afraid of? Is it meeting with the people of this world? Or you’re just afraid of being hurt? In any case, no one’s going to hurt you here unless you hurt them first.”
“I’m not sure either...”
Suddenly, from the door, Kanna peeked and asked, “Does anyone of you know where Lia is?”
““...”” In silence, Meiko stared at Kanna while Mola did the same as she sat up on the bed.
One. Two. Three. ““Pfft! Ahahahaha!”” Mola and Meiko laughed with their arms wrapped around their waist.
“Oi! What’s wrong?! I’m serious here!”
Immediately after I left Max near the border gateway, I headed towards the carriage and boarded. Once inside, I sent orders via telepathy.
[We’re leaving towards west. Make haste.]
Using my authority, I forced the Guards to immediately embark. I didn’t give them enough time to contemplate the recent event. After all, it’s not something that I wanted to hear now and then. After several minutes, the Guards finished re-positioning themselves under Maize’s command.
During our travel, our convoy passed by a group of villagers heading towards east. Children, adults, and elderly, they all have their own sacks or cloth bags hanging from their back or hands. They were all citizens of the village between Twin Peaks and the forest.
At that time, I halted the convoy and alighted the carriage. After giving some greetings, both children, adult, and elderly alike surrounded me in a semi-circular manner. They all listened to what I had to say. And they were pleased by the coincidental meeting. Since it was a good time to explain the situation, I took the chance to assure them that we are working on the problem with the forest.
After I gave my farewell, I returned to the carriage and sat across Erina.
“Perhaps, now, you can explain your brazen action in this recent event?” she asked as I took my seat.
Silently, I shifted my sight from Erina down to my knees. “It’s… No, I just wanted to thank Max for all those five years he remained by my side. Aside from that, Brent is at war. So if things went for the worst, that might be our last meeting. And so I took the chance to do at least that- At least, that’s how I’ll explain it...”
“You do know that he’ll be your step-brother soon, right? After all, It’s highly probable that his Majesty and her Majesty will agree with his Highness’s betrothal with her Highness Clarissa.”
Quietly, I nodded.
Erina sighed in response as she brought a hand to her forehead.
Clasping my hand on my knees, I said, “I’m sorry. I got too ahead of myself...”
Ah… I can’t understand myself anymore… Maybe I shouldn’t have let my instinct took the better of me. But after things calmed down- I won’t be a Laurel anymore, right? Aaaahhhh! What am I thinking! This isn’t you Amelia! Not you! Wake up! It doesn’t end there!
The more I thought about the repercussions of the things I’ve resolved myself to do, the more my chest felt the brunt of its weight.
You’re no longer normal Amelia! I thought to myself.
“Amelia,” called Erina, unsmiling. “Would you do the same for any man who stayed by your side?”
I shook my head in response and said, “Of course not! I don’t think I’ll feel the same about anyone else! It’s not a matter of time!”
“Then it’s fine,” replied Erina with a smile.
I knit my brows in response. “What? I don’t get what you mean...”
“You don’t have to.”
With a puzzled expression, I thought, Weird… Erina’s weird today…
“So how was it? The kiss? Was it good? After all, you took a good long one for your first,” she asked as she leaned closer with a mischievous smile.
I cuffed my ears in response and said, “You’re not getting anything from me!”
Late in the afternoon, we arrived at the deserted village and met with the remaining Guards that handled the evacuation. Accordingly, I took refuge inside a structure called the Village Hall. A staple among villages to accommodate guests or to discuss plans brought up by village chiefs.
Since we’ve been traveling from day till now, we took the time to rest. However, within the hall, Maize and I resumed our discussion about the plan for tomorrow.
“How do we proceed?” asked Maize, standing beside a door.
“Since Father will be heading to the duchy,” I said while seated on a nearby chair, “there’s a guarantee that he’d soon find out the issue with the church in the forest. So, if possible, I’d like to finish this sooner than later.”
“Another show of power huh.” Maize nodded.
“That too,” I answered. “It’ll be a good example for Father to accept that I can take care of myself and events such as this on my own. Anyway, we’ll proceed by using the church girl as a bait.”
“So we’re taking the reckless approach?”
“We don’t have much of a choice.”
“In any case, damage her legs and knock her unconscious before you throw her into the forest.”
Within the room on the next day, I was cuffing around my waist. On my right hung a pouch filled with a few shards and crystals. On my left was my old longsword and my rapier. Each strapped with a different sword belt. Then to my back was my dagger fastened in place.
“All check,” I said as I stood beside Erina. I then took a final check on my wyvern leather armor by twisting my body and moving around the room. “Seems good,” I said while opening and closing my gloved hands.
“Are you done?” asked Erina.
“Then come here,” said Erina, gesturing to the wooden chair.
In response, I approached the seat and took it.
“Would a ponytail do?” she asked.
“You can do as you like,” I answered. “As long as it doesn’t get in the way of moving too much, then it’s fine.”
“In that case...”
A moment after Erina fixed my hair into a braided bun, me and my Guards ate the preserved jerky from the carriages we brought. Then we took one final rest during the night.
Before I left the room, I turned to Erina and said, “You don’t have to be so worried every time I leave, Erina.”
“Amelia, there isn’t any mother who wouldn’t care for her son’s or daughter’s well-being each time they leave facing a perilous situation. If ever there was, that person doesn’t qualify to be called as a proper mother. Less, a person.”
“True.” Then tapping my cheeks with the palm of my hands, I said, “In any case, I need to leave now.”
“Really, I don’t understand the reason for you to leave an hour before midnight.”
“It’s because it’s at this time that I should leave,” I replied with a wry smile. “Anyway, Erina, please prepare good food for my return.” And thus I turned to leave towards the door.
As I reached for the handle, her voice came from behind. “Don’t let my efforts in preparing a meal go to waste.”
Snickering a sigh, “Who do you think I am?” I muttered.
I then left the Village Hall and met with Maize.
“Is there any changes?” I asked.
“None,” Maize replied. “The church girl is still lying unconscious in the forest. I’ve positioned my men at a distance around her to observe the situation. However, so far, none of the church came to retrieve her.”
“Where are the others stationed?”
Quietly, Maize slid his hand into his pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. He then unfolded it and reached it out to me. After receiving it, I confirmed the position of the north on the forest’s map. The map was marked with black dots that indicated the position of the Guards spread around the forest. And a large dot that indicated the church girl’s position.
“How about those that went to the fishing village and the village down south of here? Are there any reports from them? And have they positioned themselves accordingly?”
“There is one report that came just recently. And I believe they have.”
“And that is?” I asked as I looked up to Maize.
“The assassins began to head deeper into the forest. There’s definitely something brewing with their actions.”
I knitted my brow in response and said, “Retreating huh? Perhaps they’re gathering or just luring us deeper into the forest?”
“It’s likely that they’re luring us in.”
Placing a hand over my lips, I muttered, “This is troubling.”
“Indeed. However, we must make haste.”
“True. In any case, we’ll proceed as planned. However, prepare for any unforeseen circumstances. It’d best bring shards of different elements to make sure.”
The wind brushed past the trees and rustled its leaves. And as moonlight filtered through the seams in-between leaves, it struck a pattern of light over a girl leaning on a tree’s trunk. The girl was unconscious. She had brown hair and wore a brown tattered rag similar to those of slaves. And at her neck was a black collar fitted tightly. It was a slave collar. However, it’s mana siphoning effects were disabled.
“Uugh...” the girl muttered. Her body slowly slid from the trunk and fell. At the moment her right shoulder struck a nearby rock, her eyelids shot open and her body jolted awake.
“What?! What?!” she said as she erratically moved her head to her left and right. Her eyes darted around the dim forest. As soon as she confirmed she was fine, she propped herself back up against the trunk.
Blankly, she blinked her eyes as she took in the scenery before her. A forest in the middle of the night. “Where am I? Is this a dream?” she asked herself. To confirm that she wasn’t dreaming, she used her right hand to grab a piece of dirt beside her. As she lifted her hand, she unfolded her fingers and revealed smudges of dirt, grass, and dried leaves. “Did it work?” she asked herself once again as she confirmed that it was real.
Using her left, she reached out to her neck and felt the collar. “It’s still here.” She then shook her head and said, “But it doesn’t matter.” Gradually, a smirk emerged on her face. “As long as I reach that, this won’t matter.”
While chuckling a grin, she propped herself up. However, a sharp pain ran through her legs and forced her to remain seated. “Tch!” She spat a hateful glare at her battered feet. It was covered in bruises and dried blood. “Whatever,” she muttered and began chanting.
“I didn’t reach the second level of light through the church’s blessings for nothing.” She then gently slid her glowing fingers from her thighs down to her ankle. She repeated the same procedure on her other foot. After she confirmed that her wounds healed, she propped herself up once again. This time, she succeeded.
After she got up, she dusted her clothes while scanning the surroundings. As she turned to the other side, a breeze passed by. “Brr...” She muttered while rubbing arms with her hands.
Soon she found a portion of the forest better lit than the surroundings. She passed by bushes as she moved towards the light. And just as she expected, she found a small clearing. Towards its center, she walked while lifting her head. As soon as she reached the center, she gazed at the stars that blanketed the dark sky like jewels.
Quietly, her eyes darted from one star to another. She took note of the constellations taught to her when she was still studying under the tutelage of a priest. Then, with a nod, she again scanned the surroundings. Shortly, her eyes halted at a tree a bit larger than the rest. She approached it and with her hands held up, she jumped and grabbed a branch. She then pulled herself up in a huff. A branch after the other, she climbed further.
At the moment she reached a spot with a stable footing, she moved her sights around starting with the north. However, it was dark, and all she can see was a sea of leaves dimly lit by the moon. However, to her, it didn’t matter. She then began chanting another magic.
Manifest, Far Sight.
Consequently, the range of her vision grew and even in the dark of the night, she could see better than she used to.
There’s the Twin Peaks, she thought. If I’m this close to the left peak, then I’m probably around the northeastern part of the forest.
Once she confirmed her location, she started descending the tree, snapping some twigs as she goes.
You’ll regret you gave me this chance, princess, she thought. Now then, I’m sure they’re around here somewhere.
Silently, facing south, she whispered a chant while walking.
Manifest, Body Reinforcement.
At the moment the reinforcement activated, she took a start dash and immediately shifted towards southwest. As she ran, the corners of her lips rose into a wide smile.
Next chapter to be posted at the weekend.