“Grrr...” The Woodland Dragon emitted a low growl.
[Hmm?] The Fairy, who was lazing around on the dragon’s forehead, sat up. [Is something the matter?]
[A pack of wyverns was entering and leaving my domain repeatedly.] Like any other races, an intelligent beast could communicate with telepathy. [Some bold wyverns they are. If possible, I’d like to smack them down from the sky.]
[Hehh. A Pack of wyverns huh.] The Fairy fluttered her wings and spiraled over the dragon’s head. [Could it be those Dwarfs and Elves’ doing? Are they underestimating a dragon’s capability because they have a number of wyverns? Hmm… How curious.]
[Dispersed Goblins are useless against wyverns,] the Goblin Queen commented with a straight face. [Best retrieve my brethren and consolidate them. That’ll increase their chances.]
The Fairy giggled in response. [That’s new. I never thought you’d offer a suggestion on how to use your kin. Have you given up hope of escaping with them? Well, not that you could return to how you previously lived anyway. It’s a dead end for you guys.]
The goblin smirked. [Might as well help someone who’s in the same situation as me, right? So, in a sense, we are comrades, aren’t we?]
[…] The Fairy knitted her brows and crossed her arms. [Who would want a Goblin like you to be their comrade? Are you out of your mind?]
[No? My kin would die for it though.] Still maintaining the smirk on her face, the goblin stood and clasped the railing of her cage.
[Hmph.] The Fairy snorted. [Filthy Goblins.]
[Isn’t that better? Filthy inside and out. It is way better than trying to give and maintain an impression of being clean. And for me, that makes you more filthy than us Goblins.]
[… I didn’t ask for your opinion.] The Fairy raised her chin and looked down on the Goblin. [Greith, tear them apart.]
The dragon, Greith, compressed his mana into a string. Using that, he formed a magic circle and deployed it at a distance. A short moment afterward, a giant spike burst into a small chamber where several goblins rested.
What was left was the stench of blood and the torn bodies of the goblins.
[Learn to shut your mouth, okay?] The Fairy snickered. [Else, the rest of your kin’s life would end earlier than expected.]
Despite the event unfolding before her, the goblin kept her unwavering smile.
[Right back at you,] the goblin muttered under her breath.
About an hour down the tunnel dug by the Devourer, [This is where we part,] Mon said with his usual calm demeanor.
“Well, plans are plans, I guess.” I reached out my fist before Mon. “Please tell me more about Grandfather and Alabaster next time.”
[Trying to imitate Randolf?] Mon expressed a wry smile.
“I’m his replacement, right?” I chuckled. “Though he and I are different, I ended up taking the position he left for me. In that case, I hope I can take his position as your friend too?”
[Is that something you ask for?]
“You’re still treating me as his Granddaughter. Although I get that because of how we met, and how you and Grandfather used to be, I want to change our current relationship. So, will you be a friend of mine too?”
Mon raised his fist and bumped it against mine.
[You have a lot to learn to accompany us, adults.]
I giggled in response. “I may not look like it, but I have accompanied various males—both child and adult. But of course, that’s an entirely different case. But even so, I’m confident enough to entertain others if given the chance.”
Mon laughed. [We’ll see.]
“Yes.” I nodded. “We’ll see.”
Further down the Devourer’s tunnel—while accompanied by balls of light and torches to light up our path—we started wearing thick over-clothes. It was also the time when I convinced Arkand to remove the armor since the armor would only allow the cold to further sink into my skin.
Not long before we wore our over-clothes, the tunnel started to tilt upwards. That was then when thin coats of ice decorated the tunnel.
Taking the nature of Alabaster, it was not something far from reality. It was simply a result of the Devourer tunneling through existing natural waterways and connecting them into this tunnel. The result was a tunnel coated with ice.
“We’re climbing this?” I blinked my eyes a few times. However, the large frozen waterfall before refused to vanish. “And we’re only using a pick to do so?”
Climbing the frozen waterfall was the easiest option we had due to the increase in the tunnel’s slope. If ever we tried climbing from the opposite side, we would end up hanging from the ceiling with only our fingers. Even for Dwarfs, it was a difficult task. Not to mention that the tunnel itself was damp from the water and ice.
[Can’t do it?] Arkand chuckled.
[I told you this won’t be easy back in the council,] Dresbon commented. [But you insisted that you wanted to take part of this operation.]
“It’s not that I can’t climb it, but it would take time to climb this with only those tools, right? Not to mention the weight of our supplies.”
[We’ll make a second relay camp here,] Garfin interrupted. [We can’t ferry most of our equipment over this waterfall. And if we did, it would take too much time and energy. We have to limit what we could bring.]
Garfin turned around and faced the other Dwarfs and Elves. [Elves! Start blowing in some air from the outside! Dwarfs! Raise a platform for our camp! Make sure it’s high enough to accommodate the rise in water! Start deploying those Fireballs and increase the temperature! Both groups should take turns to avoid mana exhaustion!]
After Garfin finished giving his instructions to the group, Arkand spoke.
[Garfin, take care of things here, I’ll start climbing and make a few platforms for us to reel the supplies up.]
[The same goes for me,] Dresbon added.
[Sure, leave things to me.] Garfin thumped his chest.
In contrast, I raised my hand and said, “I’ll take the task of creating the platforms. Afterward, I’ll scout ahead. That way, we can prepare some countermeasures for the possible blockades.”
[Sure thing.] Arkand smiled. [But that’s only if you get ahead of me and Dresbon here.] Arkand patted Dresbon’s shoulder. [Right?]
[If that is what would stop this girl from taking risks, then sure.] Dresbon crossed his arms.
My lips naturally curved into a smile. “That’s a done deal.”
A few minutes after we prepared our climbing equipment, we lined ourselves before the waterfall. Each of us had a rope, a pick, a few stakes, and a hammer contained in a sack hanging by our shoulders.
[Remember, you are not allowed to interrupt another one’s climb,] Dresbon repeated the only rule we’ve set.
“Don’t worry, I’m not that cowardly to do such a thing.”
[Hmm…] Arkand combed his beard while observing the waterfall. [Are you sure you don’t want us to give you a handicap and have a head start? I bet something like this is rare for humans.]
“I can’t refute that, but let’s have a fair start.” I smiled. “It’s also a good time to show what I’m capable of.”
Some Dwarfs might have agreed that I had what it takes to join this operation, however, that was limited to the Dwarfs I were with when we searched for Arkand and Dresbon’s group back then.
Arkand chuckled. [Suit yourself.]
After Garfin, who was watching from the side, confirmed our preparations, he shouted, [Start!]
Arkand and Dresbon immediately dashed then leaped with their picks ready to strike the ice. Soon, a rhythmic clinking sound was produced. Both were already climbing while relying on their strength.
On the other hand, I crouched and tightened my grip on the sack. Then, after coating my legs with mana, I jumped. However, rather than ready my pick to strike the ice, I inserted my hand into my over-clothes and held a dummy shard.
[Tch!] Arkand muttered. [I forgot Garfin’s story of you slaying that Gidra! How could I have forgotten you can use barriers like that!]
“Sorry, I don’t really think I can compete with brute force,” I said as I passed by Arkand and Dresbon while jumping from one barrier to another.
Although it was a tasteless victory, I could not really show that I could easily surpass a Dwarf’s strength. My image as a Princess would easily be broken if ever I did.
I’m sorry, but I have something confirm ahead.
I was not breaking any rules, but still, a sense of guilt welled up inside me.
As soon as I reached the top, Arkand and Dresbon were a little over a third of the waterfall. Using barriers as a foothold, I approached the side of the tunnel and took out a shard. As soon as I poured my mana into the shard, earthen spikes burst from the side and connected into a rough platform.
“That should do.” I then drove the stakes into the wall and threw the connected rope down the waterfall. “I’m done here!”
Before Arkand and Dresbon arrived, I placed the sack on the make-shift platform and threaded deeper into the tunnel using barriers.
This eyes sure are convenient. I conserved mana by refusing to manifest light balls to light my path. In fact, my eyes were enough to see through the dark.
“… The ice is getting thicker.” As I head deeper, the frozen stream grew deeper while the empty space shrank. Soon, I reached an expected blockade.
“This is too thick,” I muttered while sitting on another make-shift platform.
The whole tunnel was submerged in ice. However, deep inside the ice was a continuous movement of water. In addition, there were a few connecting tunnels of varying sizes.
The small tunnels are out of the list.
“Of course it connects to that lair, but which?”
Amalthea did not give any further information regarding the tunnel other than it connects to the lair. After a while of thinking it through, Arkand’s echoed inside the tunnel.
[Oi! That’s enough scouting! Come back here!]
“Just a moment!”
I pulled on my fringes. We can’t spend too much time here! Think!
Our supplies were limited. And the more we head deeper into the tunnel, the more our supply line would stretch thinner. It was not a desirable effect but we had no other ways to remedy it.
In the first place, staying much longer here would just earn father’s wrath. I should finish this soon. I sighed. If only the Fairies were gone for good!
I rasped my teeth and clenched my fist. Although I have set it aside for quite some time, my smoldering hate for Fairies has yet to vanish. Not to mention that I still had Talya sealed within my necklace.
Wait, Talya? I blinked my eyes in realization. Talya was one of the perpetrators of this event. If that was the case, then…
I tapped on the necklace, prompting for Talya’s cage to manifest. No sooner than the time I opened my palm, Talya appeared while bearing the eyes of the dead.
[…] She remained curled in her cage, listless.
In response to her appearance—a blonde hair that seemed to fade and a pallid skin covered by a leaf-like dress—my lips curved into a frown.
“Do you remember this place?”
I turned the cage around for her to see the submerged tunnel. As soon as I did, she started trembling.
[A-aa! Aha! Ah! Ahaha!] Talya expressed a twisted smile. [Y-yes! Yes! Yes!]
Talya kept repeating her words. She also laughed like a madman.
[Yes! I know! I know! I know!] She propped herself while tears slid down her face. [I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you the way!]
I’ll kill you.
At that point, Amelia and Talya had the same thought.
Erina was walking down an open corridor when she heard Elaine’s furious voice.
“That’s not good! That’s not good at all!” In front of Elaine were some female beastmen that recently arrived from Brent—the slaves saved by Kasta and the others. They had their sights on the ground while kneeling.
Strangely enough, Hilda too was present. However, she was standing beside Kasta—who took up the role as Elaine’s temporary guard.
“Listen to me!” Elaine clutched the sides of her brown one-piece dress. “You don’t have to do that kind of thing anymore! What reason were you freed from slavery if you will act the same!”
“B-but we grew up not knowing anything aside from ple—”
“Aaah! Like I said! It doesn’t matter if you grew up that way!” Elaine stomped her feet. “It’ll be useless if you will still offer your bodies like a prostitute! And! Just so you know! There are learning centers scattered all around the Duchy! Majority of them are located in the non-human settlement! You don’t have to hesitate in entering them and receive free lectures! Spend your time learning something new rather than doing what you are only used to doing!”
Elaine kept on giving the beastmen her piece of mind. And it all happened without a single rebuttal from the beastmen.
“Kasta, Hilda, and Elder Sister’s efforts will be for naught if you remain the same!” Elaine’s chest heaved as she caught her breath.
“Your Highness, it’ll be better for you to rest for a while,” Kasta suggested.
Hilda nodded. “Right.”
Elaine sighed in return. “Maybe you’re right. I too think I’m exhausted.”
Despite being tired, Elaine maintained her posture. “Hilda, will you join me?”
Hilda cracked a wry smile. “Y-yes, Your Highness.”
“Then, Sir Kasta, I’ll leave them to you. Please inform and convince them to change their way of life. I won’t stand that they remain as they are before.”
“Understood.” Kasta bowed.
The next moment, Elaine and Hilda, accompanied by another guard, exited towards the corridor. That was when Elaine met Erina.
“Ah! Miss Erina!” Elaine ran up to Erina with a smile.
“A good morning to you, Your Highness.” Erina curtsied.
Elaine returned a curtsy. “A good morning to you too.”
“I see you have addressed a recent problem.”
“Right?!” Elaine leaned forward. “I remember them being informed before! But it seems like they refused to learn since studying was hard! A little hardship would make their lives incomparable to before!”
Erina smiled. “So they were not properly educated.”
“Un!” Elaine nodded. “I can’t believe the church would only teach them basic language. Or was it because of the priest instead?”
“P-probably the priest,” Hilda chimed.
“Hmm… You must be Hilda, correct?” Erina asked.
“Ah!” Realizing that she forgot to greet Erina, Hilda hurriedly curtsied. “Yes! My name is Hilda!”
“I see.” Erina lightly bowed her head. “I give my thanks for supporting Her Highness Amelia’s cause.”
“T-that...” Hilda did not know what expression to make. For one, the main reason she helped Kasta was to give her family a better living condition.
“In any case, Your Highness, may I ask where you are headed to?”
“Hmm...” Elaine tilted her head. “Since I think Glasses is not available right now, then to the library? After all, Father won’t allow me to go out too much. How about you?”
“I wish to take a break and head for the canteen. But if you wish, I can join both of you into the library. I would have some snacks delivered.”
“That would be great!” Elaine flashed a bright smile. “Then Erina, I’ll leave it to you.” Elaine grabbed Hilda’s hand and took a run. “Let’s go, Hilda!”
“W-wait! Your Highness!” Hilda, surprised by Elaine’s actions, adjusted herself as to not fall on the floor.
Before Elaine and Hilda vanished deeper into the corridor, Erina spoke with the Guard. “Please accompany them for a while.”
The Guard bowed. “As you wish.”
As soon as Erina parted ways with Elaine’s group, she contemplated on the things she and Amelia discussed. It was at a time when they were cleaning up Libet’s mess.
“Erina, we’ll have to shift things around in the Duchy.”
Erina was puzzled. “What for?”
“The successor of the Duchy, I want in to lean towards Elaine.”
“...” Erina was taken aback. Given their situation and the recent clash between her and Amelia, she easily understood what Amelia meant. “Amelia, you do not know what is the end result yet.”
“Precisely.” Amelia nodded. “I don’t know what is the end result. Which is why I need to prepare for every scenario I could think of. I know it’s too much and seems useless. But given my position, leaving the Duchy alone is too much of loss.”
“That doesn’t mean that you should consider your loss.” Erina glared. She hated how Amelia had recently become somewhat negative.
Amelia sighed. “Let’s face it, Erina. There are several outcomes I could think of at the moment.”
“First.” Amelia raised her finger. “Everything proceeds smoothly and the Angels are eliminated.”
“Second. The Angels get eliminated but we fail to pin down the problem to Libet. In that case, I’ll be a person who brought a disaster to Academia—a terrorist. At that point, it’s either I face a public trial and execution due to the scale. Or, Father and Mother refuse to give me up to Academia and start a war. In either case, I would no longer have the rights to rule over the Duchy. Might as well say that I’ll lose every right I have.”
“Third. I fail to eliminate the Angels. Fail to hide Meiko. Fail in everything.”
Erina pinched the bridge of her nose, not knowing how to reply at Amelia’s points. “Amelia, considering your own death is not a good sign.”
“Right.” Amelia slumped herself in her seat and stared at the ceiling. “Erina, I don’t plan on dying. Really, I don’t want to die now. I mean, my life has just started to have a meaning of its own. I started to dream and hope something for myself. And then I found myself in this kind of situation. Is this the life of living after a lie? Really, this development is the worst. I want to run away, but I mustn’t.”
Erina bit her lips in silence.
“Really, wasn’t it supposed to be princesses being saved by Heroes like in the books? Well, it was a work of fiction for children after all. I can’t hope for something like that.” Amelia closed her eyes and clasped her hands. “Please save me.”
It was simply Amelia’s real thoughts on the matter. However, every second of it was torture to Erina.