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Chapter 27: The Course of a Bad Plan
The man jumped as he brandished his knife about. Sigurd struck with the heel of his palm, knocking him out. He then slipped past the other man who thrust at him as he curled his lips, slashing at him. His eyes were glued onto the altar.
He called her name, yet no reply came back from the empty altar.
In despair, Sigurd rushed to the edge of the altar. Throwing his sword away, he leaned towards the lake as if he would jump in at any moment.
As if to hold back Sigurd,
Something came up from under the altar.
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It was the head of a gigantic dragon.
Silver scales and scarlet eyes. Rich Mana filled the air.
Although stakes held down his four limbs, and he was deprived of half of his soul, and he could only move freely from the neck, the ancient dragon Kharis, had lived for a thousand years, sealed in the underground lake. Every ten years, in return for the offering of the blood and flesh of a Sacrificial Priestess, the whole of Palcemith would prosper from his blessings.
The ancient dragon stretched his long neck and pushed the dumbfounded Sigurd’s body to the centre of the altar with the tip of his nose. And what was on top of that huge nose?
Julieta, the Sacrificial Priestess, had her limbs tied up, deprived of her freedom.
Sigurd picked up Julieta from the tip of Kharis’ nose, undid the ropes that tied her thin limbs, and confirmed her safety. Although there were some scratches from when she rolled off the altar, the men did not seem to have initiated violence or assault against Julieta, brought to be fed to the dragon.
Even so, the terror was still fresh in memory. Tears of relief streamed down Sigurd’s cheek as he hugged Julieta, as her small shoulders trembled.
“Thank goodness, really, thank goodness…!”
“Julietta. My dear Julieta… Don’t go anywhere. Don’t leave me, don’t go. If I lose you, I’ll go crazy…”
“Brother… Thank you, brother… I too, feel the same.”
How could he let go of the warmth of his sister, his beloved, as she rubbed her head against his chest, so easily?
Raising his head above the pair of siblings hugging tightly, the ancient dragon let out a small cry.
“Well, Your Grace Kharis.”
Returning to his senses, Sigurd straightened up and kneeled on a knee in front of the ancient dragon. Kharis turned to Julieta, who was prostrating next to him, and let out another cry as if to say something.
“I am grateful for your concern… I am fine.”
“Julieta, you can understand the words of His Grace?”
Sigurd looked down at Julieta in surprise as she replied with a smile to the ancient dragon. But on the contrary, his sister looked back at him wide-eyed.
“Yes…he asked me… if I was hurt… Brother, can you not…hear it…?”
“For me, the words that have meaning…are very…”
“It is a technique given to the Sacrificial Priestess, to enable you to talk with His Grace Karis.”
Hearing a voice from behind, Sigurd and Giulietta looked back. Head Priest Malachia seemed to have regained his consciousness. Supported by Lutora, he managed to walk under the altar while holding the wound on his head.
“Malachia… don’t force yourself.”
“It’s …okay…fufu, I’m glad… I heard that His Grace Karis will cherish the Sacrificial Priestess who offers herself on the Dragon God festival. I believed that he would save you.”
“I understand… hey, lean on me more.”
Malachia has made a bet on the long-standing tradition of the ancient dragon, Kharis not hurting the Sacrificial Priestess. While the men were violent, he took them in circles to the last minute and bought time. Supported by Lutora, Malachia paid his respects in front of the ancient dragon, just like the siblings. Lutora followed suit.
On top of the altar, Sigurd continued staring into the bottomless depth of the eyes of the ancient dragon, Kharis. He finally opened his mouth quietly as if he had decided something.
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“Your Grace Kharis. I am Sigurd Isys Asbal, Knight of the Kingdom of Palcemith. I am the brother of the Holy Maiden, Sacrificial Priestess Julieta. While I am not the blood of Sage Asbal, I am proud of my family name. I would like to ask Your Grace one thing, I beg for your compassionate will.”
In response to Sigurd’s plea, ancient dragon Kharis let out a small grunt from the back of his throat. Sigurd, who took it as acceptance on seeing Julieta’s expression, lowered his head low enough that it rubbed against the cobblestone floor.
“Please… Please teach me how to free the Sacrificial Priestess. If Your Grace knows any way to cure your hunger without offering the Sacrificial Priestess, please enlighten this insignificant I. The Sacrificial Priestess is my sister. She is more important to me, even more than my own self. If there is a way to save Julieta, no matter how much pain I have to endure, I will do it, even if that means I am the one eaten instead.”
On hearing his heartfelt entreaty, Julieta’s eyes opened wide in surprise. Lutora and Malachia too showed startled expressions beneath the altar.
Not minding the three, Sigurd looked straight up at the ancient dragon Kharis. Facing him, Kharis let out a cry that reverberated across the ceiling of the underground lake.
Julieta, who was the only one who could understand its meaning, turned stiff.
Sigurd gently hugged her.
“That, His Grace…”
“Julieta? What did His Grace say?”
Julieta’s jade eyes wavered in hesitation, yet prompted by her brother’s palm, which gently stroked her hair. She announced the oracle given by the ancient dragon.
“The pearl… His Grace said, Give me the pearl.”
Saying that alone to Sigurd and the others, the ancient dragon once again swung his neck, turning his head out of the reach of the altar.
Left behind, Sigurd held Julieta as he went down from the altar, and joined Lutora, who stood up as he supported Malachia.
“Lady Julieta, please forgive me, I put you in danger…!”
“It’s fine, Malachia. More importantly, what about the children taken hostage? What about your injury?”
“It’s okay. I just feel faint.”
Lutora and Sigurd, sandwiched between two smiles, lightly bumped fists together.
“Are you okay, Lutora?”
“I’m fine. I’m glad that Lady Julieta does not have any severe injuries.”
“What about the Commander?”
Lutora looked at Julieta for a moment and slightly faltered. Perhaps he thought it was not something he could hide, and sighed again.
“The man Sigurd knocked out with the heel of his palm quite thoughtfully had a letter of communication from his accomplice. It said, ‘As planned, I have called the former Prime Minister’.”
Lutora laughed as if to rebuke the agitated siblings.
“It’s okay. He might be alone, but my father has already left for the location…He is the strongest knight in the kingdom. There is no way he could lose. Lord Anderheim too, has experienced many such predicaments in the past. He will not die that easily.”
“Yeah… Lord Anderheim is a person who has insight I can’t match. He might not be good at physical fights, but even if he gets caught up in the enemy’s plans, he cannot be killed easily.”
“So, let us do what we can do. First, let us rescue the ones in the temple above and interrogate the ones fallen over there…and a background check on the men Sigurd defeated.”
As the four nodded and began to act.
Jolga had leapt out of the temple and rode his favourite horse again, reached the site of the riverbank construction along the river Luft.
Judging from the words Anderheim had said to Morino before going out, it was an old land, straddling two territories, where the riverbank construction was currently taking place. With that much information, it was easy to narrow it down.
In the meantime, dark black clouds shrouded the sky and the large drops of rain that fell hit the back of Jolga riding a horse hard.
Covering his hazy vision with one hand, he looked around with squinting eyes. He found a part of the road where large tracts formed at the foot of the bridge and disappeared into the slope.
Gazing down, there was a carriage under the slope. It seemed to have rolled down from the road and hit a tree. Around the broken carriage, several men with hooded cloaks over their heads gathered on horseback. Discovered by Jolga, they pulled out their weapons all at once and ran up the slope.
“Are you a fool!?”
Maybe it was because the rain got in the way that they couldn’t recognize the figure on the horse as Jolga. At least, if some of them had known it was the Knight Commander Jolga, they might have escaped. The men attacked carelessly, seeing the vastly outnumbered Jolga. They had no chance to escape as they were cut down by [The one Who Controls the Dragon, Quistacis]. Corpses rolled on the ground.
Jolga held his sword and hurriedly pulled the horse to the side of the carriage. He descended from the saddle to ascertain it. The door had the coat of arms of the Asbal family. The carriage had a partly broken roof and rain shield, which meant water trickled inside. The high-quality room was stained with water and mud. It looked unattended.
Where did the owner of the carriage go? He wondered if he fell into a river.
The voice that Jolga was looking for, called from an unexpected place.
From the top of a branch of the big tree that the horse-drawn carriage crashed into, whose trunk was damaged.
As Jolga’s hazel eyes gazed up, he met the jade eyes returning his gaze. A wet coat darkened by the rain and pale skin with scratches. Silver strands of hair stuck to his forehead. Glasses dirtied by the mud, and barely on his nose.
Above the relieved Jolga, Anderheim let out a long sigh, clinging to a tree branch.
When Anderheim’s carriage passed by the deserted bridge, the coachman was the first one attacked by a man jumping from his horse. As the coachman resisted, the wagon lost control and the whole carriage, along with the horse, slid down the slope. Anderheim managed to get out of the carriage, enduring the impact of the roll. He then crawled up to the tree and hid in the shadow of the thick branch.
He managed to hold out as the men searched for the disappeared Anderheim, but it was a matter of time before he was found.
“What have I done… to fall victim to such a trap?”
“I shall inform you of that. But first, let’s leave this place. The men around the carriage have been defeated, but it seems that it is not just any rain, but thunderclouds approaching.”
“Standing under the big tree would shield us from rain, but on the other hand, that would make us prone to lightning. Let us hurry.”
“The Luft River is rapidly flooding too. If this situation continues, our escape might be cut off.”
Jolga looked up at Anderheim, who replied, but didn’t move.
He realized what had happened and called out, fearfully.
“You can’t get off?”
“ll kill you.”
Of all the times Jolga had faced Anderheim.
The words that came from above held the most intent to kill.
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