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Chimeras in this world were only a little less intimidating than dragons. If one attacked a city, it could take an army to bring it down.  It was that level of threat. In general, monsters of this level had been expelled from the areas where people lived. It would have had to come from the mountains, which were considered unlivable for most people.

Lucy had taken on a stance as if to fight the massive creature, but the beastkin general had grabbed her arm and shaken his head. “This isn’t a monster even we can handle.”

He turned his horse to flee, and Lucy held out her hand out to me. I looked at it for a second, while General Tucci’s lips tightened. Then I took it and swung back behind her. Without a horse of my own, no one would have blamed her had she abandoned me. Instead, she gave me a place before kicking her horse into motion.

“Our only choice is to scatter!” The General cried out.

He said this for Lucy’s benefit, as the rest of the group of knights and soldiers had already scattered. In fact, it was this very scattering that had given me time to mount despite being the closest to the chimera. The rapid, sudden movements of dozens of horses had startled the chimera and caused it to reel back. However, now that it had regained its bearings, it began to charge forward.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to lose it,” I shouted into Lucy’s ear to be heard over the commotion.

“We have to try!” She growled back.

I didn’t think there was much in the way of trying. Whatever that was that our horses trampled on, that was a lure that summoned this Chimera. I’d bet it was spread of the hooves and possibly even on my shoes since I got off the horse. In short, we’d continue to draw the chimera.

I pulled a knife, causing Lucy to tense up. I took it my hand, and she didn’t grow less scared.

“If I wanted to do this, I would have already,” I said, turning away from her while reaching out with my other hand and wrapping it around her for stability.

“Who knows what a Devil plots… wait… wh-wh-what are you doing?”

My arm was wrapped around her midsection now, holding her tightly so I wouldn’t fall off the horse as I looked back. I ignored her growing flustered expression and instead began to cast the spell. I tossed out my hand, and a smoke wave of darkness shot out.

“Confusion!” I called out.

The smoke struck the face of the Chimera, which had actually gotten pretty close to us. As soon as it struck, its eyes closed and it shook it’s head like it had smelled something unpleasant. Its dead charge had been stopped, and that was what was truly important. Our horse managed to make some distance while the chimera tried to charge again. However, this time, its movements were unbalanced, and it veered to the side, further increasing the distance. As for the other knights, soldiers, and even General Tucci, they were out of sight.

Lucy continued to ride hard as I steadily regained my balance and let go of her once again. Once I let go of her, she shot back a hateful glare.

“That’s the only time you touch me.”

I shrugged, not giving her a response as we continued to make our way. The Chimera was unable to get back into a charge, constantly stumbling to the side like its legs didn’t work. It was safe to say that flying was impossible. After about ten minutes of hard riding, she brought the exhausted horse down to a trot.

“We lost it…” She breathed with relief. “To run into a Chimera there, what luck.”

I looked up at the sky uneasily, not quite sure that this was it. I couldn’t guess how long the range was on that bait. However, when she said the second part, I couldn’t help but look back down in disbelief. She really was going to convince herself it was an accident?

“It was baited,” I said stiffly, not quite sure if she was dense on purpose.

She looked back at me with a stiff look. “That’s impossible!”

“Do you think the Prince wouldn’t make an attempt on my life?”

“I don’t deny that he might.” She blushed, not meeting my eyes. “But we were there as well. Why would he put our lives in jeopardy? We’re on a mission of peace!”

It was my time to give her a look of disbelief. “I see…”

“It’s true! I’m not the liar; you are!” She snapped angrily. “The King ordered me to create an alliance with the elves at all cost.”

“Against me…”

Lucy’s expression was extremely shocked, but it told me everything I needed to know. She turned back away from me.

“Of course not…”

“Who is the liar?” I snorted.

“I have a letter the King has sent me to deliver. I do not know the contents.”

“Your king wants Princess Olivia.”

“That makes sense… wait! Why do you know that?”

“He wants majority control over the human realm inheritance. He hopes the bully the other countries into allowing beastkin the human realm. Perhaps he will make a deal to carve it up. What he really wants is to share a border with the devilkin lands so that he can start a war.”

“No! The King is a peaceful man!”

“The beastkin crave war with the devilkin. They hate them more than any other. In exchange for the Princess’s rights and an agreement not to aid humanity in the upcoming war, he’d offer her and you both to marry his sons!”

“What?” Her face turned white. “H-have you read the letter? How? I’ve had it on me since I came here?”

“I wonder…” I snorted. “It makes sense, though, doesn’t it? Beastkin only care about the strongest. It’s the elves who hold such stock in familial ties. It’s far more important to them to be married to the human realm, while the beastkins only want their path to the devilkin.”

“I already said, that isn’t what the king is like!” She turned and snapped at me angrily. “The King sees me as his own daughter. He would never do something like this! He isn’t like my father!”

“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow. “Why did you end up in the beastkin lands anyway?”

“Because of you!”

“A convenient excuse… but wasn’t it the very King you admire so much that put pressure on father to send you away in the first place?”

“That!” She looked away, struggling to come up with a proper argument. “That was before he met me.”

“I find a measure of man’s character is better measured by how he treats his enemies, as opposed to how he treats his allies. You see, you never know for certain which you truly are until it is too late.”

“Enough! I will not listen to slandering my King anymore!” She fumed. “Besides, you’re only speaking nonsense!”

“If you say so,” I responded, glancing at her pocket where she had touched the letter before looking away. “There is only one way to find out for certain.”

A sneer filled her face. “I won’t let you confuse me, devil! I know who my allies are. You aren’t going to convince me to betray my King with your words.”

“I hope you’re right…” I responded.

She gave one last snort before continuing on in silence, changing our direction so that if the chimera had chased us, we were no longer straight ahead. She had an angry expression on her face, but I could feel her tail twitching. It was clear what I had said had gotten to her. In truth, I hadn’t read the note in her hand, but I didn’t think I was wrong. My sister Olivia had little sway over the elf nation, but if sister Lucy was offered to them, it would make sense.

That’s why I thought she was sent. It was also why she was sent with only a single bodyguard, the so-called failure of Perang. If it was otherwise such an important mission, he definitely would have sent others. I didn’t argue that the pair of them were formidable, and combined could probably outperform my own retinue in a fair fight, but that still didn’t mean that when it came to the beastkin, this seemed too light.

At that point, I noticed the direction we were taking. “You’re starting to slant toward the road.”

“Of course,” She responded back stiffly. “It’s where everyone else will head. It’s our best bet for meeting up with the rest of the group.”

“I think our best bet to meet up is to head straight for the Capitol.”

“You… are you so afraid of the Lord Gantar? Or do you fear General Tucci cutting you down?” She asked, giving a vicious grin and then snorting. “You’re a coward.”

“I’d rather be a living coward than a dead brave,” I responded wryly. “However, do not head to the road just yet, head to that hill.”

I pointed to a hill in the distance. It would take about ten minutes to reach at our current pace, but it was visible in the distance from where we were. In this particular area, there were rolling hills, and the trees only existed in various patches, increasing visibility.

“Why should I?” She demanded angrily.

“Don’t you wish to find your people? That’s the highest point in the area, and it should overlook the road. We should be able to see anyone returning to it.”

“Hmph!” At this point, she realized that it was a sensible choice, but couldn’t help huffing.

She still redirected the horse and started heading toward the hill. I glanced up nervously. I just hoped we’d make it in time. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side. We had only managed to move forward about five minutes before a familiar screech came from behind us. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. I hated it when I was right. That confusion spell didn’t last very long. In fact, that we got as much time as we did could have been considered our fortune.

Lucy’s red eyes shot up as she looked around frantically. High in the clouds overhead was a small form, but it was getting closer quickly. Of course, it was the Chimera, who like my suggestion, was using height. However, that height was being used to hunt us.

“Go! Now!”

I didn’t need to motivate her as she kicked her horse in full motion. My arms instinctively shot out and wrapped around her. She didn’t protest as she frantically urged the horse forward. Even though the horse had only had a few minutes to rest, the screeches terrified it as much as the pair of us, so it didn’t take much to propel it forward. Every time there was a screech, the bird was closer.

“Can’t you do what you did before again?” Lucy yelled over the wind while keeping her eyes on the hill.

“Even if I could… confusion is something you resist the more it is cast. I don’t have anything that would be effective against him at the moment. How about you?”

“Ridiculous!” She snorted. “I can fight it by hand, but if it is as strong as they say, I’ll die instantly!”

She started to veer off toward the road, and I reached out and grabbed her reigns, pulling back to the hill. “No! Go to the hill!”

“It’s a flying creature! We’re sitting ducks on that hill! At least we might be able to lose him in the forest.”

‘Do you think we can lose that in the forest!” I snapped back. “It’s after us and us alone. You need to accept that!”

She glanced back to see that the chimera was descending now, it’s eyes clearly locked on the pair of us. It had already targeted us and knew what it wanted. She couldn’t help but let out a cruse before kicking the horse one more time, heading straight to the hill.

The Chimera was getting closer and closer. Its massive wings create waves of air that could be felt on our backs with each flap. The next cry was right behind us, and I was actually too frightened to see how close at this point. Its sleek body was far better than our own.

“Just a few seconds…” I muttered, looking around the hill near us. “There!”

I pulled the knife and cut my hand a second time, grimacing as fresh blood spilt out over my palm. I chanted another spell and then tossed my hand back. Another cloud formed of black smoke, but this exploded out from my hands like a grenade. Rather than quickly dissipating, it spread and lingered. The black smoke caught up to us just as I saw a nook on the side of the hill.

“Now!”

I pulled my pack over my shoulder and then I grabbed Lucy and lunged off the horse. I felt something large slam into the back of the horse as I fell from it. However, I couldn’t see now, as black smoke had covered our vision. There was a horrible screeching sound as the horse let out a wail of distress.

“N-no!” Lucy cried out, trying to stand up and head for the sound, however, I grabbed onto her and pulled her with me.

I fought her for a few feet and then leapt forward. We ended up sliding down into a hole in the ground. Just as we reached it, I heard rumbling and another screech from the chimera. It had reached the hole and stuck a claw down. However, the hole was too small to fit. I pushed Lucy forward in a rush while listening to the screeching monster behind us. Dirt and dust fell on us as we crawled forward, eventually coming out into a long pathway.

As soon as we burst out into the roomy area, hearing the screeching animal frantically digging at the hole we left behind, I collapsed to the floor, coughing to clear out my lungs.

Lucy looked around frantically, her red eyes slightly lit in the darkness. “Where are we?”

“The underground pathway. This is how Olivia and I ended up so far from where we started. I knew there was an entrance by this hill.”

“This was your plan?”

“I suspected he was still chasing us. Our best bet is to get underground, get him to lose our scent, and then emerge somewhere else. With that, we can lose him the easiest. It’s actually how the elves of old used to fight. That’s why they make such effective archers. They can travel all around the country without being seen, popping up, attacking, and disappearing just like that.”

I had reasoned out that while the Fort was a human construction, these tunnels had definitely been a creation of the elves from generations passed. It was only somewhat interesting that it wasn’t well known that these existed. I supposed the best secrets weren’t well known. This was something the king would only use in a bad situation.

As for why I mentioned it to Lucy, unlike Olivia, she was a battle maniac. She’d appreciate learning about these kinds of techniques. Since they weren’t my own techniques, I had no qualms about revealing them to a potential enemy.

“You should have just told me!” She snapped, two hands on her hips and a dark expression on her face.

“Would you have listened to me if I said, go to the hill so we can hide underground?” I responded helplessly and then shrugged. “You have done what you’ve needed to do to survive. I’ve done the same. It is as simple as that.”

Her frown slipped slightly, and she wore a less confident expression on her face. “I don’t… I don’t like being underground. It’s dark.”

“Aren’t you a rabbit?”

“You!” Her rage flared back up, and she tried to hit me, but there was no will in it, so I just managed to dodge.

She sniffed and crossed her arms, turning away. “Just because I have rabbit features doesn’t mean I like being in holes. I’m used to sleeping outdoors. If you must know, I don’t like being indoors at all. I’m also… ahem… I’m also scared of the dark.”

“Hah?”

“Don’t tease me! The only reason I said anything is because you took off without giving me a warning. You have your bag, but I didn’t get mine. Set a fire already!”

“Okay… Okay… Damn… I thought it’d be better to leave the light off for the moment.”

“Just do it! Okay?”

“Alright?” I sighed and lit a torch, then propped it up between two stones so that it stood up.

After that, I took off my boots and tossed them away. Then, I pulled down my pants. Her eyes widened.

“Wh-what are you doing?” She cried out.

“Didn’t I already say it?” I rolled my eyes. “We need to remove the scent, or he’ll keep chasing us. I’m tossing these clothes, and then I’m going to scrub using the water we have. You must do the same. Ah… you’ll have the wear some of my clothing, I guess.”

“U-unacceptable!” She snapped. “Indecent! Devil!”

“Hey! First, I wanted to leave the light off! You’re the one who wanted it on. Second, unless you want to go back out there, my clothing is all you got. I might actually have one of Olivia’s dresses in there. It will… kind of fit.” I looked down at her small chest, completely different from Olivia’s decent-sized chest.

She covered up her chest with her arms, then hearing a screech and another rumble from the chimera gave a tremble and sighed.

“Is this…” She gulped. “Is this how you managed to seduce Sister Olivia?”

I blinked and then cocked my head. “Actually, kind of, yeah.”

It wasn’t the right word to say.

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