Chapter One

Nottingham Forest had always been a peaceful, quiet town, so it came as a shock to me when I awoke late one morning to find that the town had been transformed into a lively, boisterous affair with crowds piling onto the streets and cheering wildly.

"What's going on?" I stifled a yawn as I left the room that had been my home for the past six months.

The innkeeper, who had also joined the crowd on the streets to cheer raucously, frowned at me in disapproval. "Richard, you've just only gotten up? It's already past noon."

Oh? It was after noon? I guess it was no longer morning. Scratching my head at my disorientated sense of timing, I offered my usual excuse.

"Well, I was studying till late in the night, so I thought I would sleep in. it did help me in absorbing whatever knowledge I read in my books." I grinned sheepishly. "But who cares about that? What's going on? Why is everyone celebrating outside?"

"Oh, we're having a procession for the Knights of the Seven Heroes." The innkeeper explained flippantly, keeping her eyes on the road. Sure enough, I caught sight of four figures walking confidently down the road as people from both sides cheered them on.

I found the girl at the front familiar, but I didn't recognize the other three behind her. Still, I decided to ask anyway. "Who are they?"

"Oh, you haven't heard of the Four Knights of Victoria? The girl at the front is Elizabeth Ranclave, and the tall, handsome guy with long hair is Edward, the sturdy looking man with the beard is Daniel and the young blond kid at the back is Charles."

I fixed my gaze on the beautiful young girl leading the front. As expected, I knew her – the long dark brown hair, almost the color of the night sky, that extended to her derriere, the huge black ribbon that she used to tie the back of her hair, and her piercing dark blue eyes – she was the daughter of the Alexander Ranclave, the Imperial Elector. The Ranclave was, after all, one of the eight families who had the power to elect the succeeding emperor when the preceding one dies or retires.

The Ranclave family was a famous line of warriors that were said to have existed for over a thousand years, with Sir Alexander being close friends with the current Emperor.

What was the daughter of such a high-ranking figure doing here?

The innkeeper must have caught the surprised expression on my face, for she began explaining, "you have heard about the situation about the princess, haven't you? The Emperor's daughter."

"What about the princess?"

The innkeeper sighed at my ignorance. "Where have you been? It has been massive news for the past three months or so. She was taken captive by a dragon and since then many knights and heroes have tried to save her by fighting the dragon."

"And failed, obviously," I muttered under my breath.

She ignored me. "None of them have returned alive."

I glanced at the four knights who were making their way toward us. "And hopefully Lady Ranclave and her comrades will succeed?"

"I have full confidence that they will succeed!" the innkeeper slapped me on my back – hard. I winced a little as I staggered forward from the blow, but didn't complain. "Haven't you heard about the legend of the Four Knights of Victoria?"

"No, but I'm guessing it must be one hell of a legend."

"You're not wrong. Well, two years ago, there was an aristocratic revolt at the province of Victoria. The Emperor mobilized a 4,000-strong army to depose the rebellion, but even after a month they couldn't succeed in stopping it."

"Ah…and the General of the Army asked for reinforcements?"

"Yes, he requested Lord Glen specifically. Lord Glen then sent four knights to the battlefield."

Lord Glen, if I remembered correctly, was one of the seven revered heroes. He didn't have my respect, though, and I hated him with a passion.

"It was those four, I presume?" I vaguely gestured to the four Knights.

"That is correct." There was an enormous, almost stupid grin on the innkeeper's face. It took every ounce of willpower to stop myself from wiping it off her face. And it wouldn't be just the grin; it would be the entire lower part of her face. "There was a final fortress remaining, Rockfort, where 50 of the soldiers still resided in. the General made the decision to abandon the base, thinking it was hopeless."

"And the Four Knights went to save the base?"

"Yes. Lady Elizabeth took her three subordinates, and all by themselves, the four of them went to reinforce the 50 men left in the last fortress."

I blinked in surprise. "Four of them…by themselves?"

"Yes." The innkeeper still had the dizzy, stupid grin on her face. "The four knights, led by a 15-year-old girl, swiftly crushed the revolution and took the head of the rebel leader. The four of them took on an army by themselves – and won."

"So that's why you think they will be able to defeat the dragon," I nodded in understanding. That made sense. Even a dragon would be hard-pressed to fight four Knights of extraordinary skill with powers that surpassed even that of an army.

"Yes, there is probably no one in the world that they can't defeat, if the four of them fought together." The innkeeper seemed to be worshipping them.

I watched Elizabeth and her three subordinates walk past us without so much as turning their heads. They seemed to be acknowledging the crowd, with no trace of the arrogance that cloaked most of the nobles I knew. Yet at the same time, they were not basking in the crowd's enthusiasm. It was as if they were solely focused on their job, determined to see it through the end and would not be moved from the path no matter what.

On the other hand, I felt that it was none of my business.

Watching the backs of the four even as they disappeared into the distance, I decided to return to my room and continue studying. There were loads of stuff I hadn't learned yet, and I intended to memorize them all by the next week or so, at least.

A few days later I was greeted with the exact opposite situation of what I found a few days before. The celebratory mood had turned somber, with the crowd being as solemn as before.

"What's with this heavy atmosphere?" I asked the innkeeper, who was unusually subdued. She could only respond with a disillusioned expression.

Huh…there was only one thing that could have changed the town's mood so instantly. "Let me guess, the Four Knights of Victoria failed, huh?"

"Leave me alone," the innkeeper snapped and sauntered away. I glared at her retreating back. A sour mood wasn't a good excuse for being rude to your customers. That did it. I was going to leave this inn.

And no, before you say it, I am NOT a petty person. It was just that I was going to leave anyway because of my studies. I had finished whatever books I had in hand and the only way to progress my knowledge of the arcane now was to visit the Ruins of Runeford.

I sighed and was about to head upstairs when I overheard a conversation from a couple of other customers.

"I didn't think that the Four Knights of Victoria would fail…"

"Yeah! According to reports they were completely wiped out! It wasn't even a match, it was a massacre!"

"Good lord…if even those four failed, then who could defeat the dragon?"

"I guess we're going to have to give up on the princess."

"I heard the dragon kept Lady Elizabeth Ranclave alive, though. I guess he has a thing for beautiful young girls – which is why he kidnapped the imperial princess anyway."

"Lord Ranclave is incensed, though. I heard he is mobilizing an entire army of Ranclave warriors to defeat the dragon and rescue his daughter."

"It would be suicide. There's no way they can defeat the dragon."

"Yeah…that's one hell of a monster."

I turned away from them and headed back to my room. "Lady Ranclave is still alive, huh?" I murmured to myself. Closing my eyes, I recalled those old images of seeing her back in the academy. Her proud, regal and honorable figure standing up for the weak, bravely proclaiming herself to be the protector of civilians.

She didn't deserve such an end. And like the dudes down below said, even Ranclave's private army wouldn't be able to defeat the dragon.

The dragon's den wasn't that far from Nottingham Forest – hell, I could probably reach there in an hour or two on foot. While most people would stay as far away from the dragon's territory as possible, nobody moved from this town because the dragon hadn't bothered to attack us.

Seemed that the dragon was only interested in beautiful young girls of the nobility, and would only kill the knights and heroes who tried to seize "his" possessions from him. Not a very monstrous and particularly evil behavior, if I could say so myself. Not that I cared.

I wasn't going to second-guess a dragon's motives or anything. There was only one thing to do and that would be to do what I want to do, not sympathize with a fire-breathing, overgrown lizard with a penchant for young girls.

Glancing at the scrolls that I had packed away, I sighed and reached for my cloak. Wrapping it around me, I spared the books and pieces of paper one last glimpse.

"Guess I won't be moving out of the room anytime soon."

And so I found myself trekking across the forest toward the dragon's den. I wasn't kidding myself; there was no way I could defeat a dragon. At least not as I am now. I lacked the skills and strength necessary to slay a dragon. Greater men than me had tried, and all had failed. I did have some spells that could possibly kill the dragon in my arsenal, but I was pretty sure I would get torn apart before they could take effect.

I would probably meet the same gruesome fate as them if I were to try the same old direct confrontation with the dragon.

However, if it was just trying to save the girls and sneak out of the cave without being caught, then I probably had a trick or two. I wasn't as honorable as the knights before me nor as brave as the heroes (or I would obviously have tried to rescue the princess long ago – the reward was pretty hefty, though I was wise enough to reason that it wouldn't matter if I wasn't alive to spend it), so I had no qualms in running away without a fight.

I wrapped my black cloak around myself tighter as the chilling cold of the forest pierced my layer of protection. I didn't expect the forest to be this cold and so did not prepare myself for the weather. A thick fog was slowly swirling around the gnarled trees that stood as sentries to the forest, their eyeless figures staring straight at me.

There were few creatures – most of them were probably hibernating or nestling in their nests in an attempt to escape from the cold. That was a good thing. Being a cold-blooded reptile, the dragon was most likely sleeping the cold off. It wouldn't have much heat to warm itself up, unless it decided to use its own fire for that particular purpose.

I doubted that, though. There wasn't much fuel to go around by in a cave, and dragons were not known for collecting firewood to keep themselves warm. Though, I could imagine the dragon heating itself up in front of a chimney, wrapped in red, woolen clothing (and a hat on top of that) with gloves over its claws.

I frowned. No, that image wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all.

I managed to reach the den without much incident – there weren't many "monsters" in this forest (otherwise nobody would live in Nottingham Forest), and the few that lived here, if any, were probably chased out when the dragon came.

I could hear deafening snoring the moment I chanced upon the huge maw of the cave. The dragon, as I suspected, was sleeping. Good, that made my job a lot easier. Smiling, I sneaked into the cave stealthily. I wasn't that skilled at being quiet, but whatever noise I made was drowned out by the dragon's snoring anyway, so I didn't bother to keep my guard up.

The moment I was two hundred meters into the cave, I spotted the massive silhouette of the dragon. Larger than a barnhouse, and stretching over thirty meters, the lumbering monstrosity was curled up into a ball, sleeping peacefully. Its jaws – wide enough to swallow a man whole – was shut and tucked into its tummy, its normally large eyes squeezed shut.

As a precautionary measure, I stopped near him and began casting a sleeping spell on him. Usually, such minor spells had little to no effect on dragons, the legendary beasts being impervious to all but the most powerful forms of magic, but since it was asleep anyway it should be susceptible to my sleeping spell.

Or so I thought.

All I was doing was making sure the dragon stayed in its sleep for much, much longer and not wake up no matter how much noise I made while rescuing the two princesses. I didn't know how much effect my spell had on the dragon, but it was always better to be safe than sorry. Right? Right?

Never mind.

Anyway, I decided to cast a few more spells and placed plenty of wards around the dragon in case it did wake up. It would give me a chance to escape with the girls when I activated them. It would also be one hell of a show if I did.

I sneaked past the sleeping dragon and deeper into the cave, desperately searching for the princess. That was when I caught sight of the numerous corpses that had piled into a tiny mountain behind the dragon. I gagged when I recognized the mangled armor most of the corpses were wearing, despite their features rotting off in the past month or so.

They were the dead bodies of the knights and heroes who had attempted to rescue the princess but failed horribly.

A few corpses caught my attention, though. I felt a wave of nausea come over me when I recognized the three Knights that had been following Elizabeth Ranclave. They were still fresh and relatively undecayed, having been killed just recently. The expressions of shock and disbelief were locked onto their pale, cold faces like marbled statues, describing to me their last moments.

That was meant to sound poetic, by the way. I obviously could not grasp their last moments just by looking at their deathly expressions. But I try, as much as possible, to show off my supposedly superior literary abilities…never mind.

The good news, however, was that Elizabeth's corpse was not with them – which gave the rumors that she was merely captured and not killed more strength. I felt immense relief washing over my body as I acknowledged that fact.

Squeezing my eyes shut and putting as much distance between us as possible, I tried my utmost best not to look at them and walked with my head down. Deliberately avoiding the mountain of corpses, I hugged the walls of the far end of the cave and continued in deeper, past the dragon and his victims.

After a few hundred steps, the smell, which was surprisingly not strong at all, vanished and I finally raised my head. The bodies were nowhere in sight, unless I decided to make a hundred and eighty degree turn, and relieved as I was at the sight (or lack of it), I hastened my steps and stepped up on my search for the two girls.

That was when I ran into a dead end.

"What the…?" I swore as I stared at the giant wall of rock that made up the back of the cave. "That's it? Then…where's the princess? Where's Elizabeth Ranclave?"

Scratching my head, I ran my hands over the wall in desperation and frustration, hoping to find a clue…

That was when my hands ran over something. I froze, stopping my hands in their tracks.

"This is…a crack?" I moved my hands along the line. "Don't tell me…this is a door?"

Casting weird magicks, I blasted the door open, reducing the rock to rubble. Coughing as a cloud of dust and sand bathed me, I waved the particles away in irritation and stepped into a now-opened…room?

My jaw dropped.

Why was there such a luxurious room inside a desolate cave of death and despair like this?

What surprised me even more was the Princess lying in a relaxed manner on the bed, only to jump up in shock at my sudden intrusion. She appeared to have been reading a book – said book lying wide open on her bed – and was dressed in a pink gown.

The entire room was bathed in red – from the soft-looking comfortable mattress to the carpet and wallpaper. There were golden roses etched into the wallpaper and patterns on the carpet as well, giving me the impression that this room was not different from what the Princess would have back in her original palace.

"Who…are you?" the princess demanded.

"Er…I guess you can call me Richard," I offered stupidly, not sure how to react at the sudden revelation. The princess looked more like she was enjoying herself the past three months with the dragon than a tormented captive who needed rescuing. It kind of made the deaths of all the poor knights and heroes who tried to save her and died for nothing. "You are your highness, Princess Amelia, aren't you? The daughter of Emperor Anthony the Fourth."

"The Third," Princess Amelia snapped, annoyed. "Learn the name of your own Emperor properly."

"Right." I glanced around the room and caught sight of a very battered and bruised Elizabeth lying in the corner of the room, breathing heavily. "Lady Ranclave!"

"So…" the princess surmised as she watched me rush to Elizabeth's side and pick her up. "I suppose you're here to rescue me from the dragon, right?"

"I guess you could put it that way," I replied as I checked Elizabeth, who opened her eyes and looked at me, dazed. "Are you all right?"

"Who…who are you?"

"Richard," I repeated, holding in my patience. She must have been unconscious the entire time.

"You defeated the dragon?" the princess had jumped out of her bed and was peering outside in hesitation. "Can't say I'm not pleased with that but I'm surprised it turned out to be a kid like you."

"For your information, I'm the same age as you and Lady Ranclave," I huffed, annoyed with the princess's flippant attitude toward everything. Did she not know how many knights and heroes sacrificed themselves in order to save her? "And to be honest, the dragon isn't defeated. It's sleeping."

"What? You just casted a sleeping spell on the dragon before coming to rescue us? How boring. It would be better if you killed him instead."

I gritted my teeth, swallowing my annoyance at her. "As you can see, I'm not exactly a knight or hero. I obviously can't win a fight with a dragon."

"That much is obvious," the princess agreed. "You don't look strong at all."

"Well, whatever." I lifted up Elizabeth in my arms and carried her princess-style. "I'm getting out of here before my spell wears off and he wakes up. You can join me or you can stay here if you want. It looks like you aren't suffering much anyway."

"How rude!" the princess placed her hands on her hips. "I definitely want to get out of here. It's really boring for the past three months with nothing to do and nobody to talk to! There's no way I would want to stay there! And the dragon's a boring old dude! He talks about nothing except revenge on the despicable humans and whatnot."

"Right." I began walking out of the destroyed door with Elizabeth in my arms. Though her statement concerning the dragon's desire to have revenge on humans sort of caught my attention, but I didn't think she knew much about it based on her shallow passing remark on that subject. Well, at least I found out that the dragon was an old man. "Then let's hurry."

"Hey! Why are you carrying that girl instead of me?" the princess snapped, following after me. "I'm the Princess, you know."

"Can't you see that Lady Ranclave is injured?" I retorted, my irritation rising to its boiling point. "And for God's sake, she got beaten up trying to rescue you. Yet you leave her on the floor like that without tending to her wounds!"

"It's okay," Elizabeth whispered softly. "It's my duty to fight."

"Yeah, it's not as if she's dead. Compared to the others who got killed by the dragon, she's really lucky!" the princess glowered at me.

I blinked at that.

Say what?

So she did know that a lot of knights and heroes died to get her out. And she wasn't appreciating their sacrifice one bit. She was like, I don't know, taking it for granted that lowly knights and heroes should fight for her with their lives on the line just because she's the princess.

I contemplated murdering her there and then before pinning it on the dragon. Nah, that wouldn't work because Elizabeth was here to witness the whole thing. So I decided to paste a giant fake smile on my face to humor her.

"Ew…don't smile like that. It's disgusting." The princess shied away from me, shielding her face.

For the rest of my time with her (and I hoped it would be mercifully short), I decided to glare at her murderously to shut her up.

"I would prefer if you put me down," Elizabeth spoke up softly, despite the tremendous amount of pain she was in. she didn't seem to have any broken bones, but as I was not a doctor I couldn't confirm if she had any internal injuries. "I can walk by myself, you know."

"Yeah! Put her down!" the Princess chimed in unhappily. "You heard the lady!"

I sighed. "I'm afraid I have to refuse, Lady Ranclave. You are far too injured to make it out of here on both feet. I'm afraid I don't have all the time in the world to wait for you to inch and stagger your way out of the cave; regrettably this is still the fastest way."

Elizabeth's cheeks grew slightly red, but she pursed her lips and refused to say more.

The princess kicked a rock grumpily, annoyed at the special treatment I was giving Elizabeth and not her.

Was she an idiot or something? It wasn't as if I preferred Elizabeth over her…well, actually I did prefer Elizabeth over her, but common sense dictates I carry the injured and disable girl instead of a healthy and lively princess who could obviously kick and run and even throw a tantrum.

"I would prefer if you didn't do that," I warned the Princess, trying to avoid my gaze from the mountain of corpses as I walked past if. The princess walked right past the pile of dead bodies without flinching, only wrinkling her nose at the smell. There was not the least bit of appreciation or sorrow at their passing.

I really felt sorry for the heroes who sacrificed their lives for a princess like Amelia.

Well, it should be a given. As the only daughter of the Emperor and the only princess in the main royal family, she was probably spoilt and pampered beyond belief – to the point that she thought she was owed everything.

If I could just wake her up and bring her down to earth, I would. But right now I had more pressing matters at hand.

"Why not?" the princess huffed as she continued kicking away again. A huge rock flew from her foot and connected with the dragon's giant eyelid.

I froze. The princess looked dismayed, but other than that she wasn't as horrified as a normal girl should be. It was probably because she knew the dragon wouldn't kill her – he would just imprison her like he did before, and it wasn't much of a loss.

To her, anyway.

I could understand why the dragon didn't want to kill her, though. Princess Amelia looked like a princess out of a fairy tale book – extremely beautiful, with long blonde hair, bright blue eyes the color of clear skies on a sunny day and a delicate body to match it all. It was a shame she had such an atrocious attitude, arrogance and was so spoilt – it ruined the perfect image of the princess from a fairy tale.

Well, nobody is perfect.

The dragon had stopped snoring upon the contact the rock made with his eyelid. Several tense seconds passed as I waited for the dragon to wake up.

Nothing happened.

I sighed in relief.

The dragon stirred and opened his eyes, turning his massive head around to look at me.

I blinked for a moment under the uncomfortable gaze of the enormous dragon, which gave a roar and jumped to all four legs, glaring at me with pure hatred. Smoke began billowing from his large nostrils, indicating that he was ready to fire…well, fire, anytime soon.

"Uh oh…" I gulped. "I guess we're in trouble."

"Do something!" the princess yelled behind me, backing away.

"Put me down…" Elizabeth gasped as she wriggled in my arms, trying to draw her sword.

"Stop moving!" I hissed to her. "You can't do anything in that condition!"


"Just listen to me! I will get us out of this situation! So you take a well-deserved rest."

Elizabeth muttered something, but stopped squirming. Gulping, I turned to the dragon and put on my best, negotiating smile.

"Hey…you don't mind if we talk this out, do you?" I asked nervously. "I have no intention of fighting you."

That seemed to shock the dragon a little. He reared his head back, the aggressive smoke from his nostrils disappearing and fading away.

"Talk?" he boomed. The princess was right – the dragon had a deep, masculine voice. "You want to talk?"

"Yeah…if you don't mind, that is."

The dragon began laughing hoarsely, his deafening HA HA HA thundering across the cavern.

"This is a first," he finally said, snorting in an attempt to stop his guffaws. "Of all the people who came to this cave, you are the only one who didn't want to fight. You are the only one who chose to sneak past me while I am asleep to save my hostages. You are the only one who chose to…talk instead of fighting."

I shrugged. "I'm not much of a warrior."

"Which makes it easier for me to kill you," the dragon adopted a menacing posture, raising his massive claws up as if to swat me.

"Wait! How about we make a deal?" I asked. "I came here for Lady Elizabeth Ranclave. So would you close one eye if I just take her and leave the princess to you?"

"What?" the princess screamed in indignation behind me. "What do you mean by that?"

"HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!" the dragon boomed, drowning out her whining. I was grateful to him for that, if nothing else. "That sounds like an excellent proposition indeed!"

Princess Amelia was protesting vehemently, but the both of us ignored her. Elizabeth did have a concerned look on her face, though.

"You can't do that!" she croaked, horrified. "You can't leave the princess here and rescue only me! Even if that's the case at least take her and leave me here instead!"

"Like he's going to accept that," I muttered, rolling my eyes. No idiot would settle for a young noblewoman if he could get his hands on a royal princess.

"You are right. It would be an instant rejection if you choose the princess over that fine young lady knight," the dragon agreed. "However, I'm afraid I will not take you up on that offer. It is easier if I just kill you here and now."

I sighed. "So a fight's inevitable, huh?"

The dragon seemed to grin, the leer of fangs pulling up in his jaws. "You should have known that the moment you came into a cave."

I glared at the princess. "This is all your fault. If you hadn't woken him up with that stupid rock of yours, we would have been outside by now."

"It's your fault for not killing the dragon!" the princess shot back.

"I already told you I don't have the ability to kill him!"

"Then you should never have come!"

"He's coming," Elizabeth warned me. Instinctively, I jumped back.

Her warning saved my life. The dragon's monstrous paw crushed the earth where I had been standing on just moments before.

"Sorry, but I've to put you down for a moment," I apologized as I leaped backward to the far side of the cave. Placing Elizabeth down and leaning her against the wall, I turned back to face the dragon.

The dragon growled as he began lumbering toward me. "You won't get away this time. You may seem to be a smooth talker, but in here only fighting will do the job. You can't talk your way out of death."

I sighed again. "You're probably right. Looks like I have no choice but to bring down the house."

The dragon chuckled as he charged toward me, his serpentine tail swishing dangerously. "Do your worst."

I flicked my fingers with an ominous grin on my face. "You asked for it."

The spells and wards I had placed earlier as a precaution came to life, exploding all around the dragon and knocking him off his feet. The dragon groaned as another ward activated under him, the giant magic circle actually encircling his body before blowing up again.

"What the hell…?" the dragon cursed as yet another blast engulfed his body, the black cloud of corrosive vapor shrouding his armored scales. More black blasts continued to rock him as my wards activated, throwing him off balance.

"This is…" Elizabeth's eyes were wide in disbelief. "Dark magic…?"

"You…" the dragon sputtered as yet another black wave of miasma swallowed him. "You're not an ordinary knight, are you?"

"You're right, of course." I stepped forward, facing him down evenly. "I'm not a knight. I'm a magician."

"A dark magician…" Elizabeth's voice was filled with horror and disapproval. "Those spells…are they not of the forbidden arts? Why have you learned something like that?"

I shrugged. "Why not? It's not as if I'm using them to kill people or something."

"You…" Elizabeth's voice was filled with hostility. "You didn't come here to save the princess, did you?"

"No," I admitted. "I never intended to save the princess from the start."

The princess looked as if she had been slapped. The dragon turned to look at me quizzically.

"I came here to save Lady Elizabeth Ranclave…that is, you," I turned to stare at Elizabeth evenly. "That's the only reason why I'm here."

"What…?" Elizabeth's face turned completely red. She shrank back against the wall, realizing she could no longer back away further.

"As expected," the dragon chuckled, even as another spell knocked him over. "No wonder you were so willing and unhesitant in making such a deal with me. You came to rescue the girl you love."

"Don't put it in that way! I don't even know him!"

Is she a tsundere or something? I wondered as her face flushed into an even darker red.

The dragon coughed for a moment as the last of my spells struck him before slowly getting back up to his feet. "Anyway, I presume that's all from you?"

I gulped as I took everything into sight. The dragon, despite my massive onslaught of destructive spells, seemed completely unscathed. Shaking himself for a moment, the dragon slowly sauntered toward me.

"Those were some impressive spells, but they don't seem to have any effect on me at all."

I could only manage a weak smile. "Well, they aren't supposed to. Dragons do have a high resistance to magic, after all."

"What?" the princess was outraged. "That's it? You used your trump cards and you failed? And now there's nothing you can do?"

I continued plastering that smile on my face as I turned to her and held up both hands as if to pacify her. "Don't worry…it's all part of the plan."

"Don't troll me. And before you ask, no, you didn't imitate Heath Ledger properly." Oh wow, so even a princess watched The Dark Knight, huh? Goes to show how famous that movie was, even in a different world.

Opening his jaws, the dragon unleashed a torrent of flames toward me, which I countered by opening up a massive magic circle in front of me that served as a shield. The terrifying inferno washed over the shield, but thankfully did not hit me or the girls behind me.

"That was a really lukewarm reception," I cracked. Well, I was cracking under pressure, after all, and despite the arcane protection I had erected my fingers were blistering from the heat as I fought to maintain the crumbling barrier.

"That was well done," the dragon complimented me. "I haven't met someone who didn't get roasted after taking on my flames directly."

"None of them knew magic," I pointed out. "And armor isn't heat-resistant. In fact, they'll get cooked inside their metal protection since metal conducts heat really well." That explained why the smell wasn't so bad. The dragon probably torched the corpses from time to time to get rid of the smell and turn the scent like cooked food.

"But I wonder, is magic really sufficient to beat me?" the dragon taunted. "As I recall, none of your spells have any effect on me."

"That's true." From beneath my cloak I drew a pair of black swords. They weren't as long as the standard swords most knights carry, but they were definitely longer than shortswords. I would say around the length of an oriental wakizashi, if I had to estimate. It was unwieldy to swing around two swords the length of a katana, after all.

"Wait a second, I thought you aren't a knight?" the dragon seemed surprised at the sudden turn in events.

I shrugged. "I don't have to be a knight to use swords now, do I? And besides, who said magicians couldn't use swords?"

"True enough," the dragon relented. "But I doubt you'll fare as well."

I grinned. "Like I said, it's all part of the plan."

My two black swords began glowing as black magicks began swirling around the blades that were as black as the night sky, granting them corrosive properties and increased destructive power. All that was left was for me to be able to actually hit the dragon and avoid his attacks.

"Nice." The dragon seemed more interested now. "Let's see how long a magician with two swords can entertain me. I wouldn't want to be disappointed now."

"I'm afraid I cannot guarantee that, but I'll do my best."

Plastering a valiant smile with confidence that I most absolutely did not feel, I began charging toward the dragon with my two black swords in a desperate attempt to survive and rescue both the princess and Elizabeth.

Only God knew if I would actually succeed…