Chapter Two

"!"

Letting loose an enraged roar that would put even the most insane berserker to shame, I recklessly charged at the dragon, swinging my two swords crazily in a largely unsuccessful attempt to slash the beast.

"He…he has no skills for the sword at all," Princess Amelia remarked, a tinge of disappointment in her otherwise bitter voice. "And here I was, expecting him to pull off some remarkable display of swordsmanship."

"Sorry to disappoint you," I retorted, irritated. "But might I remind you that I'm the one doing all the fighting and you're just sitting back to watch the show?"

"That's to be expected, isn't it? After all, it's your job to fight the dragon."

"Since when was that my job?"

"Flailing around unnecessarily like that will get you nowhere," Elizabeth Ranclave whispered weakly from her corner as she slumped against the wall that I had left against. "Calm down and analyze your opponent's movements. Look for an opening before striking. Don't just slash away like a madman."

"I hate to break this to you, but I am a madman."

Both girls stared at me with wide eyes.

I dodged the dragon's giant claws, the sharp tips missing the front of my chest by a hair's breadth. I gulped – if I had been just a micrometer closer, he would have gouged out my heart along with my lungs, stomach and intestines.

Still, the near miss allowed me to catch my breath, turn back and grin at both princesses.

"Just kidding."

Princess Amelia's face turned as red as a tomato. Raising a fist, she began raging. "Why you…"

The rest of her words were drowned out by the dragon's thunderous roar as he swiped at me again in a futile attempt to crush me like the annoying insect I was. Of course, being an annoying insect I avoided his blows with little difficulty. I even managed to nick his foot with both blades as I soared past his monstrous appendage.

Nothing happened. Not even a scratch.

I wasn't given the time to gape at that lack of injury. Doing a back flip, I evaded another stomp that ground the dirt under the dragon's paw to dust.

Glancing at my glowing black blades in worry, I temporarily retreated to evaluate my situation. Despite enhancing the strength and sharpness of the blades and giving them corrosive and destructive properties that would easily tear a wyvern ten times my size to shreds, it couldn't even leave so much as a scratch on the mighty dragon's armored scales.

"Legendary monster, indeed," I breathed out both in awe and fear. At this rate I was going to find myself mauled and eviscerated in the next five minutes. "Those armored scales really have legendary resistance to magic. A magician's worst possible enemy, apart from those Saber-class knights."

"Saber-class knights?"

"Never watched Fate/Stay Night, did you now?" I taunted the princess, who had a bewildered look on her face.

"I would pay more attention to the battlefield if I were you," Elizabeth warned me in a dangerous tone.

She couldn't be more right. The instance I turned back to the dragon, he had unleashed an unrelenting torrent of flames at me. Cursing, I began running along the walls of the cave, barely staying one step ahead of the pursuing fire.

To be exact, I was literally one step ahead of the flames – I could feel the inferno licking my heels as I sprinted for my dear life.

As soon as the dragon paused to catch his breath, I threw myself against the wall, using it as a base to spring myself at the dragon. Like a projectile, I shot toward the dragon's face and slashed away furiously with my glowing swords. The black magic swirled around my blades furiously as the struggled to penetrate the impenetrable dragon scales.

The dragon snorted. "It's useless."

"Whoa!" I jumped off his completely unscathed face as he swung his claws at me. Spinning helplessly along the length of his body, I left a series of carvings on his flesh even as I fell.

No…I didn't even nick him.

Propelling myself off his chest, I threw myself to the far end of the cave, narrowly missing his flailing claws. The dragon landed heavily on all fours, producing a slight tremor that shook the cave a little, knocking the dust off the walls and causing them to fall in clumps.

"Impressive. Even though you have not managed to hurt me, you have successfully avoided all my attacks so far. I must commend you for being able to stay alive for so long, especially with all your attacks and techniques rendered useless against me."

"Well, it's true that dragons have a legendary resistance to magic," I admitted grudgingly. "But it's not immunity to magic. If I have a spell that is of a high enough level, I would be able to blast a hole through you."

"Ha!" the dragon chortled, sounding thoroughly amused. "I long for the day when I would be able to meet a magician of that level. It would make things much more interesting. Ever since your precious seven heroes betrayed our King and forced him into hiding, life has been so boring for me. Especially since none of those seven heroes bothered to challenge me. I thought by holding the Emperor's daughter hostage I would be able to force them out of their shells, but no, they sent underlings and weaklings like you to deal with me."

I felt a bead of perspiration trail down the side of my face. "What…did you say?"

The dragon ignored me and leered. "But they will have to show up eventually, after I kill every last one of you. The emperor treasures his daughter too much – if he gets desperate enough he will order the seven heroes to move out."

"No…what do you mean the seven heroes betrayed your king?" I choked out.

"I mean exactly what I said." The dragon's glare was so piercing I felt as if he had ripped a hole through my body with just his eyes. "Have you not heard of our great Dragon King Bahamut? He was a staunch ally of humans and supported them against the demons…until those so-called heroes of yours turned on him and attempted to slay him for their own interests."

"That can't be…" my mind had turned blank from that revelation.

"You're lying!"

Both the dragon and I turned away from each other to focus our attention on Elizabeth Ranclave. Pale and visibly dripping with sweat, Elizabeth forced herself to her feet with much effort. Despite the enormous amount of pain visible on her stricken face, her eyes were steeled with cold, icy determination and a fury unsurpassed by the fires of hell itself.

"There is no way the seven heroes would have betrayed Bahamut! It was Bahamut who betrayed us and sold us to the demons! If it weren't for Lord Glenn and the others, humanity would have been annihilated!"

"SILENCE!" the dragon roared. Elizabeth, trembling with great effort, refused to buckle under the dragon's enraged glare. To her credit, her iron will and courage never wavered and she evenly stared down the behemoth. "I will not allow you to desecrate my king's name!"

"Nor will I allow you to slander the seven heroes, who humanity owed so much to!" she responded calmly, with quiet steel in her soft voice.

I really admired and respected her. As much as I thought the dragon's words had some merit, I inwardly understood why Elizabeth stood up to him despite her grave injuries. Her honor wouldn't allow it.

Yet I also knew that the dragon had no reason to lie. There was no point telling such a grand, beautified version of his story to someone he was going to kill or keep hostage. My gut told me that he was being honest and telling the truth as he saw it – and to be honest I never liked the seven heroes in the first place. They were always so oily, always hiding under some self-righteous, smiling façade that concealed much darker selves and an even darker secret underneath. I wouldn't be surprised if this was that secret.

After all, the dragons had always been humanity's strongest and most formidable allies for centuries. I could only feel disbelief that their greatest and mightiest king of all suddenly turned on us to side with his worst enemies, the demons.

Something was not right here.

Though I had to admit that I wasn't exactly normal either. I was someone who could easily be arrested for sympathizing with demons and being a heretic. Mastering forbidden magic only compounded my atrocities.

"What is your name?" I asked, pointing one of my black swords at the dragon.

The dragon swiveled his burning gaze away from Elizabeth. "Markus. I am one who has formerly served in King Bahamut's royal guard."

I nodded. "I will remember it. Do you know where your king is?"

He narrowed his eyes. "If I did I would be by his side. Why do you ask?"

"I would like to meet him."

"To slay him?" Markus's jaws curled into a feral sneer. "As if I would allow that! I will not let you out of this cave alive."

"I only seek the truth," I countered. "Nothing more. I assure you, I have no intention of killing any dragons."

"Fair enough." Markus coiled his lithe body like a panther, getting into a position to strike. "But you'll have to defeat me first. I will not allow weaklings to meet my king."

"You really drive a hard bargain, don't you?" I grinned at him as I adopted an offensive stance with both my swords. The dark magic that had been swirling around me suddenly raged and turned into a storm, black sparks dancing around a whirlwind that was as dark as the night itself. The rocks and earth around me began crumbling as the corrosive magic began to eat away at them, destroying my surroundings without a care in the world.

"The truth…you should know the truth!" Elizabeth cried. "The seven heroes…the seven heroes are humanity's saviors! It was they who…"

"That's enough," I cut her off dangerously. "I only know one truth, nothing more. And that is that I don't trust the seven heroes."

"You…! That's blasphemy!"

"Not that it makes any difference," Princess Amelia yawned. "He's going to get killed here anyway. I think I'm going back to my room."

I ignored her as she shuffled back to her room. She wasn't my problem.

However, the princess stopped dead in her tracks and made a hundred and eighty degree turn. "On second thoughts, I think I should stay and watch the show. I'm bored and tired of staying in that same old room doing nothing. At least there's an interesting show I can watch here."

Why…that bitch…

Clearing the thoughts from my head, I charged the dragon the moment he lunged at me. The dragon cleared the distance between us in a single bound, but I didn't hesitate and struck his barreling paw with both my swords, dealing him a glancing blow.

I failed to scratch him again.

It wasn't just my failure to hurt him that bothered me this time. I realized that I had taken the bait and fallen into Markus's trap.

Markus had never intended to strike me with his claws when he pounced!

Landing on his front two feet, the hulking behemoth pivoted himself and spun around, sending his enormous tail flying in a wide arc and lashing out at me like a whip.

Instinctively I did a back flip, sailing past the whip-like tail that cracked across the cave and smashing a fissure onto the ground. I slowly soared over the tail, watching it swing past in slow motion, as I righted myself back up and landed on my feet.

"You avoided even that?" Markus sounded very impressed.

I was far more so by his graceful movements that belied such a massive body. it was impossible to imagine a dragon of his size executing such elegant and graceful attacks so beautifully, but he pulled it off perfectly.

So this is a dragon…

The dragon's maw yawned and he unleashed another torrent of furious flames at me. I saw his attack in slow motion and began undertaking evasive maneuvers to escape it, but something stopped me.

I realized that Elizabeth and the princess were right behind me. I could most likely avoid the attack, but if I did the two girls would be roasted beyond…well, let's just say they would be well done.

And I would be done for because I wasted my time and risked my life saving Elizabeth for nothing.

Elizabeth seemed to have notice that the attack was heading right for her, and as the brave and loyal knight that she was, the first thing she did was grab the princess and forced her behind her, using her own battered body as a meat shield to soak up most of the damage. Not that it would make much of a difference. The flames and heat would still reach beyond her and cook the princess. Not that I cared about her.

It was Elizabeth that I wanted to save.

Gritting my teeth, I stood my ground and crossed both black swords in front of me. A large black magic circle materialized in front of me, a stronger variation of the shield I used earlier. The flames washed all over me, with only the magical protection in front of me serving as a thin barrier between life and death.

My hands began to blister from the sheer heat. Even if the flames were not directly burning me, the immense heat being produced was beginning to peel away my skin. Excruciating pain shot up my arms even as I clenched my fists and teeth and fought to hold my ground.

"Why…?" Elizabeth asked behind me, stunned. "You could have avoided that hit. Why did you take it for us?"

"Why did you shield the princess?" I shot back.

"But you said you weren't here to save the princess."

"That's true," I admitted. "But I'm here to save you. Which kind of defeats the purpose if I let you die like that."

Elizabeth gaped at me. "Why? Why are you so willing to go so far for me?"

I chuckled grimly as I fought to hold off the relentless inferno. "I don't know if you remember, but at the knight academy two years ago, you saved me."

"Y…you were at the knight academy?"

"Yeah. I'm a graduate from the knight academy who ditched my sword for magic because it turned out that I was more inept in mastering spells than swinging a sword. But the other students didn't see it like that. They were always picking on me. They loved to bully me and were always looking for an excuse to beat me up, but there was one time you stepped in and intervened."

"I…I don't remember." Elizabeth was shaking her head in frustration.

"It's understandable, given that you have saved so many people similar to myself. But I will never forget what you told me. You have always been an inspiration to me, even after I graduated and turned to magic. You were the one who told me that there was something I could do that no one else can. I believed your words and took them to heart, and that's why I have gotten as far as I have now."

Elizabeth smiled sadly at that. "I'm so glad that I've managed to make such a difference in your life. I must apologize, however, for the predicament that I have put you in."

"Hell, no!" the princess snapped from behind her. "What's with this mushy atmosphere? If he's a useless kid in the academy then you should have left him alone. Look at how crap he is with his sword skills. He's absolute rubbish – a complete waste of taxes the state spent to train him in the academy. And now he turns his back on the sword to learn magic?"

"Well, that's not entirely true," Elizabeth mused. "You claimed to have discarded the sword, but the movements and techniques you used to fight the dragon are evidence that the knight academy trained you well. Despite the spells you are casting and the enhancements you've enchanted your swords with, you still fight and move like a knight. A magician would never have been able to dodge all the dragon's attacks the way you have."

"Some habits never die, huh?" I chuckled ironically. "I used to hate all the drills and physical training our instructors put us through – never thought they would end up saving my life today."

Elizabeth smiled at me encouragingly. "But the fact that your body remembers the movements and that you're still sharp and responsive shows that you've never stopped honing your skills even after you graduated. You lack the rustiness you would have if all you did was spend your time buried in magic books instead of training."

I didn't argue with that. Whether it was because she was completely on the mark or because the dragon's flames had finally died down, I didn't know. My next move was sprinting toward the dragon again.

I was so glad I had stuck to my training regime even after graduating and choosing to read magic scrolls. I wasn't feel exhausted or winded from all the physical exertion I was putting myself through – I knew that as a magician my weakness would be physical vulnerability, so I had chose to maintain the daily strengthening of my body and sharpening of my reflexes. It was probably what had saved my life so far.

Unfortunately, all the strength and training in the world wasn't going to give me the edge I needed to defeat Markus. I wasn't born with the natural physique that was bestowed upon some knights nor did I possess the talent that transformed some into the deadliest killers ever known to man. What I had, however, was arcane knowledge that terrified even the most stout-hearted demons. Still, with the dragon's natural resistance to magic and physical damage, it was going to be a tough.

Still, I remember Elizabeth's words that she had said to me back in the academy.

"Never give up."

Those words that had pulled me through innumerable failures and overcome countless obstacles. I wasn't going to give up even if my opponent was some giant overgrown fire-breathing lizard with some resistance to magic.

Plus, if I could stay alive for a few minutes longer I could actually win.

I weaved through the dragon's claws and swipes, jumping and hurtling myself around like a loose cannonball ricocheting itself off the walls of the cave. The dragon, unlike most humans, kept his patience, never losing his cool and getting increasingly frustrated with each swipe that missed. Occasionally he would flick his tail to break the tandem, but I avoided it all with astonishing ease, all thanks to my knight training.

Lady Elizabeth was right. I was getting excited as I vaulted over yet another swish of Markus's tail. The knight training is paying off!

Spinning around, I swing both my blades down and blasted Markus with a wave of dark energy at pointblank range. The black blast slammed into his face and exploded, but he did not even stagger back from that.

Instead, he responded with a stream of fire that tore through the smoke and blasted a thin hole in the ceiling. It would have hit me if I hadn't tossed myself aside in time. Rolling on the ground, I jumped back to my feet, panting. The adrenaline was pumping through my body furiously and my endurance had some ways to go, but I wouldn't be human if I wasn't feeling a trickle of exhaustion pouring through me by now.

Make that a river of exhaustion. Thanks to all my stupid acrobatic feats and unnecessary movements, I had expended more energy than what was necessary.

No choice now, I thought to myself as I stared down Markus, who was readying himself for another assault. Have to try my trump card!

Swinging both blades down, I unleashed two giant arcs of dark energy that sliced toward Markus. The sharp arcs dispersed as soon as they hit the magic-resistant armored scales, unfortunately, leaving nothing behind.

"You haven't learned, have you?" Markus sounded bored. "No matter what kind of parlor tricks you throw at me, none of them will work."

"So how about a real magic trick this time?" I asked as I landed on his head.

Markus jolted up in shock as he reared back in his hind legs. "When did you…?"

It was too late. I blasted his head with dark energy at pointblank range, focusing everything I had into a single point.

Markus succeeded in throwing me off, unfortunately, causing me to fly several hundred meters across the air and crashing into the wall next to Elizabeth.

"Argh…" I groaned as I slumped down, the fight taken out of me completely. No matter how much I trained my body, I was only human. There was no way I could make it out unscathed after being tossed a few hundred meters away. My body, in particular, felt like a massive truck had just slammed into me and ran over me.

The dragon began lumbering toward us, roaring, spitting and frothing furiously. A stream of incoherent curses came out of his mouth, none of which I could understand. Markus could have been swearing in draconian language, but I didn't know the dragons had their own language.

Then again, as intelligent, deadly and cultured as they were, it should not come as a surprise that they did. After all, when Bahamut was still around, he had formed a dragon civilization around his royal family.

"Get up!" Princess Amelia shrieked at me. "I don't know what you did to piss the dragon off that badly, but hurry up and get up! Finish him off or at least stop him from coming over here!"

"Your Highness, you must understand that he is badly hurt," Elizabeth said to her in a soothing voice, even as she helped me up. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah. And don't worry about the dragon. He won't be coming here for a while."

"Huh?"

"What do you mean?" the princess thundered. "Are you blind? Can't you…"

Her voice trailed off as the dragon began backing away, growling and whining in fear. Shrinking back to the cave, Markus was cowering from us.

No. Not from us.

He was staring fearfully at an invisible phantom, his eyes filled with unmistakable terror. His words, so incoherent before, were finally beginning to make sense as my ears began to adjust to his speed of speech.

"No…get away from me…why are you here? All I did was serve you loyally, why are you so angry? I didn't disobey you, did I? So…why?"

I frowned. From the angle Markus was looking down at, I daresay he was cowering from a human, or at least something of human size.

"Why is he so afraid?" the princess wondered out loud, puzzled. Realization dawned on her and she turned to me. "What did you do to him?"

"I put him under a nightmare curse," I replied as I leaned against the wall tiredly, my body aching from the huge impact I had suffered earlier. "Right now he's looking at the one thing he fears the most."

"That nightmare spell…" Elizabeth seemed to have hit on something as she was now staring at me intently, something that was making me feel uncomfortable. "I know that spell! And if you're really from the same knight academy as I was, and the same cohort, doesn't that mean you're the Nightmare Knight?"

I made a face. "Whoever came up with that lame name?"

That did not deter Elizabeth. If anything, it spurred her on. "You're the Nightmare Knight, aren't you? The knight who casts nightmare spells on his opponents and paralyzes them with fear?"

"I don't know about the nickname, but I guess I did have a reputation for that in the academy," I confessed.

"I should have known the moment I saw your two swords!" Elizabeth slapped her forehead, albeit lightly. She was probably still tender from her injuries. "There are very few dual wielders in our academy – why didn't I realize it sooner?"

"For one thing, I wasn't using these pair of black swords back then; I was using the standard ones they issued. Anyway, I'm not that famous. In fact, I'm flattered you have even heard of me."

"Who hasn't heard of you? Weren't you the one…"

"Dual wielder who casts nightmare spells?" Princess Amelia cut in. "If I remember correctly, Lady Elizabeth here is from the Accringhton Knights Academy, and if you're also from there with the dual swords and nightmare spells, shouldn't you be Silvia's fiancé?"

"Silvia…?" Elizabeth's face screwed up in shock.

"My cousin and another princess of the royal family, Princess Silvia Lautreamont."

"I know who she is, but she has a fiancé?"

"No," I stated firmly. "I am not her highness's fiancé, I assure you. I have nothing to do with her."

"Except saving her that one time," Princess Amelia muttered. "Oh, now my faith in you has been restored."

"You never had any faith in me in the first place!"

"Yes, I was referring to the incident where you saved her highness from the basilisk," Elizabeth nodded frantically. "How can you say you're not famous? Everyone expected great things from you after that incident."

"And Silvia expected you to marry her after that," Elizabeth added. "I can't believe you ran out on her like that. No wonder the wedding never took place."

"I already told you, I'm not her fiancé!" I snapped. "I never had any intention of marrying her."

"And I never had any intention of letting you leave alive."

A chill ran down my back as Markus's voice thundered from across the cave.

"Making me see my king's apparition, how bold and cunning of you," Markus growled, a cold, unbearable anger barely behind held back by his impeccable self-control. "You will pay for that, human."

"I didn't know King Bahamut was only the size of a human," I remarked. "And I'm surprised that your greatest fear was King Bahamut himself. I mean, I casted a spell on you so that you would be facing your darkest and deepest fear, but what do you know? Why are you afraid of your own king?"

Smoke billowed from Markus's nostrils as he snorted both in fury and disgust. "So that was what it is. A psychic attack. I let my guard down that one time. I will not let it happen again."

He opened his mouth to let loose his flames.

"Do something!" Princess Amelia screamed at me in panic. "He's going to roast us!"

"Nah," I shook my head. "He's no longer capable of doing that."

A deafening echo shook the cave as Markus collapsed, his tremendous weight causing the earth to quake. Screaming in agony, Markus flailed helplessly, coughing out massive goblets of blood. Wheezing, he glared at me.

"What have you done?" he demanded weakly.

"Oh, remember all those spells and traps that I had set up earlier? The ones that keep blowing you up and throwing you around?"

"What about them?" he snarled.

I sighed as I rubbed my face. "The reason why you were completely unscathed was because they were never meant to hurt you in the first place. Why do you think I prepared and set up all those wards and spells in the first place if I knew they wouldn't have much effect on a dragon's incredibly high resistance to magic?"

The dragon's eyes widened. "You mean…?"

"That's right." I grinned at him. "Those weren't explosive spells. They were long-term spells that needed some time to take effect. Call them biological weapons if you wish. They may take a while to work, but not even your magical resistance can resist them."

"What do you mean biological weapons?" Princess Amelia demanded, confused. "You mean a virus or something?"

"Not that advanced," I confessed sheepishly. "You see, those spells earlier blew up and released gaseous vapor that seeped into your every pore and began attacking you from the inside. It's corruption magic – whatever that has gotten into you has now began to eat you from the inside out."

The dragon could only stare at me, at a loss for words.

"Those are the high level spells I was talking about when I said I needed them to defeat you," I explained as I staggered to my feet. "I knew I could never defeat a legendary opponent like you without some subterfuge, so I set up all these high-level magical traps."

"You're despicable," the dragon spat.

"I'm sorry you feel this way, but I assure you that you won't die. In fact, it shouldn't take more than a week for you to heal completely from this." I waved my hand dismissively. "My intention was never to kill you. All I needed was to cripple you temporarily so that I can make my escape."

"You can't be serious!" the princess was indignant. "You should finish him off!"

"If you want him dead so badly, you can kill him yourself," I snapped. "I'm not going to dirty my hands. Besides," I glanced at the fallen Markus. "I have a proposition for you."

"How outrageous of you to demand something from me," Markus growled. "I admit that this is my loss. Take your women and get out of here, and never appear before me from henceforth. If I ever see you again, I will rip you to shreds."

"What a pity, I was just proposing that you let me know when you want to search for this king of yours." I turned away, my hands in my cloak. "I'm thinking of seeking King Bahamut – and I'm pretty sure you want to meet him as well, don't you?"

"That is…" Markus hesitated.

"Yeah, so if you change your mind, just look for me. I shouldn't be hard to find in the human kingdom, at least for a dragon anyway. We'll find that king of yours and discover the truth behind the so-called 'Betrayal' all those years ago."

Markus said nothing. I left him to lick his wounds and slowly contemplate my offer, nodding to the girls and beckoning them to follow me.

"Your highness, Lady Ranclave, if you would."

"You're so beaten up and you want to lead the way?" Princess Amelia huffed, jumping ahead of me. "I'll go. I can't wait to get out of this cave like, since forever."

Elizabeth kept pace with me as we fell behind the haughty princess. "You do realize what you said about the seven heroes amount to blasphemy, don't you?"

"I didn't know seeking the truth was a crime," I replied evenly.

"The truth is…!"

"The truth is often written by victors," I interrupted. "And I intend to win this one."

I left it at that, and neither of us said anymore on the subject for a few moments.

"Fine," Elizabeth finally spoke up. "Look for this truth of yours. I will not say anything to anyone because I owe you my life. But don't regret it when you realize that I was right."

I gave her an ominous smile. "My dear Lady Ranclave, I am actually praying that you are right."


I yawned as we reached the clearing just before Nottingham Forest.

"What, getting sleepy already?" the princess sneered at me obnoxiously as she turned back.

I shook my head. "Obviously I'll get exhausted after expending so much energy on casting magic spells."

"You don't seem tired – you seem sleepy."

I glared at the dumb princess. "You just don't get it, don't you? When you indulge in physical activity, your body gets tired, and you need to rest before you can move again. However, casting magic is different – it taxes the spirit and mind rather than the body – the best way to rest is to sleep. That's the only way to recover my spirit."

"That makes sense," Elizabeth agreed as she helped me up even as I stumbled around like a drunken misfit.

"Hey! Look!" I heard one of the villagers cry out as we neared the town. "Isn't that…by the great Emperor…isn't that her highness Princess Amelia?"

There was an outcry as all hell broke loose within the little town. The townsfolk began swarming out in greeting to meet the princess.

"Your highness! I'm so glad you are all right!"

"Are you hurt? We'll get you to the doctor right away!"

"I bet you must be starving! I'll get you some food!"

The princess basked in the limelight, even as Elizabeth and I were left in the dust. A couple of kind villagers did approach us, however.

"Lady Ranclave, you do not know how glad I am to see you still alive. Your father has been so worried about you."

Elizabeth smiled at him. "I know, I will contact him immediately. I apologize for all the trouble and worry I have caused."

"Well, I never!" it was the innkeeper. "Richard, I never expected you to be the one who slew the dragon and save the two princesses!"

I yawned in response and mumbled something under my breath. "The dragon's not dead, but I doubt he will be bothering anyone again."

"What? You didn't kill the dragon?"

"He crippled it, though," Elizabeth assured the shocked and dismayed villagers.

"Well, it doesn't matter. What is important is that the two of you are still alive," the village head beamed at Elizabeth and Princess Amelia. "That is much more important than anything else."

"Of course!" Princess Amelia agreed whole-heartedly as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Thank you very much for your kind concern," Elizabeth responded in a completely different manner that contained humility, sincerity and gratitude – something that the princess would never be able to learn. "I apologize for all the trouble I have caused, and I thank you all for coming out here to help her highness and me."

"Don't worry about it!"

"Yeah, you didn't cause any trouble!"

I smiled to myself even as the voices drifted further and further away. My consciousness was slipping away – a side effect of casting so many high-level spells at once. The toll it was exacting on me wouldn't be heavy – a good night's sleep would suffice and when I woke up I would be as fresh as ever.

I decided that since I could no longer keep my eyes open I might as well fall asleep right there and then. The chattering, excited voices droned out and finally disappeared from my range of hearing and my vision turned dark.

And I once again found myself embraced by a world of dreams.