With a still hazy consciousness, Eco slowly lifted her upper body.
“Oh, that’s amazing, Eco-chan. You didn’t oversleep this morning.”
Cosette walked up to the bedside with a smile across her face.
“What time is it right now…?”
“It’ll soon be eight-thirty.”
Eco sleepily looked around at the room. Not only was it Silvia’s personal bedroom, it also happened to be the Lautreamont Knight Country’s embassy. Aside from a bed that was in the room, it didn’t show too many other signs of life. Desks and bookshelves occupied most of the space in the room, giving it a quiet atmosphere.
Silvia had once left the Escavaron when Ash was determined to establish his own independent country — but she eventually returned as an ambassador. Although her role as ambassador was probably just an excuse for her to stay by Ash’s side, Silvia was a responsible person after all, and she seemed to want to take her job as ambassador seriously.
Eco had moved into Silvia’s room ever since Ash left the Escavaron to train. Living by herself in the room that she normally shared with Ash, Eco found it overly spacious and increasingly lonely. Since she didn’t want to live by herself, both Silvia and Cosette welcomed her. However, Silvia was nowhere to be seen this morning. She had probably gone off to do her morning training as usual. It was certainly very much like Silvia to do so. Even without Lancelot, she never lacked self-discipline and continued to train herself.
“It’s tonight, isn’t it?”
Cosette muttered as she stood in front of a calendar which hung on the wall. Those words instantly dispersed the drowsiness that clouded Eco’s mind. It had just become the tenth day since Ash and Lucca began their training. Today was the optimal day to borrow the power of the full moon to maximise the effects of the Dragon Riding Dance, but—
Eco jumped out of bed as if she had suddenly thought of a problem. She dashed over to the window, stood up on her tiptoes, and then looked up at the sky through the round window.
“Mmm, the weather is great today!”
Eco loudly avowed.
“It seems that tonight will be the best full moon for a Dragon Riding Dance.”
Cosette also replied cheerfully. It was at that moment that…Eco’s vision suddenly faded to black.
Eco felt as though she had been thrown into the night sky. Her sense of space in every direction had become blurred and uncertain. After a while, a ladylike yet hazy silhouette appeared. She possessed green eyes and green hair. The two horns on her head appeared to indicate that she was an adult dragon.
“Who are you…?”
Although it was their first meeting, Eco strangely felt a sense of nostalgia. The lady stared at Eco with a lonesome gaze. After a while, the lady squeezed a faint and weak voice from her mouth.
“Are you alright, Eco-chan?”
Eco awakened to Cosette grasping her by the shoulders and shaking her. The lacquer black space disappeared, and she had returned to Silvia’s room. Eco lay down on the bed as she accepted Cosette’s care.
“What’s wrong with me…?”
Eco propped up her upper body and looked down intently at her own body. She couldn’t find any abnormalities.
“I was shocked when you suddenly fainted. Even your pupils dilated, and it seemed as if…your soul had been transported somewhere else. By the way, it’s already two o’clock in the afternoon.”
“I slept for that long? I finally managed to wake up early, but in the end…”
Eco was momentarily stunned. She thought that she had been unconscious for five minutes at most — she didn’t expect that several hours had passed in the real world. Eco recalled the vision that she had seen. On that topic, Cosette’s analogy was quite correct. Eco had indeed fallen into a state where her soul was summoned to another location.
“…I saw a rather strange woman.”
“Well, although she was a woman, she had horns on her head…that’s why I think she was a dragon.”
“—She is the Mother Dragon.”
A sharp voice suddenly came from behind, and Eco spun around to see — a materialised Navi leisurely sat in a chair.
“That woman…is the Mother Dragon?”
“Her body is like mine in that she uses magic to construct its form — however, she is most certainly the Mother Dragon.”
“She’s the Mother Dragon…”
Eco whispered to herself as she touched <Avalon’s Bracelet> on her wrist. Eco had visited Albion Forest during the summer break. Although the purpose of that trip was to answer the summons of the Mother Dragon — Ash was the only one who ended up seeing the Mother Dragon. Although the Mother Dragon gave the bracelet to Eco through Ash, Eco still regretted not being able to meet the Mother Dragon in person. She hadn’t expected that she would meet the Mother Dragon in this manner…and Eco couldn’t help but feel confused due to the sudden nature of the situation. Having said that, even though it was a rare occasion for them to see each other, the Mother Dragon only said “Farewell, Eco.”
“…What the heck? The first word that a mother says to her daughter is ‘farewell’? What is she trying to do?”
Eco stared at the bracelet with a complicated expression. However, Navi said something to Eco that seemed completely out of the blue.
“It seems the Mother Dragon is conscious of the fact that her death is approaching—”
An emergency meeting was held on the ship at half past two in the afternoon. Although she normally never attended such meetings, Navi made an exception today. In addition, even chief Lars and head priestess Frederica attended.
“According to Navi’s report, the Mother Dragon…is close to death.”
Mirabel was the first to speak. An uproar instantly engulfed the meeting room.
“Quiet. Navi, do you have any more information that you can add?”
When asked by Mirabel, Navi seemed to hesitate before coming up with a reply.
“I’m not entirely sure about the details either. But…I thought it would still be quite some time until Mother’s life reached its end. It’s hard to imagine that she’d be so weak that she would die during this period…”
“Do you mean to say that someone hurt the Mother Dragon—?”
Silvia questioned with a sharp glint in her eyes.
“Although I wouldn’t dare to make such an assertion, I do have a bad premonition about it. Something abnormal must have happened in Albion Forest…”
Given the pained expression on Navi’s face, it was clear that the situation was no small matter. With a solemn expression, Lars said,
“It appears that this is an urgent situation. We should verify the status of the Mother Dragon as a matter of urgency.”
“The issue is that we should welcome Ash and Lucca’s return tonight. If the Escavaron is dispatched now—”
Mirabel couldn’t seem to decide on a course of action.
“No, there is no need to mobilise the Escavaron.”
Having remained silent until now, Frederica finally voiced her opinion.
“Why do you say that?”
Mirabel tilted her head as she asked.
“The <Three Forests> have been connected since ancient times, and one can pass freely between them. The only ones who can open that <Gate> are Ecbald clergy.”
Frederica asserted with pride as a member of the clergy.
“In that case, it makes things much simpler. Could you please open the <Gate> now? As for those who will go into Albion Forest, is there anyone who would like to volunteer—”
Mirabel looked around at everyone as she asked.
“I’ll go. Although I miss Ash…I feel that I should go to Albion Forest as a representative of the dragon race.”
“Aneue! Please allow me to go as a representative of the Knight Country! I also have a bad feeling about this.”
Silvia stood proudly as she expressed her strong determination.
“Since Princess-sama intends to go, I am duty-bound to follow her.”
Standing by the doorway, Cosette volunteered herself with a gentle tone.
“Then, as Ansarivan’s Student Council President, I shall also accompany them.”
Lastly, Rebecca valorously made her decision. With that, the party that would head to Albion Forest was decided.
Eco and the others all rode atop Rebecca’s Maestro Cú Chulainn towards the so-called <Gate> that head priestess Frederica had described — they went along a path through the forest that continued all the way up north. Chief Lars also rode his Maestro Rosberg in accompaniment so that he could send them off, with Frederica riding with him.
“That is the Ecbald Forest’s <Gate>.”
After a while, Lars pointed at a place that seemed like a plaza as he said so. The dense branches and foliage that normally provided cover produced a beautiful round opening there. In the centre of the plaza, ancient boulders were arranged in a ring, giving the place a solemn atmosphere. The members of the clergy had already arrived in advance and waited for the arrival of Eco and the others by the boulders. There were around thirty of them in all. It was a marvel to see Ecbald people dressed in religious outfits surrounding the circular formation of boulders. It even brought on a sense of nervousness.
“Head priestess, everything has been prepared.”
One of the priests reported to Frederica.
After expressing her gratitude, Frederica climbed down from Rosberg’s back.
“Hmm, so this is a so-called Stone Circle. It’s my first time seeing the real thing with my own eyes.”
Silvia voiced her admiration as she overlooked the stone formation.
“I can feel a mysterious power. Is that also a legacy of the elves?”
Eco asked in wonder.
“That is correct, Eco. For generations, the Ecbald tribe has protected this Stone Circle and The Shrine of Jylhä.”
Lars answered as he gazed off into the distance. Frederica then issued her orders,
“Please ride Cú Chulainn to the centre of the Stone Circle.”
Rebecca followed the instructions, riding Cú Chulainn forward to a side of the Stone Circle before pausing for a moment, and then carefully crossing over. Cú Chulainn barely managed to fit inside the Stone Circle.
“There are a few things to pay attention to here. Firstly, the opening of the <Gate> is limited to once per day. Secondly, the <Gate> can only stay open for a maximum of five hours. If we were purebred elves, it would’ve been possible to control at will like a switch, but as we have mixed human blood, this is the extent of our abilities.”
“I understand, head priestess.”
Rebecca replied confidently to Frederica, who seemed a little apologetic.
“Very well, I shall open the <Gate>—”
Frederica declared with a solemn air about her.
“O <Gate> forged by our mighty ancestors in ancient times long past…”
Frederica began to recite a chant. The other members of the clergy also followed her. Eco’s sixth sense told her — magical energy was slowly taking shape around the Stone Circle. And then, a gust of wind blew around them, and a complicated and intricate magic circle appeared on the ground. Soon, the entire plaza was filled with blue and white luminosity—
“Open the path to Albion Forest here!”
As Frederica yelled that with a firm voice, a pillar of light erupted from the ground. Eco’s vision became a vast expanse of whiteness and she felt as if she was floating in the air.
After the beam of light disappeared, Eco’s vision also returned to normal.
Eco clung onto Cú Chulainn as she slowly opened her eyes. The place that they stood upon now was also a plaza which had a Stone Circle at its centre. At first glance, the scenery was familiar, but the clergymen led by Frederica were missing. The colour of the sky was also distinctly different from how it looked in the Ecbald Forest. The weather in the Ecbald Autonomous Region was clear and fine, while the weather here was grey and overcast. Moreover, white snow petals drifted down from the sky. Eco couldn’t help but shiver. The atmosphere of the surrounding environment was also completely different from the Ecbald Forest. Looking around, Eco felt a sense of nostalgia well up inside her.
“No doubt, this is definitely Albion Forest…”
As if in response to Eco’s words, Cú Chulainn began to move. It lifted its heavy limbs as it stepped out of the Stone Circle. The complex pattern of the magic circle still continued to emit a pale blue glow. Rebecca, who had been staring intently at the magic circle, pensively folded her arms in front of her chest.
“If my guess is correct, we should be sent back to the Ecbald Forest as long as we step onto that magic circle again.”
“Which means that we have five hours to act before that magic circle disappears. Let’s set off for the Mother Dragon’s location without any further ado!”
Silvia clenched her fist beside Eco.
“That’s the spirit, Princess-sama.”
Cosette smiled as she responded to Silvia.
“There’s just one problem…is it that easy to find the Mother Dragon?”
Eco frowned as memories of her summer vacation flashed through her mind. On that day — Ash was the only one who was able to succeed in meeting the Mother Dragon. Both Eco and Silvia were harassed by illusions from beginning to end. Eco still had an unpleasant impression of her separation from Ash at that time…
[—I’m not sure if it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but that’s not a problem you have to worry about.]
Having returned to the Dragon Workshop, Navi communicated with Eco telepathically.
“—Navi? What do you mean?”
[Even I find it unbelievable, but…the Mother Dragon’s labyrinth barrier has actually been lifted. Cú Chulainn should be able to take you to where the Mother Dragon is right away.]
After explaining so, Navi ended her dialogue.
“Eco? What did Navi say?”
Silvia asked. Rebecca and Cosette also directed their attention to Eco.
After Eco relayed Navi’s information to everyone—
Cú Chulainn suddenly roared and then began to tread forward with earth-shaking footsteps.
“Then let us follow Navi’s suggestion and entrust Cú Chulainn with the task of leading the way.”
Just as Rebecca made a content smile—
With a sudden flap, Cú Chulainn soared up and above the forest.
Eco’s eyes widened. Albion Forest looked completely different. The sight of Albion Forest now was vastly different from the scenery that Eco recalled when she looked down on it from Lancelot’s back during the summer vacation. No, the appearance of the forest itself probably hadn’t changed. Rather, it was due to the Mother Dragon’s magical enchantment being lifted that the forest’s true appearance was revealed. An enormous old tree beyond all imagination that towered into the sky stood in the centre of the forest. The group immediately realised that that was the Mother Dragon’s body.
“That’s Albion Forest’s…true appearance?”
Silvia also looked down at the forest below with a blank expression.
“Umm…Mother Dragon-sama must be a plant, right?”
Cosette asked, as if she had realised something in hindsight.
“Yes, that’s right. What’s the matter?”
Silvia replied, as if puzzled by the question.
“Don’t you all think…that she seems to be moving?”
Just as Cosette tilted her head in bewilderment—
Something suddenly swept past Cú Chulainn’s flank with a whistling whir.
Cú Chulainn made an anguished groan. Slight burn marks could be seen on the fur of its sides.
“Is that an anti-air attack?”
Silvia yelled in amazement.
“…I command you in the name of Rebecca Randall. Bestow upon me the Ark that you have created!”
Rebecca’s powerful voice resounded through the grey sky as snowflakes drifted down.
Cú Chulainn let loose a roar that was loud enough to rattle everyone’s eardrums. Rebecca’s body became shrouded in a dazzling light, and bright red armour emerged from thin air. Piece by piece, it was assembled over Rebecca’s naked body. At last, she equipped a cloak that fluttered in the wind — thus completing the second form of her Ark.
“Appear…the certain hit magic spear! Gáe Bolg!”
Rebecca had prepared herself for battle in almost no time.
“Go, Cú Chulainn!”
Under Rebecca’s orders, Cú Chulainn began to glide through the air with caution. It flicked its body to the left and the right, dodging the mysterious projectiles while it slowly closed the distance.
Rebecca suddenly used the magic spear Gáe Bolg to attack. Clang! —A sharp sound rang out, and a ball-like object like the ones used for Dragon Riding sports flew into Eco’s arms.
In astonishment, Eco reflexively hugged the object. It had a warm and hard sensation to it.
“Hey…Rebecca. This is really dangerous!”
Eco raised her fist in protest. Eco was struggling to cope with just holding onto Cú Chulainn so that she wouldn’t be thrown off when they dodged projectiles. So, it was hard to blame Eco for getting angry when an inexplicable object suddenly came flying at her during such a moment.
“Sorry sorry, I didn’t mean it. So, what on earth is that projectile?”
Rebecca made a wry smile as she answered from above Eco.
“Projectile? …Are you talking about this thing?”
Eco stared at the object in her arms. The surface was dark brown and felt quite rough to touch. Silvia and Cosette also looked carefully at it.
“Looking closely, it appears to be a plant seed.”
“Although it looks too big to be a seed, I can’t think of a more apt description than a seed. Moreover, they were fired at us from Mother Dragon-sama’s body…”
“What reason does Mother have for attacking us?”
Eco was puzzled. Perhaps due to its unique reproductive system, the Mother Dragon couldn’t be compared to an ordinary mother. Even so, the Mother Dragon was a motherly existence to Eco. Eco felt sincerely happy when she received <Avalon’s Bracelet>. Why would her mother attack her indiscriminately? While Eco was emotionally hurt, the seed pellets continued to fire relentlessly and passed by Cú Chulainn at high speed.
“Hmm…they might be seeds, but their speed is incredible. Even Cú Chulainn would be seriously injured if it took a head-on shot. Not to mention that if we were hit…it might be a one-hit kill.”
A cold sweat broke on Silvia’s forehead as she began to feel anxious.
“Please rest assured. In order to protect Your Highness’ life, I shall do everything that I must.”
Cosette revealed a smile as if to appease Silvia.
“Hmm. Continuing on like this indefinitely isn’t going to work. You three, make sure you hold on tightly to Cú Chulainn!”
Rebecca steeled her resolve as she shouted resolutely.
“Cú Chulainn! Activate a defensive shield and then charge at Mother at full speed!”
Rebecca’s decision absolutely mortified both Eco and Silvia.
Cú Chulainn obeyed Rebecca’s order without hesitation. Cú Chulainn created a Hexagonal Shield in front of itself, and then charged towards the great ancient tree’s roots like a meteor—.
“How is this possible!? This is the Mother Dragon?”
Silvia couldn’t help but cry out after Cú Chulainn charged through a rain of projectiles and landed at the base of the enormous tree.
“What’s the matter…?”
Eco felt her heart sink for a while as she gazed at the body of the Mother Dragon. The trunk and branches of the large ancient tree had undergone unbearable changes. The bark was greasy and viscous as if it had been coated with tar, and it was also dyed jet black. Purple spots appeared all over the trunk, giving it a frightening appearance. It was clearly a tree, but it gave off a horrific impression of something that had been corrupted. Moreover, a dark and dense layer of magic was continuously ejected from the centre of the tree.
“What is this…is a monster like this really my ‘mother’?”
Eco’s fists trembled without rest.
Haughty laughter suddenly drifted down from the tree.
“You guys are pretty good if you’re able to break past this one’s anti-air shooting—”
As Eco looked up, she locked eyes with a slender girl. The girl was casually dressed in a long cloak as she sat on a branch. Her slender eyes were like those of a lynx that had locked on to its prey. The girl’s appearance gave off a mysterious impression. Judging by the shape of her ears, she appeared to belong to the Ecbald Tribe, but her skin was dark. During their stay in the Ecbald Forest, Eco had seen all kinds of Ecbald women, and all of them had skin as white as snow. Yet, this girl’s skin was such a dark colour that it seemed to deny all of that. She didn’t just have a dark complexion either. Her entire being gave off an aura that seemed synonymous with darkness.
“You’re the one who crafted the narcotic, Kiira Brava Henriksen, aren’t you!?”
When Silvia asked that, Kiira simply revealed a mysterious smile. She looked mature and didn’t appear to be a girl of the same age as Lucca. Given the long, slender forms of her limbs, she actually seemed closer to Rebecca in age.
“Correct. You were actually able to deduce my identity at a glance…I see. You guys must be Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights who defeated Uriel, I presume?”
“You’re quite perceptive, but it doesn’t seem as though we have time for leisurely introductions. What have you done to the Mother Dragon? I can vaguely sense a presence similar to that of a Necromancia…”
Upon hearing Rebecca’s question, Kiira stood up on the branch where she had been sitting.
“This thing is called a Necroplant. I allowed the Mother Dragon to absorb into her roots a drug that I specially developed called <Necroma>. It results in a mutation of her body. Unlike the Necromancias which can be mass-produced as long as dragon ashes are used, this Necroplantis a unique existence.”
“Then, the six hundred and sixty-six people that you asked Uriel for…”
Despite the sullen expression on Rebecca’s face, a smile remained on Kiira’s face.
“As you’ve guessed, I extracted all of their Astral into a crystal and used that as an ingredient for <Necroma>.”
“Why…why did you commit such an unconscionable act!?”
Eco couldn’t help but shed tears.
“Why, you ask? It’s obviously for the sake of revenge! I will never forgive the Mother Dragon who refused to make a contract with me! I’ve hated her for so many years, and now the time for my revenge has finally arrived!”
“Y-You lowlife…you did this to the Mother Dragon for such a trivial reason?”
Silvia was infuriated.
“A trivial reason? Huh, what the hell do you know!?”
“I sympathise with your past, but everything you did has ruined the <Orphan Ceremony>. Children will never again have the chance to obtain a Pal, and you’re the one who has deprived those like you who hoped of becoming a Dragonar from ever doing so. Do you have the conscience to face the grave sins that you’ve committed?”
“A conscience? Piss off! My heart has long since been decimated by my hatred of the Mother Dragon. Open yours eyes and gaze upon my black skin! As I fell into darkness, my skin naturally turned black too.”
“Is that really possible!?”
Eco muttered to herself in amazement.
“Pride, envy, rage, sloth, greed, gluttony, lust — the Holy Espada Agency has named those as the <Seven Deadly Sins>. Ecbalds whose minds have been corrupted by any three of them will have their skin turn black as if to make it publicly known that they have sinned.”
Kiira coldly answered as if it had nothing to do with herself.
“I suppose you’d be guilty of rage against Mother, envy of Lucca, and greed born out of your strong desire for revenge — those three? Your mind is so corrupted that I’d actually feel relieved if you were also slothful.”
Kiira flatly ignored Rebecca’s provocation.
“The Ecbald tribe have always been proud of their pearl white skin, and the darkening of their skin is an ominous sign to them. It’s because it would make them look exactly like the cold-blooded enemy of their noble elven ancestors — the dark elves. I’m not the same as those Ecbalds though. I’m actually quite pleased that I look like this now. I was reborn as a dark elf from the moment that I vowed vengeance against the Mother Dragon!”
“…If that’s the case, then allow me to ask one last question.”
Rebecca spoke in a tough tone, perhaps having understood that there was no room for negotiation between both sides.
“It’s not that I can’t understand your notion of revenge, but I have doubts about how you’ve gone about it. If you just wanted to kill Mother, then there was no need for a drug that sacrificed so many human lives. Isn’t that right?”
“Hmm, you’ve got a keen eye. Naturally, my revenge isn’t going to end so soon. After the <Orphan Ceremony> ended, those Ecbald people just threw flattery at Lucca, but completely abandoned me—”
Kiira clenched her fists and then slammed one of them against the Necroplant’s trunk.
“They’re just as guilty! I’m going to ride this thing back home in triumph. And then, I’ll turn my hometown, the Ecbald Forest, into ashes!”
A dark aura erupted and enveloped Kiira’s entire body.
“They’d better be ready! This one is my Pal!”
Perhaps in response to Kiira’s feelings, the Necroplantacted abnormally.
Like an awakened dragon, the demonic tree’s power began to produce tremors. Like blood vessels, the roots of the tree buried in the earth gradually began to pop out. One by one, they uprooted themselves and intertwined intricately to form a set of feet. They looked like the legs of a spider.
“She can move!?”
Even Rebecca, who usually kept her cool, couldn’t help but cry out in astonishment — it was a testament to just how bizarre the image was. Both Eco and Silvia had already been frightened to the point that they could no longer speak.
“Rebecca-sama. We must hurry back to the Stone Circle and pass this news onto the Ecbald people…!”
Cosette’s tone was imbued with a rare sense of urgency.
“Retreat! Cú Chulainn!”
Rebecca decisively gave an order to Cú Chulainn. Cú Chulainn obediently roared and then shifted direction. Although it swiftly spread its wings and attempted to launch into the sky—
“It’s too late now!”
When Kiira yelled that, a countless number of tentacles sprouted from the body of the Necroplant. Aside from deformed roots and branches that formed some of the tentacles, there were also slender yet agile vines.
Restrained by the tentacles, Cú Chulainn had difficulty lifting off into the sky.
“If you can’t fly then run! Get as far away from the Necroplantas you can at full speed!”
Under Rebecca’s orders, Cú Chulainn gave up on flying and instead ran like mad on the ground. Cú Chulainn’s size was the largest among the Maestros, and that meant the dense forest was disadvantageous terrain for it. However, they had no choice but to deal with the terrain disadvantage and make a break for it while they could.
“Go! Necroplant! …That’s right, since you’re my Pal, I have to give you a nice name.”
Kiira cackled with elation as she stood on the tree and then revealed a triumphant smile after thinking about the name for a while.
“…No, there’s really nothing to think of here. Your name is Gawain!”
Cú Chulainn raced through the forest with Rebecca on its head, while Eco, Silvia and Cosette rode on its back. Eco firmly grasped onto Cú Chulainn’s back as she turned around to look back.
It was a half-dragon, half-plant life form made by having the Mother Dragon’s body absorb a drug. The huge ancient tree which once had a sacred aura had now become an alien existence that seemed neither dragon nor plant. It also used a countless number of tree roots intertwined into feet as a mode of transport. All of the birds which inhabited the forest scattered in fear. Even seemingly brave wild animals fled with their tails between their legs. Perhaps a silver lining was that the Necroplant’s movement speed was rather slow. Due to its enormous size, it constantly had to demolish all surrounding trees in order to advance forward. But, even so—
Eco shouted as an instinctive fear chilled her spine.
A vast number of vines sprouted from the Necroplant and successively commenced an assault on Cú Chulainn as their movement produced sharp whistles in the wind. No, there were more than just vines attacking.
The projectiles which had given Rebecca and Cú Chulainn trouble when they initially made their way into the forest returned. Scores of projectiles drew an arc in the air as they landed and exploded at Cú Chulainn’s feet. Cú Chulainn narrowly dodged the onslaught by dashing from side to side while continuing to sprint forward.
“It seems like we’ll just have to bite the bullet and confront it…”
However, Cosette dissuaded Rebecca who mumbled that on top of Cú Chulainn’s head.
“Rebecca-sama, we cannot fight right now. Our top priority is to arrive safely back at the Stone Circle. That Necroplant feels extremely abnormal.”
“Hmm. You make a logical argument, but…”
“Please allow me to take care of our defences—”
While Rebecca muttered to herself in the face of this dilemma, Cosette swiftly stood up and spun around as she looked straight behind. She then removed a short, stick-like object from one of her pockets which made a rattling metallic sound. In the blink of an eye, the stick had elongated into a silver polearm.
“Hold on! You’re not planning to use such a simple weapon against our pursuers, are you?”
While Silvia yelled out in surprise, Cosette lightly jumped up and landed on Cú Chulainn’s rear as she entered a battle stance. A ferocious aura enveloped her curvaceous body and her dense hair also stood on end. The violent imagery of her fighting aura was clearly reflected in Eco’s eyes as a dragon. In that moment, she instinctively felt even more frightened of her than the Necroplant.
Cosette unleashed an astonishing aura from her body. The polearm emitted a flash of light from top to bottom! As a result, the approaching vines were mercilessly sliced apart.
The endless stream of seeds which were fired in succession were taken down by Cosette one after the other—
“Ufufu, do you see now? Rebecca-sama, please rest assured that I will take care of the rear guard. Please focus on leading all of us back to the <Gate>.”
Cosette said with a smile and a giggle. Eco and Silvia couldn’t help but stare at Cosette in wonder. Even Rebecca seemed shocked by her aura and prowess as she answered,
“I understand, Cosette-san.”
With no further objections, she gave her undivided attention to the front. After a while, Cú Chulainn roared.
“Good! We’re getting closer and closer to the <Gate>!”
Rebecca breathed a sigh of relief as she yelled back to the others. They had finally returned to the plaza containing the Stone Circle. Given that night had fallen all around them, perhaps they’d stayed in the forest for longer than they thought. A dazzling burst of light was released from the magic circle inside the Stone Circle. The magic activated by the clergy hadn’t yet lost its effectiveness.
“Go! Cú Chulainn!”
As Rebecca ordered, Cú Chulainn leapt and landed perfectly inside the Stone Circle.
After they were shrouded in a blinding light, the group instantly regained visual clarity upon return.
“We’re finally back—!”
Eco couldn’t help but cry out loud. The clergymen led by head priestess Frederica had remained in formation around the Stone Circle.
“Head priestess, the situation is dire! Please close the gate immediately!”
Perhaps taking note of the sharpness in Rebecca’s urgent tone, Frederica asked no further questions and responded immediately.
“Close the gate!”
Following Frederica’s orders, the clergymen began to recite the chant for closing the gate. The method for closing the gate seemed simpler than it was to open it as the magic circle disappeared almost instantaneously.
“Phew…it seems we made it.”
Although Silvia felt a wave of relief, Rebecca still appeared worried as a frown hung across her face.
“Rebecca? Is something bothering you?”
In response to Eco’s question, Rebecca nodded as she said,
“Yes. I’m very curious as to how Kiira originally planned on using the Necroplant to attack the Ecbald Forest. After all, it’s theoretically impossible to travel overland from Albion Forest all the way to the Ecbald Forest.”
Eco had a sudden realisation.
“Do you mean to say that Kiira may also use the <Gate>? I thought only the clergy could open the <Gate> though?”
“I hope that’s the case. The problem is that the Necroplant’s body belongs to the Mother Dragon. When it comes to opening and closing the <Gate>—”
All of a sudden, a loud boom shook the plaza. The large boulders that formed the Stone Circle were instantly blown away. At the same time, a gigantic magic circle that encompassed the entire plaza appeared on the ground. After that, tough-looking vines gradually began to emerge from the ground.
“As I thought, Kiira planned on using the <Gate> in the first place…”
Rebecca remarked in a bitter voice. After a moment—
“You Ecbald people with wax-white faces!”
Kiira slowly emerged from the magic circle.
“Kiira Brava Henriksen has returned!”
Kiira’s pose was majestic, reminiscent of a Dragonar riding on top of a dragon’s head.
“…It can’t be helped. I’ll hold things off here.”
Even when faced with a difficult and perilous situation, Rebecca maintained her composure.
“Head priestess Frederica, please take Eco and the others back to the Escavaron for refuge.”
“T-That’s fine, but…”
Frederica was visibly shaken given that she still didn’t have a clear grasp of the situation and what had happened.
“Please wait, President! You might be one of the strongest, but can you really handle this on your own?”
Silvia asked in doubt.
“Who do you take me for? I’m the Student Council President of Ansarivan Dragon Riding Academy, Rebecca Randall.”
After making such a bold declaration, Rebecca turned her back to Eco and the others.
Just as night was about to fall, Celes stood in front of altar at The Shrine of Jylhä. The moon had already begun to show its face in the eastern horizon. Just as anticipated, it was a perfect full moon. It was the most suitable night to perform a Dragon Riding Dance. If tonight’s opportunity was missed, they would have to wait another month.
“You’ll soon be free, Oscar.”
Having brought Celes and Oscar here, Tristan uttered an anxious groan.
Celes spoke softly to Oscar who had been laid down next to the altar. That voice really doesn’t suit Tristan’s mighty image — Celes thought. However, Celes also felt reassured to see Tristan in good health and without any abnormalities. Even though Oscar had become a doll with no free will, she was still connected to Tristan through their Astral Flow. Moreover, she continued to supply Tristan with Astral. According to head priestess Frederica, The Shrine of Jylhä was the most sacred place in the Ecbald Autonomous Region. In other words, The Shrine of Jylhä was the location that would produce the strongest effect if Ash and Lucca were to successfully perform a Dragon Riding Dance over the forest.
“Don’t worry. Ash and Lucca will definitely succeed in their Dragon Riding Dance. I believe in them.”
Just as Celes muttered a prayer while stroking Tristan’s flank — an earth-shattering boom suddenly erupted. Vibrations buzzed through the air for a while.
“W-What? An earthquake!?”
Celes hurriedly crouched down beside Oscar. However, the tremors didn’t quite feel like an earthquake. Moreover, the sound wasn’t so much related to the ground — it sounded more like an explosion.
As expected, Tristan appeared to raise its guard as the fur all over its body stood erect.
Eco, Silvia and the clergymen led by Frederica all headed straight for the Escavaron. Along the way, they all witnessed areas of the forest being continuously eroded by the Necroplant. The screams of the Ecbald Tribe echoed through the night—
“Wait, what’s happening!? Why are those tentacles coming here…isn’t Rebecca holding them off from behind!?”
Upon hearing Eco’s complaint, Frederica answered while running beside them,
“It looks like…all of the <Gates> scattered throughout this forest have been forcibly opened.”
As expected of someone bearing the great responsibilities of head priestess, Frederica was able to calmly analyse the situation even in the face of a crisis.
“What did you say!? I thought there was only one <Gate>?”
“There is a total of twelve <Gates> which link Albion Forest and the Ecbald Forest>.”
“That’s so many! If all of them have been infiltrated by the Necroplant…this is no small matter!”
Silvia said with a grim expression, while Frederica nodded solemnly in agreement.
“Please don’t worry. I know the locations of all of the <Gates>. Although it might be a long detour, as long as we avoid those locations, we should be able to arrive back to the Escavaron safely and avoid those threats.”
It seemed that they had no choice but to put their faith in Frederica and move forward.
Several minutes later—.
Just as Frederica said, Eco and the others did not encounter any threats or obstructions along the way, and they smoothly made their way out of the forest. The majesty of the moored Escavaron entered their view. A large number of people seeking refuge had formed a crowd surrounding the magic ship. At some point, the area outside the forest had become something of a temporary shelter.
“Is there anyone with serious injuries? We’ll send you to the Escavaron’s infirmary!”
The person shouting loudly to provide instruction was Jessica. Dressed in a pink nurse’s uniform, she was doing her best to convey instructions to the crowd. Frederica paused upon seeing this.
“I will stay here to treat the wounded with Jessica. Medical treatment is also an important responsibility for the clergy.”
“I understand. Thank you for escorting us back.”
After Silvia replied, Frederica and the clergymen separated from them and headed towards the location of the refugees.
“Well, let’s head to the cockpit first. We should give aneue an update on the situation first—.”
Both Eco and Cosette nodded in agreement with Silvia’s proposal.
Mirabel, Eunice and Anya sat in the Escavaron’s cockpit. Raymond and Max were missing because they had ridden out on their Pals to search for residents Mirabel made an annoyed groan after listening to the who might not have escaped in time. explanation from Eco and Silvia.
“The pharmacist Kiira used a drug that she developed to turn the Mother Dragon into a life form called a Necroplant…it’s quite sudden and hard to believe.”
Mirabel rested her chin on her fingers as she pondered, lost deeply in thought.
“If we use our main cannon to bombard the Necroplant’s body…the resulting aftershock and collateral may destroy the homes of the Ecbald Tribe. Moreover, Ash and Eco should be coming back soon. Just as previously predicted, tonight is a perfect full moon. It seems like we’ll have to protect Ash and Lucca while they perform the Dragon Riding Dance, and at the same time—”
At that moment, the entrance to the cockpit was opened and Chief Lars entered the room. Bandages were wrapped all over his body, he looked bruised all over, and he could only walk with the assistance of crutches.
“I’m deeply ashamed, Mirabel-dono. As the Chief, I should be the one who stands up to protect his people, but I’m the first one who has lost the ability to fight…we’ve also forced you to use the Escavaron as a shelter despite its invaluable combat power…I’m truly sorry.”
Although Lars was old and weakened, he was still a magnificent Dragonar. He was also a great veteran of the Xenoglavia War. However, even a seasoned verteran like Lars had instantly suffered defeat. This only reinforced the incredible strength of the Necroplant in Eco’s mind. If this continued, it would only be a matter of time before the entire Ecbald Forest was completely destroyed. Rebecca would also be in grave danger since she was all alone.
However, Ash and Lucca had still yet to return. In the first place, Ash and Lucca’s mission was to successfully perform a Dragon Riding Dance in order to save Oscar. They couldn’t hope to rely on them as part of the combat force. Frustratingly, because Ash had chosen Lancelot as his Pal for the mission, Silvia was unable to fight and thus forced to retreat. Moreover, Eco didn’t have the courage to transform into Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor without Ash’s presence. In the past, Eco was only able to liberate that form with confidence because Ash was there as her knight. Without Ash by her side, it was possible that she’d lose control of herself just like that time when she was forcibly awakened by the Imperial Army.
“—Eco. As things stand, it seems we have no choice but to pin our hopes on you.”
Having remained silent until now, Silvia finally spoke as she placed a hand on Eco’s shoulder. Silvia probably felt the same way as Eco because she couldn’t enact any change on her own. However, the thing that Eco feared the most right now was someone urging her into battle.
“B-But I…if Ash isn’t here as my knight…I don’t have the confidence that I’ll be able to maintain my consciousness the whole time.”
“Is now the time for such listless words? Look at what’s going on around you! We won’t survive without your power!”
Silvia’s words were perfectly reasonable. If possible, Eco also wanted to do her part for everyone. But, if Eco transformed without the certainty of having Ash by her side, what would happen in the off chance that things didn’t go well? A terrifying vision surfaced in Eco’s mind. The Escavaron completely ravaged. The forest a sea of flames.
“What!? Aren’t you the same? Without Lancelot, you’ve decided that all you can do is stand by and watch…why are you telling me to go by myself? That’s just mean!”
No. That’s not what I actually wanted to say — even though that’s what she thought, Eco had lashed out at Silvia anyway, speaking hurtful words in the heat of the moment.
Silvia raised her right hand, and Eco instinctively shut her eyes. …However, the pain that she anticipated never came to pass.
Eco gingerly opened her eyes. She saw Silvia standing before her with her right fist raised but unmoving. And then, Silvia made a ridiculous proposal that overturned all of Eco’s expectations.
“If that’s the case, then why don’t I ride you!? How about that?”
Eco stared straight ahead. She couldn’t figure out what Silvia meant at all.
“Huh!? Of course not! Dragons don’t allow anyone other than their contracted master to ride them! All students at the Dragon Riding Academy should know at least that much as part of their common knowledge!”
“Of course. That’s precisely why I proposed the idea! I’m certain that I’ll be able to pair up with you!”
Silvia folded her arms and proudly puffed out her chest.
“…Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am serious. If you feel uneasy about being alone, then I’ll substitute for Ash as your partner. My Pal just so happens to be absent anyway.”
“We’re going to join forces since both of our partners are missing? I have to warn you that getting thrown off me isn’t the worst thing that could happen…I might even trample you to death, you know?”
“That doesn’t matter. I believe in you, Eco.”
Eco was so embarrassed that her cheeks felt like they were ablaze.
“Aren’t you Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor!? I don’t believe that you’re the same as other dragons. You’re not going to get so mad that you lose your mind just because someone other than your master is riding you.”
“That would be the ideal situation…argh! Cosette, can’t you try and persuade Silvia!? If you’re her personal servant, you should step forward and remind her when she’s wrong!”
However, Cosette revealed a soft smile.
“I believe that if Princess-sama and Eco work together, you’ll be victorious and will return safely in triumph.”
“Oh…both of you are seriously idiots!”
Despite her somewhat blunt reply, Eco extended her fist towards Silvia. Silvia also smiled as she extended her fist. After they briefly bumped fists — Eco and Silvia swiftly marched out of the cockpit.
“What troublesome children…. They didn’t even discuss it with me before setting off like that.”
After Mirabel sighed and complained, a smile spread across Anya’s face as she sat in the navigator’s seat.
“I think Eco and Her Highness Silvia will be alright though.”
“I hope so…”
At that moment, an alarm for emergency communications suddenly went off.
“Who is it at a time like this?”
Anya quickly activated the communications device.
[Mirabel-sensei, bad news!]
The person who appeared on-screen was Raquel IV. Raquel’s expression appeared to be one of panic, and this gave Mirabel an ominous premonition. What was there that could throw Raquel into a state of panic at this time — there seemed to be only a single possibility.
[…Civil war has finally broken out in the Chevron Kingdom!]
Sure enough, Mirabel’s ominous premonition came to pass.
“So those aiming for the throne started a war before the mourning period for Zacharias III was over?”
[Indeed…at present, the forces that support the Second Prince as the legitimate heir and the coalition forces of the Fourth and Fifth Princes have begun a small-scale battle. The other princes are also aggressively preparing for battle. In the worst-case scenario, the entire Kingdom may turn into a battlefield…]
Since it was rare to see Raquel in such a state of panic, Mirabel couldn’t help but laugh despite knowing that her reaction was somewhat rude.
[Huh!? W-Why are you laughing when there’s an emergency, sensei?]
“It’s nothing. I just thought that the sight of you panicking was a very age-appropriate reaction.”
[T-That’s enough! Mirabel-sensei!]
“Don’t worry. I have faith in Avalon’s Holy Dragons’ Emperor Knights. Moreover, I also believe in the strength of the young man named Ash Blake—”
“The Death of Mother ~A.S.B.1365.12~” is closed.
(All 10 of 10 parts) (12/02/21)
Continues on to Chapter 8 – Twin-Winged Oratorio