369 Chapter 130
Maxi no longer had the energy to be shocked. She slumped into a chair, her mind racing through the past few years. She recalled the moment she had first witnessed large snowflakes fall in Anatol. By mere chance or not, the drop in temperature had begun after Riftan's return from the Dragon Campaign.
Had the monsters of the Pamela Plateau been plotting Sektor's resurrection from so far back? How could such a thing even be possible?
As if sensing her unspoken questions, Ruth continued his explanation. "Magic stones, by nature, draw in mana, but an empty stone would typically take decades to be restored by such passive measures. That is why I believe the dark mages may have discovered a method to hasten this process."
He stroked his chin pensively, adding, "Resurrecting a dragon might not have been their initial motive. Given the vital role magic stones play in surviving that barren wasteland, it's only natural that they sought ways to repurpose them."
Riftan, staring grimly into the fireplace, abruptly broke his silence. "What makes you think they are trying to bring back the Red Dragon? Of all the things they could do with the stone, what makes you so certain that is their ultimate goal?"
"It is the conclusion I reached after carefully considering the circumstances and studying the records from the monster city," Ruth replied stiffly. "I'm sure you remember the temple you discovered at the Plateau. The monsters were worshiping a dragon. They learned the concept of religion from the dark mages, then created their own faith. To them, a dragon is the closest thing to a god. Since we humans have harmed their deity, they see us as deserving of retribution."
Pausing, Ruth regarded Riftan somberly. "The monster invasion three years ago was not driven by ambitions of conquest or revenge. Their motives were purely religious. Everything they have done so far is to punish humans and revive their revered idol."
A heavy silence fell over the room. Maxi hugged herself tightly, too shocked to even think straight. The worldview she had been secure in for the past twenty-six years was shaken to its foundations.
Monsters were evil creatures that defied God. Yet, much like humans, these creatures had forged their own religion and were now waging holy war in accordance with its doctrines.
Riftan's calm voice snapped her out of her disturbing thoughts. "How much of this did you reveal to the pope?"
"Only that the monsters of the Pamela Plateau are attempting to revive the Red Dragon," Ruth confessed. "The church is still trying to figure out the reason behind the magic stone's theft."
A heavy sigh seeped out of him. "There is going to be an uproar. The previous pope and the Reformed Church have kept the loss of Sektor's stone a secret to prevent the Orthodox faction from gaining power. Once word gets out, the grand basilica will face severe criticism."
"I'm surprised you're still alive after speaking such truths before the pope," Riftan muttered sardonically.
Ruth shrugged. "Fortunately, the new pope is a man of sound judgment. He understands the dire consequences should we fail to stop the dragon's resurrection."
Looking up at Riftan with a serious expression, Ruth added, "The swarm of undead around the Lexos Mountains is no coincidence. They are targeting the eastern regions to break the barriers that prevent mana from flowing into the mountains, placed there after the Dragon Campaign."
"Several cities near the mountain range have already fallen," Riftan acknowledged.
Ruth did not seem surprised by the news. "Then, retaking those cities should be our first course of action," he stated calmly. "To thwart the dragon's revival, we must halt the mana of fire from flowing into the mountains."
Turning to the window, he added, "Once the barriers are back in place, this ceaseless snowfall will end as well."
As Ruth had predicted, the Council of the Seven Kingdoms erupted in outrage. While Maxi was not privy to the details of the meeting, it was evident that the church's authority was hanging in the balance. Fortunately, the coalition acted quickly, deploying their armies despite the political turmoil.
Walking through the arcade, a complicated expression rose on Maxi's face.Update By noveIfuIIbook.c0m Her gaze fell on the long line of baggage wagons on the other side. All around, servants hurriedly cleared the snow-covered courtyard, and soldiers busied themselves with the transportation of firewood, food, arrows, and other weapons.
Maxi watched the flurry of activity before walking away. Though she knew she should be grateful that the seven monarchs - who more often than not set upon each other like a pack of rabid dogs — had agreed to take action so quickly, the thought of another war darkened her mood.
How much more adversity would they have to endure before they could finally return to Anatol? She tried to soothe the frustration simmering in her chest as she descended the steps and crossed the snow-covered grounds.
Richard Breston's unsettling words came to mind. It was clear that the already fragile Armistice of the Seven Kingdoms was now hanging by a thread. Even if they succeeded in thwarting the Red Dragon's resurrection, it offered no guarantee of lasting peace. The thought weighed on her heart.
Though she still harbored a desire to fight alongside Riftan, the prospect of a life filled with never-ending battles filled her with dread.
Still, it is better than sending him off to battle alone.
Maxi steeled herself. A life spent fighting alongside the man she loved held far greater meaning than one filled with anxiety and idle prayers within the confines of a castle. Holding her head high, she set her course toward the mages' lodging.
Negotiations had led to an agreement between the Mage Tower and the church to collaborate in preventing the dragon's revival, and she intended to join the efforts as a mage.
She was resolutely climbing the stairs when a familiar voice called out from behind.
"There you are, my lady. I've been searching all over for you."
Maxi whipped her head around to see Ursuline Ricaydo, his face set in its usual cold expression.
She looked at him quizzically. "Is something the matter?"
"The commander has instructed me to fetch you," he replied tersely, gesturing with a slight nod. "Please come with me."
Maxi's eyes narrowed, unsure if Riftan was seeking her presence so he could browbeat her into returning to Anatol like last time. After a moment of anxious scrutiny, she decided to comply.
Once they left the long corridor, Ursuline led her to the back of the guest lodging where the knights resided. The spacious area was already packed with temporary stables and baggage wagons. Around them, dozens of knights in blue cloaks were inspecting their mounts and luggage.
Maxi nodded to the knights who greeted her as she hurried past the two rows of cargo. Just then, she heard a lively voice overhead.
"Good morning, my lady. You are looking as lovely as ever."
Maxi looked up to find Hebaron perched on a wagon roof. With a wink, the burly knight said, "Even the crown of your head is a sight to behold from up here."
"S-Sir Hebaron, what are you doing?"
Hebaron grinned, showing her the barbed wire in his gloved hand. "Hammering steel spikes onto the wagons. It prevents winged monsters from flying away with them."
"Does that mean... other monsters have joined the undead army?"
"A few wyverns have been spotted," Hebaron admitted. "The numbers aren't a major concern, but since the enemy has the ability to control other beasts, it's best to take precautions."
He picked up his hammer to resume nailing the wire to the wagon. Maxi watched him anxiously, her thoughts racing, until a hand suddenly grasped her shoulder. Startled, Maxi swiveled her head to meet Riftan's cool gaze.
"Why are you loitering here? Were you not told that I was looking for you?"
"I-I was on my way."
Annoyed by his high-handed tone, Maxi coldly removed his hand from her shoulder.
Riftan's lips tightened into a thin line as he spun around. "Come with me."
Narrowing her eyes, Maxi wondered what had provoked his anger this time. Was he attempting to send her back to Anatol as she had feared? She remained standing, trying to gauge his intention, when he looked over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow.
"Are you not coming?"
After a moment of hesitation, Maxi let out a small sigh and followed him. Riftan strode past the wagons, leading her to a small cabin behind the guest house. It turned out to be a temporary storage space stacked with an assortment of sundries and containers. Riftan lifted a large bundle from among the items and unfolded it.
"I want you to try this on to see if it fits," he said, holding out a padded, knee-length brown garment with leather straps on the sleeves and waist area.
Maxi furrowed her brow. "What is it?"
"It's a gambeson made with wyvern leather. It's sturdier and lighter than the average quilted armor, so you should be able to wear it."
When Maxi merely gaped at him, Riftan pressed her rather brusquely, "What are you waiting for?"
She hastily accepted the armor. Though it had some weight to it, it was still considerably lighter than the plate armor Ursuline and Ulyseon had made her wear. She removed her robe and clumsily donned the garment.
Riftan bent down to help her into it properly, tightening the belt around her waist.
"Is it not heavy?"
While she found it slightly burdensome, Maxi said assuredly, "N- Not at all."
Riftan gave her a skeptical look before grabbing one of the swords hanging on the wall.
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