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On the third day of their journey Sophie realized she was completely wrong. A carriage ride without any stops was so difficult that she could hardly keep her breath. Meanwhile, Elena looked none the worse. Elena was gracious enough to allow Sophie to sit next to her inside the carriage, for which she was thankful for, but it barely alleviated her discomfort.

‘How on earth can she stand this difficult journey?'

Exhaustion was written on everyone’s faces but Elena had not complained. Sophie thought Elena wouldn’t have been able to endure it. 

Klak, klak.

Sophie gingerly nibbled on a piece of dried meat, her lips white with motion sickness. The food was terrible and even when she fell asleep the swaying of the carriage never stopped.

“My Lady, why don’t we stop in town for food? If you eat spoiled food, you may have stomach trouble…."

Elena froze when she heard Sophie words. A plan began to form. While they had been speeding as fast as they could, Elena's mind had been filled with questions about how she could separate them and move on her own. But the answer seemed to be right there. Elena nodded in agreement with Sophie right away.

“You’re right.”

Sophie’s face cheered a little bit when Elena agreed to stop by the next town. She hurriedly opened the carriage window and spoke to the coachman outside.

“Lady Elena wants to stop by the next town for a while.”

“Town? Understood,”

the coachman answered briskly, but he also couldn’t hide his relieved expression. As soon as Elena given permission, the group headed for the nearest town. Elena had been so insistent on making haste that Sophie had expected to stop only for a short while then head back to the road, when something unexpected happened.

Elena, who seemed fine just a moment ago, had a sickly expression on her face.

“I think there was something bad about the food I ate. I don’t feel well. I think I need to take a rest.”

“I told you, My Lady! This was too much.”

The hard journey had made Elena sick and her health had gotten worst during the trip. They quickly made accommodations at the town and called the most well-renowned doctor in the area to see Elena. The trip hadn't been particularly urgent from the beginning, and the group had agreed to wait until Elena's health fully recovered. Additionally, the schedule had been extremely rough on them and everyone was eager for rest.

No men were allowed in Elena’s room, and instead the knights took turns guarding her door. Sophie, the only woman in the party, was in charge of Elena's care. She promised the knights that she would inform them if Elena’s condition worsened, then put a cold towel over Elena’s forehead. Elena, pretending to be asleep in bed, pressed down a self-satisfied smile.

‘Yes, there is a way.’

She had first assumed she was bound to them, but in fact it was they who were bound to her. Her health was their utmost priority. Upon telling them she was ill, the knights could not leave town but none of them could go in her room. They could stay for a few days until she was judged to be well.

However, there was still one person who would notice if she disappeared. Her maid, Sophie. If Elena could deceive her, no one would else would notice her absence. Elena opened her eyes and spoke to Sophie sitting next to her bed.

“Sophie.”

“Yes, yes! I'm here, My Lady. Are you alright?”

“I have a favor to ask of you…"

“Please say it, My Lady.”

“There is actually someone around here who I love very much. My condition improved after I saw the doctor, but I still can't help but feel sick.”

Elena let the lie easily flow out of her mouth. A story that appealed to the maid’s heart might be the most effective.

“Oh! What do you mean?”

Sophie's mouth opened in surprise at the unexpected revelation.

“I tried to let him go because our difference in status, but I can't forget his face after all this pain.”

“Oh, My Lady…"

“I’ll only see him for a while, so will you keep it secret from the rest of the knights?”

“But if something happens…!"

“Oh, but I don’t want to live without him anymore.”

Elena covered her face with her hands. Sophie looked at her helplessly, unable to decide what to do. Elena remorsefully spoke a line she had prepared in case Sophie needed a little extra push.

“I'll die if I don't see him.”

"Don't say something like that, My Lady!"

Elena had taken the line from a play she had seen in the theater a long time ago. She could tell Sophie was starting to waver a little. Elena took out a gold coin from her pocket and held it out to her maid, hoping it would push her over the edge.

“Please take this as a reward for your help.”

Sophie’s eyes, which had been shadowed with embarrassment, suddenly flashed with greed. She had hesitated at first since she would be held responsible if it was found out that she let Elena leave without telling anyone. But she couldn't miss this opportunity of a gold coin. Furthermore, if Elena began to think well of her, Sophie’s life as a maid would be a success. Her internal debate didn’t last long.

“I cannot disobey you. But please come back soon.”

The benefits of taking a small risk were too good. Sophie’s face no longer showed any hesitation.

“I cannot disobey you. But please come back soon.”

“Don’t worry, I will try my best. All the knights think I’m sick, so if you make a proper excuse there shouldn’t be any problems.”

“Yes, My Lady.”

Sophie nodded, and Elena reassured herself that this was the best choice. She didn't want any witnesses, but reality wasn’t so accommodating. In fact, the easiest and most surest way would be to kill everyone to keep their mouths shut, but she didn’t want to go so far as murdering the people of the household. Overall, this was not a bad result. Elena handed over the gold coin to Sophie.

“Then I look forward to working with you, Sophie.”

If anyone found out, she could disguise it as an escape to a secret romance. 

With Sophie’s cooperation, Elena was soon left alone in the room. The time had finally arrived. She took out the black metal armor that she had been hiding and put it on her with familiar motions. Finally, she placed the black helmet on her head. She no longer looked like the daughter of a count. There stood only a knight with a sharp blade. Maybe this was her true form. 

Elena murmured at the sight of the moon outside her room.

"…I hope I’m not too late.”

Elena pushed the horse as fast as she could. As she got closer and closer to the location where the prince had died in the past, the heavy smell of blood began to emerge. Soon she didn't have to wonder where it was coming from. There were as many bodies on the ground as there were trees in the dense forest. Even Elena, who was familiar with the battlefield, grimaced deeply at the sight. One, two, three… There were far too many bodies to be counted. 

‘This looks like a war.'

Just looking at the bodies on the ground gave her rough picture of how fierce the battle was. The worst she had feared had happened, but fortunately the remains remains seemed fresh. Moreover, considering the scale of the battle the crown prince seemed to have been well-defended by many people. However, it was too early to feel relieved. With fears rising that the crown prince might have already died, Elena urged her horse to go faster.

Tadag, tadadag. 

Fortunately, she soon heard the sounds of blades clashing.

‘Please, just be alive,’

she prayed desperately. She finally arrived at the scene where the fighting was taking place. It was not what she expected. She had expected to see a fierce battle between the prince's guards and the assassins who came to kill him. Instead there was only a lone man surrounded by a dozen other men.

‘The dead bodies were the work of one person?’

It was hard to believe. But something even more incredible was unfolding before her eyes.

“Ah…"

An involuntary gasp escaped from Elena’s mouth. 

The lone man was surrounded by a dozen of enemy knights, but the man didn’t seem to be fully human. He had fierce, slanted eyes, a straight nose and sharp jawline–by all accounts he was handsome to look at. But the skin from his right hand to his shoulder was covered with hard, lizard-like scales and from his fingers were long, sharp talons. 

Her blood pounded in her ears.

For a moment she looked into his chilling blue eyes, and a forgotten legend of the royal family came to her.

“The creature born between a dragon and a man becomes the emperor of the Ruford Empire, and they will have absolute power for generations.”

She thought it was just a story invented to make the emperor seem special.

'…The legend is real?’

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CHAPTER DISCUSSION