Rezette suddenly became aware that he was paying more attention to the princess than he ought to. No matter how the princess decided the end of her life, it was not his concern. He promptly quashed any further musings.
As they rode on, Elise gazed out at the passing landscape, her cheeks regaining some color after a bout of fever. But her excitement was short-lived. As their horse descended a steep hill, she suddenly grabbed Rezette’s arm with a stern expression.
“Wait!” she exclaimed urgently. “We shouldn’t go any further. Stop the horse.”
Almost simultaneously, Rezette too sensed a lurking danger. His eyes flicked to the terrain ahead, and his countenance turned tense. He regarded Elise with surprise; his senses were far sharper than those of a typical human, but it appeared she was one step ahead of him.
“Bandits,” Elise said fearfully, indicating the twelve and two o’clock positions.
They were leading the procession, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Rezette leaned in close to Elise and spoke in a low voice. “We must return to the carriage. Go inside, lock the door, and don’t come out until I tell you it’s safe.”
Elise nodded, her lip caught between her teeth. Rezette was the first to dismount, extending a hand to help her down. But before they could move, a sudden whizzing sound pierced the air.
An arrow grazed the tip of Elise’s hood, missing her by mere inches.
Elise was caught off guard, unsure of what had just happened. Only when she saw the fear etched on the man’s face as he tried to assist her down from the horse did she realize what had happened. An arrow had been shot at her.
“Ruben!” Rezette barked, taking hold of Elise and quickly handing her over to Ruben as he rushed towards them. “It’s an attack. Gather the troops and prepare for defense.”
“Yes, Your Highness. Please be careful,” Ruben replied, taking Elise from Rezette’s arms.
Elise held on tightly to the edge of Rezette’s cloak. “Be careful,” she urged him.
The man cast a subtle glance her way, gesturing to Ruben without saying a word. Elise’s fingers slipped through the empty fabric of his deep blue cape.
The carriage was stationed at the back, but the attackers were relentless, raining down arrows on them despite the short distance. Elise’s face turned pale as she noticed that this arrow was different from the first one. “This arrow… Ruben, it’s poisoned. Be careful not to get hit!”
“Poisoned? Damn it! Who would dare to attack Rotiara’s army like this!” Ruben cursed.
“It’s Ugel,” Elise whispered, memories of the same cross-shaped arrowheads with a black, sticky liquid on the tip flooding back to her. When she and her maids had escaped from the Argan Palace, some of them had been hit by those same arrows. The sight of their bodies covered in black spots, writhing in agony, was seared into her memory.
Ruben expertly swung his sword, deflecting two arrows at once. Elise strained to catch a glimpse of Rezette amidst the knights, but their formation obstructed her view. Instead, a fresh deluge of black arrows rained down, aimed directly at her. Panic seized her—the target was undoubtedly her.
As the danger loomed, Rotiara’s knights swiftly surrounded Elise, but there was no telling if this large group could dodge dozens of arrows. Elise slipped her hand inside her robe and pressed two fingers onto her left forearm where a defensive magic circle was located.
“Andrei…!” she uttered urgently, and a translucent blue barrier materialized, extending over everyone’s heads. The barrier was vast enough for multiple people to take cover, and the arrows that struck its solid and transparent surface ricocheted in all directions. Even Elise was taken aback by the extent of the protective magic.
Was this magic really so extensive…?
Andrei had previously explained as he etched the magic circle for Elise, but she couldn’t recall it in the current urgency.
“Your Highness!” Ivetsa, with a blue complexion, hastened towards her and yanked her into a carriage.
“What’s happening? We haven’t even reached Van Yela’s border. Are you alright?” Elise inquired.
“I’m fine. I’ve been inside the carriage the entire time. Don’t worry. It’s not a pleasant scene, so let’s open the window first… Oh, you’re shivering. Are you really okay, Your Highness?” Ivetsa expressed concern as the stench of blood wafted through the door’s crevice.
Elise recollected the corpses she witnessed while fleeing from Argan Palace, the faces of her former subordinates and nobles who supported Argan inundating her thoughts.
“I’m fine…I’m okay.” Elise struggled to suppress her queasiness as the odor of blood grew increasingly pungent.
Rezette stood at the vanguard of the defensive line, gazing upwards at the transparent stream extending over his head. The luminous particles flickered like placid waves, deflecting a barrage of arrows. It was a mesmerizing spectacle.
She claimed she wasn’t a wizard, but can wield magic, Rezette pondered. It seemed that it wasn’t a lie. If this barrier could withstand, there would be no need for him to intervene. His right arm, which had begun to transform, slowly ceased to change.