Chapter 1 Part 1
Jaxor fell silent for a while. He seemed distressed.
I looked at him gently without further talking. A heavy silence fell for a while in the prison.
‘Please, I hope Jaxor’s heart is free of Roman.’
Still, I saw a gap. Jaxor, who had not opened his mouth even in the pain of his severed arm being poked by the blade, was now hesitating.
After a long while, Jaxor spoke up.
“If, indeed, Roman has done such a thing……then I’ll cooperate.”
“Are you serious?”
“But it would have to be solid evidence. Or I won’t open my mouth. I know you are right, I’m done anyway. I know I’m going to die, and I don’t have any regrets.”
Jaxor kept throwing glances at Kwanach and continued talking.
“My best friend knows better than anyone that torture will not do anything to me.”
“Who is your best friend?”
Kwanach snapped back coldly. Jaxor chuckled.
A cool atmosphere prevailed in the prison, and the tension subsided. The job would be much easier if Jaxor cooperates.
‘If I’m going to find evidence, I know it’s there.’
The forest owned by the Gullier, where the outdoor banquet was held.
The horrific scene I saw while interacting with the trees came to mind.
Kwanach sent soldiers to search, but they found nothing.
They were search parties to follow Roman but he may have already covered up the evidence of his experiment.
I said, staring at Jaxor.
”You are aware of the forest owned by the Gullier, aren’t you?”
Jaxor nodded lightly.
“Roman took the sclerotic corpses there. Do you know anything about the forest?”
Jaxor wrinkled his brow and seemed to recall his memory. After a moment, he spoke up.
“He just goes in and out of the woods to do stuff… I don’t know exactly what it is. I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s everyone. Once in the woods, I’d lose contact with him for a few days.”
It didn’t seem like Jaxor was pretending like earlier. It looked like he really didn’t know. It seemed like there was nothing more to find out through Jaxor.
It was already clear where we had to go. The forest. That place where I almost died. We had to uncover the forest of the Gullier.
* * *
There was no time for delay. We decided to leave for the forest as soon as we finished our interrogation.
Kwanach didn’t seem to like it….
“The sun will be setting soon.”
Kwanach looked up at the sky while riding his horse. I also decided to travel on horseback this time instead of a carriage. I was right next to Kwanach.
“I brought a lot of luminescent stones, so it should be fine.”
Kwanach sighed low.
There could be no one better than me in searching the forest. Kwanach also found that it was more reasonable to be with me.
But it was where I had fallen after being poisoned, and he seemed uncomfortable about going there. It must have been a place full of bad memories.
Behind us, there was a line of guards on horseback. It was a big number. It looked like we had brought everyone available. With this number, we would be able to handle anything that happened in the forest.
I wore a comfortable dress and riding jacket and a thick cloak. At dawn the cold humidity attacked my body.
I pulled the hood of my cloak completely over my head and gestured at Kwanach. At Kwanach’s signal, the search party set off for the forest.
Actually, when I told Kwanach that I wanted to follow him into the forest, I was worried that the Kingsguard might feel awkward with me. They would not be used to seeing the Empress standing in front of them and leading the knights.
But despite my concerns, they all felt honored to be with me.
It seemed that the ripple effect of the events in the border region was significant…
My memory of that battle was not clear. It was too hectic and tense a moment. I was filled with the thought that we should just prevent Roman and protect our people.
The magic done in the urgency somehow gained trust in return. What a way to gain the confidence of the army of the Radon Empire. I could not have been more pleased.
We rode for a while. The sound of the horses’ hooves pounding the earth echoed through the air.
We reached the forest much faster than the last time we had traveled by carriage. It was just before sunset.
The sky was a mixture of orange and red over the forest. Kwanach was the first to dismount from his horse, and he stood beside me and extended his hand.
“Step on it.”
He lowered his posture and signaled me to step on his thighs. I took his hand and stepped on his thighs to go down.
“Are you all right?”
I nodded vigorously at Kwanach’s question.
I had used a top quality saddle, and despite the tingling in my lower thighs and pelvis from the long ride, I felt fine.
I had loaded him with a top-of-the-line saddle, but he had been in the saddle so long that it was natural for his lower thighs and pelvis to sting. But he was strangely energetic.
“My body seems to recover at a faster speed.”
It was not just my imagination.
The wounds I had at the border were healed much faster than Marianne’s.
“Could it have something to do with the fact that you have more strength?”
Even if I didn’t know the reason, I was glad that my body was light and full of strength.
Some other knights who followed us also dismounted from their horses. I looked away and searched the forest.
A large wooden fence was set up at the entrance to the forest. And several soldiers were guarding the front of it. They were there to prevent other people from coming in and out.
This was before I had fully set foot in the forest yet. But I felt a strange energy near me.
I squeezed Kwanach’s hand, which I was still holding, tighter.
Kwanach looked at me curiously. I felt a hot breath rush up from below.
”What kind of energy is this?”
Polluted disposition. It was not normal nature.
I was horrified. My whole body instinctively rejected it. I felt nauseous.
It was as if I had just met Roman.
I didn’t notice it when I came before. I could feel it now because my strength had become stronger and my senses sharpened.
My neck trembled and I had shallow goosebumps all over my body. As my breathing became ragged, Kwanach approached me with a depressed look on his face.
“You don’t look well.”
“I am terribly displeased with the energy. The forest’s energy….”
“Should we go back?”
I shook my head. Kwanach held my arm in his hot hand. He looked so worried that he couldn’t stand still.
“You don’t have to overdo it. You can take a break and come back. You’re more important than anything else.”
“I don’t know if you can feel this kind of momentum, there must be something here. We came to the right place.”
“Let’s go in first and start the search. If I can’t stand it, I’ll tell you.”
Kwanach frowned and sighed low. But I was stubborn, and he could no longer persuade me.
We led the search party into the gruesome forest.
* * *
Just to be safe, the search party decided to split into two teams. I was with Kwanach.
The other team searched from the edge of the forest for anything unusual, and I led the team.
I spoke quietly to Kwanach. I decided to go where I felt the most energy. The team moved according to my words.
Before I knew it, the sun had set. The sunset light that had come through the branches of the trees was gone, and darkness had taken its place.
A few knights in the lead, and Kwanach, were holding luminescent stones. The luminescent stone was the size of a fist. It was hung on a string and worn like a necklace.
We held the luminescent stones in our hands to brighten our vision. The stones, imbued with the power of light magic, were as bright as a lamp. When we touched it with our hands, there was a faint warmth.
Everyone followed my directions, looking ahead, and we moved forward slowly. Kwanach was by my side in a position where he was ready to fight at any time.
It was winter and the leaves were falling to the floor. Every time we moved, I could hear the sound of fallen leaves crushing under our feet.
Then we came to another forkroad.
I said and they stopped walking all together. The wayfinders at the front of the group looked at me.
I breathed deeply and tried to feel the flow of energy. There was a direction where I instinctively felt resistance. There must be something we were looking for over there.
After a few moments, I spoke.
“This time to the left.”
The knights bowed their heads and started moving again.
I was used to the way the knights looked at me. They were the eyes I had seen when I was called the shield of the kingdom in my homeland after I gained power in this life.
The emotion in them was admiration.
Like in my homeland, the knights treated me as a commander whom they trust and obey.
How long did we walk? Finally, we reached a space where the energy was strongly felt.
I almost felt nauseous. I stopped, took a deep breath, and looked around. Kwanach also told the others to search nearby.
But when I glanced around, it was much the same as any other forest path.
‘Did Roman play a trick?’
Nothing was more effective than the plants’ wisdom for removing tricks.
I placed my hand gently on the nearby tree trunk. As usual, I just talked in my head.
Only a pain-filled scream came back from the tree. It was like someone who had lost their senses completely and was screaming evil.