Emery’s body was not as huge as Loren had imagined from the title ‘Ancient Dragon’, but she was still big enough that three people walking side by side wouldn’t step out of her shadow.
As Loren walked in Emery’s shadow, he thought about how rare an experience it was to walk under a dragon flying so slowly above that it felt like a joke. But at the same time, he also felt a sense of dread for some reason.
Emery was flying over their heads, but quite low, as she might not be able to fulfill her role as an umbrella if she was too far away. Loren wondered if there was anyone else who had been walking in such close proximity with the belly of an Ancient Dragon and still alive today.
They continued to climb and gradually gained altitude, but just as Emery had said, the higher they climbed, the more the sky was covered with thick clouds. And as the clouds increased, the frequency of lightning strikes also increased.
Lapis muttered in admiration as she watched the lightning strike a short distance away from where they were, shattering rocks and scattering debris.
Because of the frequency of lightning strikes in such close proximity, Loren’s ears were almost numbed by the loud noise, but he still somehow managed to pick up Lapis’ voice. He said while enduring the ringing in his ears.
“I’m not sure if it’s the kind of thing to be called ‘flashy’ or ‘plain’.”
Whether it was flashy or not, a hit could be fatal. Loren didn’t feel like admiring the lightning strikes like Lapis did at all, and concentrated only on climbing silently in Emery’s shadow.
“We can protect you from after-effects of a lightning strike and such, so why don’t you enjoy the scenery a little more?”
Gula said, but Loren didn’t feel reassured at all, because she sounded like a direct hit couldn’t be avoided or deflected.
“Lightning strikes happen in an instant. They’re too fast.”
“You can’t prevent a strike after you’ve seen it. Yet you can’t keep defensive magic deployed all the time either.”
There was a time limit for the use of magic. Once that time passed, the magic’s effect would disappear, and it would need to be re-deployed. But with no idea how long it would take to reach the top, it was impossible to keep deploying defensive magic.
“At this speed, we won’t reach the summit before sunrise.”
The three of us looked up at the voice from above. Emery, who had dexterously looked down while flying slowly, opened her mouth:
“IT’S IMPOSSIBLE AT THIS SPEED. YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEND ANOTHER NIGHT ON THE ROAD.”
“It’s that far?”
When Loren said in a disgusted tone, Emery turned her gaze toward the top of the mountain.
“IT’S TOO FAR AND YOU’RE TOO SLOW. AND IT’S GOING TO GET MUCH STEEPER.”
The mountain face that they were currently climbing on was quite steep, though not so steep that they had to crawl. The lightning that was striking here and there stopped them in their tracks, making their progress slow. From the point of view of the dragon, who could afford to ignore the inclination and the lightning strikes, the speed of movement was certainly too slow. But of course, it was the best they could do, so it was impossible to ask them to speed it up.
“One more night, under such circumstances?”
Lightning wouldn’t stop just because it was nighttime. Even if they could get Gula to dig another cave to sleep in, a direct hit from the lightning would collapse it in an instant. They would not be able to sleep comfortably.
On the other hand, continuing to move without sleep was also something they needed to avoid, considering the guard who may be waiting for them at the crater and the Dark Elf who may still return.
As Loren looked up at Emery flying above with a troubled expression, she turned her gaze down at them again, and their eyes met.
“Can’t you do something about this?”
“ISN’T THAT TOO VAGUE A REQUEST?”
Loren thought about it. This Ancient Dragon named Emery seemed to be willing to help them to some extent, but she also seemed to want to avoid actively helping. There was a high possibility that she would refuse their request for direct support.
If that was the case, Loren thought about what kind of request he should make an ask of Emery.
“Do you have any idea where we could spend the night?”
He asked, hoping that Emery, who had made this mountain her home, would know at least one place where they could spend the night in relative safety, even in the event of a lightning strike.
As it was a request for information and not for help, Emery seemed to consider it was alright to answer. Her reply was quick.
“THERE IS. DO YOU WANT ME TO LEAD YOU THERE?”
Loren nodded in earnest. It was hard to believe that they would be able to find such a place on their own, at least not in this situation; considering Emery’s knowledge was the most reliable information they had, there was nothing else to rely on.
“ALL RIGHT. DON’T STEP OUT OF MY SHADOW.”
As soon as she said that, Emery started to change course a little without changing her flying speed. Even though she was flying, her movements looked somewhat slippery, as if she was a fish swimming in water. The party headed towards the direction Emery was flying.
They walked for a while further.
As the sky began to turn red behind the clouds, Loren, who had been walking with a grudging look at the summit that didn’t seem to be getting any closer at all, eventually saw a gaping hole ahead of them. As they walked toward the hole, which seemed to have plenty of room for Emery to dive into, he asked the dragon:
“Is that the place?”
“YES. I CAN ASSURE YOU THAT IT IS THE MOST DANGEROUS, YET THE SAFEST PLACE ON THIS MOUNTAIN.”
With those two contradictory words, ‘dangerous’ and ‘safe’, there was no way to know what was going on. As Loren and the other two tilted their heads in confusion, Emery slowly dove into the hole and went inside. They hurriedly followed her into the hole only to see that it was a dead end with nothing inside.
Loren was about to ask Emery what was going on, but when he saw her lowering her flying height to almost landing and silently extending her right hind-leg towards them, he became even more confused.
“I’M SURE YOU HAVE SOME ROPE WITH YOU. YOU CAN TIE IT TO ME. WHEN YOU’RE DONE, YOU ALL GRAB IT TIGHTLY.”
Loren, who somehow knew what Emery was going to do, hurriedly took out a length of rope from his luggage and tied it tightly to Emery’s proffered leg. He pulled on it a few times to make sure the knot was secure, then grasped it tightly. Then Lapis, who was waiting for him to finish, then climbed onto his back and clung to his neck, while Gula clung tightly to his waist.
“Please take care of me.”
“And me too.”
Loren asked what they were doing, and the two women made such requests with serious faces. It was certainly more stable than having three people hanging from one rope, or having three ropes tied to Emery’s legs for three people to hang from, but Loren wondered if there really was no other way to do this.
Emery double checked with him:
“CAN I FLY UP NOW?”
As he could not find any other alternative, Loren nodded grudgingly to Emery, thinking that it would be a bad idea to keep the dragon waiting any longer.
With that confirmation, Emery slowly rose up. They could not see the ceiling from their position because it was hidden by the dragon’s body, but it seemed that this hole had been transformed into a shaft as soon as they entered. Surrounded by stones, they were being pulled up by Emery as she slowly rose up in the shaft.
There was no light, of course, and although Emery might have been able to see, Loren’s vision was soon obscured by jet blackness. With his vision lost, all Loren could perceive was the feeling of arms and bodies clinging to his neck and waist, and the rope he was holding onto. He felt a bit uneasy, and perhaps noticing this, Lapis lit a magical light on her fingertip, which finally allowed them to see their surroundings to some extent.
After a short ascent, a part of the wall came to an end, opening to another hole. Emery shifted to horizontal movement, and Loren, who was holding on to the rope, was presented with an amazing sight unfolding below her.
“Is this a… nest?”
Under the light that Lapis held up at her fingertip, the hole quickly turned into a large, wide space, and a slightly sweltering heat blew over their party. He wasn’t sure if Emery had lowered her altitude or not, but when his feet are close enough to the ground to reach it, Loren let go of the rope. Then Lapis and Gula let go of him, and Lapis, with Emery’s permission, launched the magic light from his fingertip to the ceiling with a flick of the wrist. The small spot of light went straight upward, and the moment it made contact with what was probably the ceiling, it increased in intensity and illuminated the entire space.
The sight rendered Loren speechless.
The space itself was nothing more than a plain area surrounded by rocks. However, what mattered was what spread all over the floor.
Illuminated by the white light of magic, the glittering pile of treasure was of an unimaginable amount. There were swords, armors, and shields decorated with gold and silver coins. And there were colorful jewels, necklaces and bracelets, crowns and medals of honor. All of them shone with the glitter of gold and silver, and all of them snatched Loren’s eyes and words.
“I’ve heard that dragons like shiny things, but this is really something else.”
Lapis also widened her eyes in wonder, though not as much as Loren.
The only exception was Gula. Even though the mountain of treasure was not inedible, they wouldn’t taste good. So she just let out an uninterested yawn.
Without seeming to care about Loren and the others’ reactions, Emery slowly flew across the nest-like space and laid down on top of the blanket of treasure.
“NOW, RELAX. THIS IS MY NEST. IT IS THE SAFEST AND MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON THIS MOUNTAIN.”
In other words, they would spend the night in a dragon’s nest.
It certainly would be the safest place on the mountain as long as Emery didn’t attack, but it could be said to be the most dangerous place just because it was a dragon’s nest. Loren had to agree with Emery’s choice of words here.
“MY NEST IS LARGE. I’M SURE I OCCASIONALLY MISS SPOTTING A FEW PEOPLE COMING INSIDE.”
It seemed like Emery wanted to pretend that she didn’t notice them instead of actively telling them to spend the night in her nest.
No matter how much of a storm was blowing outside, the thick bedrocks would be able to protect this place. And as she specifically chose this place to be her nest, Emery had probably done something to prevent it from easily collapsing.
Thinking that there would be no better place in the vicinity to sleep in, Loren made use a corner of the nest with gratitude.