With such chit-chat, the wagon headed straight for the mountainous region. Loren and his team managed to reach the mountain range that separated the demons from the other races just before sunset.
The route the carriage took did not reach the edge of the mountains; they had to get down at the closest-possible point, gave the horse a light push to encourage it to return to Kapah, then proceeded on their own feet. They still managed to arrive at their destination though, and Loren looked up at the being that was waiting for them.
“I didn’t expect her to be waiting for us. I guess there’ll be a big commotion, huh?”
The being to whom Loren threw such words was so huge that he had to look up at her, but for some reason, she was waiting for them with an atmosphere and posture as if she was trying to make herself smaller.
“It’s no trouble to hide my appearance and presence. I don’t want to make a scene for nothing.”
The answer came from a giant dragon.
Loren had not seen enough dragons to be able to tell them apart by facial features, but he had met this one before, and she was acting like she was familiar with them, so he did not hesitate speaking her name.
“Emery, why are you here?”
It was the Ancient Dragon that Loren and his team had met earlier when they had entered the demon territory.
The dragon, too, seemed surprised to see Loren and the others there. Her eyes widened for a moment, but it looked like she immediately came to some sort of understanding; her expression and aura returned to normal at once.
“It’s been a long time, human.”
“Indeed. I didn’t expect to see you here again.”
Emery was an Ancient Dragon that had taken up residence within the demon territory. She must have been seen flying above the mountains on several occasions, but Loren did not think that she had ever been seen flying over the mountains and out of the area.
Perhaps he had been seen flying over the mountains and in the sky on several occasions, but Loren did not expect that he would indeed be able to fly over the mountains and out of the mountainous area.
“So, perhaps… We’ll get to the center of the continent soon.”
“I’m unwilling to do so, but I’ll take you.”
“You’re offering us a ride?”
“What other choice do you have?”
Emery’s words came as a shock to Loren.
The last time they had met, Emery had never tried to carry Loren and his friends on her back. When she wanted to carry them, she had let them hold onto her legs and pretended to not see them. But this time, she was willing to carry them on her back, so easily and simply that Loren had to wonder what kind of change of heart had taken place between the time they parted and now.
“Loren, I don’t know what you are expecting, but Emery is simply being offered the job in exchange for a partial discharge of the debt she owed because of that thing she broke before. Right, Emery?”
Loren wondered if something had happened to change Emery’s mind about the human race, but what shattered his thoughts was Lapis’ nonchalant rebuke. He looked up at the dragon, but for some reason she turned away as if to avoid his eyes.
“An Ancient Dragon running errands…”
“I don’t have a choice. I did destroy it – that’s a fact. If they say they’ll write off part of the debt, I’ll be willing to overlook a few things.”
Emery said and, as if suddenly remembering something, brought her face close to Loren. The sight of the dragon peering straight at him made Loren feel a bit chilled, but Emery paid it no mind and asked him a curious question.
“I thought you had to pay for some of it, too?”
“I guess so…”
As for Emery’s creditor, it was actually the same as Loren’s.
The particulars of the amount of money were not properly known, but Loren had been told that it was a sum of money that he could not possibly pay alone. It was the result of a small misunderstanding, and he didn’t know the exact amount, but he had been told that it was more than he could afford to pay by himself.
“Isn’t it tough? They are relentless when they ask for payment. It’s a bit better if you have some savings like I do, but for a fledgling adventurer like you, it’s probably quite difficult to arrange.”
“I’ve never been asked for payment.”
To date, Loren had never received a demand for the debt he owed. Although it was not an amount that he could pay even if he was asked to, he has never experienced the kind of harsh collection that Emery described.
When Loren told the dragon this, she shook her head from side to side as she looked at him in disbelief.
“I constantly have messengers from the Great Demon King coming to my nest, but you don’t get any of them?”
“Well, if they come, I’ll also be in trouble.”
Although Loren did not know who in the world was visiting Emery’s nest, if they were a messenger of the Great Demon King, they must be a powerful being in their own right, and Loren would be very troubled when such beings barge into his room at the inn.
Emery, on the other hand, was upset that no collectors had been sent to Loren, and continued to grumble and complain while splitting out thin plumes of smoke from her mouth.
As Loren was thinking that he could understand her feelings, Lapis stepped forward and raised her voice, as if she thought that the conversation would not move forward at this point.
“In Loren’s case, it’s because I’m the one being asked to watch over him that no one is coming. In your case, there is a collector coming to collect but no one is assigned to watch over you, isn’t it?”
“That is… certainly true.”
“If you are fine with having a watchman at your nest, they can stop sending collectors. Do you want that?”
“You want me to let a pawn of the Great Demon King station in my lair? That’s not a joke.”
“Then, please just accept it.”
Lapis said this in a calm but firm manner as if to end the conversation there, but inwardly she was gloating over the fact that she had successfully steered the conversation.
In fact, the biggest difference between Emery and Loren was that Emery was paying her debts, even if only a little at a time, while Loren had not paid his debts at all. Although the existence of a collector had little to do with this, Emery seemed to think that just because no collector was sent his way, she was the only one paying the debts. Before they could delve too deeply into the matter, Lapis dared to come forward and say that she was Loren’s watcher in order to turn the conversation in a different direction.
Of course, Lapis had no such role.
It was not fun to be misunderstood, so Lapis wondered if she would have to explain to Loren later. But when she glanced at Loren, he did not seem surprised at all, and was paying close attention to Emery’s movements instead.
He was not surprised and was paying attention to Emery’s movements. If we keep him waiting too long, he might say something about reducing the amount of the debt, so we’ll have him come with us right away.
“I guess there’s no point in complaining here. If we keep them waiting too long, they might say something about decreasing the amount of debt reduction, so you have to go with me right now.”
Seemingly having changed her mind, Emery said this, then dropped her wings and lowered herself so that Loren and his friends could climb on her back.
“Hey Lapis, I don’t know much about history, but…”
“If you are asking if there are any references about humans riding on the backs of Ancient Dragons, then as far as I know, there are only a few, in ancient documents from the Ancient Kingdom period.”
If Lapis was correct, it was almost a legend, and Loren found himself getting a little nervous at the thought of such a fairy-tale experience.
Thinking that it was only natural to be nervous because of what Emery was, Loren used the wings that she had dropped to make it easier for them to climb up as a foothold and scrambled up to her back, then sat down cross-legged.
Lapis climbed up after him and sat down between his legs, leaning her body against his chest. Loren was about to complain that she was too close when Gula, who had climbed up after Lapis, came up behind him and put her hands around his neck as if she was about to cling tightly to his back. He hurriedly pushed her hands down.
“Ah, Loren, don’t you want me to hold on to you?”
“Not my neck, not my neck. At least hold my shoulders or something.”
If it were someone powerless, Loren might not have felt any resistance to being held by the neck. However, Gula had the brute strength to strangle him to death with just her bare arms, and as long as there was no guarantee that something like that would not happen, Loren could not just surrender his neck quietly.
“You don’t need to huddle together like that. I’ll fly carefully so as not to drop you…”
“That’s not what I’m worried about, but this positioning is necessary.”
“Is that so? I don’t understand it, but if that’s alright with you, then we’re off.”
As if she had no intention of listening to any answer from the beginning, Emery kicked the ground with a lightness that did not suit her huge body, and that was all it took for her to gently leave the ground. She flapped her wings a few times, and her body quickly soared into the air, flying up to an altitude that would make you lose your footing if you looked down.
“I didn’t feel any acceleration at all. Dragons are amazing, aren’t they?”
Lapis, with her back still resting against Loren’s body, said in admiration.
Loren recalled the moment when Emery flew up. Whenever a vehicle started to run, you always felt the impact of being pressed against the back of the seat, but Emery had soared up to an unimaginable height without causing any such feelings.
“I doubt very much that you will ever ride on the back of an Ancient Dragon like myself in the future, but remember this: Once a dragon decides to let you on their back, they will never fly in a way that puts a burden on you.”
“I don’t want to be on the back of a dragon either.”
Loren immediately responded, to which Emery turned her head and glared at him. She was about to say something to Loren, who did not understand how much of an honor it was to be able to ride on the back of a dragon, but before she could open his mouth, Lapis followed Loren’s lead.
“I don’t want to be on the back of a dragon either.”
“Me too. Riding on the back of a dragon? Nah I’m good, thank you.”
The fact is, Emery’s back is not that comfortable to ride on.
Perhaps it was because all three of the passengers on her back had given her some sort of criticism, but Emery was beginning to look a little downcast. Seeing her like that, Loren wondered if he had said something wrong, but the truth was, Emery’s back was not that comfortable to ride on. He thought it would be different if they had at least a saddle, but there was no way the dragon would let them put a saddle on her back.
“Sorry for the uncomfortable dragon back, but bear with me for a while.”
“Oh, are you sulking?”
As Lapis tried to rub salt into the wound, Loren lightly tightened his arms around her from behind as if he was embracing her, making her let out a small scream and become speechless. Lapis grew quiet as strength drained from her body, and Loren said to the back of Emery’s head while supporting her.
“I’m sorry. She got a little carried away.”
“That’s okay. Let’s just get the job done.
Loren was not sure if Emery had collected herself or decided not to care, but she replied to him in a blunt rather than sullen voice. Turning straight toward the center of the continent, she flapped her wings and flew a little faster.