"Please have mercy… I was… arghh!"
"No… no… get away!"
"This doesn't make any sense! They told us you were just a tier two…"
Blood dripped off Claire's longsword as she mercilessly ran her blade through the cowering men shivering at her feet.
Corpses were scattered across the forest floor and the short haired paladin did not relax her guard for a second.
The heavy metallic scent of blood hung in the air and Claire's piercing blue eyes seemed even colder than usual.
Despite her position as a holy knight of the Varion Church, Claire at this moment more resembled a demon crawling out of hell.
The killing intent and the stench of death surrounding her body was enough to make even the bravest soul tremble in fear.
This was not first time that the convoy had been followed by hostile enemies and she would have to be a fool not to notice that something was suspicious.
Bandits, barbarians, rogue mercenaries…
It was not unheard of to encounter these groups when travelling to the outer regions of the continent, but the sheer frequency of these encounters was strange.
But why were they a target?
There was nothing particularly valuable in the caravans and carriages since they were filled with food and supplies.
Was it because of the dark elves?
It was not a surprise that news had leaked about a convoy heading to the outer regions with former dark elf slaves.
Claire let out a heavy sigh and took one last look at her surroundings for any hidden threats.
The once beautiful forest had now been completely destroyed in the fierce fight.
Bushes and small plants were trampled, several trees were sliced in half and the bodies of furry animals lay lifelessly on the ground.
Claire took a well-worn handkerchief from her pocket and wiped the blood off her blade. She placed her longsword back in the sheath.
There were flecks of blood splashed across her face and white armour but there was nothing she could do about it now.
Claire left the area and walked for around ten minutes until she saw a carriage with four healthy brown stallions attached to the rope.
Elisa was petting the horses while whispering something in their ears. She caught sight of Claire approaching from the distance and waved her hands excitedly.
Claire's cold appearance disappeared and her lips inadvertently curved upwards when she saw the happy smile on the former saintess' face.
Neither of them had brought up the kiss in the Governor's Mansion but there was a subtle change in their relationship.
"Are you hurt?" Elisa asked in concern as she stretched out her hand and placed two fingers against Claire's forehead.
A burst of holy light erupted from her fingertips and Claire felt a surge of vitality flow into her body.
The small cuts and bruises on her body instantly healed and even her mild headache was now gone.
"Where are the others?" Claire questioned after Elisa withdrew her palm.
"Captain Brian took his men to a nearby stream to allow the horses to drink some water and get some rest," Elisa explained as she gestured towards a certain direction.
"Then why did they leave you by yourself?" Claire growled in anger as her hand drifted towards the hilt of her sword.
"I specifically told him to always have someone by your side in case of emergencies…"
Elisa listened to her nagging and felt a warm fuzzy feeling in her heart. She had to resist the urge to kiss those incredibly luscious lips.
Captain Brian's original plan was to wait until Claire returned but a small pinch of black magic was enough to convince him to change his mind.
Elisa had planted seeds of darkness into the minds of every mercenary escorting them to the outer regions.
It had proved to be a necessary evil since several warriors were working for noble families and were given secret orders to spy on their movements.
In addition to controlling the minds of the mercenaries, Elisa had ordered a few dark elf scouts to quietly follow the convoy in order to provide backup in case of an emergency.
Of course, Claire did not know about these matters since Elisa kept her in the dark.
As far as the paladin was concerned these mercenaries were incredibly professional and eager to obey her commands.
"You aren't listening, are you?" Claire's exasperated voice snapped Elisa out of her musings.
"No… no… I got it! I'm a poor, weak and helpless high priestess who needs protection against the terrible evils of the world," Elisa dramatically exclaimed.
She placed one hand against her forehead and sighed helplessly.
A sad expression flashed across her face as she continued the act.
"Woe is me! For I am but an innocent lamb who needs shelter from the vicious wolves eager to eat me up."
Claire smiled indulgently as Elisa continued to play out the image of a damsel in distress while her eyes gleamed with mischief.
The brown horses attached to the carriage neighed playfully and Claire suddenly felt as though the world had gotten brighter.
"Alright that's enough… you win okay… let's just go meet up with the rest of them," Claire finally spoke.
Elisa stopped her childish performance and stared warmly at her guardian knight.
There was something about Claire that made her forget about her worries and return to a time before she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Elisa cherished these moments because deep down she knew that they would not last forever.
As the princess of the dark elf race, she needed to fulfil the prophecy and bring a new dawn of hope for her people.
"Please," Elisa whispered softly as she held out her arm.
Claire escorted the former saintess in a familiar manner into the carriage and then sat down on the driver's seat.
She grabbed the rope in her palm and gently tugged twice to let the horses know that it was time to depart.
After a few weeks on the road, Claire's driving skills had greatly improved, and she could now easily handle the horses.
The carriage set off towards the direction of the nearest river with the sun shining brightly above them and the birds chirping merrily in the sky.
Soon a wide riverbank came into view and Claire could see several large wagons and caravans resting a few meters away from the water.
Tents and mattresses were scattered around a crackling fire where a simmering pot of soup boiled.
Heavily armoured men and women guarded the temporary encampment while the lighter dressed fighters were tending to the horses.
Hidden from view inside the carriages were the former dark elf slaves who were still afraid to be around humans.
Claire didn't know how Elisa had done it, but she somehow managed to convince them to not to escape during the long journey.
A middle-aged man wearing a heavy axe strapped across his back approached the carriage with slow purposeful steps.
His face was unshaven, and his eyes would dart from side to side as though he was possessed.
Claire was familiar with this strange man since he was the leader of the 'Scarlet Rose' which was the name of the mercenary company that she had hired.
"It is good to see you again," Captain Brian respectfully spoke.
"The horses are currently resting and should be good to go to resume the journey tomorrow. I have several of my men cooking dinner at the moment."
"We will make sure that the dark elves are well fed and receive only the best care during the trip."
Claire nodded in approval and set aside some of the worries in her heart.
Truthfully given the brutal history shared between the foreign races and humanity she was concerned that the mercenaries would mistreat the former slaves.
But evidently this was not the case.
In fact, Captain Brian and the rest of his men seemed to treat the dark elves better than they did themselves!
It was actually quite weird…
Claire pushed that strange thought to the back of her mind and focused on the matter at hand.
"That's all good… but why did you leave Elisa unattended?" Claire coldly spoke.
"Did I not give you explicit orders that she is not be left alone? She is a high priestess, and her life is worth more than all of us combined…
"Do I make myself clear? I never want an incident like this to happen again."
Captain Brian froze in place and a strange emotion surfaced in his eyes that Claire could not read.
"My… my… apologies… I don't know what I was thinking… it won't happen again," Captain Brian stuttered with an unnatural look on his face.
"Are you alright?" Claire asked in a puzzled tone.
Elisa poked her head out of the carriage window and moved her right hand up and down in a circular pattern.
Captain Brian's tense expression slowly relaxed and he replied with more confidence in his voice.
"No problem! The Scarlet Rose company will always follow the commands of our client so Lady Elisa's safety will be our number one priority!" Captain Brian loudly declared.
Claire still looked at him with doubt but could not tell what was wrong since the captain appeared to be his usual self.
Maybe she was still on edge after dealing with the bandits from earlier...
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