Dragon Devouring Chapter 157

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EPISODE.79

“Count Raymond. As per your request, I have gathered the mages from the capital.”

With those words, the conference room door swung open.

Click, creak—

The cries of the rusty doorknob and hinges followed in succession.

Leading a group, Count Reinckel stepped forward, revealing their presence.

There were about ten people.

Garbed in multicolored robes, each symbolized the lineage of the mage tower to which they belonged.

‘Most are 3rd, 4th circles, and a couple of 5th circle mages, it seems…’

Among them, a man wearing a yellow robe and a woman in white were particularly noticeable.

Both appeared to be in their fifties.

Standing at the forefront of the mages and feeling the essence of five circles, they seemed to be 5th circle mages who had come to lead along with Alan.

They looked familiar, having passed by in the capital from time to time.

While they were not close, both the man and the woman’s faces were recognizable.

“Ah…!”

Like Russell, they too recognized him and bowed their heads in greeting.

“I’m Lyman Klein of the Yellow Tower in the capital. Though unworthy, I was in charge of leading the mage corps until Sir Russell arrived.”

“I’m Cassandra of the White Tower.”

Seniors and juniors.

Though they were much earlier initiates into the magical world, the person in charge of the overall command for this subjugation was Russell.

In addition to that, they were also mages worthy of respect for having reached higher realms.

It was only natural for the two to greet Russell first.

It was a situation he had encountered several times on various missions.

Receiving their greetings, Russell responded with a familiar expression.

“I am Russell Raymond.”

At Russell’s introduction, a few of the younger mages behind Lyman and Cassandra involuntarily swallowed hard.

And no wonder.

To those young mages who had just entered the tower, ‘Russell’ was an object of longing and respect.

Leaving their star-struck gazes behind, Russell turned his head.

He then addressed Count Reinckel, who stood still in a corner of the conference room.

“Count.”

“…?”

“We mages are planning to discuss strategies and measures from now on. What will you do, Count?”

Although they were a dispatch sent to aid Count Reinckel’s territory, the forces of the punitive expedition and the Count’s men were strictly different.

It was Russell’s way of offering to hear the Count’s thoughts if he had any.

“Ha, well, I’ll tell you what, Count Raymond.”

At Russell’s query, Count Reinckel clenched his fist as if to crush it.

Craack—.

“It’s impossible for a lord to be absent from a discussion about defending his territory. However…”

Feeling his nails dig into his palms, he spoke with a resolute expression.

“Could you please wait a moment, Count Raymond?”

“…?”

“If we’re having a meeting, there are a few people from our territory who need to participate.”

“Understood.”

As Russell nodded, the Count left the conference room, implying he would bring the personnel.

In his absence, Russell received a brief report on the mage corps’ damages from Lyman and Cassandra…

Click, creak—.

The Count returned about fifteen minutes later.

This time, however, he wasn’t alone.

Unlike earlier when he appeared modestly with just a page and an escort knight, now he was trailed by a procession of people.

“These are knights who have long defended the castle. They’re a bit old, but they’re brave and each leads his own order of knights. They will prove a great asset in the subjugation.”

Indeed.

Knights were indispensable in battles involving mages.

Mages could bomb a wide area with a few spells, but ordinary mages were vulnerable in close combat.

Only war mages who had reached higher circles or had extensive experience had somewhat overcome this weakness.

For 3rd circle mages, the protection of the knight orders was crucial.

Regardless, to bring several knight orders along implies Count Reinckel’s deep resolve to defeat the hydra.

“The kingdom’s hero—”

“It is an honor to meet the holy knight…”

“I am familiar with the nameless who defeated McClay Hughes…”

The old knights, locking eyes with Russell, exclaimed with the excitement of children.

Russell had already been a matter of great interest among the knights, just as with the mages.

‘Probably since the skirmish with McClay Hughes.’

Even the Weapon Master, Gillian Pearson, intrigued by the tale, had come looking for Russell.

While pondering, the meeting commenced.

.

.

While various strategies were discussed, it did not take long to narrow down to a single approach.

“So the conclusion is a preemptive strike.”

The stance that both the punitive force and the Count’s personnel should take was clear.

“The beast is currently secluded in the swamp, recovering from the wounds sustained yesterday.”

“It’s a much better decision for us to make a move, rather than wait for it to heal.”

This choice for a preemptive strike wasn’t solely based on these reasons.

If they waited until the beast recovered and moved again, the damage to the Count’s territory could become unmanageable.

‘We better start a move on our own then.’

Not only could they take the initiative, but they could also shift the battlefield from the Count’s territory to the swamp.

The problem was how to confront the hydra.

The hydra, with its formidable magic power and colossal mass, was a threat in itself.

Moreover, to approach the beast, they needed to overcome the hordes of monsters it commanded.

“How about we split the knight order into two?”

“Splitting them?”

“Yes. One order will protect the 3rd, 4th circle mages, providing rear support and preventing monsters from escaping….”

“And the other order will charge through the monsters to clear the way.”

While there was the risk of allied casualties from the magical bombardment, this risk could be mitigated by limiting the range of the bombardment.

“Yes.”

Russell nodded.

“Once the melee is in full swing and the path is cleared, then we will make our move.”

By ‘we,’ Russell referred to himself and the other two 5th circle mages.

‘If there was an expert-level aura user in the Count’s forces, we could seek support there…’

An expert aura user was as precious as 5th or 6th circle mages.

It was never easy for the ruling family of a peripheral region like Reinckel to keep such forces at hand.

‘Considering Count Reinckel’s character, if he had such forces, he’d have presented them by now.’

A pity, but inevitable.

The meeting went on, assuming a preemptive attack, followed by various detailed discussions.

“So…”

Looking at the neatly organized documents, Russell concluded.

“…the final action will take place the morning after all preparations are completed, four days from now.”

That’s how it should have been, but an unexpected variable arose two days later, with just a day and a few hours left before the operation.

* * *

On the second night before the operation, with just over a day to go until dawn, Russell sat in his quarters, double-checking the contents of the mission.

The rustling sound of paper turning echoed in his ears as he went over the plan again and again in his mind. Finally, after several trials in mental simulation, he put down the operational document.

Thump.

“Sigh.”

He let out a deep breath and muttered to himself.

‘I hope things go smoothly.’

As previously described, hydras are draconic species inheriting dragon factors.

Implying, the power Russell holds as the Dragon Emperor may also apply to the hydra.

‘If that’s the case, we could conclude the subjugation without significant damage.’

The issue arises if this power does not affect the hydra.

‘The hydra belongs to a much higher class than the Komodo lizard.’

Since nothing is certain, one must prepare thoroughly for battle.

‘Against a hydra that spews poison…’

Considering such a scenario, Russell reviewed the spells he had memorized.

‘Considering the terrain of the swamp and aiming for versatility, maybe not Blaze Run, but…’

From his pre-return days as a nomadic freelancer, he knew too well how a thoughtless magician’s spell could harm allies.

For Russell, revising and checking memorized spells several times was only natural.

Only once.

In the battlefield, just one spell could determine the life and death of many allies.

Such was his focus on magic until…

──!

Suddenly, he felt a jolt in his sixth circle and Russell’s gaze shot upwards.

‘What’s this…?’

Rising from his seat, he made his way to the window. Bang—.

As he opened the window, a cold night breeze surged in.

Amidst the chill, his gaze fixated on one point.

‘That’s…!’

The infirmary where Alan Page was likely battling the hydra’s poison.

From there, a powerful magical force was erupting.

Fire roared—!

.

.

With swift movements, Russell reached the entrance to the infirmary, and a half-beat later,

Lyman and Catherine, also 5th circle mages, arrived at the infirmary door.

They, too, were sensitive to the flow of magic.

“Sir Russell, what is this…?”

Behind the puzzled Lyman, Russell swung open the door of the infirmary.

Whoosh!

A storm of magic force, strong enough to make one’s head spin, poured out of the room.

The magnitude of the released magic was so powerful that nearby herbs and medical equipment scattered around in disarray.

Crash, clang!

Potions shattered, spilling out their contents.

Papers from medical texts were shredded, their pages flying wildly around the room.

“Gi, Gik—.”

Among the storm, frightened medics trembled.

Staying late to treat Alan, they were shaken by events beyond their expectations.

Russell gestured with his hand.

Whoosh—.

He countered the magic storm with his own power, paving a path through it.

“Come this way, please.”

“Th-, thank you…”

Finally regaining their composure, the medics evacuated along the stabilized path out of the infirmary.

Some stopped midway to inform Russell about Alan’s condition.

“From Sir Alan’s body, there was a burst of blue light that suddenly turned into this storm—”

“We were administering the antidote when this suddenly happened…”

No matter how skilled a medic might be, they never before faced such a phenomenon, their voices trembling with confusion.

“It’s okay. You are safe. You can go now.”

After reassuring them and directing them outside, Russell shifted his focus.

The maelstrom of magic swirling around Alan Page, and as Russell watched, his eyes deepened with realization.

Though the shape was different, such a phenomenon was not new to him.

‘Is this my first time witnessing it directly?’

Alan Page.

A mage who had completed five circles was now drawing a new circle, the sixth circle.

The Dragon Devouring Mage.

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