242 The Emerald Circle

 At the Icy Peak Fortress.

Two days flew by, and with Link's help, the Battle Mages in the Norton army were able to make great progress in coming up with countermeasures against the ghouls. One of them was the invention of a new crossbow.

In the courtyard of the fortress, Link, the Magician Marco, Annie and a few other scouts were experimenting with this new weapon. A number of quick-moving targets were set in front of them, and these targets moved back and forth at a speed close to 300 feet per second as a scout stood about 150 feet away. The scout held the crossbow in his hand and just pulled the trigger in the general direction of the moving target without actually trying to aim precisely at it.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

Arrow after arrow shot towards the moving target out from the crossbow at high frequency and speed, almost at about five arrows per second. The arrows didn't always move in a straight line, though. Some of them moved in an arc-shaped trajectory, some in S-shaped paths, yet all of them hit squarely onto the moving target without fail.

Five seconds later, the crossbows were then out of arrows. The scout slammed his hand hard onto the main body of the crossbow, which prompted a metal box to jerk out from it. The scout then added new Sacred Silver arrows into this box and pressed it back into place until there was a click sound. Then, the scout once again raised the crossbow and aimed it at the target. The whole process of replacing new arrows took no more than two seconds.

The trigger was pressed once more, and a shower of arrows rained down towards the moving target. Not one arrow missed.

Soon, the arrows were emptied again, but the scout didn't stop shooting. He refilled the arrows for the third time, then the fourth, then the fifth-until finally, when he refilled the arrows for the twentieth time, the crossbow was finally trained to its limits, and the strings broke in a discorded twang.

The moving target stopped at the same time. By now, it was pierced through by so many arrows that it looked like a porcupine.

Another scout rushed up towards the target to check it.

"489 arrows hit the target," he reported after a few minutes. "And 309 arrows hit the runes."

"That's 97% of all 500 arrows!" exclaimed Marco proudly. "We managed to hit a high-speed moving target at that high a rate, and 60% of them hit the critical points on the target. This is near perfection!"

This newly modified crossbow was almost entirely based on Link's ideas, so he was quite pleased and relieved with the results achieved. The scouts around him were excited by this outcome as well. To them, this new weapon could mean the difference between life and death on the battlefields.

"If this weapon gets adopted by the army on a large-scale," said Annie, "there would be no reason for us to fear the ghouls! We'd only need five people in a troop to use this weapon to make a huge difference!"

But Link was still far from satisfied. He thought this weapon still had a lot of room for improvements. If only he had more time, he'd come up with a way to use fire elemental spells to modify the crossbows into something akin to a machine gun.

But that wasn't the most practical idea. The cost of developing such a weapon would be too high to be a common weapon used in the army. This crossbow might not be the most ideal weapon, but it did strike a balance between efficiency and cost.

If it were to be produced large-scale, one of these crossbows would cost about ten gold coins while a Sacred Silver arrow would cost about 1.5 gold coins each, totaling at about four gold coins per box of arrows. King Leon might have to burn a hole in his treasury to arm all the MI3 scouts with one crossbow, but it was still a bearable cost and one that would be worth it ultimately since it meant the survival of the kingdom.

"It's time I head back south," said Link.

"I'll walk you to the gates," said Annie as she approached Link.

Link nodded, then the two walked together towards the stable in the fortress. Annie remained silent along the way until they reached a hidden spot near the stables. Then, she stopped abruptly and turned to look at Link.

"The god-level device can swallow thousands and thousands of souls in one swoop," she whispered. "Do we have any hope for victory, Link?"

She raised her head and looked up at Link, her face fraught with worry.

Link fell into silence for a while. The Dark Serpent had a wide range of attacks at about ten miles-that's as powerful as a nuclear weapon. With this weapon alone, the outcome of a war might be completely reversed, and the fate of humanity would be decided.

There was no way for the Norton Kingdom to win without first eliminating the threat of this weapon.

"This is indeed a menacing problem," said Link. "Once I return to the South, I will report this to the king and all the Master Magicians in the kingdom so we might come up with a solution."

"But we are ultimately mere mortals," said Annie, her voice still hushed and fearful. "Can we ever fight against the power of divine gods?"

Link could understand her anxiety, so he patted her shoulders gently and smiled.

"Have you forgotten that we've defeated the god-level device once?" he asked. "Don't worry, once I return to the South, I'll build a much stronger magic puppet."

Annie seemed to gain strength from Link's smile, and the vivacity returned to her face instantly.

"When will you come back to the North?" she asked with anticipation.

"I'll be here when I am needed," he replied.

"Good!" exclaimed Annie. "I'll be waiting for you."

Link then turned around and headed towards the stable where a few Griffins were kept. The magical beast was renowned for its remarkable endurance and speed, so it was the ideal transport to get him back to the South quickly and safely.

"Goodbye, Link," said Annie wistfully.

Link waved his hand and walked into the stable.

"That girl likes you." Link looked around in search of the source of the voice. It turned out to be Felina.

The Dragon Warrior had been recuperating in the fortress for two days, so she was virtually healed. She was leaning on the stable door with her hands folded in front of her chest, staring at Link with a smile on her face. Looking at her now, Link realized that she could remove the armor scales on her body. Apart from her extraordinary height, Felina now looked indistinguishable from any human being, even though her eyes were silvery and were emitting a faint glow as well.

If Link were to be candidly honest, he would say that Felina looked quite attractive. She had a beautiful figure even though she was extremely tall. Her body was well-proportioned, and her curves were alluring, not to mention her legs which were amazingly long and slender. Overall, she looked like a picture of vigorous health.

Link gave Felina a look and said nothing in response to her remark. He knew that Annie liked him, but he also understood that he must be cautious with the way he responded to her. Annie was a good friend of his, the last thing he wanted to do was hurt her feelings.

"Have you been standing here all along, waiting for me?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"Yeah," admitted Felina. "No other human in this fortress is worth waiting around for anyway."

"Is there anything you wanted to tell me?" asked Link.

"I heard you're going back to the South," said Felina, "I'll give you a ride back, we'll discuss matters on the way."

"You'll give me a ride?" asked Link, confused.

"Of course; come with me." Felina then climbed up onto the roof of the stables, and Link followed closely behind.

Once they were both on the roof, Felina's body suddenly glowed in a red light. At first, it was dim, but soon it burst into a flame, and her body rapidly grew and expanded until she transformed into a red dragon almost 30 feet long. The Griffins in the stables were spooked by her sudden change and flew away in fear. Even the stableman in charge of the Griffins was so shocked he almost pissed his pants.

Felina shook her head gently and lowered her body to Link.

"Get up," she told him.

Fortunately, Link had seen such a sight before in the game, so he wasn't so perturbed by Felina's transformation.

In the game, the players who had acquired the Dragon Warriors' co-operation could occasionally ride on the dragons when they needed it. Most of the Dragon Warriors who were willing to give humans a ride were the younger ones who were more open-minded and didn't regard such a favor as shameful or insulting to their dignity.

Link then climbed up and sat on the back of Felina's neck, his legs gripping tightly to her body to stabilize himself. Once he was settled down, Felina took to the sky immediately and headed to the South.

"Nothing ever surprises you Magicians, huh?" teased Felina with a laugh. "I thought my transformation would've elicited some reaction from you, yet you didn't even bat an eye!"

"Well," replied Link, "dragons aren't foreign to us Magicians. We've always been reading about you in the textbooks. But anyway, why didn't you transform and fly away in the Black Forest? You'd move much faster this way!"

Felina grinned.

"There was a shadowy bird patrolling the Black Forest skies," she said. "I'd be a fool to fly there. Besides, there was that crazy woman chasing after us as well. I'd move faster if I flew, but I still wouldn't be faster than her."

"Well, you've got a point there," said Link. "The Black Forest really was a dangerous place."

"One question," said Felina, "how are you planning to fight against the Dark Serpent?"

"I'll go back to my magic academy and discuss the matter with the Master Magicians there," answered Link.

"You mean the East Cove Magic Academy?" asked Felina.

"Yes," said Link. "But I'll also be asking the court Magicians for their input, and the Magicians from the Southern Magician Alliance as well."

To Link's surprise, Felina laughed at his answer.

"I'm afraid you'll be disappointed," she said. "As far as I know, the human Magicians have a superficial understanding of magic, and your history of learning magic is only about 2000 years old. The magic you've learned was all derived from what the High Elves, the dragons, and the Yabba race taught you. I really don't think you'll come up with any solution by consulting with human Magicians."

What Felina said was all true. Link had read the historical chronicles, where it was recorded that the present human race were the descendants of the Herde people from 3000 years ago. In the first thousand years of their history, they were merely savage barbarians, until two thousand years ago when there was a devastating catastrophe in the Firuman continent known as the "Mana Cataclysm." Magic knowledge and skills began to flow from one civilization to the other due to the shared fate that had befallen all races which forced them to work together in order to survive.

Even now, although the humans had achieved many astonishing feats in magic, they still lagged far behind the others in terms of their fundamental understanding of magic.

Strictly speaking, the Dark Elves were also considered to be an ancient race, but they had undergone too many changes and disasters; a lot of their traditions had disappeared. But they were still much stronger than the humans.

"I'll just try my best," said Link. "If it doesn't work out, then I'll find another way."

It was all Link could say.

"That's admirable of you," said Felina. "Who knows? Maybe you'll find some inspiration from the pile of historical records you humans keep!"

Felina then paused and flew in silence for a while before she began speaking again.

"You know," she said, "there is an organization comprising of tens of thousands of high-level Magicians from the magical races called the Emerald Circle. The members of this circle are at Level-4 or higher, and more than 500 of them are Master Magicians. If you can't find any countermeasures to fight against the Dark Elves in the Norton Kingdom, you should try and seek help from the Emerald Circle."

Link was dumbstruck for a while. He didn't expect to reach a point where he could get in touch with such a high-level group of Magicians as the Emerald Circle so quickly.

In the game, when the war between the Realm of Light and the Dark Army had reached its peak, the Emerald Circle was the main force that fought against the Dark Army. Link himself was a member of this prestigious circle when he reached the Legendary Pinnacle stage and was fighting against Nozama. His position in the Emerald Circle at the time was second only to its leader, Eliard.

"Hey, are you still listening?!" asked Felina.

Link was jolted back to the present.

"Yes," he replied. "Thank you for the tip. Do you know how I can get in touch with the members of the Emerald Circle?"

"Go find the Lady Fortuna," answered Felina. "She's a member of the circle herself. I'm sure she'd be delighted to guide you. You know, she thinks very highly of you. I've never seen her praise anyone this much before. She must've gone crazy."

"Got it," said Link. "Thank you, Felina."

The red dragon then flew faster and had traveled about 250 miles in under an hour. She landed near the Girvent Forest to let Link down.

"We'll part ways here," she said. "Remember, I'll meet you at your estate in a month and take you to the Dragon Valley. The Queen has taken an interest in you."

"Alright, I understand," said Link. "Farewell, then."

Link then waved goodbye at Felina on the ground as she took off. The dragon circled above him in the sky for a while then turned and left. Link also turned around and proceeded to walk along the King's Lane and headed towards the East Cove Magic Academy.

He didn't summon the Wind Fenrir for fear of causing alarm to anyone who might encounter him. On his way, a carriage rode past him, so he paid the coachman two silver coins so he'd let him hitch the ride at the back of the carriage where the other servant was sitting. He then had a relatively pleasant ride for the rest of the journey.

There were two merchants in the carriage, and Link could hear their conversation from where he sat. At first, they were only discussing matters concerning their businesses, but as the journey continued, one of them suddenly said something that shocked Link.

"Did you hear?" said the merchant. "The Magician Wavier in the South has gone insane! I heard he killed his tutor and more than ten other Magicians from his magic academy and even used black magic in Opal City which killed hundreds of people there! He's now escaped without a trace!"

The other merchant hissed, completely taken aback by the news.

"You're not kidding me, are you?" he said. "Where did you hear this from?"

The merchant had asked the exact questions that were on Link's mind.