A dry wind blew through the dusty area, tossing pink hair from a girl staring downward at a large crater. The skin around her body seemed fair and colorful, but upon closer inspection, bits of dust bounced off right before touching it, emitting a faint glow with each impact. Her crimson eyes scanned the ruins of what was once a reasonably-sized city. But an explosion here, one that she caused, made it difficult to believe that people lived here only months ago.
She gripped the hem of her cloak, which covered a basic set of light armor. The garments were ill matched with the fancy sword at her hip, but that was the only thing that she felt belonged to her alone.
She had parted with all else – her extravagant but showy armor, her high-class title, and her entire livelihood. Those no longer belonged to her. They were attached to the identity of a dead person. But the glimmering sword that was her mother’s, it belonged to the girl who now only went by Eryn. Nothing else.
“See anything?” someone called out to her as the sound of footsteps approached.
Not bothering to turn around, Eryn knew that it was just her old friend trying to catch up. Dark blue hair approached the crater as well, the sound of light huffing giving off a hint of weariness.
“Not yet. I was waiting for you to catch up before diving into the place to search.”
“Eri, you’re too fast for your own good. Not everyone is superhuman like you without magic.”
Cornelius looked drained. Her stamina was low to begin with. And her pitiful health meter made her feel that traveling was more arduous than before – despite it having no bearing on a person’s endurance. But she had Eryn by her side for the heavy lifting. Their travels went smoothly because of her. All Cornelius had to offer was good company and the occasional demon class spell.
Placing her hand on Eryn’s shoulder for support, Cornelius looked down at the ruins as well. Having missed the devastation firsthand, the consequence of the explosion felt heavier than simply being told of it happening. It would be a wonder to find anything in this mess. She looked up at the tuft of pink hair flapping next to her, reaching to pet the flowing locks.
“Say Eri… there’s no need to hide your appearance here. No sense wasting mana for something trivial when the only souls around are us.”
Eryn nodded, letting out a strained breath. Slowly the pink receded from the tips to the roots of her hair, and her exposed skin became pale, almost deathly so. With a simple spell to form a mirage around her body, she had been hiding her true appearance.
In the eyes of the public, she no longer walked the earth. Not to mention, her body was still that of a demon, so an appropriate disguise was needed. A layer of cosmetic magic to change one’s appearance would bring about less issues. And it was thanks to Cornelius for such an idea.
Of course, Cornelius was believed to be dead right alongside her. But given that few people even knew of her true appearance, she didn’t bother to disguise herself. She could blend in naturally after losing the gaudy attire and singsong voice from before. The extravagant appearance and flamboyant character were the very definition of Cornelius von Reichenstein. And without either, she was simply Corny. Nothing more.
Eryn wrapped an arm around Cornelius and pulled them both down into the crater. The initial descent made Cornelius’s heart leap as she instinctively brought her arm out to cast a snowy hill to break their fall, but then, a warm breeze blew around their bodies. An updraft of wind slowed their approach until they hovered like a feather making its way to the ground.
Eryn’s impressive magic skills from her time as the Demon were still retained; she possessed the vast repertoire of abilities gained over hundreds of years. Taking flight was just another one of them, even in this environment that was desolate of mana.
Moreover, a thin strand of energy flowed to her, no matter where she was. It was the precious connection that had been painstakingly rebuilt from scratch. The broken bond that she believed only the Gods could restore was recreated to some degree by Claude. And that gave her the strength to forge a path for herself, without him by her side.
And also, it gave her the courage to look into these ruins, as a lingering sense of dread remained within her, passed on by the God of Life. During her time as a Demon, there was a peculiar interest in the Empire of Purnesia. That was the one location that went untouched by its sphere of influence. The ancient tomes that told of the Gods and Electi had all been scoured elsewhere, so it had placed its hopes on the northern country.
Despite the genius of Lamps Magellan, he would not have been able to perform a ritual such as ‘Godfall’ with mere passing knowledge of it. And Lady Kaguya’s understanding of calling upon the Gods via a medium did not forcibly bring one down. ‘Godfall’ had to be referenced somewhere here.
The answers were likely in the annals of Castle Bryansk, the entrance buried underground. Eryn cast Wind magic to sweep away the mounds of debris, picking at her brain to recall where the location was. The Demon had visited here several times, taking a keen interest in the new Electi summoned. It had gone undercover as a black-market merchant, using its ability to disguise itself as different people to sneak into the castle under the pretense of ‘business’.
But never did it find what it was looking for. The main floors held no secrets, save the hidden Altar of the Gods housed within. And by the time that secret rooms underground had been discovered, the war between nations was in full swing. It only had to wait until the conclusion to resume its search.
But then, it was slain by Claude. Now, only lingering dregs of purpose remained in Eryn. Enough to fuel her curiosity. But more than that, she wanted to check if such mysterious powers would jeopardize the world that they now lived in. This world of peace, hard fought and won – she couldn’t allow any possibility of another God imposing its whims upon them.
‘There cannot be another Demon to replace me,’ Eryn thought as she sifted through the wreckage.
Dust coated the air as large stones were cast aside. What did not move freely she kicked aside instead. Eryn’s eyes glowed white as she tore through the ground in hopes of finding that rumored passageway, a skill courtesy of being connected to Claude. Soon enough, she hit solid metal, reinforced and unnatural to the architecture above it. Convinced that there was something now, Eryn spent nearly an hour digging around, finally uncovering an entryway past it.
The hole was small, just enough for a door to be fitted. All around it though, the floor didn’t budge. Eryn stomped upon it as hard as she could, causing the entire area to quake. Yet, there was not even a hint of the metal warping, a surprise given Eryn’s immense attack power.
She bent down and knocked on it a few times, noting the unfamiliar metallic clang that resulted. It was a metal that seemed foreign. Peering down into the hole next, her hand patted along the cold, hard wall in wonder at its construction.
“Such tight security to keep you from tearing through. Must be some treasure down there kept in lock.”
Cornelius had been watching Eryn work the whole time, poking her head out from the confines of an igloo, as she was wholly unsuited for such manual labors. The best she could do was bring about a chilly, refreshing atmosphere, which she did to ward off the searing heat and wind that was thrown about.
“Amazingly tough. It’s a wonder how they even had the ability to craft such a measure,” Eryn said as she flicked her hair in annoyance at it.
Still, it was quite fortunate that written secrets were behind such an obstruction, lest the pages of their records be burnt up by the war that scorched the surface. The explosion that toppled the entire capital had barely done anything to this physical barrier, so Eryn gave up and dropped down into the hole where the remains of a crude ladder showed signs of more recent exploration. Cornelius took that sign to follow along.
Eryn ignited a flame to look around, instantly catching a void where there was no reflected glow. After walking ten meters toward it, the remains of a heavy door, quite mangled, stood in their path. Eryn promptly knocked it to one side, continuing down the passageway.
Completely dark within, Eryn was glad that the fireball in her hand helped illuminate the way. Aside from the shiny ceiling above them, the underside of that thick barrier, the rest of the passageway was of a flat, less-hardy material. Scorches from the explosion seared the walls, reaching not far past the broken door.
Cornelius traced her fingers upon the smooth surface, noting how perfect it felt and completely unlike any stone dwelling. It had likely taken great lengths to build whatever they traversed through.
With how little mana was present in the environment, the feat seemed nearly impossible. But then again, Purnesia had its own Electi of Mana, so that single person alone could have made the difference. Still, the feeling that this place seemed unnatural pervaded their thoughts. If the entrance was this unique, then what was waiting for them deeper in?
“Come on, Cornelius. This speculation is making me anxious.” Eryn snatched her friend’s hand and dragged her along in a brisk jog. Not much later, a wall with a large sign blocked their way, with pathways branching off to the left and right. Their eyes craned forward, looking at the faded remnants of what appeared to be the layout of the area before them. Scribbles of text were barely legible, but they could make no sense of it. However, it was clear that this was a map of something.
Their eyes popped out at how expansive and detailed it appeared.
Far from a simple dungeon to hide one’s secrets, it seemed like the map of an entire region. From the numbers of squares and pathways dotting across the layout, the scale seemed like nothing short of one. Unfortunately, there was no guide to distinguish the gibberish of what those landmarks meant.
Eryn and Cornelius eyed each other, wondering just what kind of ancient civilization they had stumbled upon. Suddenly, they noticed a low hum emitting from the floor. Eryn put out the flame in her hand, revealing that the room did not go completely dark. Small lights, faint and pulsating, came from the floors.
Eryn reached down to touch them, noting how they did not feel at all like mana leaking from crevices. The spacing was too regular, the glow too uniform – the very construct of it appeared man-made. Eryn gulped as a random thought crossed her mind.
It was one of those stories that Claude blabbered about during his delirium of hobbies. Most of the time, she couldn’t make heads or tails of them, but that was because the details seemed so fantastical. But through the years he was here in this world, those fantasies had no doubt turned into real possibilities.
Was this enormous construct just another of those fantastical things made real? If so, just who had the capability to bring such things to life? And above all, why did it rest silently underground, unknown to virtually no one?
The only way they would understand was to investigate the entirety of it. And who knew how long it would take them? But Eryn didn’t feel discouraged by it. Her knees were shaking in anticipation.
Perhaps, this was the answer that she was wishing for, that her other existence had been aching to discover. The end of several hundred years of soul searching. Maybe, she could lay those feelings to rest.
“Hey Cornelius, we’re going to need some supplies if we plan to scour all of it. I have the feeling that this will take quite some time.”
“I do hope they have some amenable lodgings. Camping out is simply doing terrible things to my complexion. At the very least, it looks like we won’t have to worry about the harsh environment outside.”
Eryn blinked a few times before she noticed. Their bodies didn’t feel any mana drain that it normally did while traveling across the plains of Purnesia. In fact, the area hummed with the faintest bit of vitality, as indicated by those lights from before.
“Just what in the world is this place?” Eryn wondered aloud.
“A place that a certain someone would be intrigued to know about?”
“A certain two someones.”
“Agreed. But let’s take the credit for our discovery first. They’re probably busy as bees at this very moment.”
Eryn nodded and looked back toward the map. Never could she imagine that an entire city, taking weeks to explore, would be waiting for them.