“Eryn! What are you doing here?!”
She stared directly at me, the light scowl of a tsundere on her face like she normally had.
“I’ve been feeling pretty murky right here as of late.” Eryn patted her stomach, where her core was. “Since I’ve been holed up with Cornelius, investigating some ruins, the only explanation for it is that you’ve found yourself in some trouble once again.”
Katalina stepped forward, a little cautious of her once rival. She hadn’t expected to see Eryn here, much less break down the door to a holy refuge to stop the happenings inside. Rather, she had half-expected for that to happen during her wedding instead.
“I see… that explains why you are here, Miss Faulkner. But as to your first comment, why should we hold off on the ritual?”
“Because, I don’t really trust the Gods at this point!”
There was a moment of awkward silence between us. Of course, she didn’t trust them. She had been the victim of a rogue god not long ago. But for her to come here and bust down the door, I was merely left awestruck by it.
“I- I mean, there’s something that we found, and, and-”
“Articulate as always, my dear Eri. If you were half as articulate as you are headstrong, then I wouldn’t have to rush to clear up the air.”
The whimsical voice of a jokester slipped by Eryn, the person herself appearing at the doorway. Her blue hair sparkled with bits of frost, lightly dusting onto her traveler’s robe. Each step shook off more powder before more condensation from the air replaced what was lost.
Cornelius looked right at Eryn and shook her head.
“You left me to deal with all the guards, while you could rush up here. Did you stop them in time?”
“You froze my guards?” Lady Kaguya said, a hint of annoyance in her tone.
“They should thaw after a brief nap. As I said before, we were in a rush to get here. And with no titles or even a proper name to be given, there was no chance that we would be granted an audience, unannounced arrival notwithstanding.”
Eryn and Cornelius were ghosts at this point, having discarded their former identities. Therefore, they couldn’t use their status to get around anymore. To think that they would use their newfound freedom to explore the world, hunt dangerous foes, and complete difficult requests; I had heard quite a lot of the ‘Fire and Ice’ team that they formed.
“Well, it must be quite important to have the two of you come rushing out of wherever you’ve been hiding.” I stepped forward to greet them, hoping to diffuse the situation. “Though it would have been appreciated if you hadn’t marched right through a sovereign nation to confront its leader. There’s still remnants of when Pietro once did that.”
“Oh? I suppose that we are doing much the same. Like trusted guardian, like daughter. You know it’s not Eri’s style to shy away, even with the world against her.”
Eryn smacked Cornelius in the arm for that verbal jab. She was not happy that they were being sidetracked for some mindless banter, some of it teasing her.
“A-ny-ways! We came here because what we found ruins that question the intentions of the Gods that we know. The problem is that we can’t make heads or tails of it. Its strange interior feels alien, nothing that we’ve ever seen before.”
“We had uncovered the remains of an entire civilization underneath the ruins of the Purnesian capital.” Cornelius commented with excitement, but then a flicker of disappointment appeared. “But the written texts are incomprehensible to us, in languages that we have little experience decipering. Still, it was like stepping into a whole other world. Our fascination felt unending. Days turned to weeks and weeks turned to-”
“Yes, yes, we get the point.” Eryn swatted Cornelius to get her to stop. “The point is, the disturbance that I felt in my core was a good excuse to come check on you, and then, ask you to come take a look. Perhaps, it will all mean something to an otherworlder.”
“Ah, should we gather the others then? If it’s otherworlders you need, then we should do an ‘Electi Assemble’ moment!”
It was clear on Eryn’s face that she felt like tsukkomi-ing me. She had gotten used to my weird references over time, not even needing to know anything about it to detect one. Maybe, the way my tone switched gave it away.
“Bringing the others would be helpful, as the ruins are literally the size of a city. And since we can get our dear Queen to generate a gateway there, the more the merrier,” Cornelius responded with all smiles. It had been a while since she saw everyone. There was nothing that prevented them from meeting the others in some remote place, so she was all for it.
Kaguya walked forward, right up to Eryn and Cornelius. With eyes of determination, she spoke.
“I insist on coming as well, along with the twins. I must see for myself why you question the will of the Gods. I cannot help but wonder if there are some inklings of the Demon left behind that are clouding your judgment. But I will trust Claude’s faith in the two of you, until proven otherwise.”
With that, we all exited the tower to find an entire squad of castle guards fixed in place, glistening under the sunlight. Puddles of water pooled around them, as their cold shackles slowly melted from the heat. Lady Kaguya looked a bit annoyed that it took merely two to make it all the way to her. Granted, the two of them were a powerful Electi and former demon combo, but it struck an eerie parallel to what she was told as a child.
Even though it was an event from before she was born, the lasting injury that her father received from it was seared into her youthful eyes. She couldn’t help but feel her own mortality at such a sight before her.
“Wait, where are Wen Lu and Wen Zhi? Did you confront them as well?” Kaguya asked, knowing that her personal guards should have been close by. They were in the castle, so the first signs of trouble should have led them right into combat.
“Oh, them? I snuck up on them with ‘Mirage’ and gave them a good whack on a weak point on the neck. They are probably still unconscious.”
I blinked at Eryn’s statement. There were very few people who could pull off such a feat, but the combination of Eryn’s magic and her tethered ability to see weak points from me did the trick.
“I guess neither Lau nor Chrys were around to detect the use of mana. Quite the opportunity to change things around, don’t you think, Lady Kaguya?”
Kaguya could only sigh at the gaps in her protection, as pointed out by me. She made a note to train up some guards in mana detection for the future. But for now, she asked Eryn to kindly melt the ice that encased her men. Eryn obliged, seeing as there was no longer any need to restrain them. Their objective had been completed.
Calling up those we could, I set off to the ruins the next day. Since our vacation had ended, Katalina agreed to return to the capital to govern, with the caveat of telling her all about it when I returned. Figuring out ways to save the world was just as important as running a kingdom, so I was allowed to flex my abilities on such an occasion.
For the time being, I didn’t share my ominous dream with the others, thinking that it was best not to worry them until after we checked out these ruins. Ludmila and Saki, the two that happened to be free, held expectations of going on a simple field trip.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t sure what Lady Kaguya had told Wen Lu and Wen Zhi, but they were their same old selves. The botched castle defense had been brushed off remarkably fast, considering both siblings were easily riled up when it came to protecting their Master. Perhaps, they were also excited to go exploring.
Lau and Chrys had other things planned, so they couldn’t drop what they were doing for a journey. I had also hesitantly invited Koujiro as well, but his wives kept him from hopping into his personal mobile suit and meeting us there. As expected of those that knew him best, he probably saw it as a chance to duck out of his duties.
‘Couldn’t be me,’ I thought, feigning innocence.
Regardless, I walked up to the royal personal gateway, the coordinates for the decimated capital already set by Katalina. A simple call via communicator would be our ticket back home. It was nice that such adventures could be completed before dinnertime.
With the portal open, I could see the ruins of Bryansk in the distance. My throat went dry, thinking of how I was in the epicenter of the blast that took out this city. But regardless, I stepped forward and through the entry point. Ludmila and Saki followed, my personal bodyguards. Eryn and Cornelius entered next, followed by Lady Kaguya and the twins.
From what we were told, there were no enemies to be expected, but it never hurt to come prepared. After all, I still remembered the last time I stumbled upon ruins, only for some mini-boss to suddenly jump out from thin air.
Yet, the environment looked completely dead around us. Not a soul, besides us, seemed to be around, not even animals. I noticed an instant tug of mana being drained from me, and then, I remembered that the ground here held virtually no life. It greedily sucked up what I carelessly let off, so despite possessing a fountain of mana now, it was best to rein in my energy.
“This way,” Eryn said. She pointed to a path leading straight to a crater. I was confident in a bet as to who cleared the way for us. Apparently, Cornelius and she went back and forth several times to replenish their supplies. They had spent quite some time exploring the area before reaching out to us.
With the wind at her beck and call, Eryn hovered down into the crater. Her feet lightly tapped the surface of each foothold before floating to the next, as if careful not to let a single pebble roll down from its place. Meanwhile, Cornelius crafted a set of stairs made of Ice.
I was skeptical about stepping upon what I thought would be a slick coating that would send me barreling down the entire flight, but surprisingly, my feet remained firmly planted upon the surface. The ice held an interesting texture, frozen to mimic the grains that rocks possess. With it under Cornelius’s control, none of it would melt on her watch.
We came upon an entryway in the ground, with the surface around it completely solid. It looked out of place, like the thick plating of a bomb shelter that was revealed underneath the wreckage. Despite everything else being demolished above it, the metal surface didn’t even have a dent.
With my eyes aglow, I saw the reason for it. A coating of mana coursed through the surface, offering it extra protection. I reached out and tried to make an incision with my knife, but it was completely blocked. Normally, I could focus and blow away the mana from my target, but with this, I felt like I was pushing a needle into a pool of water. Placing my entire focus on one spot, I finally cut into the metal surface, but then, I found that my knife was stuck. I could no longer pull it out; it would become the ‘Knife in the Metal’ of future legends.
“Well, I’m surprised already. Whatever is inside must be even more mind-blowing,” I joked.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Eryn and Cornelius said, looking at each other.
And they were completely right.
We were wholly unprepared for what was buried underneath us.
An entire city, more advanced than even the modern times that I was used to. It was a secret that virtually no one was left to pass on. It was then that I knew that this world was not what I had thought it was.
The secret of this world – it might have been a truth we were better off not knowing.