It’s Ko-Fi’s Supporters’ chapter (114/125), enjoy~
Chapter 9 – Guardian of The Shrine
Ain remembered that he went to the bedroom so as not to disturb Sierra and Chris as they were talking, as he did not want to bother them. But after lying down on the bed, as usual, there was no recollection of what happened.
The aroma of the wood in the house was pleasant, and combined with the fatigue from the day’s work; he was able to fall asleep.
In contrast, however, what Ain heard was a noisy voice when he woke up from sleep.
Suddenly, his body shook, and a frantic voice pierced his ears.
When he opened his eyes, he saw Chris looking down at him with concern.
“Please wake up! Quickly…!”
Ain woke up his body without fully understanding. He rubbed his heavy eyelids and finally opened his eyes wide. Then he realized. This was supposed to be Chris’s house, but his vision was all in black and white.
He rubbed his eyelids again, but it was obvious that there was nothing wrong with his eyes. He rushed out of bed and looked out the window and saw that everything outside was also monochrome.
(It was like being in the sanctuary.)
But there was a difference.
Unlike in the sanctuary, there were Elves outside the window, but they showed no signs of moving. Rather, it was as if they froze in the middle of their walking motion and did not move.
Ain looked at Chris with concern and placed his hands on her cheeks.
They were warm and soft. Her smooth skin felt good to the touch even at a time like this, letting Ain know that she was safe.
“You were worried about me, weren’t you?”
She laid her hand on his, and he laid his hand on hers, and they rejoiced in each other’s safety.
They nodded to each other, especially Ain, who had woken up from his sleep, prepared himself, and carried his sword at his waist.
“Let’s go see what’s going on outside. I think it’s more dangerous for us to stay here.”
“I agree. Let’s go!”
Thus, they went outside.
Even without looking through the window, the outside was still tinted in black and white: the water, the sky, the trees, the leaves. Everything in sight, without exception, had lost its color.
Furthermore, the appearance of the Elves frozen in place was so bizarre that it gave them chills.
──Was it a trap, after all?
The concern when Ain was talking to his grandfather was right; the chief was up to something. The story of that time, though, snatched at the back of Ain’s mind.
There was no way that a chief who was saddened by Marco’s final days would set a trap for him. Now he was more sure of it than ever before.
Whatever the case may be, he wanted to visit the chief, regardless of whether she was safe or not.
Naturally, Ain’s feet headed toward the chief’s mansion.
Silas was at the entrance of the mansion when they arrived, but he was also frozen and did not move.
Ain and Chris stepped into the mansion with caution and headed straight for the chief’s room. On the way, they also found the servants, but without exception, they were frozen.
When they reached the chief’s room, they looked at each other and put their hands on the door.
They timed it to open at the same time and entered. They breathed in unison without saying it out loud, and when they opened the door vigorously, they found the chief sitting in the center of the room.
But as expected.
She didn’t move, and like the other Elves, she was frozen in place.
Chris took hold of Ain’s hand, who was wondering what he should do now, and started walking briskly.
“Wait, where are we going?”
“It is obvious. The first thing we need to do is to get out of Sith Mill and head for the town. We must return to the capital immediately.”
Ain understood that this is an emergency situation and that it should be so.
But from Ain’s point of view──.
“No. We can’t leave Sith Mill like this.”
“…I know that. I know more than anyone else that Ain-sama is kind. But you can’t stay in a place like this forever.”
Because Ain is the crown prince.
“We don’t know what’s going on outside of Sith Mill. Still, this situation is very similar to inside the sanctuary. So it may be okay to leave Sith Mill. No, it has to be okay…”
Ain is not so simple-minded that he doesn’t know what she is talking about.
“Chris, it’s a compromise.”
It is surely the wrong choice for the crown prince, and there are other, wiser options. But Ain could not overlook it.
He had a compromise plan that he desperately tried to come up with.
“We will meet up with the knights when we get to the town. We will contact the royal capital and ask them to send reinforcements.”
“So Ain-sama is going back to Sith Mill, is that it?”
“That’s no good either. There’s no need to send Ain-sama all the way back to the danger zone ── but you won’t tell me you understand, will you?”
“As expected of Chris.”
“Fufu… But with one condition. If you can convince everyone, including Dill, to join us, that’s fine.”
What a hard condition to come to terms with.
Ain laughed at this and tilted his head slightly, thinking it would be difficult.
However, this plan was to be at a standstill.
Soon after, Ain and Chris headed for the forest to leave Sith Mill in a hurry and followed the road leading to the town, but when they reached the spring where the sun tree was located, they could go no further.
Undeterred, they tried looking elsewhere, but nothing changed.
“There’s a wall of fog, and I can’t go on… What about over there?”
“Negative! The sanctuary is passable, but why…?”
No matter where they went, there was no place to go outside.
Ain, who had no idea how to get out of this situation, looked down at the fountain and noticed that even the small fish were frozen in place.
He looked up at the sun tree.
(And that bird?)
The bird that froze in flight must have been the one that caught his attention before because of its extreme colors. But now it is monochrome.
(Is it only me and Chris who are okay?)
One thing they both have in common is access to the sanctuary.
──What does this have to do with the sanctuary?
──Something that can break through this situation.
While Chris wondered about what to do, Ain continued to think about it.
──Is there anything that hasn’t been thought of enough?
──Is there anything that he needs to remember?
Whether they proceed, being in a stalemate must be a bad move.
There was only one place to go.
“…..What should we do. We must find another──”
“Y-yes! Excuse me!”
Hearing her reply, Ain silently took her hand.
The position was the complete opposite of when they left the chief’s mansion, and they walked somewhat forcefully.
His forcefulness would have been likable if it were not under such circumstances, but now Chris remained calm despite her bewilderment.
She was not buoyed by the situation of having her hand taken by the person she loved and asked the question that she should have asked.
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going back to Chris’ house first. Then we will get ready and go to the sanctuary.”
Chris couldn’t come up with a solid rebuttal to the suggestion. She stared at her hands, which were clasped tightly in his, and walked forward as she was led.
◇ ◇ ◇
When he arrived at the sanctuary, Ain felt a strong sense of remorse. He thought that they might have been the cause of the anomaly that had struck Sith Mill.
This happened because they opened the door to the shrine yesterday.
Not that he is sure.
Still, under the circumstances, it was impossible not to suspect a connection, and it was reasonable to think that the cause was behind the door.
“This place is exactly as it was yesterday.”
Instead, the fog that should have bordered the sanctuary was gone. Partly because of this, from the height of the shrine, one could see the houses of the Elves in the distance.
“Um, are you sure we should try this?”
The door Ain saw remained open as it was yesterday, and the inner part of the door was still extremely colorful.
“Then, let’s move on.”
Ain created illusory hands with all the power in his body. Perhaps because it had reached its limit after being poured with the magic power of the current Demon King without reserve, there was a sense of disaster that was more than enough to awe a third party.
Following Ain’s will, it grabbed the door that opened to the left and right.
The muscles rise up majestically, feeding on further magic power and filling the hands with arm strength that transcends human comprehension──
“Kuh…! I-it won’t close…!”
He thought that closing the door might change the situation, but the result was a problem before that.
Not expecting to be freaked out, Ain eventually sat down on the cobblestones, looking exhausted.
“No good, it doesn’t move at all!”
“Seems like it… Oh, here’s some water.”
He accepted a leather canteen and drank the cool water contained inside with gusto.
“As I thought, we might have to go inside.”
There were two reasons why he came this far.
One was to see if the door could be closed, and the other was to step inside the door if it could not be closed.
He was unsure that going inside would solve the problem. But there was nowhere else to go. The only place left that led to another place was the sanctuary.
Unlike Ain, who had made up his mind, Chris still had mixed feelings.
“P-please don’t call out to me so close to my ear like that! What if I get nervous!”
“No, you didn’t answer me… I’m sorry about that.”
There was nothing to be nervous about. The attitude of the lord to whom she gives her heart is toxic.
“So, are you ready?”
“Yes, I am ready. We have no choice but to go in now.”
“Don’t worry; there should be no monster threat.”
That is the strength of this sanctuary. There was not a single animal to be seen when they returned to the sun tree, and not a single one has been seen since they came to this sanctuary.
“I’ll go in first.”
And Chris touched the extreme color drifting behind the door.
“Looks like it’s fine…”
“Okay, then me too.”
“No! I’ll go in and make sure everything is safe, and then──”
“No, I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want you to leave me here.”
Ain stood next to Chris and reached out to enter. He felt his hand brush lightly against hers behind the door.
“Let’s go in together at the same time.”
“Geez… I understand. All right, so please don’t get ahead of yourself!”
“I know. Then let’s go.”
Three, two, one──.
When they entered the door at about the same time, they were greeted by a colorful and eye-catching interior that they had not seen for some time.
Inside the door is an elegant structure reminiscent of a cathedral or even a temple. From where they were standing, there was a stairwell that went several stories down. To the left and right, white marble staircases lead to a series of staircases, and when they reached the lowest level visible, they could see a corridor leading to somewhere.
The only other thing that caught the eye was the lights.
The lights, which looked like hanging chandeliers, were colorful and novel, with designs that looked like they were made of magic stones. The walls were also equipped with lamps at equal intervals, but they are rich in individuality, with a mixture of pale and orange colors.
(I don’t see any sign of monsters here.)
Even though he used his five senses, which had become even sharper after becoming a Demon King, there was no sign of them at all. In addition, there was no toxin decomposition working, and there was no sign of anything harmful floating in the air.
But being in the shrine, which is more spacious than he had imagined, heightened his sense that there was something here.
“Is everything all right?”
Chris looked up at him with concern because he had been too quiet up to now.
“I was just admiring the inside… Oh, it feels like it’s been a long time since anything like this has happened.”
“Seeing Chris not in black and white was kind of a relief.”
“…I was actually relieved as well. I wondered what I would do if things stayed that way forever.”
Her fears are well-founded.
Ain gently reached out and patted her head with a plop, plop, plop, and then turned his steps toward the stairs leading down.
(What’s at the bottom?)
This question goes about the existence of the shrine. For it is unclear what the shrine was built for.
The chief might have known the answer to this question. As the chief who knew the first king well, she would surely have the information.
However, the situation was so difficult that it was impossible to ask her.
“There is a painting on the wall, isn’t there?”
On the way down the stairs, Chris noticed a picture on the wall. The place is a little far away, but it is not hard to see.
“What’s depicted is… a terrain I’ve seen before. It’s simpler than it is now, but there’s a place that looks like a harbor.”
The familiar landscape did not provide an answer, but as they walked along, Ain noticed another painting on display and turned his attention to it.
“Over there is a plain.”
This one also has a sense of déjà vu. It is just an ordinary plain, but the topography is familiar to them for some reason.
“Yes, that’s the former royal city! I’ve seen books with similar landscapes before!”
The first picture they found was of a harbor in the royal capital. The other picture, which they found later, they expected to be in the suburbs of the royal capital.
Was it a place associated with the first king after all?
If so, Ain couldn’t help but wonder how this phenomenon had swallowed up the whole of the Sith Mill.
Suddenly, as they gazed at the painting, there was a dazzling light for a brief moment.
Without any notice, Ain was tormented by an intense headache and unconsciously closed his eyes.
──As he closed his eyes, a view appeared behind his eyelids.
A young man on horseback on the same plain as in the painting.
Behind him stood several people, also on horseback. Some pure humans, some different species, all dressed in armor.
“Someday, we will build our own country on this land.”
Hearing the young man’s voice, those standing in line were very excited. Unfortunately, the young man’s face was not visible, only in his rear view.
“Let’s go for those who are waiting for us.”
The floating landscape became hazy.
A white haze enveloped it, covering it in an empty white.
“…What was that?”
The next thing he knew, his headache was gone. When he opens his eyes, he sees Chris walking around, oblivious to Ain’s condition.
“Hey, is something wrong?”
“Chris, did you see the scene…?”
He realized that he was the only one who saw it.
Ain opened his mouth in his usual manner.
“It was nothing; I guess it was just my imagination.”
Saying this, he followed Chris.