In the end, Eleanor didn’t listen to Bella’s advice. The captain of the Church’s knights, Leopold, was also an arrogant man, and has always been. He was not even twenty years old, yet he was already a pseudo dragon knight. He was confident in his own ability.
“Miss Eleanor, as knights of the Church, we shouldn’t be deterred simply because of a few words from such suspicious people.”
“Sir Leopold is right! I suspect that those girls are monsters who have changed shape. Why else would the zombies open a path for them? If it wasn’t for the sea of zombies between us, I would have killed them.”
“That’s right, Miss Eleanor. Do you not trust our judgement—the judgement of the Church?”
Hayley sighed at Leopold’s display of self-confidence. Leopold was a knight that the church was spending large amounts of resources on, becoming a pseudo dragon knight before the age of twenty. It was a shame that he was too arrogant. Hayley had originally wanted to get assistance from dragon knight Shawn instead, but since it was his little sister that had disappeared, Hayley was afraid that he might lose control over his emotions so she chose Leopold instead.
Just as Bella’s group entered the crypt, the knights under the command of Hayley and Eleanor carved a path to the entrance soon after. Eleanor hesitated as she gazed into the dark tunnel that she could not see the end of. The knights would not be able to use their mounts in the tight space, and this would definitely impact their power as a whole.
“Don’t panic, follow after me carefully. It’s fine even if we don’t have our mounts.” Leopold confidently got off his warhorse and led the way down the tunnels as the others followed behind him. Soon after they entered, the entrance was sealed by a stone door that slammed shut behind them. The advancing knights were unable to see as the tunnels were thrown into darkness.
“What’s happening? This…”
“Abbot, turn back! Quick…”
“Enemy attack! Be careful! Mike, above you! Above!”
Waves of wretched screams were heard from the entrance, all that remained of the zombie were the body parts that littered the fields. A large army of skeletal warriors surrounded the resting place. These were the same kinds of skeletons that had participated in the battle against Duke Adris, but this time there were over 30,000 of them; apart from infantry and archers, this army also had a sizeable cavalry division mounted on skeleton horses, as well as skeletons wielding magic staves.
At the centre of this army was a giant skeleton around 5m in height. The skeleton was clad in heavy armour the colour of dark gold, and was armed with a giant hammer and a colossal pavise shield. Along with the bone crown that sat upon its head, it gave off a sovereign’s airs.
“You’re pretty early Fred.” 【Shadow Demon】 Tanpur and 【Skeleton Dragon】 Brant had also appeared and gave a customary greeting to the 【Skeleton King】.
“Tanpur and Brant, you two are pretty early yourself, not even bringing any subordinates with you.”
“This… our subordinates won’t be here anytime soon, the earliest they can arrive is around tomorrow morning.” Tanpur and Brant awkwardly explained. They had been in a rush after hearing that Fred would get all the merit if they didn’t. They had travelled ahead of their own armies that each numbered similarly to that of Fred’s.
“Then let’s go in as well and see what’s going on inside.”
“Wait, Brant, we’re unable to enter. There are lots of blood vines there. Any living thing that enters will be constricted to death. Even undead will get crushed to smithereens.”
“What were you planning when you watched Miss Bella enter, knowing all of this!?”
“Don’t be so angry at me, Brant. Clement confirmed with us that those vines don’t attack women. In the army that the stupid human brought in, there was a squad of female knights. They were not attacked at the entrance.”
“How do we aid Miss Bella then?”
“Tanpur can. You’re a shadow without a physical body; you won’t be attacked. We’ll wait outside and keep watch.”
Deep below the resting grounds, the four in Bella’s party were advancing rapidly. In front of them were several dozen zombies that Angel had summoned with the bodies in the crypt. These were used as their fodder. They would get the zombies to run ahead of them to trigger any traps. Using this method, they managed to travel several kilometres through the tunnels unscathed.
As they looked at the various remains of the zombies that had triggered the traps, Bella considered herself fortunate that she had thought up such an ingenious idea. She didn’t know whether Eleanor listened to her advice or not. Even if they entered, they should be fine as the blood vines didn’t attack females.
The four of them stopped in front of a large door. The door was already open. It seems that someone had already entered. As they were about to continue through the doors, they saw two figures that were following them.
“It’s you again? These zombies… you…” Hayley’s irises shrunk as she noticed the dozens of zombies that were evidently being controlled by the silver-haired loli in Bella’s party. This was a skill that only necromancers and other practitioners of dark magic would be able to do.
“Miss holy maiden, we’re a group of bad guys. Are you satisfied with this answer? If you understand let’s go our separate ways.”
Hayley was just about to ask about their alignments, but was cut off by Bella, confirming that they were indeed villains. The holy maiden was at a loss for words. She didn’t know how to continue this conversation.
“Uhm, I want to explore with you, can I?” Eleanor called out to Bella as they were about to leave.
“Miss Eleanor, you and Miss Hayley should backtrack out of here. We’re a bunch of villains, what can you do by following us?”
“My knight squadron was here, I want to find them. They are very important sisters to me. Even if I find them dead, I want to bring their bodies back for a proper burial.”
Bella was surprised by the girl’s care for her subordinates. She should be a great leader. Bella was now quietly thinking about how she could make Eleanor one of her subordinate generals.
After all, there was no rule that only heroes could hire a bunch of subordinates to harass the other side. It was only fair that villains would be allowed to do so as well. Even though Bella’s monsters rebuilt the Anola Clark strip within a month, they after all, still monsters. Their intelligence was lacking somewhat, she needed some smarter personnel to manage the territory.
The two lolis evidently weren’t suitable for this. Dolores was a princess before, but she was more used to managing demons, not humans. Bella decided that she would need to find a human to manage the city, as it was planned for humans after all.
As for the criteria, Bella decided that the candidate must be female even though Mia mentioned that males were more easily tempted by the dark, and therefore easier to become a devil’s advocate than a female. But Bella wanted to prevent the situation of the subordinate having some illicit interaction with any of her party. This basically eliminated all possibility of considering a male candidate.
“How about this. You guys give me a price and take me to find them. I’ll consider it done even if we find their bodies. I won’t delay your payment. If you don’t believe me, I can give you something valuable on me as collateral.” Eleanor thought that Bella was silent because she didn’t think she could compensate them, and quickly offered to pay before they left.
“Alright, but you don’t need to give any collateral. As for the compensation…I’ll ask you for it after we find them.”
“Alright then… wait, Hayley, why are you looking at me like that?” Eleanor was about to tell Hayley about her decision when she saw that Hayley was looking sternly at her. She finally remembered that Hayley had always hated dark magic. Her family had been killed when she was little by monsters summoned by dark magic. It was the Church’s knights that had saved her.
“Hey Eleanor, we’re friends, right? I don’t think you should go with them!”
“Uhm…I hope you can understand me but I really want to find my knights. We’ve lost the Church’s knights and there’s no one else that can help, sorry.”
“Even so, you can’t go against your faith! You’re a pseudo holy knight! Are you planning to cooperate with the forces of evil?”
“Miss holy maiden, don’t force your standards on others. She made a deal with me. If you want to leave, please hurry up. Don’t interrupt my business.”
Bella was afraid that Hayley would manage to convince Eleanor to cancel the deal with her, so she had to cut her off.
“What do you know of this? This is business between the Church and a holy knight. You as an outsider should stay out of…”
Eleanor was about to continue explaining when she was interrupted by Bella grabbing her hand and pulling her away, leaving behind a furious Hayley. She wanted to follow them but was scared to do so alone. She could only turn around to look for reinforcements.
“Why did you drag me? Hayley might have some misunderstanding with me now. Hurry up and let me go.”
“You didn’t stop me. A pseudo holy knight should be able to easily get out of my grip.”
“That’s strange; I’m carrying the Church’s Exorcist Cross and nothing has happened to you after you touched me. Are you not a villain?”
Eleanor looked a bit puzzled at the cross around her own neck. Her cross had been blessed by the Church. Most evil beings that came within a certain range would face some sort of rebound damage from the cross, but it seemed that Bella wasn’t affected even though she had claimed that she was a villain.
“Are you talking about this kind of cross? To me, this is just a decoration.”
“Isn’t this a holy knight’s cross? How do you have one, are you a holy knight?”
Eleanor was uncertain as she looked at the cross in Bella’s hand that looked exactly the same as her own. Not all of the blame could be put on her as Bella did not dress in the way of a holy knight. So she had not tried to match up Bella’s identity with that of a holy knight’s.
“Eleanor, it’s been three years already. I don’t blame you for not recognizing me. When I received my blessings as a holy knight by Hayley you were there too. Except I was wearing a helmet at the time, but you must recognize this short sword?”
“The short sword that is the proof of the Octavian Empire’s(Knights) royal family! You are…Octavio Felia? The earliest member of the current generation to advance to holy knight…weren’t you already…”
“Believe only what you can see. I know you have a lot to ask but this isn’t this place. If we have a chance, we’ll talk later. Let me introduce to you a few friends of mine.”
Eleanor was less wary after she discovered Bella’s identity, but she was still somewhat unsure if she was the real one. Bella didn’t mind this and kept talking with her on the way, as for pathing, they sent the fodder zombies ahead.
After they had entered the large door earlier, they had come to a wide circular room. It was a labyrinth made up of many tunnels and walls. As they were below ground, the visibility was rather low and it gave the labyrinth a creepy aura. There were no zombies visible in the labyrinth, but as the door was opened there must have been someone who had already passed through this area.
“Sister, we’re out of fodder, do we go back and get some more?” Angel had run out of zombies to throw at the traps. The path ahead of them was empty so she could only ask Bella to make a decision.
“No need, just follow the shadow.” Bella sighed in relief as she saw the eerie shadow on the wall. The 【Shadow Demon】 Tanpur was finally here. Now they could let him lead the way.
But Tanpur secretly told Bella that there was a squadron of knights from the Church following behind them. The ones leading the party were the Holy Maiden, Hayley, and the pseudo dragon knight, Leopold, they seemed to have some way of knowing Bella’s location.
Luckily Bella had something up her sleeve, or her plans would have been ruined. Bella carefully studied Eleanor beside her. She didn’t suspect that Eleanor was the one who had given their positions away. Bella had held her hand this entire time and Eleanor’s pulse had been racing constantly, so it seemed that she wasn’t acting.
Then where was the problem? Oh, Mia had told her while they were still on Alfred continent that the Church had some secret technique to maintain surveillance on holy knights that had been knighted at churches. It seemed that Eleanor had something on her that gave away their position to their church, but she herself didn’t know about it.
“What is it, Bella? Is there something on my face?” Eleanor felt a bit strange as she looked at Bella who was staring at her. She still wasn’t sure why Bella gave up the name of Felia and changed it to Bella.
“It’s nothing, let’s go…” Bella was about to continue ahead, but when she unconsciously scanned the wall as she turned around, she saw a faint red dot. If she had looked away faster she would not have spotted it.
Bella got closer to observe and discovered that the red dot was the infrared reflector on a camera, an authentic security camera. As it’s size was rather small, and the visibility and brightness within the labyrinth was low, it was hard to see unless you were looking for it.
Bella continued looking, finding more red dots along the way. It seems that there was more than one camera. This labyrinth was shrouded in mystery, even having something so advanced as security cameras. Bella saw what seemed to be electrical wiring behind the cameras, and discovered some sort of countermeasure.
“Eh, why did this screen stop showing any images?” In a mysterious room, a loli stood up from her chair, staring at the large screen in front of her. It was strange as she had just gotten the equipment recently. Why had it already broken? If Bella was present she would recognize the computer in front of the loli. The screen was split into many sections, evidently a surveillance screen.
“This one is dead as well…I just installed them last month… did I buy fakes?” The loli sunk deep into thought, unmoving as a statue as she watched her surveillance screens go out one by one.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.