Rockwall Lou – V9 Chapter 3

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟑

(3)

The fate of the city of Arche was like a candle in the wind.

Just a few days after the barrier was broken, it was surrounded by demon beasts and besieged day and night.

It was believed they couldn’t withstand a long-term siege, but after the return of the knights of Star Guardian, who had received the “blessing” of the Star Princess, and the wizards who called themselves Hero Squad, formerly Black Neck Squad, they were able to temporarily repel the demon beasts.

However, there was a limit to that.

More than a month passed, but the situation remained unchanged. The number of demon beasts surrounding the city showed no sign of decreasing.

Knights, wizards, city guards, and volunteer soldiers, everyone was injured and exhausted.

Just as the will to resist seemed lost, something unusual happened.

Immediately after an indistinguishable female voice echoed, the movements of the demon beasts stopped.

“Now!”

“Hunghaaa!”

Above the north gate. Gangi and Paulun dropped a part of the outer wall, crushing the troublesome iron-eating centipede.

Although the entrance was blocked, there was no need to use the north gate.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

Bracing for a temporary silence. Something unexpected occurred. The demon beasts looked around as if to check their direction and began to move en masse towards the north.

“Don’t let your guard down!”

No one responded to Gangi’s call. The city guards, who had finally driven away the tea-poisoned elephant, collapsed.

“Gangi-san!”

In response to the report, Maasa, carried by four large men on a palanquin, rushed to the scene.

“Ah, Deputy. It’s dangerous here.”

“Oh, Master Maasa.”

Maasa, the deputy commander who had saved countless desperate situations with precise and unfamiliar instructions, was revered by the people on the scene as a savior. Even the palanquin and its bearers were given to her, and her actual position was already higher than Norancho’s.

“What’s the situation?”

“Unclear.”

Receiving Gangi’s concise report, Maasa carefully observed the demon beasts. But even the astute Maasa seemed unable to grasp the situation.

In desperation, Paulun asked,

“Have those children reached their destination?”

“The records of that time did not mention such a phenomenon. It was said that after Star Princess completed her trial, the ferocity of the demon beasts faded.”

Even after the evil god fell asleep, the battle with the demon beasts continued for several years.

“However, it doesn’t seem to be a bad omen. Please call Battsu. There are some parts of the castle wall I want to repair. Also, ask Tenku to scout from the sky――.”

Ultimately, Maasa’s instructions were unnecessary.

Suddenly, a shining square window appeared in the sky, displaying the figure of a glowing woman.

[People, foolish people, praise the two brave children. Honor the strong princesses who once sacrificed themselves to save you!]

Only a god could perform such a miracle.

With that thought, Maasa naturally knelt and bowed her head.

Perhaps Princess Tweney had completed her trial. The outcome tormented her heart.

[My name is Mail, the goddess of beauty and purity.]

[What is this? A mirror?]

 ㅤ

From beneath the window, Luo’s face suddenly appeared.

[Ah, no, Luo.]

Then, Tweney appeared. It seems she came to stop Luo, but he was curious about what was in front of him, so he brought his face closer.

[Ah, really. I can see them.]

The goddess behind them commented with a wry smile.

[You two, step back a bit. There’s something more important to discuss right now.]

[Yes, understood.]

[I apologize for the intrusion.]

Once the surprise had passed, Maasa shed tears.

According to the knights’ report, Luo and Tweney went beyond the “Altar of Endings” to a “miniature garden” located below a sheer cliff. It was evident that this place was more dangerous than the “wilderness,” and even if they managed to get there, a sad farewell awaited them.

Maasa deeply regretted the arrogance of adults who would sacrifice children to survive. But now, seeing the two looking well, she felt genuinely relieved.

“Both of you. . . . . .I’m so glad you’re safe. . . . . .”

Paulun nudged Gangi’s arm with his elbow.

Gangi twitched his beard in surprise but firmly hugged Maasa.

[People, be at ease. The threat from the demon beasts is gone. You all have been saved. Surprisingly, not because of our “covenant.”]

The goddess’s voice, which had been warm just moments ago, now sounded cold and didn’t seem joyful.

[Regarding the recent disturbance, you probably don’t know why such a crisis occurred. It’s a bit troublesome, but I’ll show you the memory rings engraved on the earth.]

The goddess disappeared.

Letters appeared on the shining window.

The letter was the number zero.

Minus one, minus two, minus three. . . . . .

The numbers kept changing.

Initially slow, then gradually faster.

When the irregular value of minus four thousand three hundred fifty-three appeared, a different scene was projected.

The time was night. The location, some cliff.

Against the starry sky, a man was passionately pleading for something.

[I am the first king who unified the land to the south of here. Oh great gods who reside in the celestial castle, please hear my plea!]

He was a dignified king, adorned with a ceremonial crown and cloak.

The king explained his situation to the void.

Recently, demon beasts different from regular beasts were appearing, and the people of his nation were in danger. The number of demon beasts was increasing, and if this continued, the country, along with its people, would perish in less than a hundred years.

According to the sorcerers, the root cause of everything was at the bottom of a deep hole far to the north. Therefore, with brave warriors, they came here, prepared to die.

But they realized something upon arriving.

With human strength alone, they couldn’t proceed any further.

[Oh gods! If you can hear my voice, if you have any compassion for us humans, please, please grant us your mercy. If a sacrifice is needed, I will give up my life or anything else!]

As if answering the king’s voice, a beam of light shone from the heavens, and a radiant goddess appeared.

[My name is Mail, the goddess of beauty and purity.]

 ㅤ

To the kneeling king, the goddess spoke.

In the “great chasm” that lies ahead, there is a god who has turned into an evil deity. The evil energy emitted by him is spilling out from the “great chasm”, turning beasts into demon beasts.

“What should we do then?” the king inquired, to which the goddess responded.

[All I can do is grant you a sleeping spell. With it, you might be able to put him to sleep for roughly a few hundred years.]

The king sought clarification.

“So I should approach the malevolent god and use this spell on him?”

[That place is thick with evil energy. Just getting close, you might die.]

The goddess appeared to contemplate for a moment.

[Then, I’ll give you my blood imbued with the spell. The malevolent god is obsessed with me. If someone bearing my blood presents themselves, even if they were a corpse, he would be drawn to them.]

The king nodded and inquired further.

“How should I reach the bottom of the ‘great chasm’?”

[I’ll send a Sacred beast, one of my followers, to guide you.]

Next to the goddess, a vortex of wind and flames swirled, revealing a small creature. With blue fur, horns, and wings, it looked like a kitten. It seemed to be asleep with its eyes closed.

The king posed another question.

“What should we do once the malevolent god awakens again in a few hundred years?”

[You’re thinking oddly. Within a century, you’ll have perished.]

The king responded.

“I am a human king. Not just for my subjects, but it’s my duty to protect their descendants too.”

[In that case, I’ll let my blood reside in the royal lineage. Even if your kingdom falls, and a new kingdom arises with a new king, my blood will transfer and continue to reside in that royal family.]

The king expressed his gratitude to the goddess and bowed deeply.

[Hold on. Only a maiden with a pure heart can use my spell.]

The king was visibly disturbed for the first time.

[That means, the daughter you will have in the future.]

If the king sacrifices his daughter, it is said that the evil deity can be put to sleep, and the nation can attain several hundred years of peace.

After some hesitation, the king agreed.

[The “covenant” is now established!]

As the goddess spread her arms, a brilliant light was emitted.

[Once the Sacred beast has grown, it will come for your daughter. Until then, raise her with care and love.]

Again numbers appeared and changed.

It increased by twenty to minus four thousand three hundred and thirty-three.

The scene shifted to a room that looked like a library, surrounded by bookshelves. Across a table sat a young woman in a lab coat and the now older king.

[I’m sorry, Sorcier.]

[There’s nothing to apologize for, Father. I’ve been allowed to do what I love since I was born. More importantly, the future. My research in spells is finally showing results.]

[I’m thinking of making your research team independent.]

[Independent?]

[Yes. A country’s lifespan is but a few centuries. But even if the country falls, religions may persist. Hence, I’m thinking of establishing Mail Religion as the state religion and having the newly-formed Mail Cult oversee the “covenant”, including spell research.]

[I see.]

The woman in the lab coat nodded and took a deep breath.

[Then, I’ll entrust everything to you, Father.]

[I’m truly sorry.]

With his face in his hands, the king broke down crying. The woman’s lips quivered, but she didn’t shed any tears.

[We can’t keep the Sacred beast, the messenger, waiting. Our farewell will be here.]

 ㅤ

“I cannot let my vassals see me, the king, in such a weakened state.” The king nodded repeatedly while crying.

The scene shifted outdoors.

On the cobblestone, a massive beast lay.

With blue fur, milky-white horns, and massive raptor-like wings. It was perhaps ten times the size of a human. It resembled a magnificent lion.

Soldiers cautiously surrounded the beast. The soldiers split into two groups as a woman in white approached.

The blue-furred beast raised its head.

[Have you come, ‘Blood of the Goddess’?]

The woman in white widened her eyes.

“This time only, I’ll carry you to the bottom of the ‘Great Abyss’.”

[And the next time?]

[To the edge of the ‘Great Abyss’, you must reach on your own. Those who cannot overcome such a trial do not deserve salvation. Such is the will of the Goddess.]

[I see. But what magnificent fur. May I take a small sample?]

[No way! ━I mean, no.]

[You’re a Sacred Beast, after all. You must have some amazing abilities. Could you demonstrate just a bit here?]

[Get on my back quickly. We’re going to fly!]

Once again, numbers appeared and began to move.

The value increased significantly, minus 3,520.

There was a young, beautiful, and dignified princess in a luxurious dress. On her forehead, there were peculiar patterns.

“There’s no need to worry. Father, Mother.”

In front of a grand gate.

Witnessing the sorrowful aged king and queen, the princess made a resolute declaration.

“It’s different from eight hundred years ago. Everything has been prepared by the Mail Cult’s three-star leaders. We cannot let human history end during my reign. Indeed, this isn’t a tragedy but a ray of hope!”

The gates opened.

Alongside the waiting clergy, she walked toward a luxurious carriage, escorted by hundreds of knights.

“This journey is the indispensable ‘journey of trials’. I look forward to everyone’s efforts!”

In response, the knights saluted her flawlessly.

The carriage slowly moved through the main street. The roadside was packed with people shouting the princess’s name and cheering.

[Vengeous, our savior!]

[Great Star Princess!]

[Save us!]

[Grant us salvation!]

Inside the carriage, while waving gracefully to the crowd with a perfect smile, the princess whispered in a cold voice.

[Perhaps, I am happy.]

Once again, numbers appeared and began to move.

The number read minus two thousand eight hundred seventeen.

Dim light illuminated the bedroom.

On the bed lay a woman with curly hair and a unique forehead pattern, flanked by two young children.

[Sister Seto.]

Hugging the woman, one child asked,

[Are you getting married?]

[Married?]

[Because tomorrow is goodbye. Sniff.]

Unable to contain his tears, the child was corrected by the other child, who was also on the brink of crying.

[Idiot! Sister Seto is going on a journey. Mother said so. To a place called the ‘Altar’. It’s a tough journey. Sniff.]

[Both of you.]

The woman gently stroked the sobbing children’s heads.

 ㅤ

[Always and forever, stay close to each other. That way, you’ll never feel lonely. I’m happy too.]

[. . . . . .Will you come back?]

The woman didn’t hesitate when faced with two propositions: to present the cold truth or to momentarily comfort the young child.

[Right. When the two of you grow bigger.]

[Really?]

[Will you come back?]

[Yes. When that time comes, I’ll make lots of sweets for you.]

[Really?]

[Absolutely!]

[So, make sure you eat your disliked vegetables and grow up. Promise?]

[Hmm]

[Ok, understood.]

Numbers appear, and the value increases.

Minus two thousand two hundred fifteen.

In the grand hall, a king sits on a throne. However, no one stands by or guards him.

There, a dignified woman in men’s attire, accompanied by several clergy, approached. She too had a pattern on her forehead.

[Father.]

[Ah. . . . . .Aroma.]

The king forced a smile.

[Is the battle report not here yet? Why is it so empty here? Is this some sort of entertainment? Trying to surprise me with everyone?]

With a serious face and tone, the woman in men’s attire reported.

[Our forces were defeated.]

As if half expecting it, the king slouched on his throne.

[What about the Blessed Holy Knights?]

[They were annihilated.]

[And the elite wizard unit?]

[They were annihilated.]

[What about the volunteer soldiers?]

The woman in men’s attire spoke decisively.

[Our forces that headed to the “wilderness” were annihilated, save for one of the flying units. We will now move on to the next strategy.]

[Strategy?]

The king asked in wonder.

[What is this next strategy?]

[To return to our original path, father.]

The woman in men’s attire explained.

Certainly, if one could exterminate the demon beasts and beasts in the “wilderness”, even if the malevolent god awakens, the influence of the “Red Wave” would disappear. But that’s human arrogance.

The outcome was already confirmed.

[Those waiting here are from the conservative faction of the Mail Cult. They are members of the Star Guardian.]

[Conservatives. . . . . .]

[I sheltered those whom you once exiled, father. Their punishment will be decided later.]

[No, it’s fine.]

Both sides knew such a situation wouldn’t arise.

[Are you leaving, Aroma?]

[Yes, I’ll go, father. We can still make it to the day foretold by the Star Song.]

The parting of father and daughter was curt, with the daughter only bowing.

However, once alone, the king stumbled from his throne and wept on the carpet.

[Aroma. Aroma. This fate is wrong. It’s mistaken. There’s no parent who survives by sacrificing their child. All the past kings must have. . . . . .So, at least in my reign. . . . . .]

Numbers appear, beginning to move.

Minus one thousand five hundred eighty-four.

[I, I don’t want to die!]

A young girl with a pattern on her forehead is thrashing on a bed.

Around her are somber-faced maidens. Strangely, they were dressed in long cloaks.

The eldest among them tried to calm the girl in a detached voice.

[Princess, please calm down.]

The girl cried out as she sobbed.

 ㅤ

[I’m only thirteen. I still want to read more interesting books and even experience love. According to the legends, it’s supposed to be okay until I’m about twenty. This is too much!]

[This is something that involves the other party.]

The girl accused the elderly maid, who seemed oddly detached.

[What would you know?!]

[Of course, I understand.]

[Huh?]

The elderly maid took off her cloak. Instead of a maid’s attire, she was wearing a brave chainmail.

[I, too, will accompany you on the “journey of trials”.]

[Eh? What are you talking about?]

[Of course, all the way.]

[Y, You were excitedly talking about your upcoming grandchild, weren’t you?]

[Even if I’m not there, my grandchild will be born. After all, we maids assigned to you have been prepared for this from the beginning.]

Urged by the elderly maid, the other maids also removed their cloaks.

All of them were wearing chainmail.

The girl panicked.

[Wait, didn’t you just return from maternity leave?]

[I’ve already said my goodbyes to both my husband and child.]

[I, I remember you mentioning a lover back in your hometown.]

[I’ve sent him a letter. He should forget about me.]

Another shock was dealt to the distressed girl.

[Mildy. I’ve heard.]

[Your Majesty!]

The brave group of maids made way, bowing in respect.

[At ease. We’re about to embark on something significant.]

Entering the room was a petite king, wearing a metal breastplate and a lavish cape, alongside a tall knight in full armor.

[Father, why are you dressed like that?]

The petite king grinned proudly.

[I won’t leave my dear daughter alone. I’ll be joining you on the “journey of trials”. I’ve also summoned the young princes of your age. Perhaps about a hundred will gather.]

[What?!]

The king, placing his hand on the ashen girl’s shoulder, nodded.

[Don’t worry. As the Star Princess, you deserve this much respect. Especially from the nobility.]

[Exactly!]

The knight in full armor interrupted the king and daughter’s conversation. It was a brazen act, but no one dared to reprimand.

[That voice, could it be?]

The armor was slim, with a design emphasizing the chest area.

[Mother!]

The armored knight drew her sword and raised it to the ceiling.

[Don’t worry, Mil. If it comes to it, I’m prepared to take down the malevolent god with me!]

[Oh, my queen. As fierce as ever.]

[Her Majesty the Queen!]

[How valiant.]

Amidst the noisy room, a solitary girl sat on the bed, head bowed.

She was crying.

Whether it was out of sadness or happiness, she seemed unsure of her own feelings.

[Stop it!]

Standing on the bed, she expressed her anger with all her might.

[This is embarrassing. I’m already thirteen! I can do this on my own.]

[Mi, Mildy.]

Like a defiant child, the girl declared.

[I’ll go alone. If everyone follows, I swear, I won’t go, even if it kills me!]

⠀⠀⠀⠀◇

Negative seven hundred and nine.

The royal palace was ablaze.

[Human king. The “Red Wave” has already begun.]

 ㅤ

Against the backdrop of a twilight sky where sparks fly, a massive Sacred beast with blue fur soars gracefully. Below, the king, surrounded by royal guards, sits as if frightened.

[Fools who know nothing. Willingly offer the “Blood of the Goddess”. If you wish for doom, I care not.]

Leaving those words behind, the Sacred beast flies away.

On the balcony, amidst shouts and screams, the king slumps to the ground. While the royal guards urge him to evacuate, he does not respond. Trembling all over, he mutters a few words to the void.

[Please, forgive me. Goddess. I am, I. . . . . . ]

He appeared as if a sinner repenting for an unforgivable crime.

Suddenly, the scene changes to silence.

In a temple guarded by a statue of the goddess, a woman with a pattern on her forehead kneels. An elderly female cleric stands in front of her.

[Is this acceptable, Star Princess? There has never been such a delay in the “journey of trials” before.]

[Yes, it is.]

The old woman’s words were cold, almost biting.

[Normally, we would prepare for the “Great Red Wave” in the city of Arche, but there’s no time. Here, I will unseal you. Bestow your “blessing” upon the Star Guardian knights and head to the “Altar of Endings” at once.]

[Understood.]

The scene changed again.

The location is still a temple, but now a young woman stands there, with many knights kneeling before her.

The woman’s forehead does not have any patterns.

Holding an unsheathed sword with both hands, raised above his head, a knight murmurs something, and the woman murmurs back. The woman takes the sword from the knight and touches the knight’s shoulder with it.

The sequence of dialogue and actions was very mechanical. There were about several dozen knights. Just moving the heavy sword consumes strength. The woman started to look tired, but no one offered to help.

Finally, a lanky young knight stepped forward.

[My name is Maltheus. I dedicate my life to the great “Blood of the Goddess”, Princess Ophelia.]

The woman’s expression hardened.

[Maltheus. . . . . .Why?]

She inadvertently murmured despite the solemnity of the ritual.

[Well, I became a wizard.]

[What?]

With tension stiffening his body, the young knight explained.

[So, I asked the king. I wanted to accompany on the “journey of trials”.]

The woman remained rigid, motionless.

[I also asked the order. Somehow, I was conditionally permitted to become a knight. If I was granted that “blessing”. . . . . .]

The knights waiting behind visibly changed their expressions, appearing both disgusted and mocking.

His arms, perhaps lacking strength, shook as he held up the sword, which slowly descended.

[I may seem unreliable, but please let me protect you━━]

[Idiot!]

The young knight, taken aback by the unexpected words, lowered his sword, perhaps out of surprise.

[Why? It’s dangerous. Being with you is pointless.]

[Well. . . . . .]

[Fool, fool! You’re such a fool, Ma!]

 ㅤ

While crying, a woman lightly tapped the head of a young knight.

At that moment, the woman’s hair swayed gently, and the temple was filled with dazzling light.

A moment that might have been seen as heartwarming ended in the next instant.

A dimly lit, small room, reminiscent of a basement.

The young knight, looking somewhat more determined than before, was trembling.

Shivering in fear, he stood frozen.

As if to console the young knight, the woman tenderly embraced him.

[Thank you, Ma-kun. For coming this far.]

[Ofi, Lia. I, I. . . . . .]

Before the two of them, there stood a sinister iron gate.

From within it, a black mist-like substance was spewing out, trying to engulf the pair.

[I have a favor to ask of you.]

With a smile, the woman spoke.

[You must have seen it on your journey too? Because our royal family’s decision was delayed, the surface world has fallen into such a terrible state. Therefore, on my behalf, I want you to save everyone.]

[I. . . . . .want to. . . . . .be with you. . . . . .]

[Goodbye, Maltheus. My hero.]

The woman drank the contents of the colored glass vial she held, and entered the gate.

The young man left behind stood in despair, trembling in fear.

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