The Reincarnated Princess’s Suspicion (2)
I stared into the darkness while being carried on Commander Lieber’s shoulder.
No matter how hard I tried to look, I could neither see Sir Leonhard, nor the enemies he was fighting. Only the flame of the swaying torch illuminated the branches and leaves nearby.
Sir Leonhard is strong, so everything will be fine.
I wanted to believe in that thought, but I was so scared, so scared it was unbearable.
“Looks like there are no more enemies nearby.”
Commander Lieber surveyed the area before letting me down.
When I took a step in the direction we came from, a hand was placed on my shoulder. Looking up, I saw the commander staring silently at me.
I buried my face in Sir Leonhard’s muffler up to the tip of my nose and hugged it tightly.
I know already. I would only be a hindrance even if I go back to him.
Despite my mind embracing that fact, my body was about to take off. This honest body of mine wanted to be with him.
I tightly closed my eyes and stretched my cheeks with both hands.
Get a hold of yourself, Rosemarie!
If the enemies… Raptor’s men are just around the corner, then this is not a time to be crying and moping around.
There should be something that you can do.
Commander Lieber seemed like he wanted to say something, but after a brief silence, he nodded. Gathering ourselves up again, we set off for the depths of the forest.
I wonder how long we’ve been walking for?
We moved our legs as quiet as possible and kept on going just like that, so the passage of time soon became ambiguous.
Maybe it was because I was so cold, so tired, and my head was preoccupied with nothing but Sir Leonhard, that I had never noticed until I was so close to it.
Surprised by Commander Lieber’s order, I looked up as if finding myself back in reality. The first thing I saw was the commander’s back, then a black shadow swaying in front of him.
I thought it was an enemy at first and prepared myself.
But it turned out not to be the case. The true identity of the shadow was nothing but a shadow of a tree that was illuminated by our torch and projected onto a wall, similar to a shadow puppet.
Looking up at the dingy white wall, I felt my jaw drop.
In front of me, who was left standing stunned, was an old building. It was dark and you couldn’t really see the whole thing, but it was probably a building people would call a temple.
“It’s really here…”
My confusion overwhelmed any feeling of joy I had. I was even sceptical of my own hypothesis, after all.
“I’m surprised… something like this stood so deep inside such a forest.”
When Commander Lieber raised his torch, a stone pillar traced with ivy and a white wall stained in light green moss vaguely came into view.
The silhouette that emerged in the dim light was scarier than any title screen of a horror game I had ever seen.
“Please come, Your Highness.”
I returned from being awestruck by Commander Lieber’s voice.
Going up the stairs, we found a large double door in our way.
It was twice my height… Possibly three metres tall. Commander Lieber reached for the doors which had exquisite ivy patterns engraved on them.
The doors didn’t have any handle so he tried giving it a push, but it never did open. It made a squeaking noise and a slight gap appeared, but that was about it. The gap was only wide enough to insert a finger into.
It was likely locked from the other side.
Commander Lieber, who’d been struggling for a while at this point, turned back to me.
“Your Highness, can I leave this torch to you?”
I received it with both hands.
“Please back away a little.”
I did as I was told and retreated a few steps holding the torch.
Then he kicked the door with all his might.
The doors flew open with enough force that left me dumbstruck. A sound of something rolling on the floor echoed out.
It was a piece of wood. Probably the bar that held the door shut. Said bar was rotten throughout the years, but the doors, on the contrary, seemed to be fine. ‘I’m sorry’, I muttered a small apology under my breath to no one in particular.
A mouldy stench reeked from within.
Commander Lieber surveyed the area while covering both his nose and mouth. The echoes of his shoes rang out the moment he stepped inside.
The commander, who received the torch from me, urged me to go with him.
The floor had a thick coat of dust, as if no one had stepped in here for a long time. Our footprints clearly remained as we walked. The reliefs on the walls were blackened and tarnished with strings of spider webs.
Although the temple seemed quite old, it retained most of its original shape more than I had thought.
Both the roof and walls haven’t collapsed yet. I thought it was in a more tattered state back in the game… Maybe this isn’t the same one?
Or perhaps it was still here because the destruction of war hasn’t reached this far in? When Michael visited the village in the game, the front lines seemed pretty close, though. If a war were to break out here, the forest might’ve been burnt down and the temple destroyed.
“Your Highness, please don’t stray too far from me.”
I quickly caught back up with Commander Lieber after absentmindedly looking around. In the back was a staircase which led up to a room with large stone statues placed in the left and right corners. Behind that was a large painting that covered the entire wall.
Is it a Fresco?
A beautiful goddess carrying a halo was drawn opposing a black flame. Perhaps it was meant to represent the Demon Lord.
“Let’s examine the floors and walls.”
The commander and I started investigating the inside of the building.
We fumbled all over the wall from edge to edge. My fingers turned black in no time from all the dust. I didn’t want to touch the dusty floor as well so I checked it by stepping on them with my shoes instead. As I worked my way counter clockwise starting from the east side, I found a hidden door pretty quickly.
It was a wooden door much simpler in design than the one at the entrance.
When it looked like it was locked from the other side, Commander Lieber kicked it open with ease. However, the door didn’t connect to a hidden room. It was merely a backdoor-like gateway to the outside.
Speaking of which, the front entrance was locked from the inside, wasn’t it? It was natural for there to be another way out.
Slightly depressed, I continued the search, but didn’t find anything else.
That shouldn’t be the case. I’m sure it’s here somewhere.
Time passed by as I was getting more impatient.
“There seems to be nothing here…”
Commander Lieber’s voice wasn’t so different from my own feelings.
I pressed my ear against a wall, not caring anymore even if it gets dirty, and tapped on it looking for an echo.
I have to find it soon, and as quickly as possible.
I want to go back to Sir Leonhard’s side. I want to see him safe even a second earlier, so why can’t I find it?
“Do you think there are any clues hidden in this painting?”
“I agree that it’s the most suspicious thing in this room… But we won’t know just by looking at it.”
Commander Lieber and I stood facing the painting that covered the north wall of the temple.
We had searched every nook and cranny, and the only thing left was this painting.
“It’s wonderfully done. Must have been painted by quite a famous artist.”
Commander Lieber held up his torch and spoke in admiration.
I nodded in agreement while looking at it. Although my knowledge on art pieces was next to none, even an amateur would be able to understand how wonderful this piece was.
The streaks of windy hair, firmness of the skin, and each and every wrinkle was drawn in such detail it was in the territory of being photorealistic. Especially the gloss on her lips that adorned her gentle smile, her slightly reddish cheeks, and the life that could be seen in her eyes. All were so well done that I thought the painting was about to start moving any second.
“This is the Goddess… And this flame, does it represent the Demon Lord?”
Commander Lieber tilted his head while illuminating the black flame with his torch.
A woman with rich golden hair and blue eyes wearing a halo on her head in a white dress. The smiling woman… Possibly the Goddess, carried no weapon and only reached towards the black flame with her bare hands.
The black flame, on the contrary, probably symbolised the Demon Lord as Commander Lieber said. The flame that was driven to a corner to avoid the goddess’s reach was burning fiercely. Its centre painted with a hint of red, as if it was holding some kind of grudge. Compared to the clear blue sky that made up the backdrop and the white dress of the goddess, only this muddy reddish-black stood out like a sore thumb.
I reached for the painting I was staring at but stopped before I got to it.
Needless to say, of course I’d be hesitant to touch something basically classified as a national treasure. However, I bit down on my lips and shook my head to rid myself of that hesitation.
I bit the bullet and touched the centre of the black flame.
An area about the size of a palm sunk in after I put some force behind it. Looks like this will work.
“Let’s trade places.”
I looked to Commander Lieber and received a nod.
When he gave it a push, a block the size of about a dozen centimetres sunk into the wall. It made a loud thud before it stopped moving altogether.
Commander Lieber, who had his hand in the hole, seemed to have found something. He looked back at me over his shoulder.
“There’s some kind of handle. Would you like me to pull it?”
When he did so, sounds of rattling chains rang out, and part of the painting moved at the same time.
An entrance soon appeared before me, who was stood there with a dumb face, thinking how it was similar to a gimmick found in a ruin by an archaeologist in a certain movie.
The entrance of only a little over a metre tall and about a metre wide led to a flight of stairs heading down.
There seemed to be something lurking when I looked through the gap in the darkness.
“This is the one, isn’t it?”
Hearing Commander Lieber’s enthusiastic voice, I replied with a gulp.
I had to bend over to fit through the entrance. The hands I put on the walls so that I won’t slip was completely desensitized by the cold and rising tension.
I went down the stairs one step at a time. The stuffy air was hard to breathe. I covered my nose, not only for the mouldy air, but the recent odour that was coming through.
When Commander Lieber held the torch up, a room appeared in my vision.
The dimly lit room was smaller than I’d thought. There was only one altar made of stone. Above it were unlit candlesticks sitting on the left and right side, and a fist-sized stone enshrined in the centre.
My heart pulsed.
“I’ve found it…”
My voice was brimming with tension.
I’ve found it. I’ve finally found it!
“Is this the stone that housed the Demon Lord…?”
Commander Lieber, with a grim expression, lit up the stone with the torch.
It looked completely ordinary.
It was just a tiny stone. If someone found this on a roadside, they wouldn’t give it a second glance. It was unbelievable that something like this sealed an existence that could bring the world to its knees.
As I reached out for it, Commander Lieber stopped me.
“Please let me take it, Your Highness. We don’t know what will happen.”
“It’s alright, I’ll do it myself.”
I shook my head. I’m thankful, but I have to decline.
I should be the one to do it because we don’t know what will happen. It’s a task that was given to me.
Besides, nothing bad should happen as long as we don’t break it.
…Please nothing bad happen, I beg you.
I reached out while praying to God.
I felt it with my fingertips, as if checking its temperature. When nothing happened after a brief period, I lifted it up and wrapped it with both hands.
Its rough texture and weight proved that it really was in my hands.
A breathed out a huge sigh of relief. My body got weak and I almost sat down on the spot.
It’s a success. I’ve successfully secured the Demon Lord.
I hugged the small stone to my chest with a sense of accomplishment.
“Are you alright, princess?”
“Yes. I believe we’re done here, so let’s group up with Sir Leonhard.”
I managed to return Commander Lieber’s gaze with a smile.
“If you’d like, I can carry that stone for you. It’d be bad if it was dropped.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I brought a box to put the stone in…”
I tried getting the box out of the bag on my waist, but it was dark and I couldn’t see well. Not to mention how cramped it is.
“Let’s depart for the time being.”
When he said that, Commander Lieber bent down and went to the exit.
I was scared I would hit my head. The commander, with his larger build, must have a hard time getting out.
While waiting for Commander Lieber to exit, I remembered the picture on the wall. The representation of the goddess and the Demon Lord conveyed a sense of might and power.
Especially that black flame. It made my heart uneasy just by looking at it. Even if you’re an outsider and didn’t know who the Demon Lord was, if you come across one in the flesh, I’m sure you’d still feel uncomfortable regardless.
Something caught my attention.
A strange feeling that had lingered in my heart all this time. The answer was just on the tip of my tongue.
If you’re an outsider, you won’t know about the Demon Lord…
That’s right, there must only be a handful in the world who knew about the Demon Lord being sealed in this temple.
Then, how come-
‘Is this the stone that housed the Demon Lord…?’
That line he said earlier rang in my ear again and again.
How did he know the existence of the sealed Demon Lord?
We never told him what we were really looking for. All we said was that we were looking for a temple.
How come he suggested we search the walls and floors when we’d never mentioned anything about hidden rooms?
As I stepped back, my shoes made a clunking noise.
“What’s the matter, Your Highness?”
Commander Lieber whose smile was lit up by the torch, for a brief moment, looked like a total stranger.
TN: We sure love cliffs, don’t we?