Section 4: Silent Stage
The stones that make up the castle wall cracked and crumbled away.
[Ashel]: “…..I have mixed feelings considering this is meant to be built the same as Oshunel Castle……”
Ashel-sama looked over the destruction with a sullen smile and voiced her thoughts aloud.
[Toslin]: “It’s nothing to get depressed over Ashel-sama”
Toslin picked up another iron cannonball off the ground and packed it away into the cannon’s barrel.
[Saluena]: “With the gate in ruins, there’s no longer any reason to shut yourself away.”
Understanding the meaning behind Saluena’s words, Ashel-sama turned a more alert gaze back towards the castle.
The dust had all but settled, revealing fully the pile of rock and rubble that had been left behind. From behind that destruction, a golem in the shape of a knight rose up, taking his place on top of the rubble. Agitated, Lapris began to yell when she saw it.
[Lapris]: “Oi, they’re coming, they’re coming!! The faceless dolls are here! But well, we’ve got a cannon, so…….”
*Bagon* There was a light thud as Litzreich loaded the ammunition into the second cannon.
[Litzreich]: “Indeed. All right Mippo, Moppo. We’ve loaded in the balls. We’re all set for the bang bang!!”
The sisters coordinated their responses and struck out their fists towards the approaching golem knights at the same time.
Once again the gnome sisters were thrown backwards from the blowback of cannon fire.
A violent roar split through the air as the cannonball erupted from the gunhead. The cannonballs eventually fell and slammed against the ground, but once again they playfully bounced upwards, only exploding when they came in contact with the crowds of golems trying to pass through the collapsed gate.
The iron shells had already proven their strength when they tore through that massive gate, so as you can imagine, the golems shattered when the cannonballs made contact.
[Lapris]: “Woah, super amazingly powerful.”
[Carol]: “And are they really listening to their orders? The cannonballs worked their way into a narrow space, and the amount of damage they dealt is huge.”
Lapris was excitedly jumping up and down while Carol more calmly analyzed the situation with a nod.
As Carol said, there were maybe 200 golems funneling through the hole formed in the gate, yet as far as I could confirm through Phoeniko’s eyes, thirty of them had already been destroyed from that one bombardment. And we still have a lot more cannonballs that can be fired off.
[Toslin]: “Cannonball loaded!!”
[Litzreich]: “We’re good here too!!”
Mippo and Moppo climbed onto the edge of the cannon barrels and struck out their fists for the third time. I can’t tell if this is how they fire the cannons or if they’re just playing to the audience……..
Fire exploded from the muzzle as the air trembled around us.
[Toslin]: “Oi, how is it over there?”
*Clack*……..*Clack, Clack*……..bits of rubble fell from overhead.
[Carol]: “All clear over here. I’m not finding anything.”
[Toslin]: “Perfect. Then let’s head this way.”
Toslin was the first of us to take a step beyond the way and beckoned us to follow.
Carol was searching around a little further beyond, checking to see if any enemies were lying in wait for us in our blind spots such as inside the buildings.
[Ashel]: “However……it’s all been completely smashed to pieces.”
[Rose]: “Yes, the cannon’s destructive power was tremendous.”
Ashel-sama’s eyes kept scanning the destruction and rubble around us with Rose-san marching next to her.
Saluena, Litzreich, and I were pulling up the rear, treading across the broken ground. There was still smoke rising upwards in places, and the hot smell of gunpowder burnt my nose.
[Iris]: “The ability to create almost anything out of the ground……I might not know the details, but that’s significant right? Putting the canon aside, that’s probably how they built this entire castle. What do you think Saluena?”
[Saluena]: “Indeed. For someone like me whose only redeeming quality is her ability to swing a sword, it is an enviable ability.”
Saluena’s eyes were locked on the gnome sisters ahead of us as we walked.
After all the advancing golems were turned to dust, Mippo and Moppo returned their cannons back to the soil. The sisters would then inform us that those cannons were actually defective products. The ground on this floating island is not suitable for making cannons.
(Like they’re vegetables…….)
I almost wanted to ask them what kind of soil did produce good cannons, but at the time, I held myself back because we have a job to do. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Maybe I should have just asked.
[Litzreich]: “What are you saying? You can make sweets too. Those cookies were delicious.”
[Saluena]: “You think so?”
[Litzreich]: “Of course. I can cook, but only a few bare bones dishes. That’s why the cookies are a welcome change. The next time you visit my place, could you teach me how to make them?”
[Saluena]: “I don’t mind, but I have to get Sarah’s approval to spread the recipe around first.”
[Litzreich]: “This Sarah, she is Iris’s younger sister yes? Grr…….I could’ve met her too if I wasn’t too busy with my deputy commander duties…….”
Somehow, Saluena seems pretty carefree.
I thought about it for a minute, but this is probably a good sign.
Saluena is fundamentally not an emotional person, and people tend to think of her as cold after first meeting her.
There is also the fact that a thousand years have passed since she was sealed away in that dark prison. She has no real friends or acquaintances she can speak with……nobody she is close with.
Not including us of course.
[Litzreich]: “Hey hey, Iris”
Just as I was beginning to draw up plans to score Saluena a hundred friends, Litzreich tugged on the cuff of my sleeve and stole away my attention.
[Iris]: “Hm? What?”
[Litzreich]: “The next time you return home, please take me with you.”
[Iris]: “Eh, oh…..sure. I don’t mind.”
[Litzreich]: “You mean it!? It’s a promise!? You aren’t going to take it back later are you!? I will seriously start crying if you say no when you actually do it you know!?”
[Iris]: “I wouldn’t do that……”
For someone who always charges towards things with all her energy, Litzreich can be strangely pessimistic in the weirdest of places.
[Carol]: “Hey, I don’t sense anymore enemies, so I’m heading into the castle.”
Carol shouted back towards us from nearly a hundred meters away.
That was quite loud. I guess that means we don’t need to be stealthy anymore, but it still seems bold to me.
[Litzreich]: “Perfect. Mippo, Moppo, guide us to the throne room.”
With the gate at our backs, nothing stood between us and the chalk white castle.
It shone like a jewel beneath the sun’s radiant light.
The scene of the Illyarian War’s final battle, where the evil dragon Oshunel fought and was defeated by the hero Ranroot. That is where we are about to set foot.
The Hero Ranroot probably passed through these very doors a thousand years ago. And now I’m following those same steps alongside Ashel-sama, Ranroot’s descendent.
It is because of the fact that I was a mere daughter of a bookstore owner a few months ago that I feel as if I am stepping into an entirely new world.
If I had thought to myself that I would ever be portrayed in some kind of ‘important role’ in an adventure novel back then, I would only have thought how impudent I was.
But now that I’m here, living an adventure like those I have read, I find myself much calmer than I ever would have guessed. The gravity of the situation isn’t really hitting me.
But, the look Ashel-sama is giving me is the real deal.
She is looking at the me here and now.
[Ashel]: “I…..respect you”
The sudden confession made my eyes snap open.
Ashel-sama was cautiously walking beside Rose-san.
[Ashel]: “I know this is rude for me to say, but…….the fact that you, who was but a bookstore girl a short while ago, now find yourself here, I cannot help but to admire all you have achieved.”
[Iris]: “…….Um, but that’s…….it’s all because of the Goddess’s gift…….and before that, I had everyone else…….”
[Ashel]: “Yes, I know about the details, but……it’s still amazing. Which is why I respect you. I’m truly grateful to have been given the opportunity to get to know you and your companions.”
She was glancing back towards me while she walked and gave me a shy smile.
[Ashel]: “So, please continue to be my friend……Aha, sorry. I’m……not really sure why I’m saying all this.”
Ashel-sama scratched the back of her head, the tips of her ears a bright red. Seeing her like that, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.
[Iris]: “I’m happy to hear you say that Ashel-sama.”
[Ashel]: “……Mm. If my feelings got through, then that’s fine.”
It might just me misunderstanding, but I think because Ashel-sama was raised as a man her whole life, she was never allowed to get too close to any other women.
That is why she was so flustered when I fell in her arms before, and why she is having so much trouble gauging the distance between us right now.
(……If that really is how it is, then I have a serious responsibility before me.)
Depending on how I act, the way Ashel-sama sees and thinks of other women could change drastically.
(What if I tried acting more like Saluena?)
While I entered a splendorous castle spoken of in legend, I was too preoccupied with a few out-of-place thoughts to appreciate the gravity of what I had just done.
……And now, here we are.
The door leading to the audience room swung open on squeaky hinges and revealed to us a majestic space reminiscent of a holy shrine erected in a church.
[Iris]: “……even the insides are the same…….”
A bright red carpet went from our feet and lead all the way to a mighty throne standing at the far wall, and a forest of pillars stretched to the ceiling dotted the room. It gave me a powerful sense of déjà vu as I remembered back to the day of my audience with the king.
The only difference here is the eerie lack of sound to be heard. That room had been filled with a flood of music to mark our entrance.
But there was nothing here. Even the sound of our footsteps were absorbed by the carpet, creating a dominating silence that sat heavily on our shoulders.
[???]: “Welcome, to this silent stage.”
But then, from the depths of that silence, an echo sounded from all around us.
Once born, the echo spread and reverberated outwards like a ripple across the water’s surface and rolled across our eardrums.
The hairs on Carol’s tail were all standing on end.
Assuming she is like her sisters, Linzflare-san can’t speak. And that voice, it doesn’t belong to any of us.
Out feet became glued to the ground once we were around halfway in the room, and for the first time, my eyes focused on the throne.
Sitting there relaxed, her shoulders slumped back into the seat, was a silver-haired woman brushing her hand against Linzflare-san’s head as the gnome sat in her lap.