“Lia, are you sure about this?” Kanna asked with a frown. She turned around and walked back and forth, trying to get accustomed to her long-skirted dress.
“Sure about what?” Amelia pulled one drawer after another, searching for an accessory fit for the event. She once glanced towards a chest she recovered from Talya and resumed her search. “This will do.”
While Amelia was fixing a thin bracelet on her wrist, Kanna continued. “About going out with me.”
“Huh?” Amelia knitted her brows. “What are you talking about? Of course, it’s fine. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well...” Kanna combed her orange hair dangling on the right side of her shoulder. “It’s the first time you’ll bring me into this kind of situation. I… feel uneasy for you.”
Amelia widened her eyes then chuckled to the side. “Really? Kanna? Concerned with something like this? That’s new!”
“This and that are different, Lia.” Kanna pouted.
Amelia traced her finger on her eyelid and stopped her chuckle. “Kanna, I’m not ashamed to show you around. Even if the Nobles we’re supposed to meet are still reluctant about the races, I will still go around with you. Their questioning gazes don’t matter.”
“Still… it’s kinda hard for me if you receive those kinds of gazes just because you’re around with me.”
“It’s the fruit of my labor.” Amelia expressed a smile.
Amelia took a step forward. “I was able to restore the ties with the Tribe and advance it. Sure, there are probably some Nobles who did their research and knew that we hid the actual situation from them. But like I said, it doesn’t matter. Even if they are unaccustomed to see a different race and express their reluctance, it doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I’d be proud to walk with you in front of them and receive their unease.”
“Think about it. The Princess of Laurel walking side-by-side with a person from another race with a smile. What would they think?”
“… Unease for your well-being?”
“That’s one.” Amelia took another step and grasped Kanna’s hand. “But Kanna, will you hurt me?”
“Of course not!”
Amelia pressed Kanna’s hand to her chest. “Will you protect me?”
Amelia smiled. “See? The answer’s already obvious.”
Kanna knitted her brows. “But...”
Amelia sighed. “Kanna, don’t mind the others. Let’s just enjoy it together.”
Kanna nodded. “I’ll try.”
Amelia recalled her previous meeting with Veight.
“Supposed instructor, supposed instructor...” Amelia muttered. She crossed her legs as she searched her memory that fitted the description. “Ah.” Upon realization, she looked up. “The Adventurer?”
“Indeed, Your Highness.”
“You don’t look the part.” Amelia expressed a wry smile. Maybe because she knew Veight was one of her Mother’s pawns that she relaxed her expression.
“So you were the one who gave me that list? That simple list on how to use a rapier.” Amelia chuckled. “I’m sorry, but the ones listed in that paper was nothing but the obvious.”
It was back when Amelia was experimenting with the capabilities of the Lynxes through Marco when she received the small piece of paper from Ark. She recalled that the instructor she was looking for was unfortunately unavailable due to a pre-existing commitment.
“So you were tasked by Mother to be a spy for the Heroes.” Amelia expressed a light smile. “I didn’t think ahead.”
For better or for worse, Amelia was all too focused in making Randolf’s grand goal come true, to the point that she disregarded the Heroes in her prioritized list.
“So, what do you want from me?” Amelia looked up to Veight, who remained standing before the seated Amelia. “As you can see, I have my limbs torn apart from me. I can barely move around without my guards, without my servants. I’m basically a token of a Princess right now.”
Veight exhaled a chuckle. “I’m here to deliver a message.”
“From Mother huh?” Amelia shifted her sight towards her knees. “Is it an order?”
Amelia heaved a sigh. “Spill it.”
“Her Majesty required you to attend a ball this coming weekend.”
Still, Amelia thought. I didn’t expect that Clarissa would be arriving today…
Out in the dark from her own network, Amelia knew nothing of the events surrounding her. She was like a spider that fell off of her web and was forced to venture into the unknown.
The ball Diane required Amelia to attend was a celebration for Laurel’s possible future Queen. Due to the importance of the event, obviously, she was required to attend.
But Mother gave no further instruction. She too refused to meet me like Father. Is she observing the dispute between Father and Me? But Veight, he was just ordered to deliver a message to me? It’s… weird. She could have used someone else as a messenger.
A spy for the Heroes. It was a completely far-fetched situation for him to become nothing but a messenger.
Those were the words that came to Amelia’s mind as she tried to guess her Mother’s plans.
“Alright, just what we needed.” Mola planted her palm on her face. “A dead end.”
“Maybe we took the wrong turn?” Glasses muttered.
“No. I believe we didn’t.” Liscia chimed. “This passage is among those which are usually open. And besides, we never got lost with Mola in the lead.”
“Then why is it closed?” Meiko asked. “And shouldn’t we be turning around now to look for another route?”
“It’s easier said than done.” Mola sighed. “This accursed labyrinth, up until now I can’t create an accurate pattern regarding the labyrinth’s passageways. If it only relied on the time of day, or the minutes of the hour, the Philosophers would have already caught wind of its pattern! Agh! I really hate this labyrinth!”
Academia’s underground labyrinth employed a transforming array of passageways. Though Academia and its Philosophers were able to trace a pattern for the majority of the passageways, there were still numerous paths which have an unknown condition for it to open.
Now Mola, tasked with memorizing the layout of the labyrinth for the first six levels, had reached the same roadblock as the Philosophers. However, rumor has it that the pattern for some passageways was found, but only a select few knew such and refused to publicize the information.
In this matter, Mola too was able to trace the pattern for a few routes but withheld the information just as Amelia ordered.
“Uhm...” Meiko knitted her brows as she found a magic from her list. “Should I break it instead?”
At her remark, the grouped gasped in surprise.
“What are you? A berserk?” Liscia’s words cut deep into Meiko.
“Mei, just breaking stuff to get through doesn’t solve everything. Sure, it would solve our current problem, but what about the consequences.” Mola sounded. “Besides, it is against the law of Academia to break anything inside the labyrinth without permission.”
“I-it’s just a suggestion? I didn’t mean harm.” Meiko chuckled. “But if we’re quiet about it, they won’t know, right?”
It’s not like they have surveillance footage that they could watch, right? Meiko thought, thinking that surveillance cameras might be out of this world.
“Sure they might not found out, but they also might. Even so, we can’t risk Her Highness’s name, okay?”
“Ah...” Meiko realized that they weren’t just an individual group.
“And breaking blockades. It actually affects the pattern of passageways in the labyrinth. So it will be disastrous for those who make a living of the labyrinth. The worst case, you’ll become an enemy of Academia for paralyzing the economy even for a moment.”
“That… sounds dangerous.” Meiko expressed a dry laugh. “Sorry.”
Mola sighed. “Well, let’s just take a different route.”
Without a choice, the group retraced their path and took another.
“I’ve been meaning to ask this,” Meiko asked, glancing around the passageway, “what’s the deal with the passageways? Why aren’t they uniform in terms of size?”
In a modern day world, a uniform passageway is a norm. Compared to what Meiko was used to, the labyrinth was far different. It would have been different if it was a lobby and a passage, but the passageways Meiko has been through varied in size.
“Sometimes, it’s enough for us to walk side by side. Sometimes, we can only form two lines. At other times, three to four lines.”
Mola, in-lead of the group, raised her finger and gestured. “There are several theories.” Despite her explaining, Mola continued to walk. “But I’ll give you my own.”
“Ooh! Let me take this one.” Liscia suggested. It seemed she had found it amusing to teach Meiko. “Remember the blockade before? From what we inferred from it, it seems that the passageways change depending on those who are passing through, or if there is something like a large machine trying to reach a part of the labyrinth. But since most passageways changes depending on the day, the time, and the season, we could say that different beings lived here.”
“Rumors has it that intelligent beasts formed the labyrinth,” Halbert added. “Or maybe Heroes of Old.”
“I bet Heroes had a hand in this.” Glasses gave a piece of his mind. “But such a complicated pattern, and the magic circle above ground… I’d say the creators of the labyrinth was trying to defend against something. And as a fail-safe, they made the first few levels of the labyrinth a transforming dungeon. Aside from that… I bet there’s something in the very depths. Because damn, where did this almost infinite source of mana came from? Up until this day, it’s feeding this deserted labyrinth.”
One of the reasons that labyrinth kept living was due to the mana passing through cables forged with a mix of mithril and silver. An obvious display of such was the cascaded poles of light that lined Academia’s streets.
“Trying to defend against something?” Meiko repeated. “Isn’t it possible that they were trying to isolate themselves instead?”
Mola halted and glanced towards Meiko. “Isolating themselves? That… I have never considered.”
It was but simple recall from Meiko regarding her home country isolating itself from history, but it stoked Mola’s curiosity.
“That’s an interesting perspective.” Mola nodded repeatedly with a finger on her chin. “Meiko, I’ll ask for more details later.”
“Me too.” Liscia chimed. “Can’t let an opportunity to learn something new go.”
Several minutes have passed since the group took a detour.
“And here we are.” Mola declared without a hint of excitement.
The Sanctum. The place was not particularly large, nor was it too small. At most, it was about eighty square meters in area. Although the Sanctum was quite known to most Demians, it was not a special place, hence it was given a generic name. At most, the Sanctum was popular as a landmark or as a resting point due to a statue standing at its center.
The statue depicted a tower with rings spiraling at its surface. However, the most notable feature of the tower was its state. The tower was unfinished. There were miniature slabs missing at its top, indicating that the statue depicted a tower during its construction.
“The Tower of Babel?” Meiko muttered.
The tower was all too familiar, though not an exact copy of what she remembered. Meiko heard it from the news once. An artist showcased his take on the mythical tower and presented it in a famous museum. From that point, her image of the tower became that of the artist’s.
“Yes, The Tower of Babel. It’s quite a famous one in history,” Liscia said.
“Eh?” Meiko blinked her eyes. For all she thought, the tower was related to a Hero in the past, just like Glasses suggested. “The tower existed before?”
Liscia laughed. “Of course not! Besides, I never heard an event in our history where the humans started speaking different languages and failed to understand each other. If ever that happened, there’s also the gift of telepathy, so language isn’t much of a problem in terms of communication.”
“Huh? Huh?” Meiko’s mind could not keep up. “I don’t understand. Why would it become famous if that was the case?”
“Because it’s a joke of a tower, a folktale, and something that a Hero muttered.” Liscia brushed her fringes. “You know? What a Hero mutters and gets through to us are almost always recorded. Because they might become hints to what they meant whenever their speech or writing become some sort of mess, or at least that’s what is written in the books.”
Which words are important, which are not. They are all filtered by the blessing given by the Gods.
“But in most cases, their stories or myths are what’s written down and get famous. After all, they are tales from another world. It kinda gives a mysterious aura or something that stokes the interest of the people. But that’s it. Most of their stories are just stories. They might have lessons in them, but it’s not like we didn’t have our own.”
“That makes sense.” Meiko expressed a wry smile. However, at the very least, she confirmed the existence of Heroes before her.
“Liscia, Mola, do you know what happened to the Heroes afterward?”
“They apparently vanished,” Halbert chimed, not wanting to be left out of the conversation. “They vanished and the people never heard from any of them.”
“True.” Glasses nodded. “The most famous one was the Hero wanting to prove Yggdrasil. But his case was the same. He vanished.”
“They… vanished?” Meiko was puzzled. “Was there anything in common from them.”
“Well…” Halbert scratched the back of his head.
“They were quite popular when they vanished. You could say that they were at a point that they can take a High Dragon on their own or perhaps something stronger.” Mola approached a pillar and sat beside it. “That’s pretty much what I can say that was common among them with confidence. I’m not sure with the other theories since our information only came from books.”
Maybe, just maybe, I really do have to get stronger? But how strong do I need to be?
Meiko was optimistic that at least one of the Heroes made it back to their home. Her best candidate was the Hero who pursued Yggdrasil.
If it really is Yggdrasil, then, there’s a chance that it’s connected to another world?
“But who knows,” Mola added. “They might have gotten a relic or two and managed to do what they wanted.”
“A relic?” Meiko snapped out of her thoughts.
“Yes, a relic. Relics are gifts from Gods. They possess an ability on the level of the God, its creator, itself.”
Mola shifted her glance towards the statue of Babel. “The depths of the labyrinth is mostly unexplored, but given how Academia was first found, I bet a relic or even a number of it sitting just underneath us.”
Just… underneath… Those words bore through Meiko’s mind. If I can’t physically travel through the walls, then should I… investigate?