Only minutes after the attack.
The burly bandits were on the ground in no time at all.
“W-what the hell is wrong with these people…?”
The guards, who had rushed to the scene in response to the call, pulled the bandits, who had completely lost their momentum, back to their feet.
“Sorry I got you into this!”
Lexia bowed her head, but the residents were cheerful.
“You don’t have to apologize! In fact, we’d rather thank you!”
“They’ve always been a nuisance to us, and we’re glad you got rid of them!”
“Iris-sama is, of course, strong, but you girls are strong, too! I’m impressed!”
“Onee-chan and the others were so cool!”
Iris smiled, narrowing her eyes.
“Lexia-chan, you were very brave.
I was a little worried that you were in some kind of trouble, but it looks like you’re doing fine now.”
Lexia and the others looked at each other and laughed.
Iris brushed the sand off her clothes when she saw that peace had returned to the area.
“Well, I think it’s time for me to leave.”
“Iris-sama, are you leaving already?”
Iris smiled regretfully at Lexia and the other residents.
“I wish I could stay longer, but I have to go on to my next destination.”
Iris has a mission as a Holy, and there are people waiting for her in other places as well.
Iris thanked the residents and said goodbye.
On her way out, she beckoned to Lexia and the others and softly whispered in their ears.
“I told you earlier that I just happened to stop by because I didn’t want to scare the people here… but the truth is that I came here because I sensed the presence of an ‘evil beast’ around here.”
The ‘evil beasts’ are created from the collective negative emotions of the ‘evil’ that have been brought to life.
It is said that although it is considered to be the lesser of evils, its power is so great that even a Holy could lose their life if they are not careful.
“No way! If the ‘evil beast’ gets out of control in the royal capital, there will be serious trouble…!”
Iris frowned at Lexia’s nervousness.
“But it’s odd, isn’t it? I thought I did feel a presence, but there’s no damage at all, and there’s no apparent presence… and the presence seems a little different…”
If the ‘evil beast’ was really in the area, as Iris suspected, it would have already caused a considerable amount of damage.
“It might just be my imagination, but be careful.”
Lexia and the others nodded, their faces tightening.
It was nice to meet you.
Until we meet again, take care.”
Iris smiled, waved her hand, and left the settlement.
“Iris-sama, she was very kind to me…”
Lexia smiled at Tito, who muttered quietly.
“Then, we should go back too.
I’m sure Laila-sama will be worried if we’re late.”
“We stayed too long, didn’t we?”
…Come to think of it, we never did find the entrance to the basement after all.”
“We still have some time left, so let’s look again tomorrow.”
They prepared to leave and thanked the residents for their hospitality.
“Thank you so much; it was so much fun!”
“Are you girls leaving already?”
“We’ll miss you.
I want to thank you for all the help you gave us and even for defeating the bandits…”
One of the residents beckoned the camel owner boy over and whispered secretly.
“Hey, take the girls to that place.
Have them take whatever they want as a thank-you for all they’ve done for us!”
The boy took a lamp and beckoned.
“Come here, come here, follow me!”
“What is it?”
“It looks like fun; let’s go!”
They followed the boy as he walked briskly around to the back of the building.
The boy looked around, then kneeled down on the plain ground and dusted off the sand.
“? What in the world is in a place like this…?”
They gasped when they saw what appeared from under the sand.
“! This is…!”
It was an old wooden door.
Don’t tell anyone.
It’s our secret place!”
The boy lifted the door, and the cold, damp air rose to reveal a staircase leading to the basement.
“It’s the entrance to the basement!”
“Follow me! It’s dark, so watch your step!”
The boy, despite Lexia and the others’ astonishment, descends the stairs with a light step, looking familiar with the situation.
“…Maybe we can get a clue to the sound of the whistle.”
The two looked at each other and followed the flickering light of the lamp down to the basement.
They eventually arrived at the center of the room, where the boy proudly puffed out his chest.
It was a warehouse.
On shelves set up against the wall, jars, food, daily necessities, and decorative items were lined up in a narrow space.
The items on display were new, but the room itself appeared to be quite old.
“It’s a secret warehouse! We hide liquor, food, and other important things here so that bandits won’t steal them!”
Apparently, it is a storage facility using the ruins.
Lexia and the others were relieved to find that their tension had been lifted at once.
The boy, unaware of this, happily put the lamp up on the shelf.
“Thank you so much for defeating the bandits! In return, you can have anything you like!”
But the feeling is enough for us.”
“Really? But I’d like you to get something, too… How about this bracelet? I think it will look good on you, Lexia-oneechan──Oh, I didn’t know you were already wearing a nice bracelet.”
“Yes, this was given to me by someone as a good luck charm.
It’s supposed to protect the owner…──”
Luna and Tito looked around in amazement as Lexia and the boy exchanged a few words.
“I see, so it’s an underground cellar.
The temperature is constant underground, making it ideal for storing alcohol and food.
“The entrance was well concealed so that only the residents would be able to find it.”
The rows and rows of liquor jars seemed to reflect the cheerfulness and resilience of the people living in the desert, and they couldn’t help but smile.
After checking to make sure, they found that the room was complete, and there was no passageway that might lead anywhere.
“We finally found the basement, but there doesn’t seem to be any clues leading to the sound of the whistle.”
Lexia’s eyes lit up as Luna murmured.
“What are you talking about, Luna? It’s a common belief that secret bases like this have special tricks! For example, there’s a switch hidden somewhere or a hidden passageway in a plain wall like this!”
There is no such thing.
Let’s go back, Tito.”
“Hey, don’t leave me here! I’m kidding; I’m kidding! I just wanted to say it! ──Kyaa!?”
Lexia stumbled in her haste to catch up with Luna and pushed her hand against the wall.
At that moment, the wall collapsed with a loud noise.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Ouch… Geez, what happened?”
Lexia rises to her feet, brushing away some pebbles.
Luna’s eyes widened as she rushed to Lexia’s side.
A hole in the wall was followed by an old stone corridor.
“T-there’s another passageway in the back…?”
The boy, apparently unaware of the existence of the passageway, stood dumbfounded.
“Y-you see, it’s just as I told you!”
“No, it’s obviously just a coincidence.”
Just as Luna was about to make a comment, a thin, high-pitched whistle sounded from the far end of the passageway.
Next, a rumbling sound similar to the groaning of a beast shook the walls.
“! The sound of a whistle and the ‘moan of the earth’… from deep within this…?”
Halfway through Lexia’s words, Tito’s tail’s fur stood up.
“…! I have a bad feeling, this feeling, ‘evil’… no, ‘evil beast’…!”
Lexia remembered Iris’s words about sensing the presence of the ‘evil beast.’
She stared into the cold darkness.
“Could it be that the lore of the ‘moaning of the earth’ involves an ‘evil beast’…?”
“I don’t know… but, as Iris-sama said, it seems a little different from the presence of the ‘evil beast’… The presence is so thin that I can’t sense it clearly…”
Luna looked back at the boy, who was standing there stunned.
“I’m sorry, but could you lend me your lamp? And, just in case things go south, we need to get everyone out of here right away, okay?”
Sensing an unusual atmosphere, the boy leaves the lamp with Luna and runs up the stairs.
Lexia and the others looked at each other and nodded, then stepped into the abyss, where they could not see anything ahead.
Relying on the light from the lamp, they proceeded through the winding passageway and descended the stairs several times.
Their footsteps and breaths echoed coldly against the stone walls.
“It’s very intricate, isn’t it…?”
We’ve gone far underground, but where does it lead?”
“It looks like a labyrinth designed to trap something…”
Or perhaps the labyrinth itself is the body of a giant creature──
As Lexia shuddered at the eerie thought, Tito’s ears perked up.
“There are human voices coming from up ahead…! And there’s also the presence of an ‘evil beast’…!”
“! Okay, we’ll go carefully.”
As they proceeded, holding their breath, they suddenly had a clearer view.
The passageway was cut off, and a wide open space appeared.
The three of them hid behind a rock and quietly peeked inside.
“Is it an underground temple…?”
Just as Luna had predicted, it was a huge temple.
The high ceiling was supported by huge pillars, and bonfires were lit in various places.
Some soldier-like figures holding up torches could be seen.
And in the center of the temple.
Seeing a figure floating in the bonfire, Lexia let out a stifled cry.
“The Prime Minister of Najum! Why is he in a place like this…!”
Standing there like a black ghost was Prime Minister Najum.
In his hand was an old whistle.
Najum looked up.
On the altar, there was a huge shadow.
“What is that?”
Lexia was about to scream, but Luna covered her mouth.
Sleeping on the altar were four gigantic beasts.
The head of a lion, the body of a goat.
The hoof of an ox and the tail of a snake.
On their backs, bat wings.
Thick limbs bound with sturdy chains.
“What the hell is that thing…?”
The Prime Minister let out a crooked smile as he looked up at the horrifying monster, which looked like a number of animals chopped up and strung together.
“Kuku, kukukuku… The [Desert Chimera], which destroyed a kingdom that existed in this land long ago.
Now their mighty power is finally in my hands…”
Luna gulped sharply.
“Desert Chimera? That’s…!”
“Do you know it, Luna?”
It is said that a long time ago, they attacked a kingdom in a swarm and destroyed it in a matter of minutes.
I had heard that it was sealed away somewhere, unable to be defeated even by an army…”
“So this underground ruin was used to seal the [Desert Chimera]…? What is Prime Minister Najum going to do with such dangerous monsters…?”
When Lexia whispered sharply, Najum brought the whistle to his mouth.
A high-pitched sound similar to a dog whistle echoed through the air.
“This sound was heard before the ‘moaning of the earth’…”
Tito muttered with her ears propped up.
As if in response to the sound, the sleeping monsters crouched down.
“Vuvuvu… Vuooooo, oooo…”
A roar, as if from the depths of hell, shakes the ceiling.
The huge body moved slightly, and the chains attached to the thick limbs made a heavy jarring sound.
Soldiers with torches raised their voices in awe.
Ah! I-it moved…! I-it moved a little just now, didn’t it?”
“The seal is being broken by Najum-sama’s whistle…!”
As long as we wear this brooch, we won’t be attacked…!”
Soldiers were frightened and checked the brooch on their chests.
The brooch was engraved with a scorpion emblem, the same as the one dropped by the city’s soldiers.
Najum laughed low, listening ecstatically to the cacophony of the four monsters.
“Kuku, kukuku, hahahahaha…! It was worth the many trips here! Soon, if I sound this whistle one more time, the sealed [Desert Chimera] will awaken.
Then I will be able to manipulate it at will with this whistle excavated from the ruins and bring the Kingdom of Sahar under my control…!”
“…! This was the true nature of the ‘moan of the earth’ and the sound of the whistle coming from underground…!”
“That whistling sound is the same strain as the whistle that controlled [Bloody Tiger] at the party…!”
Luna nodded to Tito, who whispered in a tense voice.
“That’s probably the same kind of whistle that controls monsters as well.
And a more powerful monster with the power to destroy kingdoms.”
“What a terrible thing…! I am sure that the mastermind behind the assassination of Laila-sama must also be Prime Minister Najum──Najum! Najum is plotting to overthrow the country, and Laila-sama, who has the magical powerhouse Regal behind her, is nothing but an obstacle… Najum is finally going to use that whistle to control the chimera because Laila-sama’s assassination didn’t work, I’m sure!”
Lexia felt her whole body go into a state of fear at the terrifying plan.
“Kukuku, the next time I use this whistle will be when the royal capital collapses and my ambitions are fulfilled──but it is not yet the time.
The curtain will only be raised when the stage is set for despair… and everything is in my hands… hahaha, hahahahaha!”
At that moment, a shadow ran up to Najum.
“Your Excellency the Prime Minister.”
“What is it?”
“The bandits have been captured.
The maids were not dealt with… and the assassins who were sent to Princess Laila have all disappeared.”
Najum snickered at his subordinate, who reported the incident with a shudder.
“Fuh, just leave it.
The plan has already moved to the final stage.
I don’t care about that little girl from the Regal Kingdom anymore.
Even without assassinating her, if the Desert Chimera awakens, the whole city will be destroyed anyway.”
Najum was about to say that when his eyes suddenly twisted with amusement.
I see… the final piece of the best stage has been put together.
When the Chimera awakens, let’s make that impudent princess the first to attack.
And not just kill her.
I’ll make her suffer in front of the maids who adore her, play with her, and give her a horror worse than death.
I can’t wait to see the look of despair on the face of that abominable little girl from the Regal Kingdom…! Gigi, gugi, giii.”
“…Your Excellency? What’s wrong?”
A distorted, creaking laugh escapes Najum’s mouth.
The man who felt something was wrong asked in a frightened tone, and Najum flipped his cloak and turned his back on him.
“No, it’s nothing.
I’m going back to the palace.
Keep an eye on them.
If you see anything unusual, let me know immediately.”
Najum walked toward the exit of the temple.
His eyes flashed eerily.
“…Looks like the rats have infiltrated the temple.”
Najum’s mutterings did not reach Lexia and the others.
After Najum left the cave.
Lexia pulled her head back from behind the rock.
She muttered to herself while pressing down on her beating heart.
“So it was the Prime Minister who was plotting Laila-sama’s assassination.
I can’t forgive him.”
He may have given up on the assassination, but from the look of the Prime Minister, he’s going to use that chimera to destroy the royal capital, including Laila-sama!”
Lexia nodded and looked back at the monsters lying on the altar.
“[Desert Chimera]… I didn’t know that such a terrifying monster was sleeping in the underground of the Sahar Kingdom…”
“Yes… only, that monster doesn’t seem to be an ‘evil beast’…”
“Either way, if that monster wakes up, the city will be destroyed.”
Lexia bit her lip.
“The ancient people who had their kingdoms destroyed, they must have built this temple and an underground labyrinth to seal that monster, hoping for the peace of the people in the future generations.
I can’t allow him to use that monster… to overthrow the country.
We must absolutely stop him.”
Luna nodded and glanced at the soldiers with brooches on their chests.
“The soldiers guarding the ruins also had brooches just like theirs.
It seems safe to assume that the prime minister has already taken in quite a few soldiers.”
There is no telling how far the prime minister’s men have infiltrated the depths of the Sahar kingdom.
It is possible that we will be crushed if we make a poor move.
It would be dangerous to report to Braha-sama, the king of the Sahar Kingdom… It would be more certain to get help from Laila-sama’s Regal Kingdom or the Kingdom of Arcelia.”
The prime minister said that if the chimera woke up, he would have it attack Laila-sama first… Laila-sama is also in danger.”
“Yes, that’s right.
The first thing we need to do is to tell Laila-sama as soon as possible.”
Luna bit her lip as she ran her eyes over the chimera that was about to wake up.
“(The two of them are right.
But I don’t know if we can leave here… By the looks of it, the chimera could wake up at any moment.
The ground is probably right in the middle of the royal capital.
Even if that Chimera were to go above ground, it could do a lot of damage…).”
Lexia raised her determined eyes as the chimera’s breath echoed eerily.
“Luna and Tito stay here.
I’ll go let Laila-sama know.”
“It’s too dangerous to go alone! If you run into Prime Minister Najum, you’ll get…!”
Lexia turned a serious gaze on Luna and Tito, who looked worried.
“I’ll be fine.
You two take care of this.
If the [Desert Chimera] starts to move, you are the only ones who can do something about it.”
Luna hesitated, then nodded as if chewing a bitter bug.
I’ll leave it to you, Lexia.”
“Please be careful!”
Lexia flipped up her skirt and ran the way she came, alone, to let Laila know what had happened.
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