The area was thickly overgrown with knee-high bushes, and the sky was an endless gray. At first glance, the area was an open meadow, but when the distance exceeded 10 meters, it was impossible to see beyond that point due to the foggy white haze.
Alexis muttered with a grim look on his face, following Fransisca's blinking eyes.
「...At least it's a lot harder than it used to be...」
Alexis was right.
In the past dungeons, there were walls instead of spaces, so it was easy to see which direction the monsters were coming from. However, now they have no way to tell from which direction the monsters are coming.
「Then, won't we not be able to collect as many magic crystals as we want, which we have been collecting as materials for armors?」
「Indeed. It was probably a good idea to collect all of them before proceeding through the dungeon...」
While the prince and princess were talking like this, Dorothea was bending down to touch the soil.
"…Hey, look at this!" Dorothea stands up holding something in her hand.
「Look. The stones around here seem to be made of magical crystals.」
The stone Dorothea shows them is indeed crystal clear and has a pale glow.
「Is it some kind of treasure trove?」
Alexis asked, and Dorothea nodded her head, "Well, I don't know."
「Each piece is small, so it might be hard to process. Though, they can be joined together, but they are not as strong as something made from a single block...」
「Hmm, I see...」
Alexis folds his arms.
「Still, it's big enough to be used as a polishing stone. I think I can make a throwing knife, a spear tip, or a small weapon out of it. This dungeon is different from the previous dungeons, right? Then there might be new materials that can be used for blacksmithing! Come on, let's go check it out!」
Dorothea smiles brightly.
It's not exactly a fun picnic. Alexis thinks, but even the sky is gloomy gray, and the space is fraught with danger.
But, Alexis nodded his head, "...yes," as he thought it might be encouraging in such a situation.
「...But be careful. We don't know what's coming from which direction. I'll take the lead here as the guardian, with Dorothea the engineer behind me. Don't think only of the ore, but watch your surroundings carefully for traps or suspicious places, okay?」
Dorothea's lips twitched as she was nailed to the wall.
「In the middle should be Maria the Conjuror and Sara the Healer. These two are in danger of having encounters with monsters in the vanguard, just in case. Fransisca is the attacker. She will be in charge of dealing with the monsters that will attack our backs. It will be an irregular formation, but it is unavoidable in this situation where there is a high possibility of being caught in the rear.」
When Alexis gave this instruction, the girls nodded their heads in agreement.
* * *
The group thus began their search, but the fourth dungeon had different characteristics from the previous ones as it appeared.
「Ah, this is the same monster we saw in the first dungeon.」
Saying this, Fransisca put a finishing blow to the wolf-shaped monster in front of her. Then it vanished as if it had been drowned out.
「Oh, look, Alex-kun! It's a mushroom forest!」
Sara beckoned to go look, and Alexis found mushrooms that he had seen before.
In other words, a wide variety of monsters and substances existed in this dungeon.
"Eeek!?" Someone suddenly shouted behind Alexis.
Alexis turned around in a panic because the voice belonged to Maria, who was supposed to be in the middle protecting by him.
「Ah. Eh, i-is it a kitty...?」
Maria blinked when she saw the cat rubbing up against her feet.
There was no mistaking the presence of a long tail, not meowy or thin, with white fur.
「A cat... huh?」
Fransisca murmurs softly.
She was right. It was definitely a cat, albeit a skinny one.
「You think there's something other than a monster in Avalon...?」
Moreover, the cat was wearing a bell around its neck, which made a tinkling sound whenever it moved.
「What is it?」
Fransisca crouched down and tried to reach out her hand, which made Alexis impatient.
「Hey, hey. Don't touch it without defense! It's too early to say that it is not monster. We're in Avalon, for God's sake!」
At that moment, the cat meows, turns around, and walks quickly away.
「Ah, don't go that way! There might be a monster coming out...!」
Fransisca seems to be very concerned about the cat, and when she gets up, she rushes after it to the end of the fog.
「Hey, what are you doing, Fransisca!」
Alexis was impatient.
「We'd better go now! Her Highness is...!」
Dorothea said, and Alexis replied, "I know!" then immediately started to run after Fransisca.
The other two followed.
* * *
When they eventually caught up with Fransisca, she was standing against a gray stone wall.
「...What's wrong, Fransisca?」
Alexis rushed toward her and stood next to her, looking into her face.
Fransisca seemed to be standing there with an expression of dismay on her face.
「What's the matter, Her Highness...—Huh!?」
Sara, who was following her, also exclaimed in surprise.
Sara answers Alexis' question.
「This wall, this religious relief... I'm sure of it. It looks like a part of the castle of Sagrado.」
Sara points out a grass-like pattern on the top of the stone wall. It is true that it is covered with dust and the surface decoration is crumbling in some places, but if anything, it looks like that...
As Alexis was convinced, the white cat at Fransisca's feet tinkled its bell again and walked into a hole that looked like a hole that a person could pass through.
Alexis' eyes widen as Fransisca runs after the cat.
「What? Does she know that cat?」
Sara's expression turns into one of puzzlement.
「Oh, aah... a-anyway, we have to go after her...」
Maria said impatiently, bringing Alexis back to himself.
「—Oh, right. Let's go, guys.」
With that Alexis followed Fransisca behind the walls of the castle.
* * *
On the other side of the wall was a wide, carpeted hallway.
Although it was still crumbling in places, the carpet was torn in some places, and it looked like a ruin, there was no doubt that this was the castle of Sagrado.
However, it seems that only a part of the castle is here. Eventually, when they opened the door, they found a small private room, which seemed to have been a former guardroom. However, there was not a single weapon in the weapons storage space set up along the wall.
At the end of this quiet room, there was a staircase leading down to the basement, and as they descended the staircase, they finally caught up with Fransisca.
The space is unusually full of life.
The room, which is only a square except for a heavy metal door, has a wooden box, a cantera light glinting faintly above it, and a blanket lying on the floor.
There are several broken swords lying on the floor, as if battle has been fought here many times.
And in the corner of the room lie two or three crystal stones, crystal balls with magical effects found in Avalon.
Tinkle! A tinkling sound can be heard.
The white cat, ringing the bell on its collar, snuggles up to a knight in white armor who is sitting on the floor beside the metal door.
The knight's head was hanging down, and the long golden hair fell down and hid the knight's face.
They thought for a moment that it was a corpse, but after a pause, the knight raises the hand.
"Ah...Neige?" The knight strokes the white fur of the cat as if whispering to it.
Not seeming to notice Alexis and the others' surprise that the white, thin hand and the voice are female, the knight speaks to the cat.
「I'm sorry. There is no more food. We both worked so hard to get here too... hahaha. Maybe we can't do it anymore. I'm at my limit, you're at your limit. I wish I could've seen my sister's and Her Highness's faces at least one last time. I'm sure my sister still beside Her Highness. And she's still talking about her—」
「See, I'm hearing hallucination. I think I'm reaching my limit.」
「You're not hearing hallucination. It's me. Fransisca.」
Saying this, Fransisca rushes toward the knight and crouches down to put her hands on her shoulders.
The knight finally looked up and turned to Fransisca.
Her blue eyes, with a hint of weakness and exhaustion, looked at Fransisca blankly.
「Ahh, I can't believe Her Highness is so close... So, this must be where I'm going to be after I die. I'm actually already dead...」
"I said!" Fransisca shakes the knight's shoulder in a more forceful tone.
「You are not dead! You are alive! We are alive too!?」
Finally, the knight seems to be able to swallow the situation gradually, and light begins to come back to her eyes.
"That's right," Fransisca nodded.
「Have you finally noticed? Valencia Contesti.」
When Fransisca called her by her full name, she blinked her eyes and nodded several times.
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