Chapter 128

 The last day finally arrived as they began their search for Jerome.
「...Eden. I'm sorry, but if we can't make it today, we're going to have to give it up once and for all. We can't even pick up the bodies. I don't know how it works, but it seems that if someone dies here, there will be no trace of his/her body left」
 Alexis said to Eden before he left.
 In fact, Alexis must have been the last person to give up.
 Still, Alexis said nothing and urged the team, "Well, let's go".
 After that, they walked around in the foggy dungeon as they had done yesterday. There was nothing more they could do.
 However, it was worth the long walk, and the number of objects they saw around them had been increasing.
 They were rotting masonry walls, part of a street wall, trees and wells, from where they did not even know.
(Though—I don't even know where aniki is. Assuming that he is in a place with few objects, there is nothing we can do. But if he is in a place with many objects, the survival rate would be higher...—)
 As he was walking along with this thought in his mind, that's when it happened.
 The sound of rustling grass could be heard everywhere. It was not one, but several. It was more than one.
「Stop! Monsters are coming...!」
 Alexis makes his companions stop, and he, too, readies his shield and his spear-sword, ready for battle.
 At that moment, four or so monsters with the bodies of wolves and the heads of lizards appear.
 The monsters did not pay attention to Alexis and the others, but ran right past them.
「...What? What is that?」
 Fransisca muttered with her sword at the ready.
 Alexis huffs.
「...I'm going after it!」
 As soon as he says it, Alexis runs out.
「Oh—no, wait! Let's go!」
 Fransisca urged her companions and ran after Alexis. The other four followed.
 After running for a while, they found a group of monsters gathered by the wall of a half-missing structure.
 Despite the foggy weather, the visibility was relatively good because there were two bonfires burning near the building.
 Surrounded by monsters was a man with a greatsword.
 His light-blond hair and a white coat with a familiar fur coat were definitely him.
 "Aniki!" Alexis says aloud without thinking.
 He is still alive. However, his progress is not smooth.
 Jerome, already battered and bruised, is down on one knee, fighting with only his sword without using his magic.
 In other words, he must have been depleted of his magical power by the continuous battle after battle after battle.
 He is supposed to be more powerful than Alexis, but his movements are slow and his wounds are increasing one by one, which shows that there is not a moment to spare.
(Damn it, can we make it in time? Anyway, I have to help him!)
 Alexis rushed to the rear and shouted.
「Fatima! Lorenzo! Shoot whatever you can!」
「Yes! I'm on it!」
 Each of them replied, Lorenzo shot his bow and Fatima raised her staff.
「Magic arrow!」
 The magic arrow created by Fatima flies straight toward the monsters, drawing a streak of light. At the same time, Lorenzo's arrow also arcs toward the monster.
 Alexis, Fransisca, and Eden close the distance to follow the covering shot.
「I'll cover you! Acceleration!」
 Lily chanted one after another, casting auxiliary magic on the vanguard.
 One after another, they succeed in cutting down the monsters one by one, taking their backs.
 Eden also thrust her spear into the monster, made it disappear, and then turned around to stand in front of Jerome.
「Master! Are you all right!? Leave the rest to me...!」
 Eden said in a loud voice with a gasp and immediately raised her shield and pointed her spear at Jerome.
 With Jerome behind her, Eden manages to hold off the monsters that come at her one after another with her shield, and when there is an opening, she thrusts out her spear.
 It would have been impossible for Eden alone to fight them all off—but there are others here.
 One by one, the number of monsters dwindles. Finally, the last one dissipated with a black mist.
 Soon everyone was rushing to surround the kneeling Jerome.
 Eden was the first to kneel, placing her spear on the ground and looking up at Jerome.
 Jerome called his vassal's name, breathing on his shoulder.
「Aniki. You're a reckless son of a bitch...」
 Alexis was the next to speak.
 He stood in front of Jerome and looked down at him, not trying to hide his anger.
「Do you have any idea how much your vassal and I have worried about you? I'm going to give you a big lecture when we get back!」
 Jerome looked up slightly and smiled.
 Alexis flinched.
 Jerome lifts the edge of his lips awkwardly and says to Alexis.
「I never thought that I would be in your debt...」
「Oh, of course! I mean, not only to me. You owe Eden, too! I'll make sure you pay us back every last penny!」
「Haha. I wish I could do that—」
 Jerome slumps forward.
 Eden rushes to Jerome's side and holds him in her arms.
「...I can't do it anymore. Look, my fingers are numb and I can't move...」
 Jerome's drooping hands are clutching a sword. No, he is not holding it of his own volition. It is unnaturally strong and trembling.
「No way—」
 Alexis turns pale. No way.
「...Looks like poison. The monster's fangs were poisonous. It took a bite right out of me.」
 Hearing Jerome's reply, Alexis shouted as soon as he heard it.
 At Alexis urges, Lily panics, "Ah, yes!" and started chanting.
 She then puts her hands on Jerome and begins to cast an antidote spell.
 A light green light envelops Jerome's body.
「I can't do it. I know it myself. My body was... burning hot. I don't feel it anymore. I'm... *Cough*
 Jerome coughed, and blood sprayed from his mouth.
 It stained Eden's armor red, and in Eden's motionless arms, Jerome coughed again and again.
「...Look. I think my insides are dissolving. I didn't know Avalon was such a place... *Cough* *Cough*—」
 Jerome coughs and mutters, "...To be honest, I underestimated you".
「Because I thought if you, my brother, could do it. I can do better—」
「...you're an idiot, aniki」
 Alexis clenched his fists.
「Really... stupid.」
 Alexis slumped over, frustrated and disappointed.
 Jerome had stopped talking. Maybe he couldn't. After all, there seemed to be no light in his eyes anymore.
 Lily rushes to crouch down and check Jerome's body. She shakes her head silently.
「...Eden-san. I can't....—」
 Eden said nothing.
 She just wanted to deny his death by holding Jerome in her arms and not moving.
 Lily, realizing this, slowly pulled away.
 But suddenly, Lily noticed something.
「Shouldn't there be no bodies left in Avalon?
 Alexis overheard Lily's muttering to herself.
 Immediately, Alexis looks at his brother, and then his eyes widen.
 Something like a black haze is slowly spreading over Jerome's body.
 Next, Fransisca gasped when she noticed it, and Fatima gasped. Lorenzo also seemed to notice and watched the scene without speaking.
 Eden, who was looking only at Jerome, did not notice.
 An old man appeared above Jerome's head. No, whether it is right to describe him as an old man or not, it is hard to say. At least, he is not a human being.
 His body is like a half-transparent shadow. Legs missing, as if he'd disappeared with a swoop.
 He wears a dimly colored robe like an ancient mage in folklore. His arms outstretched as thin as branches, his hollow amethyst eyes gazing into what used to be Jerome's.
 This is exactly what people should call a "ghost".
 It came down slowly, mumbling something, and covered Jerome's body.
 Eden, as expected, seemed to have noticed the ghost's appearance.
 Eden waved her hand toward the ghost to protect Jerome.
 However, Eden's arm just slips through the ghost's body. The ghost did not look at Eden's presence as if he was not there, but only covered Jerome's body.
 Suddenly, however, the ghost looked up and turned its eyes to someone.
 It was Fransisca.
 The man smiling at her showed a hideous red color in his oral cavity.
「You have come well. But I didn't expect you to come to such a place. Did you miss me that much? I missed you, too.」
 The ghost, who was smiling eerily while opening her hollowed eyes, uttered a mild but sarcastic voice.
 The contrasting impressions took the breath away, not only from Fransisca but also from the people around her.
「But it's a pity. Very, very, very regrettable. If only my body were more precious. If only it were more glorious... like this man's "future"...」
 The ghost's fingertips press against Jerome's forehead. But the fingertip slipped through, as if it were not of substance.
「Go ahead, take a look. Come, I'll show you. The most precious thing of all, the moment of eternal life, hahahahaha...!」
 Fransisca looked at the ghost with a pale face, but as soon as she heard this, she changed her expression and screamed.
「Eden-san, everyone! Get away from him!!」
 But by then it was too late.
 Suddenly, a jet-black storm erupts around Jerome.
 The storm blasted away the people gathered around Jerome.
 The echoing laughter of the ghosts echoed throughout the area.
 Eden was also blown away, and then she stayed her ground and looked back at Jerome.
 But Jerome was already gone.
 Not only that, the sound of laughter and the ghost itself were gone before he knew it.
 What was there instead was a four-legged beast, its entire body covered in a swirling jet-black coat. The upper half of a lion's body sprouted from a goat-like body, and the two arms, separate from the four legs, were claws with sharp edges beyond the elbows. On its back are four pairs of winged insect-like wings.
「A monster...!?」
 Alexis readied his shield and regained his grip on his sword.
 At that moment, he realized everything.
 —Oh, right. The reason there were no bodies left in the dungeon...
(Was it because the ghost had turned people into a monster...!?)
 But it's easy to understand if he think about it.
 Fransisca once told him that the souls of the dead that originally gather here become monsters as a result of being given a body.
 If this is the case, then, wouldn't those who died in the dungeon also become monsters as a matter of course?
(Eternal life? That's absurd...!)
 Then, "Guooooo!" the monster that used to be Jerome roared.
「It's coming, get back in formation!」
 Alexis shouted.

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Edited Kanaa-senpai.
Thanks for reading.
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