He found this place purely by chance.
The back garden is quite spacious but not maintained at all; weeds are growing everywhere.
In the corner of this garden is an old well that dried up decades ago – this is the entrance to the “sanctuary”.
「I have to gather believers from scratch... It does not matter, everything will work out as long as I have the Guardians.」
While murmuring these words, the young priest quickly slides down the ladder used for entering and exiting and stands up at the bottom of the old well.
The times when water rose from the sand here were long before he was born. Now it is just a dry hole in the ground with not a single drop of moisture.
At the bottom of this dark well, the lamp in his hand illuminates a crack in the wall that a child can narrowly fit through.
Not worrying about his pure-white robe getting caught against the edges, the priest slips his slim body through it.
Through the crack is a small cave-like space in the rock that was originally filled with underground water.
It is a completely natural structure – however, as he continues through the cave without hesitation, a single gate is perfectly set into the passage.
Any veteran Rank 4 adventurer from Avalon would immediately recognise this as the kind of gate that leads to an ancient underground ruin dungeon.
The delicate patterns carved into the gate have weathered and crumbled over time; only the large cross drawn in the center is still clearly visible.
It does not even have a lock; a light push is all it takes for the door to open and allow entry into the room within.
As he enters, white light sources in the ceiling turn on; the ancient magic here seems to still be functioning normally.
The white room that he has become familiar with is reflected in his eyes.
It is perhaps as large and as tall as the chapel in the orphanage; it is quite spacious for a single person. However, there is a heavy, oppressive feeling due to the magic within this place.
The most distinctive feature of this room are the enormous beds – no, perhaps they should be called coffins. They contain the bodies of the two-meter-tall Guardians.
There are a dozen of them, six on each side, lined up to form a path from the door.
There are two Guardians that are already functioning, and lying in the coffins of white stone are nine more Guardians that are about to awaken.
There are twelve coffins, but by the time the boy had discovered this place, one of them was already empty, so there are eleven Guardians in total.
They have been sleeping here for what could be an eternity; even the boy himself does not know what exactly they are.
All he needs to know is that they have overwhelming physical strength, and that he can make them obey his will.
「I need to hurry and start... I still need to reset the summoning coordinates... How troublesome.」
What he needs to do and how he needs to do it, the boy puts it all together in his head.
Crossing the room where the Guardians are sleeping, the boy goes through yet another gate that leads to another room further inside.
This room is much narrower than the previous room; with one glance it is obvious that it is the disorganized laboratory of a careless magic-user or alchemist.
Ancient, worn books with contents of questionable use, mysterious parts made of gold and tools of unknown purpose are piled up all over the place.
These are also a sight that the boy is used to; he pays no attention to them, heading straight for the installation in the middle of the room that he calls an altar.
On the surface of black rock similar to that of the『Zero Chronicle』obelisks scattered around Avalon, indecipherable ancient letters appear, glowing white.
He cannot read them, and does not need to worry about them. The important thing here is the pedestal beneath the black surface.
「Obey my command,『Diamond Heaven.』」
When he first discovered this place, this『Diamond Heaven』was here on the middle of the pedestal.
It is an artifact that holds the menacing power of『Domination』, the ability to control others according to one’s will. However, its true value appears to lie in its existence as a key item to activate the ancient altar.
He has no way of knowing the exact, correct method of using it. But he can use it because if he holds his intent in his mind, as if transferring them to『Diamond Heaven』via telepathy, it more or less functions as he desires.
However, it does not grant all of his wishes.
In order to awaken the Guardians, he needs to provide a supply of magical power as an energy source, and to have them leave this sanctuary, he needs to use summoning magic.
Tonight’s ritual was planned in order to summon the awakened Guardians into the chapel.
It would have been an easy-to-understand demonstration for the believers.
However, that has all gone to waste. There is no longer any reason to summon them there; in this situation where the enemy has arrived at the doorstep, it would be ideal to summon them right next to the well.
If the enemy is unaffected by Domination, it is too dangerous for the boy to show himself at the front.
However, changing the target location of the summoning will take a considerable amount of time.
He has found through trial and error that the summoning magic does not work correctly unless he holds a clear, distinct image of the place he is summoning them to.
Therefore, the boy clutches『Diamond Heaven』in his hand and makes an earnest, silent prayer.
He is wholeheartedly offering a prayer to god, something that a real priest would do.
How much time has he spent in prayer?
As he finally feels something like a correct response –
「Good evening. This is a wonderful hiding place, isn’t it?」
An elegant voice reaches his ears through the gate behind him.
He has only heard it once before, but he cannot forget who this voice belongs to.
It is unmistakably that of the heretic adventurer, the Fairy girl surrounded in light.
However, his expression is not that of someone who has been cornered.
He is sneering, as if she is prey that has been caught in his trap.
She is a foolish heretic who has carelessly come to this place where he can surround her easily with the nine Guardians without needing to summon them.
「Good evening. This is a wonderful hiding place, isn’t it?」
Lily, having stepped into the center of this sanctuary, calls out to the young priest who appears to have secluded himself on the other side of a gate.
「I am surprised you found this place.」
The boy opens the gate and steps out to face Lily.
Has he finally accepted his fate – no, his face still has the same expressionless look that he had when he was standing in front of his believers during the ritual. In other words, he is not acknowledging that he has been cornered.
She knows this even without using her telepathy, but instead of getting irritated at his foolishness, she gives him a gentle smile filled with kindness as she replies.
「Yes, I knew about this place right away; after all, it’s very clearly suspicious.」
In reality, she guessed this place’s location after searching the mind of the boy she forced to guide her to the orphanage, but there is no need to tell the priest this. It is the usual「Ufufu, it’s a secret.」
「Was it alright for you to come here without bringing that witch?」
「Well, she seemed busy disposing of that trashy girl.」
The boy’s thin eyebrows twitch. This is the second time today that he shows this displeased reaction.
At this moment, Lily guesses that he has feelings for that exhibitionist girl.
Although this is truly unimportant information.
「I should not have exchanged words with a heretic; it is as if my body is being polluted –」
The young priest, unable to remain expressionless, shows a touch of hatred in his face as he raises『Diamond Heaven』at Lily once more, giving a command.
「– Now, awaken, Guardians!」
As if answering him, the sound of water fills the room.
The Guardians are submerged in a transparent liquid that fills the coffins. From the fact that they are being preserved rather than decomposing, it is reasonable to assume that it is not ordinary water, but a magical potion with powerful preservation properties.
Reflected in Lily’s eyes are the nine Guardians vigorously standing, causing this fluid to splash everywhere.
They are impressive, muscular men, but their skin is unusually pale and their short, evenly-cut hair is a brilliant white. There are no signs of spirit in their blood-red pupils.
They are in fact “puppets”; it is very obvious from one look at their faces.
This is because they all possess the same face.
They do not simply look alike due to the style and color of their hair; they are completely identical.
Their long noses and finely-chiseled features are reasonably handsome, but seeing nine of the same face is nothing if not strange.
However, Lily’s smile does not falter as she presumes their true identity.
「As I thought; they are Homunculi, aren’t they?」
The priest is not particularly surprised at her correct guess.
Homunculi are famous beings that people in urban areas will have heard of.
They are artificially created humans, but the technology to create them does not exist in modern magical theory. In other words, creating them is beyond the limitations of modern magic and only possible through ancient magic.
There have been many cases of adventurers discovering Homunculi in ancient ruins, though the majority of them were merely corpses.
However, it is not unheard of for Homunculi to be resurrected in the modern age after surviving the trials of time.
And one of these rare occurrences is happening right before Lily’s eyes.
「This place is more like a single mage’s laboratory rather than an ancient ruin, isn’t it?」
「That is not relevant for someone like you, who is about to receive the punishment of death.」
「That’s not true at all; I’m going to use this place from now on.」
「What nonsense –」
With nothing more to say, the priest raises『Diamond Heaven』into the air once more and gives a command.
The nine giants are already surrounding Lily’s position.
Though they are completely naked and unequipped, their bodies are as powerful as those of well-trained warriors, strong enough to fight monsters with their bare hands.
The priest now understands that Lily is using a Characteristic Ability consisting of powerful light.
However, its nature is suited to long-ranged attacks, similar to a mage. In other words, if it becomes a close-range battle in this room with nowhere to run, the warrior-like Homunculi have the advantage.
He likely believes that their physical strength is more than enough to crush this slender, weak-looking Fairy.
「– Go, Guardians, slaughter that filthy heretic!」
Believing in his certain victory, he gives the order to attack.
In that moment, the Guardians should utilize their coordination function to attack together in perfect synchronization –
But with this single word from Lily, they immediately fall to their hands and knees on the floor.
All nine of them, at the exact same moment.
The enormous, muscular Guardians are all prostrating themselves before the single girl. In the nude.
At this ridiculously idiotic sight, the young priest has no response other than to let out an idiotic voice.
Standing in the middle of the naked, kneeling Guardians is Lily with a satisfied smile on her face. Meanwhile, the young priest has his eyes wide open in astonishment.
Several seconds pass in silence during this profoundly mysterious situation.
「W-what are you doing, Guardians! Listen to my command! Kill that heretiiiiiic!」
Completely casting aside the expressionless mask that he has maintained until now, the boy raises his voice in anger as he repeats his order.
However, the command that these newly-awakened Guardians obey is...
For some reason, they obey only Lily’s words.
As Lily lightly extends her palm out to one of the Guardians, he places his own huge palm on top of it.
The other Guardians do not make a single movement, continuing their naked kneeling. Perhaps it is just the boy’s imagination, but they seem to be jealous towards the one that is offering his hand to Lily.
「Why, why, why! Why aren’t you listening to what I’m saying?! You, what have you done to my Guardiaaaaans?!」
Anger, impatience and, of course, fear and anxiety – the boy, betrayed by the “power” that he believed in the most, has tears in his eyes as he shouts at the unfairness of the situation.
「Fu, fufufu... Ufufufu, AHAHAHAHA!」
Lily’s smile finally turns into laughter.
Is it laughter of contempt at the priest who is displaying his unsightly anger – No.
「Ahahaha, should I tell you, then? Fufu, I figured it out.」
It is simple, pure happiness. It is nothing but the sense of accomplishment at having arrived at the answer that she has been seeking.
Lily’s shining fingertips dance through the air.
There is a round, magic circle drawn in the air from which a ring appears..
「I figured out a way to use this, you see.」
It is the brainwashing magic item called the『Angel Ring』, but there is no way that the young priest would know this.
At first glance it appears to be a simple, white circlet, just a decorative item. Nobody would expect it to holds a demon’s ability.
But it is a different story when witnessing its use directly.
「I-it can’t be... With that, with such an object... You can control my Guardians...」
「Mhmm, right now, they’re my Guardians.」
The Guardians have only just awoken; they are naked and possess no equipment – or at least, that should be the case, yet looking carefully, there are rings hidden in their white hair, identical to the one in Lily’s hand.
In short, Lily put these rings on all nine Guardians as she entered the room before calling out to the young priest.
And from Lily’s words, it can be assumed that she only just figured out how to use them; in other words, she has been unable to use them until now.
However, it would be unreasonable to expect the boy to have thought this far.
He is in a desperate situation where the power that he has been relying on has been completely snatched away by his enemy. What he is thinking right now is likely being read by Lily.
「Ah, w-wait, I –」
She does not even let him beg for his life.
Three of the Homunculi move to obey Lily’s command. Their movements are similar to Kurono’s; they proceed with superhuman agility despite their previous condition.
Lightly leaping over the coffins that they were sleeping in, they restrain the boy, whose expression has now changed into one of fear.
「Stop, help me, Mama, gu?!」
Two of them seize an arm each while the other covers the boy’s mouth from behind with a large, gauntlet-like hand.
He is restrained but still standing; the Guardians’ grip is so tight that even his shoulders cannot move, causing him to let out muffled groans of anguish.
The sight of a handsome boy being seized by naked giants is enough to be condemned by anyone as a horrendously criminal act. But of course, the person who ordered it, Lily, is not bothered by this at all.
What she is most interested in is the ability of the Homunculi, and also–
「Fufu, I’m sure it’ll succeed if I try it now.」
Spinning around her slender fingers is a white ring.
With the other six Guardians still kneeling, Lily calmly takes a step towards the boy.
As if understanding her intent even without being directly ordered, the Guardian covering the boy’s mouth uses his other hand to firmly grasp the boy’s neck and offer his silver-haired head towards Lily.
「Mmm, MMMPH – !」
With his mouth covered even in this situation, the boy desperately struggles and tries to scream.
He sees Lily run her index finger around the outer surface of the ring, after which seven needles appear on the inner surface with a sharp sound. No, to be more precise, Lily deliberately does it in front of the boy’s eyes so that he can see, even though he is being held face-down.
The boy’s fears are confirmed.
「Congratulations, now you can join the Guardians that you love so much.」
Lily speaks with a smile that would enchant anyone who sees it.
She runs her finger against the ring in her hand once more, and the needles withdraw.
「MMMH, MMMMH, MMMMMMMH!」
As if placing a laurel wreath on a glorious victor, she applies the『Angel Ring.』
At that moment, a metallic sound can be heard from inside the boy’s head.
「Mmm, the inside of a human’s head is complicated after all. Even though the Homunculi were so simple... But with this...」
And so, using all the experience she has gained in her human experiments up until now, Lily finally begins brainwashing the boy.
Perhaps because the Homunculi are artificially created beings, their brain structure is much simpler than that of humans.
With the ring and her telepathy, Lily can intuitively discern this, but their simplified brain structure has helped her figure out the complicated and mysterious structure of humans’ brains.
Lily contemplates. It is likely that the ancient civilization figured out all of the mysteries behind a human’s brain.
That is how they took only the parts necessary for processing information and created the artificial brains of the Homunculi.
One other thing that she has noticed is that the structure of the『Angel Rings』themselves appear to be a perfect fit for Homunculus brains.
This is something that she has not been able to notice until now because she has only been using them on humans.
Lily is now guessing that the organization known as the『White Sacrament』excavated the Homunculi and the brainwashing rings together, used them as the basis of their research and improved them for use on human brains.
Whether her guess is correct or not, she has finally arrived at the method of using the『Angel Rings』to successfully control a person, which she has been pursuing for so long.
Now she just has to put it into practice.
It will take Lily several hours to complete the process after she activates the『Angel Ring.』
Exhaling as she wipes a drop of sweat from her forehead, Lily speaks.
「... I messed up, tehe~」