Just outside Aldon forest, the Coralde trading company coachmen were talking. One of the coachmen, while patrolling the surroundings, had spotted magic beasts fleeing from the forest.
“How many were there?”
The other coachman asked. He was the coachman with a lame leg who called Dietrich “Mithril boy”. Chuck was also the leader of the coachmen in Coralde’s company.
“I saw a pack of Jackalopes and Huge Rats. There were at least a few hundreds of them…running away as if being chased by something.”
They were lucky enough to notice early. To ensure the safety of the camp and make the horses have some exercise, they had patrolled a few kilometers along the forest.
Chuck fiddled with his beard, deep in thought.
“What do you think could be the cause?”
“Judging from how they were running, I can guess they were scared of something. But it didn’t look like there any beasts on a rampage, or anything flying around. It didn’t look like anything changed in the forest itself.”
“Maybe “they” have noticed something…”
By “they”, Chuck meant the Adventurers’ guild coachmen, supposed to be standing by outside Norfar valley. The Aldon forest and Norfar valley were next to each other, so if something happened in the forest, there was a high chance that the source was in the valley.
I don’t want to get in touch with guild people now…
Chuck did not voice his thoughts.
Because of the Roa business, there was the risk that the Adventurers’ guild was plotting something, so he didn’t want to contact them. He didn’t think it was likely, but the guild could have orchestrated the forest’s anomaly. Going to meet them would mean exposing themselves to danger.
The magic beast forest was under the sole jurisdiction of the Adventurer’s guild. If the guild decided to do something, it would be the best place to eliminate all traces of it.
The current guildmaster was also known for being incapable of rational thought. It was impossible to predict what he could do.
“I suppose we should ask the president for instructions…I’ll write a letter now, you go get the fast horse ready. Keen is the best for relaying messages.”
“Since there is nothing strange in the forest itself, maybe the people inside haven’t realized yet…”
People that live in the mountains do not know how they are shaped, as they say…
Chuck recalled a local proverb. A person in the center of a situation could not know its full extent. The complete outlook would be first grasped by observers from outside.
I sure hope the mithril boy noticed what’s going on and ran away…
Chuck’s brow furrowed as he turned towards the forest.
The A-rank adventurers’ party Nostalgia was fighting against golems, again.
The golem assaults continued: they were currently on their ninth bout. Luckily, up until the eighth encounter, the number of golems they faced at the same time did not exceed five. That was probably thanks to the fact that they kept moving: if they stopped, they would have quickly been surrounded by a large number of golems.
They had already defeated more than 30 golems, so it was easy to see that things would turn out that way. This time, however, things were different.
30 units. A number much higher than previous encounters.
For an average party, it was a number that spelt unavoidable doom. They would just be trampled to death. Even accomplished veterans would be surrounded and smashed.
Nostalgia, however, was not normal or average enough to be done in just like that.
“Bernhart! Stop them!”
As soon as Dietrich shouted, a bolt of lightning ran through the air. Expecting the order, Bernhart had already chanted the spell and was standing by.
Golems, especially metal ones, had good affinity with lightning magic. As they conducted electricity well, it was possible to attack their insides while ignoring their exoskeletons.
It wasn’t enough to inflict lethal damage, but sufficient to stop them in their tracks. The instant they were hit by lightning the golems stopped moving: the Rock Golems mixed in with the Silver Golems also became more sluggish.
Dietrich took advantage of this to attack the Rock Golems, which -albeit slowly-still moved, to stop them completely.
“Kristoff, your turn!”
After nullifying them by cutting their joints, Dietrich kicked the golems, away from the pack. Kristoff used the battleaxe to bust their chests open and crush their cores.
Kristoff had changed weapons to the battleaxe. Originally Cornelia’s item, it was as big as her, but Kristoff could handle it too. They used this strategy for the sake of efficiency.
Against a 30-strong herd of golems, just cutting their joints to halt their movements was not enough. The golems stalled in the beginning would recover, creating an endless loop.
There was the need to use a weapon, even if it wasn’t completely familiar, to crush their cores quickly.
“Shit!! I should have bought a mithril sword too! And maybe a hammer too!”
Cornelia shouted, on the verge of tears.
She swung her shield to strike the knees of the Silver Golems which -albeit slowly- had started moving again, destroying their joints with brute strength.
It would be difficult to damage a golem with an iron sword, but the shield which could stop their charges was good enough as a striking weapon. It wasn’t made to be swung, however, so even with physical boosting magic, there was a great burden on the body.
It was also hard to aim, so it would be almost impossible to finish them off in one blow. It would take several attacks for each golem.
Because of this, even with the recovery candy, Cornelia was fatigued enough that she couldn’t help but complain.
“They’re starting to move like before! Be careful! Bernhart, prepare the next one!”
“It’s ready! Give me the cue!”
The situation was dangerous enough that they couldn’t afford to hold back anymore.
The golems were decreasing, but Nostalgia’s members weren’t sure if they had enough energy left to finish them all.
Things could work out as long as they could stop them with lightning magic, but Bernhart’s magic power was limited. Everything depended on how many golems they could defeat before his magic ran out.
They had magic potions, but relying on them presented the risk of Magic Stupor. Even if they defeated this pack, they might be attacked again. They couldn’t be optimistic.
In such a situation, Roa could only watch from a distance. Next to Nostalgia’s luggage, he watched over the whole situation, gripping his bag tightly.
He was desperately trying to recall his magic bag’s contents, thinking if he had anything useful in case of emergencies.
He had various magic potions, but nothing else.
Roa did not have any means to attack the golems. There was nothing he could do against them.
…if only grandpa Gry and the others were here….
Roa thought about Crack of Dawn’s servant beasts. He would probably not see them anymore…the twins, grandpa Gry. The beasts had not been given a name, but Roa called them like that.
I’m useless, after all…no, I can’t give up like this!
Roa shook away the dark thoughts from his head. Giving up was too easy. Now wasn’t the time to think about servant beasts he couldn’t rely on or feel ashamed about being useless. He had to think about what to do in order to survive.
Roa desperately tried to think about what could be the reason for what was happening. If only he could figure it out, it might be possible to find a countermeasure.
Why did the golems replicate so much? He had talked about it with the other Nostalgia members while they were moving, but they couldn’t guess the reason. Something they were fairly sure of was that Crack of Dawn was responsible for the golems’ multiplication.
The Norfar valley had been closed off when the golems’ presence was found, so the biggest recent change to the valley was supposed to be Crack of Dawn’s arrival.
Crack of Dawn was the cause, but for some reason Roa’s group was being continuously attacked. What was connection…?
“Another group arrived!! There are many too!!”
Kristoff’s shouts echoed.
The situation was getting more and more desperate…
Stefan, Crack of Dawn’s leader, woke up because of the vibrations shaking the ground. Still drowsy, he recalled his present situation. They had set up tents to camp in Norfar valley. If there was any danger approaching, the people standing guard would let him know.
Was it an earthquake?
He sat up, but the ground didn’t shake anymore. It was a brief, weak shock.
Stefan looked around.
The faint light in a bottle hanging from the roof of the tent was enough to distinguish the shape of the things inside the tent. Inside the bottle there was glowing moss, a plant that absorbed light during the day and emitted a faint light at night.
Complete darkness would make it difficult to react quickly in case of emergencies, and lighting a lamp would make it too bright to sleep, so Roa had gathered that moss for when they didn’t light up a bonfire. It was a rare and rather difficult to obtain, but naturally Crack of Dawn’s members did not know that.
Inside the tent, Olun and Eric were still sleeping, wrapped in blankets. It didn’t seem like anything had happened. Serge was supposed to be standing guard, Bonne was supposed to be in her single tent.
Stefan concentrated, but did not hear a sound.
Was it my imagination…?
Just when he was about to lie down again, he felt another rumble from the ground. It lasted just an instant, again.
It was like something heavy had fallen on the ground, but no such sound could be heard from outside.
“Wake up, you two.”
Stefan, still half asleep, decided to wake up the other two.
“Something’s weird outside. I’ll go check it out.”
Stefan picked up his sword and stood up. He confirmed that the other two had woken up and stepped outside.
It was dark outside. It was obvious, as they hadn’t lit a fire, but the moon was hidden by clouds too, so the darkness really thick. The lamp on the large rock near the tent illuminated the surroundings.
“That fool is sleeping…”
Next to the lamp was Serge, sleeping in a sitting posture.
“Hey!! Wake up!! You’re supposed to be standing guard!!”
Stefan poked Serge’s head with his sword’s scabbard.
“Wake the hell up!! Can’t you even stand guard properly!? Get working or I’ll kick you out of the party, like Roa!!”
Serge rubbed his head and wiped the drool from his mouth, with a small grin.
That moment, he felt a chilling gust of wind.
A gust of wind so cold, a chill ran down his spine.
The two men looked around, their hands on their swords’ hilt, trying to find the source behind the chill.
It was killing intent. A chilling wave like they had never felt before.
“Wha, what the hell was that!?”
“What’s going on!?”
Olun and Eric probably felt it too, as they leapt out of the tent.
Was it a magic beast!?
The four warriors gathered and checked the surroundings, but there was nothing to see. The only things present were darkness and an indescribable feeling of terror.
Another tremor transmitted from the ground.
“…hey, turn up the lamp’s light.”
Was there something beyond the darkness?
What was causing those tremors?
Despite the fear, they had to find out the truth.
Serge obeyed Stefan’s order and turned up the lamp’s light. The illuminated area widened, dispelling the darkness in the surroundings.
A few meters away from them, there was something.
It was quite a crowd too. A crowd of figures too large to be human…
When the lamp was turned to max, the four adventurers understood. Gigantic bodies of silver reverberating in the light. The target of their expedition. Silver Golems.
They weren’t just 2 Silver Golems, as the request said. The group was surrounded by a seemingly endless pack of golems.
“…wake Bonne up!! Get your weapons!! Bring me my armor!! Move it!! MOVE IT!!”
As soon as Stefan realized they were surrounded by golems, he barked orders at his comrades, but they were still in a daze and acted a few seconds after his orders.
Why was there such a ridiculous amount of golems?
Why didn’t they attack?
The group was too panicked to think about such things and rushed inside the tent to get equipped. They managed not to fall to their knees out of fear as they were adventurers, after all.
Only Stefan remained outside, inspecting the surroundings. He was ready to draw his sword instantly if something happened, but his hands were shaking. Because of that, his sword was rattling inside the scabbard.
Soon enough his eyes got used to the darkness and the golems’ silhouette became clearer, increasing his fear even more.
Golems as far as the eye could see.
They had not just surrounded their camp: they were streaming in from the depths of the valley.
Just the narrow space they had occupied…the camp they set up, a few meters wide, was a comically small circle in a sea of golems. There was no escape.
“What? What is going on!?”
Bonne’s hysterical screaming could be heard from the tent.
It was difficult to imagine from her usual “Holy Woman”-like expressions. Her shrill shouts irritated Stefan. At the same time he thanked her, as he felt his fear lessen a little.
Another tremor rose from the ground. That same moment, he saw something move in the golem horde. Something was jumping…a red and blue shadow. Stefan quickly understood what it actually was.
“…the twin magic wolves…”
The twin magic wolves were dashing through the golem horde, rushing and leaping. Following their movements, golems were collapsing left and right.
The golems were fighting back, but could not keep up with the wolves’ movements and fell without being able to do anything. For whatever reason, no sound could be heard, so it was like watching a dream.
Is this an illusion…?
Stefan doubted his own eyes.
The twins had a fur with different color than normal magic wolves, but they were still puppies.
They couldn’t be powerful enough to defeat golems in a single blow. He had never even seen them properly fight against other magic beasts. During that day’s fighting they had only chased other magic beasts, never even wounding them.
Yet now they were fighting against golems. Crushing them one by one in an overwhelming display of force.
They didn’t use their fangs, their greatest weapons: they just needed to lightly touch the golems with their paws to stop them.
It wasn’t strange to wonder if it was all an illusion.
“Is…is everything okay?”
The party members returned as Stefan was looking at the twin wolves fighting. He pointed to them, without a word.
The twin magic wolves were running, jumping, as if dancing. Sometimes even using the golems as platforms to dash through the air. The golems fell one after the other, like puppets with severed strings.
Was it a dream?
Crack of Dawn’s members could only watch as that mirage-like vision continued.
The wind brushing against their cheeks was cold.
How much time had passed? Maybe it was just an instant…
The party, still immersed in watching the twins fight, felt a presence behind them.
They turned around and found the gryphon.
Since when was it there?
When the 4 members, Bonne excluded, checked the surroundings, it wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Stefan could only think that it appeared all of a sudden.
The gryphon was a few meters away from them. It was smaller than average large-sized magic beasts, but its body was still about 3 meters long. It would be impossible to not notice its presence. It was lying down on a boulder people would struggle to climb, looking down on the party.
It opened its large beak as if yawning out of boredom.
Bonne, surprised by the yawn, let out a small shriek and cowered.
What was there to be scared of? The gryphon is a servant beast of the Hero Party, Crack of Dawn. They had tamed it, ordered it around, subjugated it for years.
There was no reason to be scared at this point.
“Hey…what are you…?”
Stefan was about to ask, “What are you doing there!?”, then he realized.
He too was scared. His voice was trembling.
The gryphon was looking straight at the 5 adventurers. No one could look away. The gryphon visibly moved its paws to its neck.
The place where the “Subjugation Collar” was.
There, its raptor claws reached.
The gryphon’s beak deftly twisted in a grin.
The claws cut through the collar, all too easily, as if it had already been severed.
A single thud-like sound.
The collar fell from the peak.
The Subjugation Collar was enchanted with mental manipulation magic, to subjugate magic beasts. It wasn’t possible for a magic beast to break it, nor could a Tamer order them to.
Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to be possible.
The destroyed Subjugation Collar turned to mere trash.
“You bastard!! What did you-whaaa!!”
A flash of light.
The Tamer Eric shouted out of anger, but several bolts of lighting fell near his feet before he could even finish his sentence.
All members expressed their confusion, but the gryphon simply continued to stare straight at them. Now that they had witnessed lightning magic, they couldn’t move even if they wanted. The gryphon’s gaze froze them in place, not even allowing them to collapse because of fear.
They viewed the gryphon as a young specimen.
The Adventurers’ Guild and other adventurers knowledgeable about servant beasts shared their opinion, although Roa called it “Grandpa Gry”.
Normally, gryphons learned magic as they advanced in years, but the Crack of Dawn’s servant beast gryphon did not show any sign of knowing magic and seemed even inept at flying. It was unruly and rarely joined in the fighting.
Because of that, everyone thought it was still young. They just thought so and never actually confirmed it.
As the outward appearance of gryphons did not change much even as they grew older, it was difficult to determine how old they actually were.
The tremors from the ground still continued.
The twin wolves were still fighting against the golem pack. They jumped around as if dancing, beautiful and apparently having a lot of fun, with a tinge of insanity.
The group had picked them up when their eyes hadn’t opened yet and raised them until now. They were still young. They weren’t supposed to be powerful enough to defeat golems.
The gryphon facing Crack of Dawn was grinning as it looked at the group, as if testing it. Small bolts would sometimes fall around them, as if taunting them.
The servant beasts they were used to now looked completely different.
What exactly was going on?
No one in Crack of Dawn could know. This bizarre reality thrust upon them had filled their minds with fear and confusion.
Then suddenly, the gryphon raised one of its front paws. The sharp claws on the beast’s paw…pointed behind the group.
The same instant, their bodies felt lighter, their terror dimmed. Invited by the gryphon’s claws, they turned around.
As before, they found the golem horde and a mysterious white area that was apparently keeping them at bay.
The gryphon then lowered its front paw.
A crash, a rumble, a shattering sound.
Such sounds rained on the party as soon as the gryphon completed that movement.
Crack of Dawn’s members cowered, surprised. They understood that it was the sound of the twin wolves fighting the golems.
“…it can’t be…?”
They then realized that the strange space that sealed off the noise of the wolves fighting the golems and prevented them from coming closer was under the gryphon’s control.
In the spot the gryphon pointed to, a few golems started moving in a way different from the others. Until now, that area, a dozen of meters wide, was a safe space. For some reason, the golems couldn’t penetrate it. Just like something was restricting their passage…
That restriction, however, was no more. The golems started invading the previously safe circle.
They were 2 units, Silver Golems.
Golems moved slowly.
Crack of Dawn’s members failed to see it or even perceive it, but the circular safe space had been created via the gryphon’s “Wind Wall” magic.
Differently from the wind barrier in the depths of the valley, however, the wind in this wall blew not upwards, but horizontally, towards the exterior. A wind strong enough to push back golems was howling in a space of a few centimeters.
It was a powerful wind that ignored all laws of physics, that only magic could create. The gryphon had used a wind barrier slightly different than the one used in the depths of the valley, so that Crack of Dawn’s members would not realize what was going on because of the noise caused by golems crashing down on the ground.
It was even more difficult to control than the wind magic knocking the golems upwards, so even the gryphon could not keep it up for extended periods of time.
The two invading golems had overcome such a fierce wind, so their bodies were battered and bruised.
The gryphon moved a front paw again, back to the position it was before lowering it. Again, the sounds vanished.
In that secluded space a few meters wide there now were a gryphon, five adventurers and two golems.
The gryphon attracted the party’s attention, then moved its beak to point at the golems.
Just like a person using their chin to give a command. The command here was definitely “Try to fight them”.
Two Silver Golems. No one in Crack of Dawn could recall at this time that it was the intended target of their expedition.
“You bastard, quit messing around!!”
Another flash of lightning.
The shout had come, again, from the Tamer Eric.
He had been the beasts’ master till recently, so he probably found it possible to talk to them even in such a situation.
The lightning bolts this time did not simply strike close to his feet, but burnt off the tips of his shoes, signaling that the gryphon could launch precise attacks and there would not be a next time.
The gryphon motioned its beak towards the golems again, prompting the shocked adventurers to move.
“…there’s no other way. Let’s do this!”
“We don’t know what it could do to us if we don’t fight. We have to do it. Or will you fight the gryphon? It can use magic, didn’t you see?”
“Let’s do it. Luckily, these golems’ movements are dull. I’ll go first.”
Stefan readied his sword.
He said “We don’t know what it could do to us if we don’t fight”, but there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t do anything even if they fought. He simply thought that there was a higher possibility of survival against the golems.
If the gryphon really controlled that safe space, it could disappear at the whim of a winged beast, causing the golem horde to trample them.
Stefan attacked the golems, swinging his sword down.
The gryphon looked at him, half surprised, half disappointed.
No one noticed, however.