TNG Vol. 16 Side Story Part 3

“Let’s start by researching our surroundings then. The plants are gone and with them the poison has disappeared too, which I suppose is lucky in these circumstances.”

Hydro wore her equipment and looked at the surroundings from the entrance to Romenun.

Normally, because of the many plants growing everywhere around the guildhouse, any research would be impossible without proper equipment.

For added safety, they brought anti-poison items in their item boxes.

“Where should we go first? Romenun’s self-defense functions are still active, so we know there are no abnormalities in a radius of several hundred mel.”

“All the plants being gone isn’t abnormal?”

“I can see them buried here and there. The plants around here won’t die because of something like this. You know that, don’t you?”

The sleeves of Oxygen’s lab coat pointed in a direction where plant-like vines were climbing out of the cracks in the ground.

Thanks to 【Appraisal】, Oxygen had confirmed that they belonged to a species of plants growing around Romenun, so he nodded back to Hydro.

The plants were buried in the ground, but were not in danger of dying.

“This looks quite unnatural too.”

Oxygen and Hydro left Romenun and headed towards the lake they had seen from the window. The surroundings were nothing but wasteland, so there was no other difference with the rest of the environment.

Hydro described it as unnatural because the lake was much wider and deeper than expected. The ground hadn’t just formed a depression: a depth like that would have required extensive work to be formed.

With their sight boosting skills they could only see the lake’s surface from Romenun. When they arrived at the lake and used 【Through Sight】, they couldn’t help being surprised.

“You think this is natural?”

“That would be difficult to say…”

It was too large to believe that only in that area the ground had sunk in. It was also filled with water, brought from who knows where.

“There isn’t anything on the bottom though? If at least there was a monster or something, this situation could be easier to explain.”

“No, that might not be wrong though…”

Hydro was peering into the depths of the lake. Oxygen’s response prompted her to ask what he meant. Oxygen then said that it would be faster to look, and pointed towards the sky. Still doubtful, Hydro looked up and noticed a black spot.

“Take a look at the map.”

“Map? Oh yes, we can use that.”

The map was normally only accessible to players, but Oxygen’s words made Hydro recall that they could use it too now. Then she marveled at the size of the response.

“Isn’t that too big?”

“We can flee at any time.”

Oxygen and Hydro could fight, but it wasn’t their primary role. They didn’t have high fighting power like Schnee or Shin’s other support characters.

They prepared smoke bombs that disrupted the opponent’s eyesight and even magic power with sounds and smell and their trump card, a teleport crystal, then hid.

They hid behind a large rock and used camouflage mantles to blend with the surroundings.

After a while, the silhouette of the black spot became visible.

“It really looks like Durgin.”

“It’s much bigger than usual though.”

Oxygen and Hydro had seen the falling monster before. It was rather well known as an environment preservation monster. Its appearance hadn’t changed much, so they could identify it with certainty.

The only difference was that each one of its body parts had grown many times in size while maintaining the original ratio. Such was the Durgin currently falling from the sky.

“There seems to be a sort of black mist trailing behind it?”

“The mist too, but the Durgin itself is pitch black as well. I suppose it’s in that state after absorbing pollution.”

Oxygen knew of the cause behind the change in the color of Durgin’s body surface. He recalled Hecate telling them about it.

The Durgin eventually fell inside the lake, as if aiming for the center of the water surface.

The fall of Durgin’s large body displaced a large amount of water. A wave the size of a small tsunami struck the surrounding land.

The wave reached even the boulder behind which Oxygen and Hydro were hiding and left them drenched.

Making a commotion could alert Durgin, so they quietly observed the situation. Thanks to 【Through Sight】, they could observe Durgin from behind the boulder.

“…did it sink?”

“Looks like it.”

Durgin wasn’t incapable of swimming. It appeared wherever there was pollution, so it could act both on land and in water. Oxygen and Hydro continued to observe the lake, but it did not look like Durgin was swimming up.

Then they both expressed their thoughts.

“It wasn’t moving.”

Durgin came falling, its body huddled in a ball, without moving. Their impressions about the monster matched completely.

“I didn’t see the level, but was it dead?”

“It didn’t look injured though. Judging from the color, it could have absorbed an excessive amount of pollution.”

Oxygen and Hydro had never seen Durgin in a state of maximum absorption of pollution, so they didn’t know what actually happened to the Durgin that fell into the lake.

They could not see its HP, so they couldn’t confirm whether it was alive or dead.

“Should we try to get closer?”

“We didn’t see its level with 【Analyze】, so it’s definitely stronger than us…”

Since they couldn’t see its name or level, there definitely was a stats gap so wide that it couldn’t be filled with technique.

They couldn’t approach it with confidence just because they had high-performance equipment and items.

Oxygen and Hydro weren’t battle-oriented characters, so if Durgin was alive they could be in danger.

“The curiosity engraved in my soul is telling me to go though.”

“I know…I suppose this is the “setting” our creator infused in us. It feels kind of mysterious.”

Hydro expressed her restlessness and Oxygen laughed at the new sensation. They hadn’t heard it from anyone, nor read about it anywhere. They could tell, however. It was set as top priority in their behavior.

“Curiosity killed the cat, they say.”

“But also that even death can’t cure stupidity.”

It was too dangerous to approach the lake just out of curiosity. Would it be right to go back like that however?

Wasn’t it better to clarify Durgin’s current status?

They could easily come up with such excuses. Neither of them said them aloud, however.

“Are we cats, or are we stupid?”

“We’re both, obviously.”

Using their “setting” as an excuse would be easy. They had already understood, however, that their “setting” wasn’t forcing them to act anymore.

Thus this was an overlap of their “setting” and their thoughts. They simply happened to be both going in the same direction.

“Shall we stop looking for excuses to go back?”

“Right. There are so many *interesting things* happening, so going back to Romenun without doing any research wouldn’t be like us at all!”

They were cats afflicted with the sickness called stupidity. Hydro confidently stated that they were beings with no shred of common sense, who valued curiosity over their own lives.

Oxygen laughed and agreed wholeheartedly.

We could get better equipment. We could get other items. They could easily find reasons to go back.

However, they would still go.

They didn’t want to wait until *later*, they wanted to see it *now*. They wanted to know *now*. If they died, then that was that.

They were both sure that if Hecate was there, she wouldn’t scold them: she would send them off with her blessings.

“Let’s go.”

“Of course!”

Their mantles’ camouflage was still active. They activated skills that concealed sound and smell and left the boulder.

They prioritized their curiosity, but had no intention of dying. They would obviously do everything they could to prevent any risks.

The large wave had been absorbed by the ground, which turned muddy as they approached the lakeshore.

The terrain, changed by the tremors, had a rather firm quality, so after absorbing water it was rather slippery to walk on.

“It makes me want to harden it with magic.”

“Durgin is sensitive to magic, so don’t.”

Hydro disliked how hard it was to walk, but Oxygen stopped her plans.

They didn’t know if Durgin would react, but since they were hiding it would be ridiculous to show their presence like that.

Although, Oxygen shared Hydro’s displeasure.

Their lab coats had been crafted by the “Dark Blacksmith” Shin. They were one rank higher than other equipment of the same category. That was why they were using them now too.

Oxygen’s lab coat was too long for him, however, so the edges that touched the ground were getting muddy and dirty. It was completely white before, so now it was so dirty that it looked pitiful. The water it absorbed also made it heavier.

Oxygen and Hydro approached the lake, the former making dragging sounds, the latter without any noise.

They arrived close enough that they could touch the water if they crouched, but Durgin did not show any reaction.

“It’s huddled like before, not moving an inch. Either it died or is resting…but we can’t tell which.”

“We couldn’t have handled it if it attacked us, so this is better for us.”

Oxygen whispered while peering at the bottom of the lake and Hydro replied with a shrug. If Durgin moved, their only option would be to run.

“Oh, something changed.”

“The water is getting turbid. I suppose we should go a bit farther away.”

Oxygen and Hydro realized that the water around Durgin was changing and moved away from the lake.

The water was changing in a ripple-like fashion, with Durgin as its center.

Would the change affect only the water? Or the ground too? Careful to keep the 【Through Sight】 and 【Far Sight】 skills active, they continued their observation.

The water wasn’t crystal clear to begin with, but because of Durgin it started turning to mud-like colors.

The change eventually affected the whole lake and a sort of steam started rising from it. The ground’s color started getting darker as well.

Hydro and Oxygen did not need to talk before taking gas mask-like items from their item box and wearing them.

The gas masks were equipment that protected against poison absorbed via the nose and mouth, like powder or steam.

The white steam that started rising from the lake after the changes caused by Durgin took place did not look safe to breathe at all.

It could also be absorbed through the skin, so they used another item for protection too.

The white steam, carried by the wind, approached them.

It wouldn’t be wise for both of them to come in contact with it, so Oxygen stayed in the same place while Hydro wrapped a rope around Oxygen and moved away.

If the items’ effectiveness ran out she would drag Oxygen away and go back to Romenun together. Incidentally, they decided who would stay with a round of RPS.

“The items are effective, but it’s only a matter of time.”

After a while, Oxygen stated his observations after coming in contact with the white steam.

Thanks to the items the poison didn’t affect him, but the items’ durability was decreasing at great speed.

The gas mask, which could sustain 【High Poison】 for 3 hours, wouldn’t last 10 minutes.

To gather as much information as possible, Oxygen collected a sample of the white steam with a preservation item prototype. He also collected a sample of the changed lake water and the ground that started changing colors.

After putting the samples back in the item box, they ran away through the white steam, carefully monitoring the items’ durability.

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