TNG Vol. 18 Chapter 1 Part 7
— 【Boundary Guardian – Level 834】
【Analyze】 clearly showed the man’s identity.
It was the same as the Guardian that took the appearance of a Gryphon, which Shin fought alongside Rionne, princess of Bayreuth. A monster only in appearance.
The fact that it looked just like himself, but with a different color scheme, reminded Shin of Faceman, an advanced type of Doppelganger.
“Oh, you don’t have to go out of your way to speak politely. I know the room might suggest otherwise, but I have no intention of acting like a king. Anyway, you probably know already, but I guess I should introduce myself. I am one of the beings called Boundary Guardians, put in charge of this Algaraz.”
The guardian stepped down from the throne and walked towards Shin and the others. His expression was bright, but because of the colors of his body he gave the impression of a clown.
“I’m Shin. Do you need introductions for the others too?”
“I suppose yours is enough for now.”
The guardian was apparently satisfied with just that: he glanced at the others, then looked back at Shin.
“Well then…I heard you want us to defeat the other Guardians?”
“Hmm? Don’t you have anything to say about my looks?”
“You’re imitating a Doppelganger or a Faceman, I guess?”
“Oops, you found out. You’ve already met Guardians already…I guess it’s natural. Indeed, my appearance is based on a Faceman.”
The guardian’s imitation of Shin then melted into an all black human silhouette. More than a man, he looked like a stick figure, like the ones signaling emergency exits.
“I kind of worked hard to transform like that…oh well. Anyway, as Yvr told you, I have no intentions of opposing you. I only create monsters when I have to defend myself against attacks from the other Guardians.”
The Guardian called Gelganger by its second name. It waved its arms as it spoke: finally, his shoulders dropped, helplessly.
It then continued by stating that, if they could take over the Sacred Places on the island, they would not launch monster attacks on the continent anymore, exactly as Gelganger had anticipated.
“Hmm, using the word Guardian might make it confusing, since there are others too, so please call me Eleven. After all, I was creation number 11.”
“Wait a second…number 11?”
The Boundary Guardians do not receive individual names. The reason was simple, but Shin couldn’t gloss over the matter just like that.
The Guardian — Eleven looked at Shin funny, not understanding why the latter was so surprised.
“The Guardians have different numbers? What does that mean?”
“Oh, you don’t know. We Guardians have numbers based on the order we were created. I’m the 11th.”
“You mean that…you and the other Guardians were all created by someone?”
“Correct. We’re basically an army.”
Eleven did not sound like he was talking about himself.
“…what exactly are the Boundary Guardians? What are you supposed to be guarding?”
Shin voiced the questions that he wanted to ask since his first encounter with a Guardian.
“You can probably guess the answer, can’t you? Since you know about the other world too.”
Eleven replied calmly. His head was just a black sphere now, so there was no expression, but it was easy to imagine a faint smile on his lips.
“Can you tell me if I’m right?”
“I can tell you what I think. I guess you wouldn’t cooperate with us if I didn’t.”
Eleven’s reply was rather vague, but Shin concluded there was no harm for them in talking, so he expressed his thoughts.
The Boundary Guardians were tasked with protecting the “Boundary” between this world and other worlds, attacking any creatures that came to this world from outside.
Shin’s theory, however, had a hole in it.
Like him, there were many other living beings who were transported to that world: Milt and all the other former players. It could also be said that the Guardians exhibited little to no “protective” behavior — though there was the possibility Shin and his party simply hadn’t witnessed it.
“The boundary between worlds, hmm. I see you really think there exists a world different from yours.”
Eleven nodded, as if he wanted to confirm Shin’s thoughts.
“I said what I think. It’s your turn now, right?”
“Right. First of all — this is a different world from yours, just as you said. The greatest difference is that your world is higher, basically.”
“Higher in what way, you ask? Well, it’s hard to explain. Any action from your world can change even the laws of nature here. This makes it clear which world’s position is higher or lower, doesn’t it?”
A world different from ours.
Parallel worlds or dimensions were a common theme in comics and fiction. Shin had a general understanding of such concepts.
His understanding was limited to fiction though. He couldn’t just nod and accept that such things truly existed.
“You have to explain everything, from the start.”
“Aah, I guess I gave you the wrong idea…actually, I also don’t know how this world came to be. If any of the Guardians know, it’d probably be the single digits.”
So replied Eleven while scratching its head. Shin hoped to finally learn this world’s secrets, so he felt rather dejected.
“You’re two places from a single digit yourself.”
“That’s true, but there’s a huge difference between single and double digits. I wasn’t given very much information actually. What I told you just now is pretty much all I know about this world. But I know who can surely tell you more. The Origin that you fought — or rather, we might call it Origin I — definitely knows about the core principles of this world.”
“Origin I…I know a little about it, but…”
Shin didn’t expect to hear the name of the being Yuzuha talked about in that situation.
Origin was the boss Shin defeated in the game’s final dungeon.
The reason why Shin obtained titles and skills he had never heard of before.
Shin searched through his memories, but couldn’t think of any other dungeons similar to that. When he defeated Origin, he clearly heard the message that announced he had cleared the game after all.
If there were other bosses on the same level as that final boss, the game’s announcement would probably say so. It wouldn’t have let them log out in that case.
Shin couldn’t think of any reasons as to why that happened.
“The first seven people born into this world are the “Origin Series” prototypes of humankind. Origin I is the prototype for the Dragnil race. It looked like one, didn’t it?”
As Eleven said, Origin — more precisely, Origin I — had an appearance close to a dragon, like Shibaid.
If its size was smaller, it would look like any other Dragnil avatar.
“What I know is the location of the creature said to be half of Origin I. If I recall, it calls itself Hades now.”
“What did you say?”
Shin was surprised to hear the word Hades: the first word of the skill he still couldn’t use. The “half” of Origin I surely was connected somehow.
“Looks like you know something about it. I offer this information and the suspension of monster attacks on the continent in exchange for you taking over two cities for me. What do you say?”
Shin did not reply right away.
Eleven offered the information about someone who likely knew the circumstances behind the birth of this world. Shin was naturally very interested in it.
The information already obtained from Eleven provided plenty of food for thought already, but if there was more information available, acquiring it was definitely a plus — as it also meant peace for the continent.
“Let me ask one thing first. Who or what are the Guardians fighting against? You said that our world is higher than this one, but you haven’t answered anything else yet.”
“Yeah, about that…actually, I haven’t fought anyone that crossed the boundary yet.”
Shin pressed Eleven about what he hadn’t answered yet, but received an unexpected reply.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Exactly what I said. In simple terms, we Guardians are pretty much support characters. We were created and move as ordered. We’re machines with a certain degree of autonomy basically.”
Support characters in the game were exactly what Eleven described.
No one in Shin’s group, however, thought that Eleven fit such a description.
“Everything changed on the day you called “Dusk of Majesty”. That day, the very nature of this world changed…and we lost our master.”
Eleven’s casual tone sank for a moment.
“Your master…Origin I?”
“Correct. Well, our relationship was different from yours, so nothing really changed even after it disappeared. We were created to fight against specific foes, but never had the chance…the rest is history.”
“So why do the Guardians target me? Am I that specific foe?”
If the Guardians truly did not know what they were expected to fight against, Shin found it absurd to be their target, so he shot a criticizing glare at Eleven.
“Can’t be helped, you’re the only one who crossed the boundary while still having a physical body. You’re the only one close to the “foe” we are supposed to fight. Most of the Guardians only think of fulfilling their roles. Or rather, that’s all they try to do. They have their own wills, but never stray from that priority.”
“Then, what about us?”
Milt interjected. Shin looked at Eleven with curiosity: he wanted to know that too.
“Hmm, I wonder. What I can say is that you former players don’t conflict with the standards we were given.”
Eleven added that still having a physical body was probably a key reason.
“You also defeated our master, but that’s not very important, actually. Even though we are its creations, we are only tools. I never even talked to it.”
The relationship between the Guardians and Origin I was simply one of tools and creator, so there were no ill feelings towards Shin for defeating it apparently.
“Right, it feels like when the guy sitting next to you on the first day of school stops coming on the next day, without you two even exchanging a word.”
“I don’t know where that example came from…but I kind of get your point. Is that alright with you though?”
Shin was a student in his former world, so Eleven’s example felt rather realistic. However, he couldn’t help but feel that losing one’s master had to feel different from that.
The way Eleven talked about Origin I was far too casual.
“I have no desire for revenge, so what else should I say? Our relationship was unique, I guess, but my loyalty was just planted into me. I don’t think there are any other Guardians who think and act as freely as me, though.”
Compared to the other Guardians Shin had met until now — who wouldn’t even exchange a word with him — Eleven was perhaps too talkative. The greatest difference was how he expressed his own will.
Thinking about it again, the actions of the Guardians which controlled Gryphon and Ishkar felt rather mechanical.
“What about you then? I’m supposed to be your enemy, right?”
“I am based on a shapeshifting monster: that is also probably the reason why I can think of all sorts of things, compared to the other Guardians. And that’s what I did: I thought about things I never did before, imagined them…and during that process, I realized I was my own individual. A conscience sprouted in me, you could say. I had a will even before that, but from my current standpoint, it’s like I was thinking, but not really thinking. I was just absent-mindedly repeating a series of tasks.”
Eleven added that he was just reacting to situations, using a set of patterns.
“But I’m different now. I have enough of a conscience to understand that I am. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be chatting with someone I’m supposed to eliminate.”
The tone of Eleven’s voice dropped. His expression was naturally unchanged, but he was clearly serious.
“In all honesty, I don’t think of you as an enemy. I don’t have a clear idea of what our enemies are after all. Why are those who come from the other side of the boundary enemies? Why are we supposed to fight them? I don’t know. The current me would not fight because of such incomprehensible, non-existent reasons. The other Guardians, however, do not have the same doubts. They see me as an abnormality and try to erase me, because I have those doubts. I have no intention to die like this, without even knowing why.”
Eleven said he was someone’s creation. In those words, however, Shin felt the presence of his sincere will.
“…understood. I accept your offer.”
“Will you really?”
“Yes. Just one thing: that Hades person is in a place accessible even to us, I hope? The geography of this world changed after the Dusk of Majesty. Old maps are pretty much useless now.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. It’s in a place you can definitely reach, I’m sure…though I don’t know exactly where that is. After all, we can’t go there to check…but I can feel where that creature is: it’s half of my creator. Even if I’m fighting against the other Guardians, I’d never get that wrong.”
Eleven added that he wanted Shin to believe his words.
Shin thought that, as long as Eleven could tell them the location in real time, they could surely reach the place in question. He still didn’t know how exactly the world had changed since the Dusk of Majesty: If Eleven pointed to a place in the game era world map, they risked never finding the destination.
“Oh, and one more thing. If we take over the Sacred Places and you become the new ruler, what happens to the Guardians who ruled them before?”
Eleven’s reply was perfectly plain. There was no emotion in it.
“Our life is tied to the Sacred Place’s core. Taking over a Sacred Place means to take over the ownership of the core. Without that connection, a Guardian cannot come back to life. If that happens, they’re just like any other high level monster. The only difference is that once defeated, they turn into magic essence and disappear.”
They wouldn’t leave a corpse, apparently.
“Is there a chance they’d come back to life immediately after we defeat them? The Gryphon Guardian in Kalkia came back no matter how many times we defeated it.”
“Number 13, right. That one was made with a focus on regeneration rather than fighting power, so it could revive quickly. You have to seal it instead. Not even I know how many times you have to kill it before it stops regenerating. The Guardians I want you to defeat don’t have extreme regeneration powers like that, so don’t worry. As long as they’re connected to the core, they can revive after being defeated, but it takes them at least one week. We just need to take over the core in the meantime.”
If the Guardian was defeated, the core became defenseless. Eleven could even take over its ownership through Gelganger, without touching it directly.
“I guess that’s not an issue then. You knew that I fought against Number 13?”
“We exchanged that much information before. After I started fighting against my rowdy neighbors, I was cut off from the network though. It’s become a pain to gather intel outside.”
For an instant, Shin thought of asking Eleven about why his weapon and body glowed for an instant when he defeated the Gryphon Guardian. If Eleven did not know of that phenomenon, however, it would mean giving him potentially damaging information.
If Eleven knew what that was, Shin would surely like to know, but there was no way to be sure that Eleven would tell the truth. There was no trust between them.
Shin thought for a moment, then decided not to say anything. It would be better to ask Hades, as it likely possessed more information.
“Tell me what you know about the enemies.”
Shin decided to give priority to the opponents they were going to fight next and asked Eleven about the information he had.
He didn’t know when Eleven was cut off from the Guardians’ information network, but he had to know at least who his enemies were.
“You’ve seen monsters attacking this place on your way here, haven’t you? They came from the closest Sacred Place. The ruling Guardian is based on a plant-type monster called Vanwood. The other one is based on a golem-type monster, Arahabaki. The Guardians’ form shouldn’t have changed, so I’ll explain about their abilities too.”
Their abilities shouldn’t have changed too much, or so continued Eleven. Shin nodded and started thinking of countermeasures.
That instant, a bell sounded off in Shin’s head, alerting him of approaching hostility.
Insight had activated. An attack was coming, for whatever reason.
Shin turned around. Schnee, Filma, Shibaid, and Milt — who also possessed Insight — were looking in the same direction. With so many “witnesses”, there was no doubt about it.
A few seconds later, the ground shook. Not long after, an explosion could be heard in the distance.
“What’s going on?”
“The neighbors are attacking. Though, it feels different than the usual.”
Shin’s map and presence detection abilities could not differentiate between the Algaraz monsters under Eleven, led by Gelganger, and other monsters.
The Trents that attacked Algaraz when the group arrived and the idle flying monsters all had the same presence.
Special monsters showed a different presence, but that was not the case this time.
Currently, the only unique presence Shin could pick up was Eleven.
The others were only classified as active or inactive, but their size was mostly the same.
“It’s the first time we’ve been attacked from the air. I wonder what happened?”
“You’re pretty calm, don’t you need to go fight?”
“Yvr and the others will take care of it.”
Eleven completely left the counterattack to Gelganger. Despite the unprecedented nature of the attack, he didn’t seem worried in the slightest.
“(Can anyone determine which of the presences outside are attacking?)”
“(It’s pretty hard to do from here.)”
“(It’s a hot mess out there.)”
Shin’s question via Mind Chat was met by a cool and collected reply from Schnee and a frown from Milt. Filma and Shibaid nodded in agreement.
The flying monsters could move in regardless of the walls: they had been flying around the area since before Shin’s arrival.
Not even Schnee and the others could tell exactly which monsters were attacking. Most of the monsters around the Sacred Place had active icons, despite the fact that Shin’s party hadn’t fought them directly.
If Shin and the others hadn’t concealed their presence on their way to Algaraz, those monsters would have surely gathered. The only monsters not fighting were the ones which traveled here from the continent with Shin’s group.
“They’re flying to surround Algaraz.”
“Like they want to make sure someone doesn’t get out.”
The presence on the map showed that the flying monsters, supposedly the attackers, were spreading all around the walls. Eleven noticed it too and guessed their intentions.
“The monsters sticking to the walls were just defeated: it’s far too early for any new action. I can only think of one cause for such an abnormal development.”
“Some of the flying monsters were spying on us?”
There were various types of flying monsters in the area, so it would be hard to notice if a monster coming from elsewhere had mingled among them.
“The monsters here are born from my magic power, so I can tell them apart, at least…”
“It’s faster to go see them directly then.”
Shin and his party couldn’t tell the difference, but Eleven could.
There was nothing else they could learn by staying there, so they decided to conceal their presence and go observe the situation outside.
“I see, they used parasites. The Trents were in charge of sowing seeds too then.”
Plant-like appendages sprouted from the bodies of the flying monsters.
The parasites Eleven mentioned were one of the abilities of plant monsters: they buried seeds in the bodies of other monsters to take control of them.
The Guardian in the closest Sacred Place was apparently based on the Trent-type monster Vanwood, so it was likely the culprit.
“They’ve started fighting inside the walls. Can your monsters take care of them?”
“Yes, no problem. You’re welcome to break through and go to the Sacred Place.”
Even if the invading monsters started rampaging inside the walls, Eleven was as calm as ever. He was probably confident they could take care of the situation by themselves.
Shin thus decided to leave the monsters to him and move out.