TNG Vol. 18 Chapter 2 Part 2
“All done, what should we do next?”
“Let’s go to the Vanwood Guardian’s Sacred Place before anyone else gets in our way. No reason to take it easy.”
Shin asked Kagerou to speed up, while they continued watching out for any threats in the surroundings.
They were using Shin’s special horse carriage, which wouldn’t break even if Kagerou pulled it at full speed. It barely shook inside, of course, making it an extremely comfortable ride.
“No monsters to be seen. It can’t be that Sety took down all of them…can it?”
“There were plenty of them close to the Sacred Place, but I guess the farther areas are different.”
Filma carefully scrutinized the surroundings and commented, then Shibaid nodded. Since they couldn’t do much during the previous battle, they kept watch during the ride.
“Aren’t there any wild monsters?”
“After all, there are monsters over level 500 roaming freely around here. Monsters which would even attack others of the same species. Lower level monsters have little to no chance of survival, I guess.”
If they were specialized in concealing their presence or running away, they might have some slight chances, but not in any other case, Shin thought.
“By the way, some monsters are strong from the start, right? Maybe those could make it?”
“Around here, magic power flows strangely. I don’t think they can.”
Yuzuha was surely a reliable judge of such matters: Shin thus tried using magic power manipulation to scan the magic power in the surroundings.
Compared to detection-type skills, he could only get a hazy response; he needed complete concentration, so he could only try when there weren’t immediate threats in the vicinity, like now.
Shin had previously asked Sety if he could use magic power manipulation in that way, even if he still failed to apply it to skills, and was told to “synchronize your magic power with the atmosphere. Make it light and airy.” in her usual enigmatic fashion. It was indeed light and airy, too much for Shin’s mind to grasp the meaning, so he still struggled with it.
“Hmm, it’s still hard without using Magic Vision…”
Magic Vision allowed the user to partially sense the flow of magic power. Shin had used it until now as a crutch, in order to grasp the flow.
The flow of magic power usually appeared as a gentle, semi-transparent band of light, but here the light was weak and flickering, popping and cracking — extremely unstable.
Shin now understood what Yuzuha probably meant. The sensations felt outside Magic Vision were very vague and ambiguous, to frustrating levels.
“Hm? There’s something weird ahead?”
The magic power in the surroundings was unstable and hazy — except for a single spot, where it was perfectly calm. An inspection with Far Sight revealed a change in scenery.
Milt also checked with her own Far Sight.
Highly irregular terrain with little to no visual obstacles. A wasteland with trees few and far in between. That was the kind of scenery Shin and the group had been traveling through until now; yet now before them appeared the kind of environment that required specific equipment to be traversed.
Hardened, solid terrain right next to an expanse of formless sand. There was no clearer proof that they were at the border between the two areas.
“I’ve only heard about it…so this is a desert.”
Tiera let out an emotional whisper. She only knew of the existence of deserts through books.
“The Sacred Place should be beyond the desert, right?”
“Yeah, it’s all just as we were told.”
Eleven had given them information not only about the Guardian, but also its Sacred Place and the area around it. He also added that the information dated to when he was still part of the Guardians’ information network, and things could be different now: Shin thus thought that they’d be lucky if it proved to be useful at all.
The Sacred Place closest to Algaraz was located in the middle of a desert.
“Stop here for a while.”
Shin told Kagerou to stop right before they entered the desert.
Like snowy mountains and swamps, deserts — and all areas with difficult terrains — needed special preparations before entering. The danger of carriages toppling and getting stuck, for example, plagued all players.
Shin’s carriage was specially customized, but not enough to simply keep running just like that.
Shin thus switched the wheels with lighter ones that would not sink in the sand, also making sure the carriage would not topple over even if tilted.
He also had Kagerou wear equipment to prevent his legs from getting stuck in the sand. The 『Exploration Claws』 were made especially for four-legged monsters with sharp claws, like Kagerou.
The name and shape of such equipment changed according to the type of monster, but the effect was the same. If the monster pulling the carriage was a horse type, it would be equipped with matching 『Exploration Hooves』.
“This is really…all sand.”
While Shin was exchanging the equipment, Tiera scooped up some sand and let it trickle away in the wind.
They had been traveling together since Bayreuth, but it was the first time they encountered a desert. Unlike snow, which could be seen in winter if the temperature became low enough, the desert was an environment that could not be experienced unless actually visited.
In this world there was no television: there was no way to be prepared for such scenery.
“I see, it makes it hard to just walk.”
Tiera touched the ground and tried stepping on it.
In the game, players wearing full body armor would sink and become unable to move.
Shin watched Tiera lean on one leg, to see how far it would sink, and thought he should check directly too.
“Hmm, it’s harder to move than before.”
Shin stepped inside the desert and moved around a bit: he soon realized it was much harder to walk on the sand now, compared to the game era.
The players’ leg equipment made it easier to handle rough terrain the higher its grade was; however, it could not completely prevent slipping and sinking.
Shin asked the shield-wearing Shibaid to poke him lightly: he ended up sliding double the expected distance.
“Hey, won’t this make it pretty hard to fight?”
“Definitely. I guess we need more preparation.”
Shin nodded to Filma, then asked everyone to take off their leg gear.
He made sure all equipment he made had some leeway for customization: it was a technique that not only Shin, but all skilled blacksmiths employed.
The enchantments that made it possible to handle rough terrains such as deserts or snowy mountains required very little capacity; blacksmiths thus left some open space, so that kind of enchantment could be applied easily. Now was exactly that time.
This made it possible to explore any kind of field with the same equipment. Though it did not neutralize the environmental threats outside terrain, of course.
“Just one enchantment makes it feel so different…it’s like I’m walking on normal ground.”
“It’s harder to walk on sand now compared to the game era, so I guess the equipment’s bonuses are even greater..”
Shin replied to Milt, then tried walking on the sand himself. As she said, his feet did not sink anymore: he could feel them step firmly on the ground.
“By the way…is it just me, or is the sunlight a lot stronger too?”
“No, it’s not just you. Our equipment protects us to an extent, but it’s burning hot out here.”
After changing equipment, Milt commented about the temperature while fanning herself, and Shin agreed.
Even without accurate measurements, they could tell that the temperature rose as soon as they stepped over the area border. The sun rays felt like tiny daggers.
“It does feel like my skin is prickly.”
“I don’t feel it as much, but it’s definitely hotter here.”
Tiera and Filma’s equipment exposed their arms and legs: the difference in their impressions probably derived from the difference in grade of their equipment, as well as their own stats.
“I guess we should wear capes too. Strong sunlight takes away more energy than you think.”
“That’s true. Use these.”
Shin materialized a set of sand-colored capes.
Simply attaching the button on the neck protected the user up to their mouth. Pulling up the hood would then hide the body almost completely.
The addition of enchantments protecting against Flame and Water magic allowed the cape to regulate the wearer’s body temperature too: it would thus protect not only against the searing heat during the day, but also chilling desert nights.
“Shin’s cape feels better than mine!!”
Milt, the first one to point out the heat, deftly nabbed one of the capes and tried it out. She had her own cape, but since braving a desert was not a common occurrence, it was just a makeshift cape. Shin thus did not protest and let her have one too.
Shin had a Creation-type job and created items with all sorts of purposes in mind; Milt, on the other hand, was a battle-oriented member, so he did not expect such things from her.
Even in the game era, very few players prepared equipment focused solely on clearing desert areas anyway.
If Milt had high-level desert gear with her, Shin would have been sincerely surprised and impressed.
Shin made sure everyone’s desert movement issue was handled, then the group started moving again.
Eleven said that the monsters would increase in number as they got closer to the Sacred Place: but, aside from the swarm they defeated after leaving Algaraz, Shin’s party had not encountered any other monsters yet.
“They might be expecting us to come, so they gathered all their forces in one point.”
“It’s possible. Apparently, the Gryphon Guardian Shin fought in the past just attacked relentlessly, but their strategy is definitely different here.”
Eleven’s manner of speech and thought were not too different from normal human beings; it would be not strange if a Guardian capable of manipulating monsters to spy on Algaraz had a similar level of intellect.
“If the Guardian is based on a plant monster, how come the Sacred Place is surrounded by desert then? I expected to find it in a pluvial forest, to be honest.”
“This kind of environment makes it hard for us, that’s for sure. It’s hard to move and there are no obstacles to hide behind. Perfect conditions to easily target us.”
Filma’s question and Sety’s theory were both understandable. Not even Eleven knew why the Sacred Place was in the middle of a desert.
“I guess the Guardian is just *based* on a plant monster, similar to how Eleven is different from a normal Faceman.”
“Right, the Guardian here is probably a lot different from a normal Vanwood, not just the way they think. There must be a reason why the area around the Sacred Place is mostly unchanged too.”
Shin nodded to Milt’s comment.
During the explanation, Eleven had touched upon its own abilities a little, but they were all abilities any Faceman possessed. Judging from the Guardians they had fought until now, Eleven and the Vanwood Guardian surely had their own unique abilities too.
The area around Algaraz had trees scattered here and there, compared to the wasteland Shin and the group had traveled through since they landed on the island. The desert they were facing now, however, was a completely different environment.
According to Eleven, the transformed environment was not only the desert: the area beyond the Sacred Place they were heading to, home of the Guardian based on the golem-type monster Arahabaki, was very different from a wasteland too.
In other words, only the area ruled by Eleven had changed very little. This exception had to have a meaning.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Kagerou?”
As the group was exchanging opinions, the carriage’s pace suddenly dropped. Shin had let Kagerou take charge to participate in the conversation, but now turned towards their “coachman”.
Kagerou cried faintly, then slowly moved to a leisurely pace. A small hill lay in front, which made it difficult to see ahead.
If they proceeded at their current pace, they could cross the hill in no time. Kagerou did not seem concerned, so Shin waited without using Skills to check.
“I don’t see anything unusual…?”
Kagerou stopped on top of the hill.
Just like before, the scenery showed sand as far as the eye could see. They had been traveling through the same environment until now: there were no particular differences.
Since Kagerou had slowed down, however, there was probably something different ahead.
“Yuzuha, can you translate?”
The two animal-like creatures started growling and yelping at each other; at that moment, Schnee noticed something in the sea of sand and her expression changed.
“May I try something?”
“Hm? Yeah, sure, I guess?”
Earth-type Magic Skill 【Rock Bullet】.
A skill to shoot a football-sized boulder. The rock appeared to fly through the air, but soon slowed down and was caught by gravity, tumbling down on the sand.
The 【Rock Bullet】 disappeared under the sand in mere seconds.
Earth magic spells had the most mass out of the seven elements, but there was no way it would have disappeared so quickly in a normal desert.
“Kagerou says the area ahead is different.”
Yuzuha related Kagerou’s message with spot-on timing, her paws pointing to a spot beyond the hill they were on.
The scenery looked exactly the same, so it took Shin time to notice, but looking more closely, he could tell something was off. Unlike the area they had traveled in until now, the scenery ahead was completely flat.
The only variations were swellings or depressions in the sand, scattered here and there.
“It looks like a…sand sea..”
“This place just turned into even more of a pain…”
Milt noticed the unnatural change in the desert and frowned.
Shin, Schnee, and Shibaid shared her feelings, though maybe not as overtly. The only ones who, not understanding why, cocked their heads to the side, were Tiera and Kagerou: they had never seen a sand sea.
“Judging from that look on your face…it must be really dangerous?”
“I’m curious what kind of look that is…”
Shin touched his face, wondering if he had a strange expression on. He had no idea.
“Leaving these pointless things aside…”
“A sand sea is…basically, just like the name says. It’s like a sea, but with sand instead of water. It’s not actually the same thing, obviously: you can’t just cross it with water equipment, but desert equipment isn’t going to help either. In any case, it’s a real pain.”
Milt glossed over Shin’s “concerns” and gave a rather vague explanation — though the only one possible.
A sand sea sucked in the traveler like quicksand in some places, but most of it flowed just like water: it was a mock sea, made with sand.
That was the true nature of the scenery spreading before them.
There were living creatures in it, just like a real sea: in the game era, they were mainly fish-like monsters, complete with predators, shark or whale-like creatures.
“The sand here is even smoother than normal: it flows and trickles from your hand just like water. Just touch it and you’ll see. You might think that this makes it possible to swim in it, but be careful: without the proper skills, even expert swimmers would drown easily. The environment underwater — or, in this case, undersand — is extremely difficult to escape once entered. Unlike normal water, it is not possible to float naturally here.”
“That’s right. In the past, falling into the sand sea meant to die: that was common sense. We dived into the sea before, didn’t we? To sink into the sand feels just like being pulled into that darkness.”
Schnee delivered a more detailed explanation, to which Filma added her personal experience. Tiera could easily imagine how it felt to be pulled into the abyss, as she turned pale and stepped away from the sand sea.
“We’ll have to camp out here for today. I don’t suppose the Sacred Place sank into the sand sea, but if we go on we’d risk having to spend the night on the ‘waves’.”
Shin stopped the carriage: he had no intention to face that risk.
“Can it be so bad that not even you can handle it, Shin?”
“Yeah, it’s that bad. A monster large enough to swallow the ship we used in Barbatos in one gulp.”
Such a monster dwelled in the sand sea in the game era: it might not be around anymore, but it would not be strange if it still was. Shin did not want to be the guinea pig for this experiment.
The monster’s name was Giant Caput: it was basically a whale, just many times larger.
A pair of twisted horns sprouted from the sides of its head, which it used to emit magical waves to detect its prey. It usually looked for prey or a hunting ground during the day and actually hunted at night. Because of that, until its habits were posted on the game’s bulletin boards, many players were silently tracked down, then swallowed, ship and all, while they were resting at night.
That did not mean that the sand sea would be safer during the day however.
“The depths of the sea were scary, but the sand sea is pretty nasty too…”
The name Barbatos reminded Tiera of when they dove deep into the sea, so she trembled a little. Falling into the sand sea would be similar to diving into that world of pitch-black darkness.
“We have countermeasures, don’t worry. We’re leaving tomorrow morning, I’ll fix up the equipment for Schnee and the others. Tiera, Kagerou, Yuzuha, I’ll have to add some enchantments on yours too.”
“Thank you very much.”
Tiera seemed a little tense, hence the unusually polite reply. Shin worried he might have scared her a bit.
The sand sea was truly dangerous though. Tiera’s current stats surpassed even advanced Chosen Ones, but if she fell into the sands, she would be probably done for.
The desert equipment would prevent her from sinking immediately, but if she couldn’t get out in the very short window between falling and sinking, the sand would swallow her without a doubt.
The greatest danger of that environment was the sand’s ability to capture anything that touched it. If you were standing on land, touching the sand with arms or legs would feel similar to touching seawater: it would even feel more pleasant, since there was no risk of getting wet.
However, such carelessness could prove fatal. The moment you leave land, the sand would never let go.
Some players hypothesized that the effects changed depending on the size of the land surface one was in contact with, and that the sand sea was made of a particular kind of material, or so Shin had heard.
“How about you, Milt? I can check your equipment too if you want.”
Milt sounded more polite too, though not as much as Tiera. On the other hand, she was far more eager to have her equipment tuned.
“Okay then. Might as well take out Tsuki no Hokora.”
Shin moved a bit farther away from the border between the desert and the sand sea, then materialized Tsuki no Hokora. If it was too close, it could get in the way if monsters emerged from the sand waves.
“I will make preparations for dinner then.”
“I’ll help too.”
The sun was still high, but it certainly wasn’t too early to start preparing dinner. Sety, who used to cook for herself in the Faerie Village, joined Schnee in the kitchen.
“I will patrol the surroundings. We may have a barrier, but we are still in enemy territory. There is no reason to let our guard down.”
“I’ll go with you then. All I can do in the kitchen is set up the table anyway.”
Shibaid and Filma left, weapons in hand.
In the desert, it was not unusual for monsters to attack from underground. They couldn’t feel any presence at the moment, but they might be concealed by the Guardian’s roots.
Shin was sure that Shibaid and Filma would be fine, so he simply watched them go.