TNG Vol. 18 Chapter 3 Part 1

“Found a presence…wait…what the…?”

One hour after the party embarked on their sand sea journey, thanks to the magic-powered ship’s speed they finally reached what seemed to be the location of the Sacred Place. The sheer size of it, however, left Shin almost speechless.

“To say it’s huge…would be a severe understatement.”

Schnee apparently picked it up too: her expression tensed slightly. The more they approached the presence, the clearer its size became: it was already enough to dwarf a Giant Caput.

“The Sacred Place is fused with a monster…?”

“I can’t think of any other explanation…”

Milt whispered while looking at the scenery and Shibaid nodded in agreement.

The party’s eyes were focused on a gigantic root, piercing through castle walls. Black and red vein-like objects bulged and pulsated on the root: a characteristic unique to certain Plant-type monsters.

If their information was correct, that probably belonged to the Vanwood Guardian.

“Can monsters fuse with cities now…?”

“Based on what Eleven said, I guess?”

Sety was in utter disbelief, while Filma struggled with the concept as well.

“So, what should we do?”

“First, let’s check what that actually is. If it has eyes or similar organs, it will already know we’re here, but at least it’s not acting like that now. I can see a place we can use to land. We’ll go there, and, if nothing happens, me and Schnee will go down first to scout the area.”

Shin replied to Tiera’s question; they would investigate the area first.

If their only goal was to defeat the enemy, Schnee and Sety would be firing wide-range spells to burn down most of the monster’s body. In that case, however, they didn’t know what would happen to the Sacred Place’s core. They didn’t know how sturdy it was, or even its location.

If they attacked where the core *probably* wasn’t, but ended up destroying it in the process, it would all mean nothing. Large scale magic was the group’s last resort; they already knew that cores could be destroyed.

If they could fire such spells in rapid succession, they could control their firepower and systematically attack the monster from the roots up, but it wasn’t possible to use the spells so quickly at present. In the end Shin decided not to use them, also as a form of insurance.

“We’re already pretty close, but I can’t see or detect any other monsters.”

“Right…could it be that it turned them all into nutrients?”

Shin followed Schnee’s comment with a possible explanation.

The monsters around Sacred Places were born from the magic power overflowing from it, but they were not immune to the Sacred Place master’s attacks.

It would not be strange for the master to absorb the monsters in order to recover excess magic power.

“That monster’s presence is so strong that it’s hard to scan inside the Sacred Place. It’s definitely inside though.”

“There might be monsters under the master’s control. If it can plant seeds in them to control them, it’s definitely more effective than just unleashing a horde of monsters in the city.”

The presence likely belonging to the Guardian enveloped the whole city, probably as a consequence of having fused with it.

On the map, the area slightly ahead of the party’s landing point was completely red. The icon was so large that there might be all sorts of things hiding under it though.

The icon was a shade paler than usual monster icons, which made it possible to have a general idea of the city’s structure.

However, as Filma said, it made it impossible to detect if there were any other monsters inside.

In the Gryphon Guardian’s Sacred Place, where Shin had been sent to in the past, monsters moved and acted freely.

Things were clearly very different here. As Shibaid pointed out, monsters of various types could be manipulated to cooperate, making them more dangerous than their level suggested.

“Yuzuha, can you feel anything?”

“The presence is too fuzzy…but I have a bad feeling about it.”

Being a monster, Yuzuha detected presences in a different way from Shin and the others. Shin thus asked her if she felt anything they didn’t: Yuzuha replied while staring in the direction of the Sacred Place.

She couldn’t tell exactly what was inside either, but her mention of a “bad feeling” piqued Shin’s interest.

“A bad feeling, hmm…if you can tell me more…I guess you’d have done so already. Does anyone feel anything else?”

So Shin asked the other members.

Like Yuzuha’s “bad feeling”, sensations difficult to put into words were not to be underestimated. They might have subconsciously found something very important.

“It’s a bit different from what Yuzuha said, but I have the feeling it’s in pain. Maybe the Guardian didn’t plan to reach this state.”

Tiera was the first to reply. Since the Guardian was based on a Plant-type monster, she could probably sense things Shin and the others could not feel.

“In pain…?”

“Hey, Shin, could it be that the core is going berserk?”

“Hmm, I wonder…yeah, you might be right.”

For Shin, avid consumer of manga and games, the enemy losing control and going wild, even if the heroes’ party did not do anything, was not an uncommon development.

Milt’s idea was probably based on the fact that she too was aware of such stories.

“The core is going berserk? What do you mean?”

“We can’t be sure yet, but I’ve read about this kind of thing before. Eleven didn’t really explain much about the core either…anyway, it might be that something unexpected happened — something that not even the core’s master predicted. Well, it’s just a possibility.”

As they talked, the ship finally crossed over the edge of the sand sea.

The Sacred Place was surrounded by 50 mel wide land, beyond which were the castle walls, ravaged by the roots.

Shin stopped the ship and put it back into the item box. There was no sign that monsters were going to attack yet.

“Like I said before, me and Schnee are going scouting first. If anything happens, let us know with Mind Chat.”

Shibaid and the rest of the party nodded, then Shin and Schnee headed for the castle walls. The fact that they did not crumble anywhere, despite the giant roots penetrating them, was testament to their resilience.

“I don’t know if it means anything, but let’s conceal our presence, just in case.”

Shin and Schnee used 【Hiding】, as well as skills to erase their scent. They used their stealth capabilities to the max, also as a way to test the Guardian’s detection ability.

They climbed on the walls, carefully avoiding the roots, then observed the interior of the city.

“I knew we weren’t going to find anything pretty…but this exceeds my expectations.”

“Yes…the direction we came from is the only one that retained any city-like features, apparently.”

Beyond the castle walls extended a sea of trees.

There were building-like structures here and there, but they were covered in vegetation, roots and branches growing through their walls and roof, barely retaining their original shape.

“It has to be larger than the original city…at least, I don’t remember any city of this size in the game era.”

The sea of trees spread beyond what Shin and Schnee could see. Some cities in the game era were very large, but not to this extent. The sea trees had taken over the city, then continued expanding.

“This makes it quite difficult to locate the core, though.”

“Right. Eleven said it’s probably in the center of the city, now that the original city is barely recognizable, we don’t even have a clue about where to find it.”

Thanks to the presence of the castle walls, they knew that the city center shouldn’t be too far, but that was all they knew.

“Will the core really be in the center of the city, I wonder.”

“Do you think it moved?”

Eleven had told Shin and the party that they just needed to head for the city center, but he didn’t say that the core couldn’t be moved.

“I cannot say with certainty, but there’s something off about the current situation. Because of these walls, we know there was supposed to be a city here. Assuming that the core was in its center, it started from there, turned the area closer to Eleven’s Sacred Place into a sand sea, then formed a sea of trees on the other side. I think that was done only to make it more difficult for Eleven to attack.”

“Hmm, if it can do all this, it would have been easier to stretch its roots all the way to Eleven’s base and attack, right…”

There were monsters in the sand sea, but their usefulness was severely limited on land.

Schnee’s idea that the sand sea was purely a defensive measure was well-grounded. While not perfect, it could work nicely as a buffer zone between Sacred Places.

The core’s exact capacity was unknown, but Shin thought that expanding one’s territory would definitely be an advantage,

If the Vanwood Guardian could stretch its roots, planting seeds in any monsters they found and feed on them, it could be greatly advantageous in battle.

“The roots here could stretch all the way to the Sacred Place allied with this Guardian. Maybe it can do that since they’re allies? But to be honest…”

“It feels more like an invasion.”

“Right. Eleven said that the two Guardians joined forces to fight him, but the truth could be different…”

At the very least, Shin’s party did not experience any enemy attacks as they traveled across the sand sea, nor did they see any monsters coming from the Sacred Place.

The monsters that attacked Eleven’s Sacred Place were Plant-type monsters and monsters controlled by parasite seeds.

The monsters formed by the Sacred Places’ magic power did not necessarily follow the type of monster the Guardian was based on: there could have been monsters from this Sacred Place among the ones attacking Eleven’s Sacred Place, but there was no way to be sure.

“This feels very different from what we’ve been told…”

“He fed us false information and offered a false reward in order to use us. Is that what you think, Shin?”

“A little, yeah. Eleven definitely knows things we don’t. He might be trying to use us, and also have something up his sleeve to use in case we find out…but if we start questioning things we’ll be here all day.”

There were so many things suspicious about the whole situation.

“Even in the worst-case scenario, we should at least be able to stop them from sending monsters towards the continent. That’s the reason why the empire agreed to cooperate: Eleven’s request is just a bonus.”

Once Yuzuha regained her original powers and memories, she would likely become a source for all the information Shin wanted to know.

Shin, embarrassingly enough, only realized it the night before, when he fitted her equipment for the sand sea.

“In any case…I didn’t expect to have to send an emergency message so quickly.”

“If things are so different from what we expected…I think we must.”

Shin looked up at the sky.

The way to contact Gelganger after securing the core had already been decided.

Shin and Schnee climbed down the castle walls, regrouped with the rest of the party and explained what they found. Next, Shin shot a 【Fireball】 towards the sky.

A little while later, a bird-sized dragon came flying. Strictly speaking, it was a dragon-shaped slime, as the creature was formed from part of Gelganger’s body. It could be used to communicate over short distances, apparently.

Gelganger’s main body was standing not too far away, at an altitude where it didn’t risk encountering other flying monsters.

“I have not been summoned because the core has been retrieved, I suppose.”

“The Sacred Place is in a state like this, after all. To be honest, we have no idea where it could be. Can you find any hints from above?”

“The city is covered by clouds, so my main body cannot see anything either. Based on what my other copies can see, the forest extends for roughly 10 kemel.”

“No particular buildings, or any areas that stand out?”

Gelganger’s copy shook its head.

“Okay then…we need a plan.”

All clues were gone. Even Shin’s party would need a long time to search such a large forest without any hints.

“I suppose there is no other way. I will take my main body to your group and search from there.”

“Do you have a way to find the core?”

According to Gelganger, being created as Eleven’s retainer gave it the ability to detect the core’s wavelength. 

While it could not pinpoint its exact location, knowing the general direction was a big step forward.

At present, Gelganger was Eleven’s sole retainer, so taking control of the core was also its task.

If anything happened to Gelganger it wouldn’t be possible to take over the core, so it was waiting away from the Sacred Place, but the situation demanded otherwise.

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