TNG Vol. 18 Chapter 3 Part 3

 

“What’s going on!?”

The ground shook violently up and down, much more than any quake could on Earth.

The sudden tremor made Shin and the others stagger, but, in the game era there were plenty of monsters that shook the ground just by walking, they quickly regained their balance and scanned the surroundings for any threats.

Tiera had less experience than the others, but managed to keep standing and ready her weapon, thanks to her training.

The Warhunds then started growling, in a direction different from the one Shin’s party came from.

“They said, they’re coming again.”

“Who’s coming?”

The Warhunds growled for a specific reason, which Yuzuha translated. The tremor was not a natural phenomenon, and according to Warhunds, it had happened before.

“It can’t be the Guardian from the next Sacred Place, can it?”

The enemy was powerful enough to send the Vanwood Guardian’s subordinates, the Warhunds, on high alert. It had to be the Guardian from the other Sacred Place or its subordinates.

Shin thought the Warhunds would immediately go fight the enemy, but they showed no signs of moving.

“What’s happening?”

Because of the deep vegetation, Shin couldn’t see what the Warhunds were growling at.

Shin had to activate 【Through Sight】 and 【Clairvoyance】 to see beyond the trees, but the forest seemed to extend forever, so he could not see past it.

He looked for any likely sources of the tremor within the radius of his skills, but could not find anything.

“They say it’s coming from underground.”

“Hmm, that makes it harder to fight…”

Players have few ways to attack monsters located underground. Against flying monsters, they could simply chuck rocks or, more effectively, use tracking spells, arrows or projectiles, but underground monsters were not as easily dealt with.

The ground itself acted as a shield, which prevented the players from getting closer. The monsters, on the other hand, could move freely, putting them at a great advantage.

Before Shin attained his current strength, he never went out of his way to fight underground monsters. They were difficult to hit properly and could hardly be stopped if they tried to run away.

“What? It’s over?”

Shin was trying to come up with a good countermeasure, but the Warhunds apparently did not intend to fight.

After a while, they retracted their exposed fangs and turned towards Shin and the others.

According to Yuzuha, other servants would deal with the invader. Unlike Eleven, the Vanwood Guardian apparently had multiple close subordinates.

Shin looked in the direction the Warhunds growled at and noticed a column of smoke. The battle had probably started.

“I suppose we can start exchanging information now, yes?”

“Judging from the Warhunds’ behavior, I think so. We’ll stand guard.”

In case of attacks from underground, to be able to detect them early was of vital importance. Shin and the rest of the party scanned all directions — sky, ground and forest — for any hostile activity.

On the other hand, the Warhund leader and Gelganger started exchanging information.

Shin was surprised to see Gelganger transform its hand into slime form and touch the Warhund’s leader’s will-o’wisp collar with it. As far as he knew, those globes of light did not have a material body.

Shin wondered what was going to happen next, but nothing did. The two monsters stood there silently: it certainly didn’t look like they were communicating in any way.

Shin thought that the tentacle between the Warhund’s light globe and Gelganger’s tentacle probably allowed them to communicate.

A faint light could be seen traveling through Gelganger’s slime-like arm. Thinking that it might be working like optical fiber, Shin marveled at the versatility of slimes in this world.

“I apologize for making you wait. As it turns out, various things have happened since my master was cut off from the Guardian network.”

After about five minutes, Gelganger detached its tentacle from the light globe.

The information exchange had ended: the sour expression on the elderly gentleman’s face, however, suggested that the situation had not improved.

“Tell us more.”

Shin prompted Gelganger to go on, while maintaining alert about any threats in the surroundings.

According to the information obtained from the Warhund leader, several months prior — though, since Warhunds did not keep track of passing days, Gelganger estimated the period based on the times the sun rose in the monster’s memories — any contact from the Guardian of the neighboring Sacred Place had ceased and they lost access of the network.

Only the Guardian itself could access the network, though, so the Warhunds could not know if it was really impossible to access it.

In any case, this development became known several months before.

Then, a few days later, the monsters from the neighbor Sacred Place started invading, expanding their area of influence.

Probably because the Guardian was based on a Arahabaki, the area under its influence increased in temperature to the point the ground turned red hot; in certain parts it even started melting. The most recent attack too, while it didn’t melt the ground, succeeded in setting fire to part of the forest.

“The matchup couldn’t be worse, huh…”

In THE NEW GATE, most plant monsters were weak to fire. Monsters like Arahabaki, which could emit flames at temperatures much higher than normal fire, were natural enemies for them.

The Wolfreet, its whereabouts still unknown after its last appearance, was the same: it could damage plant monsters just by being there.

After detecting the Arahabaki Guardian’s expansion, the Warhunds’ leader and Guardian started doing the same. It took over areas still untouched by the Arahabaki Guardian, to delay its advance.

The two territories came into contact about one week ago: because of the affinity problem, the Vanwood Guardian’s territory was gradually being eroded.

The earthquake was also caused by this conflict: the Vanwood Guardian apparently knew that its dominion wasn’t going to last much longer.

“To think that the situation would be this different…”

“I am very surprised too, sir. Even if we were incapacitated from obtaining new information, we would have not expected such drastic developments…”

Gelganger frowned at the unexpected circumstances.

Shin’s party could not simply continue with their plan of defeating the Guardians one by one, starting from the closest one. If the Guardians were fighting among themselves, there was a high probability that they were acting of their own free will, like Eleven.

In that case, they might act differently from the Guardians had met before — which attacked him on sight.

Shin did not consider all Guardians to automatically be enemies, so it was necessary to gauge their intentions and revise their plans.

“If things are like this, maybe it will be possible to negotiate with this Guardian? If it doesn’t plan to attack us or Eleven’s territory, there’s no need to defeat it, is there?”

They didn’t know the intentions of the Vanwood Guardian yet, but using them to their advantage was a strategy as well. Solving the situation without fighting was ideal, after all.

If possible, Shin wanted to spare himself and the party having to search the sea of trees for the core, while fighting its monsters.

“Indeed, we are just defending ourselves against the monsters invading our area. If this Guardian’s intentions have changed, there is the possibility of a peaceful resolution.”

The two Guardians on this side of the island, Vanwood and Arahabaki, originally attacked to remove Eleven, the “irregularity”.

Eleven was seen as irregular by all other Guardians, but judging from the situation one of the two Guardians — probably Arahabaki, who turned against its fellow Guardian — had changed somehow.

If the negotiations failed, they would start looking for the core again with Gelganger. In that case, the Warhunds would take the matter seriously. Shin had no intention of holding back.

“I shall try to talk to them once more. Please wait.”

Gelganger then turned its hand to slime form again and stretched it towards the Warhund leader.

The leader seemed a little wary at first, but relaxed when it realized Gelganger did not have hostile intentions.

“(Did anything happen between the Guardians that we are not aware of?)”

“(It’s possible. I don’t know how many Guardians there are, but it wouldn’t be too far-fetched if Guardians other than Eleven developed their own unique conscience.)”

Shin watched over Gelganger and the Warhunds while talking with Schnee via Mind Chat.

The Guardians were capable of communication and had their own information network. Shin thought that all Guardians had their own conscience, at least to a degree.

Judging from what Eleven said, it probably depended on the monsters they were based on; there were other human-like monsters like the Doppelganger, however, and some monsters were capable of communication even if they didn’t have human-like traits.

“I apologize for making you wait. The negotiations are complete, so allow me to explain.”

After about 10 minutes, Gelganger retracted its slime arm and turned towards Shin and the party.

“In short, if the currently invading Guardian can be defeated and subjugated, Number 37 agrees to become my master’s subordinate.”

“…just to make sure, that means that the Guardian itself will, right? Not only the Warhund?”

Eleven said it was “Number 11”; “37” probably referred to the Vanwood Guardian’s number.

Shin asked if the Warhund leader could really decide something like that; the answer he received was that as long as they were in the forest, all subordinates could communicate with the Guardian. Gelganger had apparently negotiated directly with the Vanwood Guardian, using the Warhund leader as medium.

“We don’t know much about the Guardians’ power relationship. Is something like that really possible?”

Was it as easy as the idiom said, that “yesterday’s enemies are today’s friends”? Shin asked to make sure that former enemies could really turn into allies like that.

It wasn’t a crazy development for humans, but Guardians were a different kind of creature. Did they possess concepts of betrayal of alliances and reconciliation with former enemies?

“Apparently, the invading Guardian is in an unprecedented state, thus the Vanwood Guardian judged it too risky to be subjugated by it. My master is considered a heretic, but the fundamental difference is only in its way of thinking: its very existence is not seen as abnormal. This is probably the reason behind the Guardian’s decision. It is the same as taking over the core to gain control over its Guardian, so we do not need to worry about betrayal either.”

“Is that so? Well, if it can keep its promise, we don’t have any objections.”

Shin nodded to Gelganger: there was no change in what they had to do, after all.

The Vanwood Guardian was going to fall under Eleven’s control: the only difference is that it happened through negotiation instead of battle. If both parties agreed with it, there was no need to object and ruin the negotiations.

“We have only one issue left to deal with, then.”

“Indeed. As we spoke at first, I humbly ask you to conquer the third Sacred Place.”

The second Sacred Place was dealt with little to no fighting, but things weren’t going to go so easily with the third.

Shin immediately gathered information about the invading forces, with Gelganger’s help. He knew the monster the Guardian was based on, but the Guardian version might have abilities the monster did not.

“Looks like it can attack in ways we aren’t familiar with.”

According to the information gathered from the Warhunds, the Guardian could attack in ways the monster did not possess in the game era.

It could always heat the ground to its melting point, but could not mold the melted terrain in human-like dolls that moved and attacked.

The dolls looked human, but only their upper bodies could emerge from the ground, which reminded Shin of a certain Devil.

The dolls did not have defining features: they apparently looked like someone haphazardly made a torso with clay, then stuck a head and arms on it.

The Warhunds and their brethren called them “Lava Giants”. They did not have eyes or a mouth, so they really looked like lava molded in a sort of human-like shape.

The Lava Giants, however, attacked the Warhunds or other subordinates of the Vanwood Guardian on sight, so they seemed to have a degree of sensory functions.

Their attack patterns were simple: they either tackled their targets, spun their arms around or shot lava from their head and torso. Their body was made of high temperature lava, so it burned trees just by contact and could melt most things it touched.

Until now, up to 10 Lava Giants appeared at the same time. They apparently had a red sphere in the center of their bodies, serving as core: if it was destroyed they also fell.

“I guess freezing will be the quickest way to deal with them.”

To lower the temperature of burning enemies by freezing was a common strategy in the game era.

When cooled, high-temperature monsters moved more slowly and their defense dropped as well. Freezing them completely, then hitting them with a blunt weapon was the basic tactic.

If the player and the monster had similar stats, however, the monsters would quickly melt back to normal after being frozen. Freezing them quickly and weakening them before they melted was key.

“I thought I could show off this time, but I guess I was wrong, huh.”

“Oh, Milt, you mean that. Yeah, the scope this time is a bit…”

Milt grumbled to herself: the reason was that the spirit she used was a water elemental.

In some ways, THE NEW GATE could be rather realistic: if high-temperature monsters were sprayed with water, they could cause steam explosions. This could happen with water as an item or water created by magic.

The monsters were damaged by the explosion, so if the objective was just to defeat them, spraying water on them from a distance could be a viable tactic.

Milt was specialized in close-quarter combat, so she often used Spirit Magic when fighting monsters like Arahabaki.

This strategy failed to work if the target had high defense, however, so it could not be used with any and all high-temperature monsters.

The Warhunds’ strategy was to focus their attacks on the Lava Giants’ core. This had caused large swaths of the forest to be burnt down, however, so it was a risky plan too.

“I guess me and Shibaid would have a tough time too, but if Schnee and Sety can freeze them it’ll be a piece of cake, no?”

“Indeed.”

They had managed to freeze even Arahabaki in the past, so Filma spoke nonchalantly. Shibaid nodded in agreement.

Schnee was especially proficient in Ice Magic, while Sety was a specialist of all kinds of magic. If Shin joined in too, they should be able to turn even a volcanic area into a frozen wasteland.

“I guess Shin and the others could…hm? Wait, didn’t you do something like that before? I recall hearing news of a volcano half turned into a tundra…”

“That happened when all six Rokuten members used 【Absolut】 all at the same time. We didn’t know we’d end up doing something like that, to be honest.”

The event happened when Rokuten was not well known either, so the boards buzzed for a while, wondering what happened.

The six members of Rokuten had used 【Absolut】, a Water magic spell, to freeze the surroundings and hinder the enemy’s movements.

It worked on both enemies and allies, but thanks to the High Humans’ high magic resistance, Shin and the others managed to freeze the surroundings without sustaining damage.

It was never expected for six players with maxed out stats to use such a spell all at the same time, however: part of the volcanic area they used it in literally froze.

The mere contact of the resulting icy surface would cause freezing as well: it was a different kind of deadly environment than the molten rock it once was composed of.

The following update fixed the environment, so it failed to make the news anymore, but Milt still remembered it.

“I want to see how it’d work in this world, so I guess we could try fighting on the way to the third Sacred Place?”

“That would reveal your hand a bit too much, wouldn’t it? Though I guess it wouldn’t change much even if you show a little of what you can do.”

Shin wanted to test how freezing affected the Lava Giants, but Tiera commented that if they had an effective strategy, it might be wiser to hide it until the last moment.

“Tiera makes a good point…if my guess is correct, the next Sacred Place will be a sea of magma. I can provide everyone with resistant equipment, but it’ll all be easier if we can freeze it. It might get troublesome if we give them a chance to become resistant to freezing, or come up with other countermeasures.”

It was also concerning to face the enemy head-on without prior experimenting, however.

Even if it was based on a known monster, the Guardian could possess all sorts of unknown abilities.

Because of that, Shin was very curious about how Ice Magic would work on the Lava Giants, as in a way they were created from the Arahabaki Guardian’s own body.

How the Guardian created the giants was still unknown, but it was more than likely that it could gather information through them.

Shin understood Tiera’s concern, so he was unsure about what to do.

“I don’t think it could come up with a countermeasure so easily, though. If me, Shin and big sister Schnee work together, we can turn a whole city into a snow globe, can’t we? I don’t want to imagine anyone capable of countering that…”

So said Sety to the undecided Shin, a sour expression on her face as well.

Shin inquired Gelganger and the Warhunds for any useful information, but they both said they did know the enemy to that extent.

“It is quite difficult to predict, I agree. This Guardian is already a creature outside the system, so it could exhibit unpredictable behavior. Though the same can be said about you Shin.”

“You’ve got ridiculous stats, after all.”

Even Schnee, who had lived in that world for a long time already, could not draw a conclusion. Filma nodded to her last sentence and commented to herself.

“You and this Guardian are both outside the system in the same way, I suppose.”

“I do have high stats, but not a lot of special abilities, though.”

Shin couldn’t yet use the 【Surge】 skills he had newly acquired. There weren’t many other differences he could point out between him and the others.

“I see we will hardly agree to a conclusion by standing here and talking. I propose to advance while using Milt’s Water Spirit Magic as our main weapon, while preserving Ice Magic as much as possible. This time, we will have to face our enemies and only then will we know.”

Shibaid realized that it was going to be difficult to reach an agreement, so he broke his silence.

“…right. I guess there’s no way to know without fighting this time.”

Their current questions couldn’t be answered by mulling over them. Shin looked again at the direction the smoke column rose from, but the smoke was now gone.

 

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