TNG Vol. 18 Chapter 3 Part 4
Shin’s party obtained the information about the quickest way out of the forest from the Warhunds, then proceeded immediately.
There was no need to search for the core anymore, so Gelganger returned to its hiding spot above the clouds. In order to react in time in case anything happened, however, it left a copy of itself with Shin’s party.
“Just to make sure…if we defeat the Guardian in the next Sacred Place, the Guardian here…number 37, was it? It won’t attack us, right?”
Shin thought it best not to talk about it with the Warhunds around, so he waited until they left before asking Gelganger.
The Arahabaki-based Guardian was number 43 apparently.
“In my humble opinion, I believe it is unlikely that they will discard their promise and attack us. Number 37, unlike my master and the clearly warped Number 43, should prioritize its mission and rationality…in other words, act like a normal Guardian.”
Number 37, the Vanwood Guardian, was loyal to its mission, like the Gryphon Guardian and the Guardian that controlled Ishkar.
Gelganger added that in a normal situation, it would have surely attacked Shin’s party.
“Basically, it’s like a machine that moves according to its program.”
Or maybe a robot equipped with an AI with limited capabilities. That’s what Gelganger’s explanation suggested to Shin.
In this situation, halting Number 43’s advance was considered of higher priority than attacking Shin.
“Hmm, but what if it decides that betraying its promise is the most rational course of action?”
“Hey, don’t say that now.”
Shin rebuked Milt, but the same thought came to his mind too.
After all, Number 37 would become Eleven’s subordinate only after Number 43 was defeated.
It could very well take advantage of the battle between Shin’s party and Number 43 to take over its core and attack Shin before he recovered from battle.
Was it going to become Eleven’s subordinate as promised or turn against them? All “normal” Guardians Shin met until then had attacked him at first sight, so he couldn’t fully trust the Vanwood Guardian’s promise.
“If that happens, we’ll just have to fight back with all our might. The core might be damaged, but the opponent might be too strong for us to afford to hold back. Even if we can’t take over the core, once the Guardian is gone it’s easy to take control of the Sacred Place isn’t it? The most important thing now is to get rid of the other Guardian, right?”
“I fully agree with Miss Sety. If the worst happens, there is nothing to be done. Since Lord Shin was going to fight, our master already considered that the core might be damaged.”
If the core was intact there were more options available, but in the end it was just as Sety said: as long as Eleven was the top Guardian of the island, Shin’s party’s objective was achieved.
The other cores were not strictly necessary.
“I planned to return to the coast if we continued searching for the core, but since our plans changed I say we spend the night here. I have to check the equipment too.”
Shin didn’t expect to have to prepare other specialized equipment immediately after providing the sand sea gear: he was slightly annoyed.
For Schnee and the others, he could use the equipment from the game era, so he only had to prepare it for Tiera and Milt, like he did before crossing the sand sea.
It was not a lot of work by any means: it was more of a matter of mood.
They couldn’t use the horse carriage in the forest, so they normally advanced on foot.
Probably thanks to Number 37 agreeing to cooperate, the party’s detection skills now worked normally. There were no obstacles anymore: they could clearly see the monsters scattered around the forest.
“I wonder why some are in a group, while others are scattered like that?”
“It doesn’t look like they are concentrated in a specific area, so maybe that’s just the type of monster they are? Judging from the size of the icon, they’re all small-sized monsters.”
Milt touched upon the monsters’ distribution, so Shin gave his view on the topic.
The distribution of monsters in the forest was not uniform: most of them were located in the area Number 43’s attacks came from. The size of the various groups was irregular, however, and their placement seemed to be haphazard as well.
“Thinking about it, we know about their affinity, but not about their difference in level or strength, if there is any.”
“Right. In case of fighting, I imagined we’d only have enemies around us, so I never thought about it.”
Schnee and Filma’s conversation led Shin to the same realization.
When Eleven requested Shin for help, he didn’t think there would be a great difference in strength between himself and the other Guardians: he might have a very hard time winning if they faced him two on one, but that was it.
He didn’t ask about the differences in strength among Guardians.
“What do you know about this?”
“I believe it depends on the monsters the Guardians were based on, location of battle, and affinity between the Guardians. The single number Guardians are an exception, however. Two digit Guardians such as my master have no chance against them, even if they were to fight as a team.”
Gelganger’s copy plainly replied to Shibaid’s question: it apparently had nothing to hide.
Putting aside the veracity of Gelganger’s assessment for a moment, Shin wondered what manner of creature could be too strong for multiple Guardians to defeat — as he looked at the scenery moving past them, he felt a sense of danger creep up from within.
Number 37 created a sea of trees. Number 43 expanded its volcanic area.
These Guardians, creatures capable of changing the environment with relative ease — were far inferior to their single-digit peers.
Even if Shin’s powers had grown exponentially since the game era, the scale of such opponents was simply absurd.
By reflex, his left hand reached for the katana at his waist — but 『True Moon』 was not there. He had tried many times to reforge it and fix it, but had not achieved satisfying results yet.
Shin thought that the solution was probably one: to use the most ideal environment he had for such work, the furnace in his guild home, the 『1st Mysterious Studio Demi Eden』.
Golden Company’s Berett, however, had not found any information about Demi Eden yet.
“Shin, is anything wrong?”
“No, it’s nothing. I was just thinking about everyone’s equipment.”
There was no point in thinking about issues he couldn’t solve. The current highest priority was the issue at hand: so said Shin to himself as he shook his head.
As the sun set and the surroundings grew dim, the group stopped its advance. They were almost out of the sea of trees: they found a clearing large enough to house Tsuki no Hokora and prepared for the night.
“We ran for half a day, in the end…I need some rest…”
All members of the party had abilities far beyond the average person, but they had different specialties.
Those with fatigue in their voices were Tiera, as not much time had passed since her stats had grown, and Sety, who sacrificed physical stats to prioritize magic.
Tiera had lived in the forest for a long period, so today’s long day of running had taken its toll on her mentally rather than physically, as she had never done such a thing before.
Sety, on the other hand, achieved high speed running through magic, but it couldn’t be used in a place riddled with obstacles such as the sea of trees they were in: she had been forced to run on her two legs.
Pixies often lived in forests, but Sety — due to her particular circumstances — was shut in her Faerie Village most of the time.
She did not run out of energy completely, but to run in a forest packed with obstacles after a 100 years’ blank was not an easy feat.
“Tiera hasn’t grasped the limits of her stats yet, so that’s okay, but you’re really out of shape, Sety.”
“Indeed, a new training regimen is required.”
Sety was slumped down on the living room’s table — as Schnee gently smiled at her, while Shibaid had a very serious look on his face.
No wonder that Sety reacted with surprise after seeing the menacing glints in their eyes. Even Shin, who was just looking at them from the side, could tell.
“D-does that mean, I do too…?”
“I think it is a good opportunity for you to understand the extent of your abilities, Tiera. To have your stats change drastically is a rare experience in this age after all.”
“It is surprisingly difficult to grasp one’s limits. After this battle concludes, you should participate in Sety’s training. I think you have achieved enough strength too.”
“I knew it…”
Tiera’s shoulders dropped in resignation. Sety gently put a hand on her shoulder: she had found a companion for her “misery”.
“Why don’t you join them too, Milt? Your stats got higher as well, right?”
“Oh please don’t mind me, I’ll just see what changed while fighting monsters, no problem.”
Shin whispered the question to Milt, so that the others wouldn’t hear, and she quickly hid behind him, politely refusing with a stretched smile on her face.
“Have you received Schnee’s training before by any chance?”
“And I thought I was going to die…she went way harder on me than the others…”
Shin had guessed right: Milt had been put through the proverbial wringer apparently. Schnee had been especially strict because she was a former player, maybe.
After dinner, Shin headed to the smithy. He had to add heat resistance to the party’ equipment, prepare the additional equipment and decide on what gear to give to Yuzuha.
They had already experienced a high-temperature area in Hinomoto, but they were going to face a Guardian this time. They could never be too prepared.
Shin duly added heat resistance to the equipment, then manufactured the additional accessories with thorough care.
“All right, let’s see how it fits.”
“Stop right there. That’s your left ring finger.”
Milt had followed Shin this time too: she tried to test how the ring accessory fit, but Shin stopped her before she could slip it on her left ring finger. He had a hunch she would pull something like that, so his movements were smooth.
“When you said you wanted a ring-type accessory, I knew you were going to do this…and I was right, huh?”
“Yep, I guess you were. Well, it’d be a good deterrent for anyone else thinking of proposing to me actually. If Schnee gives the OK, can I wear it on my ring finger?”
Unbeknownst to Shin, in this world wedding rings were rather common: especially richer castes such as nobles and merchants had them made with precious materials, either as just rings or magic tools in the shape of rings, to gift their partner with.
In case of multiple partners, having a ring more precious than the others signaled higher status. Shin couldn’t help but think that compared to the value of the ring, the partner’s thoughts, emotions, and intentions were more important though.
The ring-type accessory Shin made was in Orichalcum: he also used ruby and sapphire fragments, although only in order to attach the enchantments.
The enchantment itself was high level as well. To procure a more valuable ring was next to impossible in a small country, while in a large country it would be considered a national treasure.
Milt added that most people would give up on her when they saw the ring.
“Well, if you put it like that, I guess…as long as Schnee’s okay with it. At least it’ll give you some peace and quiet.”
“All right then.”
Milt didn’t waste any time; she immediately fit the ring on her left ring finger.
“Hehehe…actually, I already asked Schnee for permission.”
“You could have said that first…”
The previous exchange was all for nothing, Shin thought. He was also a bit surprised about how easily Schnee gave permission.
Shin and Schnee’s wedding rings were not complete yet actually. They were not betrothed in an official manner, but Shin thought she would care more about such formalities.
After preparing Yuzuha’s equipment, Shin went to bed.
Incidentally, while Shin was preparing Yuzuha’s equipment Milt was in a corner of the smithy, gazing at her new ring with a grin on her face.