TNG Vol. 19 Chapter 2 Part 6

Shin followed Tiera’s gaze to see what was wrong, and saw something buried in the snow.

It was about 1-mel high and a little wider. Through the piled-up snow, he could see what looked like sharp tree branches.

There was no reaction on the map. The vibe coming from it wasn’t that of a living creature, either.

“This is…whoa, for real.”

Half buried in the snow was a deer.

Not a monster. But a wild deer. Six of them.

The small ones were about 1-mel and the big ones were probably 2-mel. They were lying on the ground, snuggled up against each other. It turned out that the deers’ antlers were the things protruding from the snow.

“No external injuries. Probably froze to death.“

“There are others like that, too.”

After examining the deers’ body, Shibaid announced the cause of death, Filma, who had looked around, found a similar small pile of snow.

Looking through the snow with [Through Sight], she saw, in addition to the deer, other animals cuddled up to each other and dead.

“Don’t animals that live in places like this know how to avoid the cold?”

“Yeah, but it was probably useless. Look over there, see how all those little animals gathered around the bear.”

Predators and prey were huddled together, trying to keep warm. They must have been in such dire straits for such a thing to happen.

“Looks like it hasn’t been long since the weather got worse, so they couldn’t handle it.”

“If we don’t hurry, this mountain ecosystem will be destroyed, and so will the city.”

Some reactions were still being registered on the map, most likely animals.

They were probably taking shelter in caves or other places where they could escape the cold, Tiera said.

Shin and his party picked up the pace, running up the mountain without pausing.

They crossed an altitude of 2,000-mel from the foot of the mountain. And then walked further and deeper into the mountains.

Shin thought that climbing too high in one stretch might cause altitude sickness, Chosen Ones or not, but Schnee said that Chosen Ones could flexibly cope with such climatic changes.

As a matter of fact, they didn’t feel suffocated even after 3,000-mel.

After crossing over the elevation of the clouds that had been dumping snow relentlessly, a strong wind hit his cheeks. The bizarre snow piles were no more to be seen, and from there onward, the ground was covered in ice instead of snow.

Then, at an altitude of over 4,000-mel, Shin stopped.

“Okay, so we can’t just keep blasting through from here on out.”

Until now, most of the animals and monsters had fled when they sensed the presence of Shin and the others.

However, the area beyond Shin’s gaze, an area that could be called another world where the ground and trees were frozen, imparted no feeling of trepidation.

As if to say, this marks the end of the area with only low-level monsters that would flee at the mere sign of them, and the ice-covered ground spread out before Shin and his party as though it was inviting its prey. The ice-covered ground had also transformed into something more mysterious, emanating a bluish-white glow.

“Does this mean that we’re now inside the dominion field?”

“You don’t think it knows we are coming and is lying in wait for us…do you?”

Filma and Sety’s questions were prompted by the presence of a being standing on the ice-covered ground.

“It’s a monster that sometimes appears as a gatekeeper. There’s nothing strange about it.”

The monster with the human face hidden behind a helmet, gazed silently at Shin and his party. And stamping on the ground with the legs of a tiger.

The name of the monster, which was sometimes assigned as a gatekeeper or a guardian of treasure chests, as Shibaid said, was Zhen Guo. 

It should be noted that this monster possessed a translucent crystal-like appearance.

And thus, would change its appearance depending on the environment: where the attribute is inclined toward fire, its entire body would turn into lava; and if inclined toward water, it would turn into flowing water, and so on.

The upper body of a warrior in armor was growing out of the tiger’s torso, which always remained the same regardless of the attribute, and the fighting style for each attribute was unique, with different weapons for each attribute.

For fire, a great sword; earth, a hammer; wind, a bow; lightning, a sword & shield; light, a whip; and darkness, a dagger. Water and ice were both spears, but with the water variant being a long spear and ice being a short spear.

They fall between level 600 and 700. With the Zhen Guo in front of them being at Lv. 648.

“We’re not here to mess with the divine beast, so could you please let us through.”

The Zhen Guo was already poised for battle with a short spear in both hands. The reason it hadn’t made a move on Shin and the others was probably because they had yet to cross the line, which clearly indicated a boundary line.

“You’re sure Miraltrea is just up ahead?”

“The route to this point is exactly as shown on the map, so I’m pretty sure.”

Berett checked the map and nodded.

Shin nodded back and put his hand on the blade around his waist.

The handle was all black with a crimson tsuba* that resembled a flame. And a black scabbard with a burning flame painted on it. The black blade, which was pulled out, also had red ripples floating around it like flames. (TLN: Sword guard or flange)

A superior ancient-grade katana. The name of the blade was ‘Scorching Blade’. It stood among the best fire-attribute blades, bearing the name of hell.

“Leave it to me.”

Saying that, Shin stepped forward alone with the ‘Scorching Blade’ in his hand.

Although the gesture was aimed at the Zhen Guo, which didn’t attack until he stepped forward even after he had drawn his weapon.

However, the more important reason was to show the adversaries who were watching from the shadows how strong the one who came forward was.

To show that he could overpower the Zhen Guo one on one. It would send a better message than if they defeated it with numbers. Now, If they were to feel threatened and choose to flee, it would make things a whole lot easier on Shin and his party.

“Shin, a member of ‘Rokuten’.”

Stepping into the bluish-white ice world, Shin held up the ‘Scorching Blade’ and announced his name. The way Zhen Guo remained quiet even after taking up its stance prompted Shin to do so.

The Zhen Guo did not attack until Shin had finished saying his name and had his ‘Scorching Blade’ at the ready.

When Shin finished giving his name, the Zhen Guo struck its short spears together as if returning the gesture, and took a stance.

Perhaps because the upper bodies of the two were in the shape of warriors, it was as if they were engaged in a single combat.

Shin held the ‘Scorching Blade’ aimed at the Zhen Guo, and watched it make its move.

Two lights twinkled silently behind its helmet-covered head.

Even though it seemed all geared up in armor, there was nothing but ice inside of it, and even if the helmet were to be peeled off, it wouldn’t reveal its face.

The helmet itself was the head. Without organs for sight, the two lights functioned as one, probably because it knew that the slit in the helmet is in the same position as the human eyes, and that it actually perceived the enemy through its vision.

The light, which had been swaying at a constant brightness, became slightly more radiant.

The next moment, Zhen Guo closed the distance with the sound of ice scraping the ground.

It launched the assault just as it was slowly moving both arms to change its stance. Because the lower part of its body wasn’t that of a human but a beast, its preliminary movements were different from those of a human.

It thrust the right short spear, with the left short spear still raised to shoulder height, perhaps to match Shin’s movement.

In the blink of an eye, the distance between them closed and their spacing overlapped.

Shin responded to the surprise attack by swinging his ‘Scorching Blade’.

The tip of the blade drew an arc and bounced strongly off the short spear. From the bottom to the top. Flames ran through the air, tracing the path of the blade.

The flame fueled by magic power disappeared after about one second, inflicting a [Heat] status effect just by coming in contact with it.

When directly slashed by the blade, the flame would run through the wound, resulting in a double attack of slash and heat.

Zhen Guo, however, wasn’t intimidated by the obscure slash.

As soon as the short spear in its right hand was repelled, it thrust the short spear in its left hand, which had been kept at its shoulder, without a moment’s hesitation.

The flames tracing the trajectory of the ‘Scorching Blade’ had yet to disappear. Zhen Guo exploited the flames still lingering in the air as cover to unleash its thrust.

(Yeah, nice try.)

Even though its arm was burned, its momentum had not diminished in the slightest.

However, the magical flames do not affect the person wielding the ‘Scorching Blade’. It wasn’t clear whether Zhen Guo was trying to use it as a blindfold, but, even if it was, it would have been useless against Shin.

Shin lowered his body to the ground, almost crouching.

Concentrating strength on his legs, he stomped and shattered the ground, launching forward.

He darted toward Zhe Guo’s left side and swung his ‘Scorching Blade’ as he passed it. The ripples on the edge of the blade shone brightly, and a red trail pierced through Zhen Guo’s body.

Shin stopped, stamping the frozen ground with his outstretched foot.

Zhen Guo collapsed, splitting into upper and lower halves, before the flames running through the air could catch up with the ‘Scorching Blade’ that he swung.

“The lower half won’t move on its own…right?”

With insect-based monsters that are half-human and half-insect, the insect part may attack even after being separated from the human part just like now, so Shin kept his attention on the tiger’s lower half without letting his guard down.

It seemed that it didn’t die instantly, but Shin could see its HP drop to zero in one go.

Then, both the upper and lower halves crumbled into small pieces like large grains of sand.

Leaving only the drop item, the core, in a small pile of ice grains.

“The ones lurking around seem to have scurried off.”

“They were probably planning to pounce on us if we had struggled with the Zhen Guo, but seeing it get cut in two with a single blow instead got them all flustered. A few of them were shaken up quite a bit.”

Shin looked around and then retrieved the core, and Shibaid responded while looking around as well.

“They’re talking about monsters, right?”

“Um, yeah. Why?”

Tiera, listening to the conversation between Shin and Shibaid, asked Schnee for confirmation, looking all skeptical.

“I thought maybe I felt a strange presence, but it could just be my imagination.”

“A strange presence. Can you be a little more specific?”

Shin also listened to the conversation between Tiera and Schnee, curious about the strange presence.

According to Tiera, it was a faint and seemingly ambiguous presence.

She also said that she felt a tingling sensation on her skin.

“Do you remember where?”

With the map and detection skill, he was able to get a rough idea of where and how many of them were there.

Shin and the others didn’t feel the presence that Tiera mentioned, so they checked the spots and found out that those presences were much further away than they had assumed.

Shin assumed that they were hiding within visible range, just like how the other reactions that they felt staring at them did within the expected distance.

He had written it off as one of those types that were good at concealing their presence and that Tiera, who was more sensitive to presence, had noticed them.

However, Tiera’s testimony revealed that the strange presence was watching them from deep in the mountains.

Although she couldn’t be sure of the exact distance, considering the location and the situation, it couldn’t have been some random high-level monsters.

“It should be possible for a monster with a Through Sight skill, though.”

“The fact that it’s deep in the mountains makes a lot of sense.”

Shin nodded in agreement with Filma’s point. The direction was clear, and the two highest peaks of the Grandmost mountains were straight ahead.

“Or maybe, it’s the divine beast, and it’s already appeared…”

“That’s unlikely. Because even the presence of a god in a passive state is overwhelming. And someone other than Tiera would have definitely noticed it.”

Even back in the game era, every one of them were existences that set detection skills off the charts at the slightest whiff of their presence.

Including Iira Suura and Venna Vaal.

“It hasn’t shown up yet. But it’s here.”

While Shin and the others twisted their heads in doubt, Yuzuha looked straight at the mountain and said so. Apparently, there was no doubt a god was present.

“Let’s keep moving. The monsters watching us have all dispersed, so we won’t have to waste precious time fighting them.”

The monsters that had been lurking and watching Shin and the others had collectively vanished, forfeiting the chance to attack by taking advantage of the aftermath of the battle.

However, rather than fleeing at once, their movements seemed to indicate that they had withdrawn for the moment.

So he wanted to move while they could, since there was a possibility of those monsters acting as scouts for monsters that attack in packs.

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