Gray Days Upon the Gray Land
Meanwhile, back on land, things were progressing pretty much as Naigrat had described to Willem and Limeskin. The land survey ship Saxifraga was attacked and sunk by a Beast.
It appeared suddenly during a fierce sandstorm. It’s silhouette somewhat resembled that of a human. From a distance, you could make out an abdomen, a head, and limbs. But if you drew any closer, that impression of similarity would soon go flying out the window. The giant body the size of a small house. The dark red shell covering that entire body. The countless eyeballs peeking through the cracks of that shell.
The Twisting and Engulfing Fourth Beast. The Legiteimitat.
Like all Beasts, its motives remain unknown. The goal of most living beings is, in a narrow sense and a broad sense, to live on, the narrow sense meaning the survival of the individual and the broad sense meaning the survival of an entire species in the long term. The primal instincts to eat, sleep, and mate can all be tied to these two goals. All living beings are born with, live with, and die with these two desires carved into them.
But apparently, for the Beasts this is not so.
Not much is known about their reproductive processes, but they don’t seem to think very much about their personal survival. They do anything it takes, including throwing away their own lives, to kill.
The sole goal in their minds has not changed one bit in five hundred years: to annihilate all that lives. Or to destroy all that moves. Perhaps they do not even bother to distinguish between the two.
The Legiteimitat is one of the most commonly encountered Beasts on the land, but is also known as one of the relatively less dangerous ones. They seek out their prey by relying on sound and movement. If you shut your mouth and freeze as soon as you run into one, then slowly creep away, there’s a possibility that you’ll escape with your life. That is the reason why the 4ths are considered to be less dangerous than the others. Such knowledge is common sense among the salvagers, and was spread to all members of the expedition in a briefing before the mission started.
Despite that, a panic broke out immediately upon sighting.
Expedition members tried to run for their lives, only to be run down and sliced in half. Their screams and fountains of blood only caused further panic to erupt, which then lead to even more casualties.
That, however, was only the beginning.
At the time, the First Machinery Technician in charge of the expedition was aboard the grounded airship Saxifraga. When he saw the tragedy unfolding through the window, he let out a scream and flew into the control room. There, he tried to start up the spell incinerator and takeoff, threatening the real pilots with his ceremonial sword as he did so.
The Legiteimitat seeks its prey by relying on sound and movement.
It didn’t take long for the thundering noise of the spell incinerator to reach its ears. The monster, with its giant body the size of a small mountain, sprinted across the sand at a terrifying speed, raised its arms, and swung them down upon its prey. A violent crushing sound rang throughout the air as the armored ship split apart as if it were made out of mere fabric. Ballast rained from the sky. The ship, which had hardly gotten off the ground, tilted wildly as it ruptured.
A short time after, the two Leprechauns finally arrived on the battlefield and swiftly dealt with the Beast, ending the commotion almost as quickly as it had started. The casualties totaled in at eighteen people, around half of the original expedition. All the horses they brought to carry luggage were also annihilated. And, most importantly, the sunken Saxifraga had lost the ability to fly ever again.
The sun sank below the horizon.
Everyone was exhausted.
Unfortunately, the airship was now no more than a giant wreck. With nothing much they could really do, about half of the survivors snuck into tents and tried to find solace in sleep. The rest lit a fire and sat idly around it.
“– You young ladies did well,” the Borgle man said as he held a skewer of meat over the bonfire. The flames crackled softly as they slowly cooked the bits of horse. “That kind of mess would usually end up in complete annihilation. It’s a miracle that this many survived. Let’s focus on that, not how many passed away.”
“Can you really say that we survived?” Noft muttered as she stared at the fire from the comfort of a blanket. “With no ship, we can’t get back to Regul Aire, you know?”
“We’ve sent messenger ships up. If we just hang out around here for a bit, help will come sooner or later.”
“Hang out, huh?” She bit into the grilled meat on her skewer. “From now on when night comes we can’t just hide up in the sky. We’re on the sand 24/7. We may be able to deal with one or two, but if we get too many guests Lan and I won’t be able to handle it with just the two of us.”
“Now now, no need to be so pessimistic. At the very least, we won’t be seeing a 4th for a while,” Grick said as he held a new skewer to the flames.
“What do you mean?”
“The Legiteimitat have a habit of not living near each other. So it’s pretty safe to assume that there aren’t any other 4ths around where the last one appeared.”
“Never heard that before.” Noft opened her eyes wide in surprise.
“It’s pretty common knowledge among us salvagers. The other Beasts don’t move around too much, so if we just sit tight that should keep danger to a minimum. Of course, can’t be too optimistic though.”
“Hmm…” Amazed at her newly acquired knowledge, Noft turned to the girl sitting beside her. “Did ya know that, Lan?”
No response. The blue haired girl curled up in her blanket simply continued to stare intently at the dancing flames, showing no signs of even the slightest movement.
“… what’s wrong? Is she tired?” Grick asked.
“Nah, she gets like this once she starts thinking about something. She disappears into her own little world and stops picking up voices or anything that’s going on around her.”
Noft took a skewer of meat and, after checking that it was hot, shoved it into Lantolq’s mouth.
“Wha-!?” That seemed to do the trick. “Blrgh agrh!” After a brief moment of utter confusion, her cheeks turned bright red. Hot hot hot hot! The legs and arms flailing about under her blanket seemed to scream silently, but still she made no attempt to spit out the source of the problem sitting inside her mouth.
“You shouldn’t get so caught up in your thoughts while eating. As Naigrat used to always tell you, respect your food by focusing on it,” Noft said in a lecturing voice as she stuck a new piece of meat on the skewer. “Geez, if I left you alone you would’ve spaced out until your meat burned up into ashes. It’s our first proper meal in a long time, if you don’t enjoy it fully the horses will have died for nothing.”
“T-That doesn’t mean you have to shove a skewer in my mouth!”
“Before you complain, eat some vegetables too. They’re starting to burn, you know?”
“Okay okay, enough already!” Still red in the face, Lantolq picked up one of the skewers lying beside the bonfire.
“I’d leave the skewers on this side alone if I were you. I doubt the flavors meant for Borgles to enjoy will receive a very warm welcome from you young ladies.”
“But now that you say that, it kinda makes me want to try it just once, you know?” Noft said.
“Noft! Don’t be rude!”
As Noft and Lantolq went back and forth, Grick suddenly started laughing.
“… um, is something wrong, Grick?”
“Oh, no. I was just thinking you two are more like regular teenage girls than I expected. Well, I heard that from an acquaintance, but I never really believed it. I guess since you all are Regul Aire’s last line of defense I expected you to be more soldier-like, or given up on life and sulking or something. Instead I find a pair of cute young ladies.”
“Hmm? That’s the first time anyone’s called me cute,” Noft said with a laugh.
“I’d say I’m pretty sulky myself,” Lantolq added as she blew on a piping hot skewered vegetable.
Munching on a burnt carrot, Lantolq thought deeply.
Countless mysteries surround the Beasts. Or more like, there’s nothing but mysteries. Five hundred years ago, everyone gave up on trying to know more about them. And in the past five hundred years, no one ever dared to restart that investigation. The hideous calamities unleashed upon the world by the detested race, the Emnetwyte. For five hundred years, no one ventured to think beyond that vague description.
The Emnetwyte should not have come into existence. Their creation was the first and greatest mistake of the Visitors.
A sentence she deciphered herself from an ancient excavated text. The next part she had quite a bit of trouble with, but after further thought she figured it went something like this.
As for the humans, the beasts were released, and they filled the world with the gray truth.
However, it was probably a mistranslation. After all, Lantolq hadn’t actually thoroughly studied the Emnetwyte language. She just knew some basic grammar and a few words. It was only natural that she made a mistake or two trying to read such a difficult text.
It had to be a mistake. If not, it wouldn’t make any sense. The humans created the Beasts and unleashed them upon the world. But this sentence, at least based on Lantolq’s interpretation, made it sound like the Beasts weren’t created by the humans at all, but rather…
“What did I just tell you? Stop drifting off, it’s bad for digestion!”
This time, a rather toasty potato had found its way into her mouth. Hot hot hot hot!