Emergency Ground Expedition
The roaring of a burning spell reactor and the whooshing of propellers noisily droned on in the background. The air, disturbed by the rotating blades, blew wildly every which way. Buried in a layer of clouds shaped like thin silk, far above the sandy plains, an airship hovered in place.
The wooden boxes they threw down for observation purposes reached the surface with no problem. Upon pulling them back up with ropes and checking the readings, the crew found no abnormalities. In other words, the area directly below them had not yet come into contact with the Shiantor, which instantly reduced any being that drew near to sand.
“No traces anywhere… at this rate, we can’t rule out the rumor that the Shiantor suddenly collapsed and died,” a young Borgle man muttered as he scratched his bald head. “Actually, I really hope that rumor’s true. If it’s still alive and snuck off somewhere, we don’t know when it might strike again.”
“Hehe. Overcoming anxiety and fear with reason and technology is what it means to be an intelligent life form,” a Gremian said, waving his fingers around. The shoulder of his army uniform displayed the rank insignia of a first technician. “We have set caskets of gunpowder in a wide area surrounding us. They were specially ordered, engineered to produce a large sound upon damage from anything other than a simple impact. That disintegration power of that Shiantor or whatever is activated all the time, right? So if that thing appears, it’ll definitely set off one of our caskets. All we have to do is leisurely move away if we hear a noise.”
“That sure does sound convenient, but what if the enemy crawls up from right below us?”
The Gremian, who had been puffing his chest out proudly, faltered. “… does that Beast tunnel beneath the sand?”
“Well, I don’t know, but when it comes to those guys, it wouldn’t surprise me if they could. The Shiantor is especially shrouded in mystery.”
“W-We can’t be expected to prepare for that too. Technology exists to respond to problems which we understand concretely.”
“If you say so, that’s fine with me.” The airship slowly began its descent. Putting on his goggles, the Borgle gazed down at the ashen plains spreading out below. “Problems aren’t just going to come and nicely introduce themselves to us. If the situation catches us off guard, the one in a panic is going to be you.”
“Ah…” The Gremian probably wanted to say something in return, but just a few months earlier, he had been caught completely off guard by the situation and publicly exposed a shameful side of himself. Reflecting back on that experience, he fell silent.
“Anyway, don’t let your guard down. I won’t tell you to prepare for any possible outcome, but at least be ready to act.”
“… I’ll do my best,” the Gremian mumbled bitterly.
Looks like he’s improving, the Borgle, Grick Graycrack, thought.
Up until just recently, this first technician was not the type of person to heed the words of others. Now, Grick could still see some resistance left in him, but Grick’s words seemed to be at least going in one ear and staying, instead of going right out the other. Judging by the fact that the Gremian accepted the role of commander of this expedition, Grick guessed that the events of that day must have been a profound learning experience for him.
That day, when a large swarm of Teimerre attacked and nearly sank the Plantaginesta, they lost much. They lost many lives, bore many wounds, and, more than anything, after seeing those girls fight, they lost the precious asset known as ignorance.
The whole time, they had been protected. Their peaceful days had been paid for in blood by those fairies. They had lived on top of the corpses of those girls who died by the dozens without a second thought. A mixture of guilt and helplessness sunk deep into their stomachs. Once they knew, they could never return to ignorance.
Grick now understood painfully well why the Winged Guard had kept the Leprechauns and the Dug Weapons a secret. The fewer that had to carry those emotions, the better. Even he, as someone just being protected, felt that. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what Willem, that powerless Emnetwyte who wished to protect those girls, felt.
“… that’s strange.” A few abnormalities came into Grick’s view as he glared down at the surface.
“W-What is it? A Beast?”
“No.” Grick shook his head. It definitely wasn’t the traces of a Beast. In fact, it looked like the opposite: small stones piled in a circle, burned wood, and scattered wooden boxes lying in the shadow of a boulder. “It’s the remnants of a campsite.” Such well preserved traces on the windy plains meant that it couldn’t have been too old. “It looks like someone sniffed out the Shiantor’s disappearance and went down before us. I don’t know which salvagers it could have been, but they must have had a keen sense of smell.”
“What?” The Gremian strained his little eyes to no avail. Their vision wasn’t as effective at far distances as the Borgles’. “You don’t think they messed with things, do you?”
“I wonder.” Grick took off the pair of binoculars hanging around his neck and handed them over. The Gremian snatched them without a word of thanks and gazed down, almost leaning out of the window.
“The K96-MAL Ruins. Traces of the Emnetwyte so well preserved are certainly rare, so it is a pretty sweet spot for salvagers… but…” Grick crossed his arms and furrowed his brows — or rather just creased his forehead as he didn’t have eyebrows. “Jumping at the opportunity that fast after just hearing that one Beast disappeared… seems a little strange.”
“You’re saying the funds wouldn’t work out?”
“No, not that… well, actually…” Grick began to deny, but, thinking about it, he realized that the Gremian had a point.
To the Salvagers, just descending to the ground by itself was a huge gamble. Crossing the barrier enveloping Regul Aire cost quite a lot. The fuel and food necessary for a round trip also didn’t come cheap. If they hired anyone outside their group, they needed to deal with the possible risk. Some contracts required the salvagers to hand over money to a specialized office beforehand to be paid to the family of the deceased should anything happen.
Of course, even after shelling out such large amounts of cash to get down there, income was in no way guaranteed. There was no knowing what you would find — that was the romance which the salvagers sought, but also the harsh reality at the same time. Some trips yielded spectacular treasures, and others yielded absolutely nothing of value. Needless to say, the statistics overwhelmingly favored the latter.
So because of all that, all the salvagers, including Grick, had rather peculiar personalities. I could find something good… maybe. Something good might happen… maybe. Even when faced with such uncertain information as that, they enthusiastically felt the need to go down and check for themselves. Anyone who called themselves a salvager had that bad habit, but…
“They moved too fast. The fact that they came down earlier than us means they were observing this area even more heavily than you guys at the Winged Guard,” Grick said.
“Hm?” The Gremian didn’t seem to be understanding.
“It would have cost a hefty amount. In this business, where you have no idea what you’ll find, tossing in funds so suddenly like that is unnatural.”
“In the first place, coming here right after the Beast disappeared is strange enough by itself. Huge risk and no return. All they accomplished was beating the other salvagers here… ah, I see. They incurred all those risks and costs precisely to get the first move. In other words, they believed that they could recover their losses…”
“Hmmmmm?” The Gremian’s little palm gave the Borgle a hard slap on the back.
The impact carried Grick forward, almost pushing him right out the window. “Ow!?”
“You leave me behind and go off into your own little world. Anyways, forget about this. Get ready?”
“… get ready?”
“To descend of course. We can’t just sit up here and watch forever. We flew all this way again to get back on the land.”
Ah, that’s right, Grick remembered. The K96-MAL Ruins. A place where many Emnetwyte once lived, now no more than a sleeping village. We have business here.
“Oh, I guess I better check before we do that. What do you think, adviser? You think it’s okay for us to go down there?” the Gremian asked.
“Nn… a-ah. Looks like it. Can’t see any trouble right now.”
“Roger that. Tell the systems manager: retract the second and sixth control wings and prepare for descent! Turn off the auxiliary burning spell reactor for now, but leave it ready for reactivation at any time!” shouting out to the voice transmission pipes, the small Gremian dashed down the narrow corridor.
It felt rather uncomfortable actually being asked for advising, but Grick kept that to himself. He looked down towards the ground.
He spotted a red dot. Straining his eyes didn’t help much, so he put his pair of binoculars to his eyes. Now he could see clearly: it was a young girl with a large red piece of fabric wrapped around her body.
Grick tilted his head in confusion. He removed his binoculars, checked to make sure they weren’t broken, then looked once again at the girl walking across the land.
“…… t-the gray haired girl!?!?”