Chapter 191 - Around the Desert (1)
The Meuse Desert, located in the midwest of the continent and southwest of the Austen Kingdom, was highly notorious. The 'Great Drought' had irregular periods of huge sandy winds, bringing the famine to the entire central area as well as Austen.
In the early days of the Meuse Desert, it was only the size of three or four small estates. After hundreds of years, it became an ant pit which had taken half of Austen's land. It was from that time onwards that it became known as the Meuse Desert.
In the founding myths of Austen, the one who killed the founder, and was eponymous with a disaster, had been Meuse. The people of the desert kingdom had begun to believe that a grudge held by the mythical creature was turning the earth dry. They couldn't accept that this unreasonable disaster was merely accidental misfortune.
It was different to the saying, 'disaster occurs when good luck changes directions.'
Thanks to the sacred nature of the Sultan, the people of Austen could fight against the drought as a type of 'enemy.' If the drought stopped for a while, they would say that they were victorious, and when the drought resumed, they would say that the evil spirits had risen again.
[It is a battle of patience! Fight for the Sultan!]
According to Austen's doctrines, warriors would die and go to heaven, where they would receive beautiful women and mansions. Therefore, the peasants, who were jealous of the warriors, were bound to fall for the lure.
It wasn't about fighting with a sword on the battlefield but about being able to go to heaven after death! Some fanatics even starved to death, despite having plenty of food and water.
This was Austen, a country which was barely breathing due to being distorted by piety. The Meuse Desert was also a refuge for those who considered the Sultan as a false god and wanted to avoid the noose.
Entry to the Meuse Desert, land of the evil gods, was prohibited. Therefore, there were no signs of anybody at the entrance. However, the situation was different today.
A light abruptly appeared out of thin air where only hot sand, a burning sun, and dry winds were present. Naturally, the light which emerged from the air was Meltor's investigation team.
The Red Tower Master Veronica, the four members of Quattro, and Mujak appeared 30 meters in midair, but the party landed easily with no confusion. It would ridiculous if strong people like them were damaged by a fall from this height.
Theodore and Mujak chose to strengthen their bodies, while the others used magic. Among them, Veronica was the last to arrive.
Despite the sand piled up to her ankles, the landing was quite loud due to the object she was carrying. It was a carriage, the fruit of a collaboration between the White Tower and Yellow Tower. The four wheels of this carriage rolled with magic power instead of horses.
Mujak opened his mouth and spoke in a trembling voice, "W-We really moved here instantly... Meltor's national power is hard to fathom."
It was natural for him to feel fear. To think that it was possible to instantly teleport to the Meuse Desert in the midwest of the Central Continent, which was also Austen's blind spot? This was an impossible feat without the White Tower Master. However, Mujak didn't know this and felt like it was a demonstration that Meltor could destroy Austen anytime they wanted.
Then Veronica laughed cheerfully. "So, be careful okay? Rats can die without even knowing the cause."
"... I will be careful." It didn't sound like a joke to Mujak, who nodded seriously. After all, Veronica was the one who had nearly killed him once. Thanks to that, the atmosphere became cold. His body was tied up by the Geass Scroll, but their relationship was bad, so he still couldn't be trusted.
Theodore hastily found a topic which he thought would change this atmosphere. "How far away is the destination?"
"Um... wait a minute." Mujak opened the map, touched it with his finger and finally gave an answer. "We should head straight to the south in a diagonal manner. Based on my pace, it should take four or five days, depending on everyone else."
It was both a long and short amount of time. Paragranum said that the ruins wouldn't be taken away easily, but he never knew what could happen. This meant it would be best to arrive as soon as possible.
At that moment, Veronica bluntly asked, "Wait a minute, five days?"
"That's right, Lady Veronica. Unlike other deserts, the Meuse Desert doesn't lose its heat at night, and it is impossible to move quickly. Considering our abilities, we won't be able to walk all night and day. Therefore, it will take five days."
"But that's why I brought this heavy thing." Veronica banged on the exterior of the carriage.
However, Mujak made a mocking expression. "Do you think that carriage will roll properly in the desert? Where are the horses or camels to pull it?"
"It runs on magic power, so won't it roll well?"
"Then will the wheels turn on the sandy ground?"
Indeed, Mujak's words weren't wrong. Theodore thought about it and thought that his point was valid. Right now, the sand was only ankle deep, but it would often go up to the shins. No matter how outstanding the performance of the carriage was, the wheels obviously wouldn't turn.
However, Veronica didn't accept it. "Hah, if there isn't a path, then we should make it. Why do masters have to be obsessed with common sense? How funny."
"What? What does that mea..."
Veronica ignored Mujak and inhaled in the direction they had to walk. It was a deep breath which sucked in all the air in that area. The wind and sand changed directions, and Theodore paled as he realized her intentions.
'Surely this breath isn't....!'
His temple throbbed with pain, and his body tingled. His experience with adversity instinctively moved his circles.
Ice barriers rose in succession. One, two... As many as seven ice barriers separated the rest of the party from Veronica. The party was perplexed by the sudden magic, with only Sylvia realizing and joining in.
"Stop anything in front of me, Glacial Wall!"
Seven layers of the 6th Circle magic, Glacial Wall, surrounded them. It was a defense which could even withstand explosives activated on the inside. William didn't understand what the two of them were doing and tried to speak. However, then 'it' began.
An incredible heat wave emerged in the opposite direction of the ice wall. The heat moved faster than air could burn. Everything it passed turned into a vacuum, seeming more like the ray from the sun than flames. A flaming light swept down to the ground.
Dragon Breath broke the Meuse Desert into two. No, it just looked that way for a moment. The sand on the ground had completely melted down.
No one was able to open their mouth. It was the same for Theodore, despite him experiencing Veronica's breath once before. At that time, it had been shot toward the sky. The breath Veronica had displayed that time was incomparable to this one.
This breath stretched beyond the horizon. Beyond the melted ice walls, a few kilometers of ground had changed to look like lava.
What if Theodore were facing this blow directly? His defense would break, and he would die from this radiant heat. Even if he tried to avoid it, its speed was close to the speed of light. Like Theodore, Mujak's face paled as he imagined it.
While hiccuping, William whispered in a small voice, "C-Captain. I didn't do anything wrong, did I? Right?"
"...Maybe not, perhaps."
As William shook with fear, Veronica looked around at the landscape she created and said, "Isn't this good now? It will last at least 30 minutes, so let's board the carriage. I don't like the feeling of sand in my shoes."
The party looked at Veronica with absurd expressions as they realized why she had used the breath, but she just ignored them. After a moment, the blistering heat from the Dragon Breath affected them belatedly, and they began to sweat.
Veronica waved from where she had already boarded the carriage. "What are you doing? Hurry."
The journey of Meltor's investigation team had just begun.
* * *
The air in the middle of the desert was terribly hot. The sun shining down from the sky was burning, but the knights in black armor didn't dare to rest. At the center, there was an impressive looking knight with a thin jaw-line.
He was the imperial sword, Lloyd Pollan. It was hard to guess that an imperial sword would appear at the ruins. The presence of a hard-to-handle person was a disaster for the subordinates. Even the Shadow Knights waited before him like rats before a cat.
"Hrmm, this really is a set of ruins from the Age of Mythology," Lloyd said while looking around the site at the excavation work which couldn't be completed.
He looked at the shape of the dome, the material which easily repelled knights of the empire, and the strange silver liquid flowing out of a tunnel. It was a trace of an old era which could rarely be found anywhere else in these modern times.
He subsequently pulled out the sword hanging at his waist.
"Step back," Lloyd advised the people near him and gripped his sword.
The aura which emerged from him was different that of from regular aura users. Soon after, Lloyd's sword was covered in a dark turquoise aura. It took time to gather his maximum power. His ability wasn't related to destructive power, so this attack could be called pure strength.
Stab. Lloyd's sword shot straight forward, like a lightning bolt. Kaaang!
However, the attack which could penetrate through dozens of layers of iron and a few layers of mithril only left a scratch on this material. It was amazing compared to the Shadow Knights who couldn't even leave a scratch, but it cracked his pride as a sword master.
"...Indeed, this can't be done through force."
An obstacle which could withstand the power of a sword master wasn't one that could be broken down with destructive power. The leader of the Shadow Knights asked from behind Lloyd, "I'm sorry for making you come all the way here, Sir Pollan. We will somehow..."
"No, don't apologize. I was sent by the prince because he was expecting something like this," Lloyd mumbled as he watched his sword. "I don't like it, but... I will respond to those expectations. Spoiled prince."
It was a blasphemous remark, but the Shadow Knight ignored Lloyd's words and focused on his actions.
Unlike the other Seven Swords who acted on the battlefield, Lloyd was similar to the Shadow Knights. He didn't show tremendous destructive power nor did he possess superior combat capabilities, but he always succeeded in his missions.
Lloyd was the owner of an Aura Ability which allowed him to go through difficult situations like a ghost. The shadows watched the brightly colored aura and gulped. How much time had passed by...?
Lloyd, who was concentrating with both eyes closed, suddenly opened his eyes and stabbed the sword at a certain spot on the ground.
Like the other places, a silver liquid sprang up. The liquid contained an awful stench and was highly poisonous, but Lloyd was already out of range as he pointed to the spot.
"Bury explosives at the point I just dug out. Not just one but many of them. This is the only way to open this set of ruins."
"Yes, I understand! Everybody move!"
There were no objections. The Shadow Knights knew Lloyd well, so they followed his order faithfully. To them, it was disloyal to not follow the words of their superior. The loyalty of the Shadow Knights toward the empire was just as high as the Austen fanatics.
Lloyd watched their loyal appearance and muttered a few words, "There is a pretty bad possibility, but I can't help it. I don't want to die at the hands of the prince."
Indeed, Lloyd was able to find a solution in any difficult situation. However, he knew that the solution wasn't always good.