Not long afterward, the three people behind Joshua had fully awoken.
The first to stand was the old dwarf. As a dwarven warrior of even higher achievement within the Gold tier than Joshua, he was made of very tough stuff. Having shaken off the disorientation caused by the dimensional travel, Moreila rapidly regained full control over his faculties, and began to examine the surrounding environment.
"This dust in the air is poisonous." After taking in a single breath, Moreila patted the dust off of himself, and then sternly announced to everyone, "There are too many impurities in the air, and the gray fog contains some unusual kind of energy which could be harmful to our bodies. Although I can't tell exactly what effects it may have, it can't be anything good. So everyone, be careful."
"He's right. Also, you'd better not touch the soil or sand directly either—it's steeped in Chaos energy, and if you're careless it may consume you." Joshua added this to Moreila's statement, neither one being frivolous with their words, frankly declaring what was known. Both of them understood that in this situation, the most important thing was to figure out the circumstances, rather than panicking and agonizing needlessly.
"… I can't make contact." To one side, Clyre had raised her hand, her brow creased as her emerald eyes gazed up at a sapphire sky. Then she shook her head, saying, "Nothing… this place has no natural life I can connect with."
"This is no longer the Mycroft continent," said Joshua, "Looking around, it's clear to see there's neither flora nor fauna here anymore—the natural cycle has been lost… there are no connections here for you to make."
Primal energy was generated by the turning of the circle of life—but in the absence of a natural cycle, this energy obviously wouldn't be present at all.
Having been able to think clearly from the beginning, Joshua's rich experience had already enabled him to work out all the details, and he now said to everyone, "In truth, it's not only Primal energy— drawing upon Magic energy or Combat Aura will present similar difficulties. I'm not sure if any of you have noticed, but this environment is continuously sapping us of our strength—just like how magical equipment gradually deteriorates in a low-magic environment, little by little our energy is draining away."
While he said this, the warrior walked over and took Ling by the hand. Up to this point, the boy had still been sitting on the ground, and now Joshua pulled him to his feet.
As he held the boy's hand, Joshua's finely honed senses detected something surprising…
… Ling was not experiencing the energy loss that he and the others were suffering from.
That's a little strange. Could it be that Divine Armaments aren't affected by their environments? We've never encountered such circumstances in past battles before… there's no way to make sure.
Now that everyone had recovered from the unexpected transit, they began to carefully investigate their new surroundings.
Based on their observations, it was clear that they were now in a barren and dusty plain. Thick gray fog obstructed their vision, and even Joshua was unable to see anything further than a few hundred meters away. However, going by what they could see, it was enough to tell that they were in serious trouble.
Further than a few hundred meters away, all was a blur. There was no sign of life upon the land, no water, no plant growth, not even the shadow of a single living creature. Across this lifeless desolation, besides fog and dust, there was nothing at all. Even up in the heavens, there was only pitch-black Chaos— neither sun nor stars, nor clouds in the sky.
This was not a scene you could find in a normal world—even in the Dark Abyss, one could at least find lava and demons—the present situation reminded Joshua of some planets in space which had never produced any life in the first place..
"Let me see if anything is different, deeper in the soil."
The warrior knelt down and, half-crouched, inspected the texture of the dust upon the ground. Then, Joshua experimented further by digging through into the earth underneath, and discovered something startling.
The warrior continued to dig until he had created a hole about three meters deep. Just as he'd hoped, he made quite a few discoveries: fragments of ruined armor, broken pieces from blades, the wreckage of metal shields, and remnants from all manner of weaponry. In the beginning, they must have been well-tempered and of rather solid construction, but of what were once sharp blades and sturdy armor, there was now only scattered debris, too fragile to withstand another hit.
After the passing of millennia upon millennia, even the nearly eternal strength of great boulders had succumbed to dust, and the strongest works of steel had all crumbled into rust. The dust which lay upon the plains could once have been grass and trees, rocks… even the corpses of people perhaps, or maybe something else. But now, it was all just a lot of dry sand, and there no was longer anything else that could be said about it.
Joshua gently tried to extract a fragment of broken armor, but even as careful as he was about it, the rusted piece of iron disintegrated into powder at the merest touch.
Abandoning the idea of picking out the remnants of those destroyed weapons, Joshua jumped back up to the surface, his expression serious, and then looked around at the gathered party, solemnly declaring, "Everyone, before we mysteriously arrived at this cursed place… you all saw that vision, right?"
Everyone nodded to show agreement—they had all seen the vision: the scene of a great battle taking place upon a vast, open plain.
"I am about to suggest one possibility—of course, it's quite possible that it isn't possible." Joshua turned his head towards the deep hole he'd dug, and then indicated the armor fragments and weapon pieces at the bottom. Raising his voice, he announced severely, "I can roughly ascertain that this place where we're standing right now… is exactly the same location where that battle took place —upon an open plain."
"Do you have any proof of this, Joshua?" Moreila inquired, although he didn't appear to doubt Joshua's words—it was just an innocent question.
"Besides these left-over weapon fragments at the bottom of this hole… no, it's just a guess." Joshua shook his head, patting the dust off of himself, and added in a low voice, "But right now this is all we can say: the fact of the matter is, it's obvious that what happened to us earlier was that we passed through a dimensional rift—who knows where it came from—and then arrived at this world on the other side of it."
This world that had been consumed by Chaos.
He thought quietly to himself, and then continued. "… And in that instant, before we passed through, we just happened to see a vision of that scene. If you tell me that's not a coincidence, I won't believe it."
There was silence.
In truth, Clyre and Moreila had already considered this likelihood, but to hear it declared with such conviction… nevertheless, it still came as a shock to them. Meanwhile, Ling stood silently behind the warrior, saying not a word.
"This time, we're in really deep trouble." Stroking his beard, the old dwarf wailed in distress, "All the dimensional passages connected to our world have already been sealed. Finding our way back will be exceedingly difficult—and with you and me gone, in time, Moldavia will descend into chaos. We can only hope that my son can keep the situation under control until our return."
"There's no Primal energy here. My powers are greatly diminished." Clyre appeared to be tremendously displeased, the Gold-tier druid wearing an expression of grave silence. Looking closely at her soft white hands, she bit her lower lip and whispered, "The elements are also unresponsive—they do not heed my commands… all magical ability has been reduced by over eighty percent. The Flame of this world is very weak—I've never seen anything like this before."
Joshua felt more or less the same way—if anything, he felt it more deeply than the other two—his energy was constantly leaking out from within, and the warrior had been unable to check the flow, no matter what he tried. Just like the transfer of heat: energy inevitably moved from more towards less.
I ended up here because of the strange energy within that steel-essence crystal. If I want to go back, at the very least I'll need to find the source of that energy… and that source is definitely somewhere in this world.
When he thought this, Joshua recalled something odd he'd heard at the end of the vision.
"The Pool of Souls… the Soul of Fire…"
Chewing this over for a moment, the warrior eventually turned to the others and asked, "Does anyone know what a 'Soul of Fire' is?"
The old dwarf gave Joshua a strange look, exclaiming, "Wouldn't that be you?"
"Me?" Stunned for a moment, Joshua could not keep his brow from furrowing. "It's me?"
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Before the old dwarf could reply to Joshua, a strange light suddenly appeared in the distant sky.