Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
When their eyes opened, they could see an extraordinarily vast and bright silver metallic hall.
In that colossal space that was more than four hundred meters wide and a hundred meters tall, there was nothing and nothing to be seen save for the ceiling, four walls, and lines of flickering runes. All was emptiness, for not even air existed across the room, only thin vacuum.
The scale of the hall was so unusually enormous that its ratio and construct was simply not something ordinary humans could accept. The sensation of irregularity and the instinctive illusion would prompt a feeling within everyone inside the hall as if they have entered a realm of giants.
Around them, the bright rays emanating from the runes was a special kind of torment as well. Containing special energy ripples and beams, it stimulated the nerves of all creatures it illuminated and prevented them from resting, hence falling into maddening exhaustion. Furthermore, there was still the factor of the vacuum—the inability to breathe being a lethal torture for most creatures in the first place.
And in the center of the vast, bright hall that was in fact some special prison, five translucent crystal pillars stood aloft, upon of which five humanoid metal cans were sealed by some spell to float over thin air, immobile.
“What’s this place?”
Dazedly, Clark the Rider, having just awakened from the crash after the failed teleportation, opened his eyes only to find not a barren otherworld land (which is usually what happens most of the time), but a hall that was clearly a creation of a civilization. He also quickly noticed that he was being restrained by a spell, shackled to a crystal pillar that was clearly for sealing.
“You’re up. As we thought, your spiritual essence is the weakest amongst us five.”
Inside his helmet, his communications tool suddenly spoke with Clergy’s rather electronic voice. “And don’t move, keep your posture. Play dead.”
Although Rider was told that his essence was weak, that remained relative since all his teammates were spellcasters. Still, he realized at once that something was not right, and hence did as Clergy told, refraining from any movement and feigning unconsciousness.
At present, the five of them were wearing ‘Otherworld Exploration Enchanted Armor’, specially forged in Moldavia. It was a special airtight full-body armor that was crafted from ‘Living Metals’, possessing considerable ability to repair itself while adapting quickly to any world, and would neither melt from extreme heat or turn brittle from freezing. The inner protection was made from a special ‘self-restoring substance’ attained by studying the body of a Legendary Demon General and carried the same incomparable adaptability. It even briefly fuses with the skin of the wearer, providing nervous system stimuli and a part of their body.
For some reason, the armor was not taken off their bodies, which happened to be why they could survive so long in the vacuum environment. The built-in circulatory system inside the armor could keep them alive in the Void for some time, and mere vacuum was nothing.
“What’s going on?
A sense of danger flashing in his mind, Rider became aware at once that his team must have gotten involved with something horrible again, and quickly turned to his teammates. “Leader, are we…”
“You rest for a bit, I’ll ask the questions.”
However, Mage quickly interrupted a certain Crow’s Mouth and turned to another set of enchanted armor, which had been staying motionless and feigning unconsciousness as well. “Leader, you’re saying that we’ve been captured by some advanced otherworld intelligent beings, who now intends to interrogate us with questions which answers we don’t have through various coercion?”
There was clear anger in Mage’s voice, but his question was clear, and Priest, who had been calmly thinking all along quickly answered, “That’s what happened.”
“At the very last moment of our teleportation, a mysterious force had drawn us to a bizarre steel shrine—each of you had fainted at the time, and while I’m conscious, I’m dazed too… That was when I saw that alien otherworld lifeform coming to us.”
There was something in Priest’s voice as he mentioned ‘alien’. Using the transmitting function of his enchanted armor, he sent footage of the creatures to the others: they were beings that have a carapace of unusual form and resembled spiders, but that was just in appearance.
The creatures possess gray-black shells, eight sharp legs, their saucer-like body having distinct optical organs as well as mandibles… From those attributes alone they would have appeared to be simple, weird large crabs, but that body was not the most important aspect—instead, it was the mushroom-like objects that extended from the center of that saucer-shaped body, ‘breaking out of the shell’.
Was that a creature or a plant? Or was it really just some fungi? None could ascertain that without touching with their own hands, and unlike their gigantic forms, the fungal body appeared so shriveled in the carapace that it was akin to one finger of a palm. Their oval-shaped caps also flowed with a distinct magical radiance that flickered in a regular pattern, proving that they were indeed intelligent beings.
“…Looks a bit like parasitic fungi.”
The knowledgeable Alchemist voiced his opinion, after having often come across various unusual flora, fauna, and fungi, and therefore could tell at once how those lifeforms stood out. “I’m not sure if the rest of you had seen it, but there’s a fungus that could latch on to the bodies of insects, controlling their movements before finally devouring it in its entirety… Those things look similar, and the crab beneath is probably just a host.”
“That’s for sure,” Priest replied. “When they interrogated me, that spine of fungus was definitely acting as its main body. These otherworld beings possess great spiritual powers, and attempted to spy into our psyche when we’re unconscious. However, it’s because due to the great disparity between species and logical faculty that it failed—afterward, when it tried to question me coercive through a spiritual link about ‘how we found them’, I deliberately severed my brain’s oxygen supply and fainted over.”
At that, Priest appeared to have thought of something humorous and laughed in the comms. “These otherworld beings seem to think that our ‘enchanted armor’ are part of our bodies, which is reasonable sense Living Metals definitely have some lift to them. That’s why they kept torturing the armor, whipping and even dismembering a few of my ‘fingers’, but they never thought to peel off the armor. They seem to believe that we are some robust species with strong regenerative ability.”
The others could not help laughing despite the gravity of the situation—there were times when the differences between species and civilization were so great that it certainly led to such misunderstandings.
Soon, however, their conversation turned serious once more.
‘There otherworld beings seem to call themselves ‘Fleet’,” Priest said summarily, “they must be navigating amidst the Void, incidentally interdicting our failed teleportation. According to what I know so far, I could largely guess that they are carrying out some secretive operation, which is why they are so nervous when we appeared so suddenly, and keep trying to probe how we found them.”
“What should we do next, then?” Clergy asked simply.
“We bide our time, collect information, and after we get an idea what is going on, we activate the ‘Return Beacon’ and leave at once.”
Priest said seriously, sparing no breath for nonsense. “These otherworld creatures believe that the armor is a part of our bodies, and wouldn’t try to check if it’s vital organ hidden beneath our plating—when they’re not paying attention, we could return anytime with the beacon.
“It’s a little pity that we accomplished nothing before we leave. Still, it’s not as if we’ve gained nothing since we’ve learned about the existence of a special, otherworld intelligent creature.”
Ultimately, the mission of the External Exploration Department was to find worlds that could be colonized and possess valuable resources. Finding otherworld civilizations was an important task as well, whether they were Draknoids from Kronos, having a primitive civilization that have talent but was weak, or like Stellaris, a vast, advanced otherworld civilization.
While Captain Tashtyk had reiterated that the value of the Return Beacon might be greater than all five explorers, it was a harmless joke—they should use it if they needed to. At the thought, Priest could not help feeling the favor of luck that they brought just such a thing, or they would be staying here for a long time.
However, just as Priest told the others to stay quiet…
A circular ‘door’ opened.
A massive volume of a turbid gases was injected inside. Mixed with yellow-gray spores that emanated distinct magical energy ripples, in a dozen seconds, the vast and empty hall was filled with air that was clearly from another world.
A team of eight-legged fungi then entered the circular door, arriving at the five youths who were restrained on the crystal pillars. Arcs of magical shielding whirled around their bodies, and they appeared to be here not for interrogation, but for some other intention.
As the Elite Party stayed silent and held their breaths, nervously watching and trying to figure out what the otherworld beings intended, the five crystal pillars were hence uprooted with a wave of magic, hovering in the air.
The cap of the fungus in the lead flickered in magical radiance. It appeared to be a casting ‘sign’, and soon, five translucent energy conduits connected on the crystal pillars, and the fungi itself pulled the hovering pillars, the five people still on it and began to moved.
The fungi conversed in some bizarre, sharp hisses that could have been supersonic vibrations which human ears could hear partially. However, Priest and the others could not hear a single sound as all of the eight-legged fungi advanced silently, leaving the hall.
“They can’t be disposing of us, right?!”
Rider sent a group message with the built-in comms device inside his enchanted armor, the punctuation clearly showing his extreme anxiety. “They’ll dismember us, throw us into the garbage compactor or their enchanted engine furnace… I heard that the Liege himself had done that to a lot of monsters before—that way of dying is painful, tragic and very brutal!”
“Crow Mouth, say another word and I won’t spare you even in death!”
Everyone, including Priest almost went into a coma from the outrage.
Meanwhile, the eight-legged fungi were unaware of the Elite Party’s exchange—not that they needed to know.
After they had left the vacuum-sealed hall ‘quarantine zone’ and tested negative for infective viruses, the harmless five were hence moved by the team of grey-black eight-legged fungi to the true otherworld environment.
Every party member hence at once forgot about their exchanges, and soaked themselves in the sights before them in astonishment.
The huge hall had been a rectangular metallic cabin floating in the air. At first, Priest had thought that it was plenty huge and a colossal building that humans would have a hard time adapting to, only to realized that the buildings outside the hall made it insignificant.
—How vast could this world be?
Above the hall was a ‘Metal Sky’ that was rumbling and gathering incessantly, while beneath it was a ‘Living Continent’, boundless and without a visible horizon.
It was an artificial, orbicular world with a rectangular earth. Its half-metal, half-living ‘sky’ squirming restlessly, with what appeared to be pillars of fungi forming most of the dome, and at its highest point, a huge magical sun emitted bright orange radiance, shining upon the flat lands.
The land itself were fungi as well, living and wiggling. Towering organic buildings were everywhere, each of which were hive-like constructs where millions of eight-legged moved around, moving resources and working.
The quarantine hall was at the center of the world, a facility outside one of the more colossal central hives. Their escorting fungi were carrying their crystal pillars as they boarded a cable car that resembled a pitcher plant, bringing them along as they kept trudging on.
There was no need to think, react or wonder—each member of Priest’s party had already activated their video capturing function and wildly recording every image around them.
Priest even felt that his eyes was simply lacking. At present, they had been brought into the huge central hive. Even so, the eight-legged fungi appeared to have no awareness of secrecy, and simply allowed them to observe the environment as the cable car made straight for a beehive entrance, heading into its depths.
And in that brief time, Priest observed countless valuable intelligence as the cable car moved.
There was a white funnel-shaped organ that was transferring a massive volume of magical energy after it was filled with various organic substances. It was probably an ‘Energy Engine’.
There was a processing hold where dozens of the octopedal fungi used mana to harvest, fill and dissect.
There was also a production base where certain plants were grown alongside some abnormal things that were half-animal half-plant.
There was a translucent, sealed cabin soaked in pale-gold liquid. Outline of eight-legged fetuses could vaguely be seen floating inside it.
Priest even forgot that he should be concealing any movement as he turned slightly to looked around at the unique sights that belonged to an otherworld civilization around the moving cable car.
As the cable car ventured further, he could see that the internal structure of the hive gradually hardened like metals, with innumerable crystalline prisms standing in amidst fungi pillars, controlling their growth and movements through mana flow. Priest also noticed that it gets brighter the deeper they went, the autonomous light from concentrated magical energy nullifying the need for source of light even as it made everything around clearly visible.
Beside Priest, his entire team saw white bubbles of fungi wafting in the air around the cable car. The bubbles’ surface and insides were filled with obvious special runes, and they collided, fusing, forming large bubbles from time to time that would rapidly split afterwards, turning once more into thousands of smaller bubbles. They appeared to be exchanging certain processing and information exchange, with each fuse and split equal to a spark of thought and inspiration, just as magical energy hummed softly over thin air.
It was too vast.
If the colossal hive was the size of one human, the quarantine hall that had been several hundred meters wide and almost a hundred meters tall was but a fingernail. As they ventured deep into the central hive, Priest felt as if he had entered the center of an incomparably huge beast.
Countless octopedal fungi were moving here and there within the creature’s body, working like honeybees and ants, crossing into one after another fungal constructs and laboring without exhaustion.
Meanwhile, at the center of the hive that was now as bright as noontime radiance, the destination of the octopedal fungi and Priest’s party appeared.
It was a giant six-sided prismatic ‘palace’, located at the bottommost level of the central hive.