Slowly but surely, the sound drew nearer. Hikaru sensed the enormous creature advancing — even though it was out of range of his Detection — mowing down trees on its path.
That was a lot faster than expected.
Hikaru felt his body to check his condition and did some light stretches. He didn’t have enough sleep, but he could move just fine. After a quick sip from his flask, he moved out.
First I need to check it from a distance.
From the gaps between trees, he could see clouds of dust rising in the air. Birds flew away. A deer ran past Hikaru at an incredible speed.
Is that… it? For real?
A head poked above the trees. He wasn’t certain he could call it a head. Dark red in color, it had a strange luster to it and was as big as a bus. The surface was translucent and covered in scales, revealing the veins within.
Its head was shaped like a snake. While its eyes looked cloudy, Hikaru could tell they were moving. He couldn’t see its pupil, however, so he had no idea where it was looking.
The creature opened its mouth, and from it emerged its tongue, split into three. Then all of a sudden they lunged in different directions, snatching a bird, a boar, and a monkey. The creature swallowed the animals in no time at all.
The dragon spoke in a language not presently used in any part of the continent. They were words that could only be found in ancient texts — Ancient Spirit language. Roland encountered a bit of it while he studied the art of crossing worlds. So Hikaru just happened to understand what the creature was saying.
“I must eat?” What does that mean? Wait, it can talk?
As the dragon got closer, Hikaru could see more of the creature. It had a long neck with a body shaped like a potato. Four legs protruded out of each side, and it moved while dragging its belly on the ground. Its tail was incredibly long, extending all the way out of his field of view. Measuring over fifty meters from head to its trunk, it was a monster in the truest sense of the word.
The lower part of its belly was whitish in color and looked to be elastic, as something seemed to be poking it from inside. Hikaru didn’t know what it was at first, but after seeing it a different angle, he finally realized… Its stomach. It expanded into the shape of a human. Its stomach was bulging from the creatures it swallowed.
Hikaru had tolerance with the grotesque since he dissected animals, but this was a bit too much. He grimaced and swallowed hard.
Something was off. Its body bulged out too much that it had trouble moving. Yet it still continued to eat.
Is someone controlling it? No, it’s afraid of something.
The dragon turned its head around at times, watching for its surroundings.
『…Non tamen…』the creature muttered.
Something is out there… and it’s enough to scare off this gigantic creature? Hikaru put his brain to work. Living things eat to get energy. But this dragon is eating too much. What happens then?
Then the dragon’s body trembled and its back split. Hundreds — no, thousands of tentacles emerged from within. While they were only thick enough for both hands to grab, they were long, ranging from five to ten meters.
「I see. To grow…」Hikaru muttered.
The dragon preyed on living things to grow. It all made sense. The monster wanted to develop further, to transcend whatever it was scared of.
「Unfortunately, I can’t have you do this.」
Hikaru grabbed the revolver hanging on his waist.
「I don’t know what you’re so scared about, but I’m stopping you here.」
The Borderzard Adventurers Guild was bursting with joy. They had repelled most of the monsters and only a few were left. The subjugation team took turns to finish off the rest of them.
Everyone thought they had won, including the chief of the subjugation efforts. The chief and Borderzard’s guildmaster were having a friendly chat, as though all the criticism and blaming from yesterday never happened.
「Hahaha! The subjugation team did great! (I recall you not cooperating with us.)」
「The adventurers were vital to the defense of Borderzard. (I’ll include the fact that you didn’t take command in the front lines in my report.)」
「We can cancel the request for backup we sent to other countries. We’ll tell them that thanks to the subjugation team’s efforts, we managed to drive the enemy back.」
「Yes. With this the Foundation Ceremony will proceed as planned. I’m sure the people in the government will be happy to hear the news. Let’s tell the residents we managed to drive the monsters away and get them back to town right away.」
「Thanks to the efforts of the subjugation team.」
「Or Borderzard’s walls.」
The guild staff shivered as they listened to the conversation of the two men who didn’t know what the other was thinking deep inside.
Out of the blue, one staff who was part of the recon team, barged in.
「W-Word arrived from the survey squad that went to check the situation in the forest. A huge dragon is headed this way. “Evacuate immediately” were his last words before he fainted from exhaustion and shock.」
Silenced descended on the room. Everyone realized that the real threat was coming.
As soon as the recon team spotted the dragon, they immediately turned back. It was the right decision. The dragon’s tongues were quick, scooping up animals on the ground with ease. If they got even closer, they’d get eaten before they could even send word of the monster’s approach.
「Good. Go back. You made the right choice.」
Hood covered and hid her purple hair. Her arms and legs were wrapped in stretchable cloth. On top of that, she wore clothes made of light but sturdy monster materials. Sarah of the Four Stars of the East.
She wasn’t part of the recon team. Instead she entered the forest to gather information for her party. Experienced in scouting missions and moving through forests, she was fast — quite unlike Hikaru even though they had similar stealth abilities. She only left Borderzard at dawn.
「Judging by the color and its overall form, it’s definitely an Earth Dragon…」
She climbed up a tree swiftly to check the monster. Right now the dragon was two hundred meters away. Since she possessed Stealth abilities too, she could get close without being in danger.
She could see the creature’s head sticking out of the trees from her vantage point. Its body was partially visible through the trunks of trees too.
「But I thought Earth Dragons were more slim… They don’t have that many legs either and definitely no tentacles.」
Sarah had seen an Earth Dragon once. Deep inside a dungeon, she only regarded it from a distance, but she could never forget its small but wide appearance, its slimy surface, and the huge body. It looked exactly like how one would expect a “walking dragon” to look like. Her party was exhausted from exploring the dungeon, so they couldn’t engage it.
「I guess it’s a subspecies of Earth Dragons? In the first place, they’re called Earth Dragons because they lurk underground. I think it can be stopped with a barrage of spells since it moves so slow. Maybe with the help of that girl from yesterday, we can pull it off. Ah, but Selica mentioned she couldn’t find the girl anywhere.」
As she muttered to herself, something unexpected occurred.
「What?! Who’s that?!」
She couldn’t sense anyone nearby. But she knew…
Someone’s there and they’re trying to fight the dragon!
That was what her Instinct told her. She had five points on it in her Soul Board. For someone who developed their skills on their own, it was quite a high number. Her Instinct saved her life countless times before.
「This is madness! You can’t win! We have to form a defensive line and fire spells from there!」
A battle was about to break out of which she would be a witness. Later on she would tell the story, but everyone only took her words with a grain of salt.