439 Solar Eclipse
They were finally close enough to the ruins after a day. Zero decided to go ahead first with Truen while Bob and Jermine waited at a distance away from the ruin because there was something off about it.
"There's an ill magic surrounding the ruins," Zero said and Bob agreed.
"Don't go too far, master. If something goes wrong, summon for me. I will get everyone out of there at once."
Truen readied Sureshot and told Jermine to prepare a camp with Bob from a safe distance. Even though the mole girl couldn't use magic, she was able to see the mana flow surrounding the ruins like a balloon. The mana glow was stronger than anything Jermine had ever witnessed and she felt nervous for the elven brothers.
"P-Please be very careful!" she begged as they climbed onto their sand walkers.
Bob and Jermine got to work immediately, setting up camp for them. It was only midday but for some reason, it felt like dusk. The air was cold so they worked quickly to make a shelter. Could it be that another sandstorm was approaching? With nothing better to do, Bob asked Mii to give them some monster corpses to dismantle while waiting for Zero and Truen to be back.
"Do you sense that?" Truen asked as they got closer to the buried ruins. Zero had to pull up his cloak's hood so that the wind wouldn't throw sand into his eyes.
"It's a very ancient magic, I need time to break the seal. This could very well be the gnome city we were searching for!"
Truen agreed and fired a few magic arrows in the air to test where the barrier was. The area was larger than they thought it would be, it wasn't just a simple ruin. From the top, it looked small and from a distance, it looked like a single building or a small town. However, up close, Zero shared with the archer exactly how big the underground architecture spanned. This wasn't just a town, it was a city. Zero could be right about them finding a gnome city but Truen was more worried about finding the truth. If this was truly the city of gnomes and nobody had heard from them for years, they could very well be an extinct species.
The magic arrows flew and landed on the top of the ruins before shattering with a fizzle. "There's an anti-magic barrier here. Let me go first," Truen said but Zero refused.
"Do you have any other skill apart from magic and combat?" the doctor asked and Truen remained silent. It was true, he didn't have many skills at his disposal if the city was completely anti-magic.
"Let me go," Zero reasoned. "If something goes wrong, I'll teleport out using the void or summon Bob. You should have noticed by now that these ruins are not on the same level of magic that we normally use."
After hesitating for a while, Truen nodded. "Don't cut off contact with me," he warned Zero who grinned and promised that he would update them after he found a way to get inside and disable the ancient magic.
Truen walked around the perimeter of the ruins, trying to get closer to the anti-magic barrier while updating Bob and Jermine about the situation after Zero left. The dragon became even more worried and Jermine had a bad feeling about exploring such a dangerous thing. Yet, Zero had made up his mind and was already venturing inside.
The top of the ruins buried by sand wasn't too difficult to get to but Zero had to dismount the sand walker halfway because it was too steep. He sent the good steed back to camp and focussed on his task.
This was definitely the gnome city, or what remained of it. Zero recognised the layers of magic as something that originated from alchemy. The only difference was how this city didn't use mana. They used a fusion form of energy created using alchemy's fusion of mana and electricity. The city must have been kept alive for so long because of the energy it harvested from the sun. Zero read about such technology and heard a story or two from Steve.
The wind got stronger on the top but Zero wasn't giving up. Truen would instantly be targeted by the working artillery machines that Zero found if he tried to break through the anti-magic barrier. His friend was a walking mana-emitting existence so Zero was glad he made the right decision to proceed alone. If anything, Zero and Jermine would be the best option to explore this ruined city peacefully. Hence, he considered asking Jermine over but quickly dismissed the thought. It was still better for him to disable the dangerous things first.
As Zero walked around the quiet ruins, he could help but feel that the sky was getting darker. He tried to read the writing on the stone slabs of the crumbled city. Some of them were so badly damaged that Zero couldn't make out the words. They had turned to powder after being abandoned for so long while others had become faint from the constant battering of sand and wind.
"Zero, get out of there!" Bob shouted into the party call and the doctor was startled. His concentration at trying to decrypt the ancient message was broken and now, the doctor could feel the true danger hovering above him.
For some reason, Zero froze to the spot, too amazed by the sight above him. The sun was getting covered which explained why it was getting darker and harder for him to look at the ancient words. Yet, it wasn't clouds that were covering the sun, it was the moon.
Too mesmerised by the solar eclipse, Zero didn't hear the panicked yells from his friends. The illusion sucked Zero in with its beauty and the doctor wondered if something special would happen when the sun and the moon met completely, unaware of a sand storm approaching his way.
In the heat of the moment, Bob decided to fulfill his contract terms and forced a summoning to get to Zero's side. The dragon took one look at the stone slabs to understand what made Zero stall. Nobody knew what Zero was looking at but as of now, the most important thing was getting him out of the ruins. Jermine and Truen worked quickly to dig them a better shelter than the last one they made in the first sandstorm and it was Bob's mission to get Zero back.
"Pardon me, master. It's going to be a rough ride!"
Unable to use magic within the barrier, Bob returned to his original dragon form and carried Zero away with his claws, the sand storm chasing them behind. Jermine and Truen were nervous when the wind picked up speed. From a distance, they saw Bob flying with Zero in his claws and wondered if they made the shelter opening too small.
Bob proved them wrong when he quickly activated his time-freezing magic for a while to put more distance between them and the sand storm. By that time, he was already very close to the shelter when the magic was undone.
Truen was shocked by the sudden teleporting but was glad that Zero was unharmed but dazed. Bob transformed back into his hybrid form and carried Zero in his arms, struggling with the weight of two people before tumbling into the shelter.
Truen wasted no time and sealed the shelter's entrance before lighting it up with some candles. Jermine made herself useful and started to expand the shelter's size so that they could lay Zero down to see what was wrong with him.
The sand walkers sat down to rest, occasionally looking over in concern with Zero lying oddly still and his eyes affixed onto something above him.