Life fall. Similar to its counterpart the life well, it is a stationary point in the World Stream where mana and souls flow. However, unlike its fellow phenomenon which flows from the earth to the heavens, a life fall flows from the heavens to the earth. They are fewer in number and can encompass large areas, but do not differ in any other respect. However, the most notable thing about life falls lies not in its natural mechanics but its consequential effect on life.
Gathering mana from the skies and transferring it to below the Garea’s surface, areas around life falls tend be rich in mana. Like the fish in Elf Forest that make use of the passing mana streams, beings of earthly origin evolve to make use of this abundance of energy but on an exponentially greater scale. In terms of the magical evolutionary spectrum, they become less earthly creatures and approach the domain of living spirits, and begin to require mana to sustain their existences.
However, being born from the material plane, some life fall animals will develop a magic core to store this energy and become dependent on mana to survive. These mutated animals are called magical beasts, and the closer to the centre of a life fall, and the deeper it is to where the flow stagnates and begins to accumulate even greater power, the more evolved and dangerous they become. These creatures stake their domains within the limited area of the life fall and often drive the weaker ones away, and logically these outcasts move towards the only other mana rich areas: life wells where people tend to construct their towns…
I finish revising the explanation from Takashi’s notebook as we approach the location of our first quest. It is a provincial quest meaning we don’t have to return to Lennon to hand in the report. Our job, or rather my job, is to survey the population of magical beasts. Depending on the results, the guild may have to deploy a subjugation expedition to reduce their numbers in order to protect the surrounding settlements. It’s kind of frightening for my first quest to be a D rank mission, although it’s the lowest designation for a life fall investigation. I took the quest because it seemed like a good opportunity to collect a few magic cores.
“Please slow down, Enbos! I’m sorry but my stamina is not enough to match your pace.”
“Ah, I should be the one who’s sorry. I guess I was a bit too eager.”
“I understand. After all, you’ve been looking forward to this quest for the past two days, and we’re finally nearing our destination.”
“Yeah, I admit I have. By the way Hachirou, what do you think those mysterious beasts in the information provided with the quest could be?”
“Hrm, I-I’m not too sure. I don’t ever recall seeing or hearing something like that from the Nomura clan hunters.”
Adding to the suspense of our undertaking, the quest was issued by a nearby village after reports of an unidentified magical beast. Supposably, it is a nocturnal, quadrupedal creature with two long limbs on its back that end in pointed tips. Its home is suspected to be a nearby cave which resides within a small life fall. It is the only place we need to investigate as the surrounding areas are barren, but the natural caverns run fairly deep. We both stop outside the place I just described and I gaze at the life fall in all its majesty.
If I had to describe it, it’s like a crashing rainbow. I’m half expecting a pot of gold once we enter the cave. The amount of mana flowing and phasing through the ground is like a turbulent waterfall, but disconcertingly it doesn’t make a single sound. It’s the complete opposite of a Dead Zone, as I can tell my MP would be replenished in mere minutes under this downpour of energy. However, the same can be said for whatever resides within.
“Let’s take a break and set up camp near here, Hachirou. We’ll enter after noon and leave before sunset. It may even take several trips before we’re done. The last thing I want is to get chased by our mystery creature while weakened and in the middle of night.”
We make our way to what seems to be an abandoned campsite and set up our base of operations.
“I’m glad Takashi invented a mess kit. So, how did you find today’s lunch?”
“It… was okay.”
“… I’m sorry I’m not a better cook.”
“No, no, I genuinely meant what I said…”
Well, you do have a stomach made of steel and a tongue made of wood.
“… it’s just, I can’t help thinking about my branch.”
“I-I see… Look, I know how it feels to miss family. If you ever feel like talking about home, just remember I’m here.”
“Thank you, Enbos.”
During the first month I arrived in this world, I was going mad from homesickness and hammered my head on the trees in some twisted alternative to shedding tears. From my point of view, Hachirou is doing incredibly well and I intend to keep it that way.
We pack up our supplies and arm ourselves for the coming venture. While I draw my sword, Hachirou equips a long (for a kobold), curved, single-edged blade on his side: a katana. When I first saw Takashi gift him that sword, I chuckled to myself as I knew he couldn’t help forging one. It looks as high quality as my own weapon, albeit without a curse or death sentence. Of course, Hachirou tried rejecting such a lavish gift but ultimately relented under the full push of his family.
With the sun high above our heads, we take our first steps into the dark crack in the cliff face. Hachirou carries an enchanted lantern while I lead the way using <Night Vision>. I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement, exploring the levels of a dungeon, fighting monsters and recovering loot…
… which are the exact things this exploration is not! It’s not some prearranged world with even ground arranged in neat, multi-layer systems. Oh no, this is a cave in every sense of the word. Jagged surfaces, barely an inch of flatland, steep descents and dead ends are the reality I face. At times I had to use <Kinetic Barrier> as a foothold for us both. My experience would probably be worse if I didn’t have <Night Vision>, which Hachirou does not. We have yet to encounter any monsters, and thus no magic cores to collect, as the timer I set with Crest slowly ticks away.
“I’m sorry Hachirou for not buying more equipment. I should have prepared a little better.”
“Don’t worry, Enbos. We’re still making progress and I can still go on.”
“Well, we don’t have long until… Shhh! (I sense something!)”
We slow our movements to a crawl, activate <Sneak> and slowly make our way to the presences I detected. Hachirou turns off the lantern and follows closely in tow. There are actually quite a few and it might turn into an ugly fight, but then again our mission is to observe, not to destroy. We successfully make our way to a large stone pillar and I peek my head to take a better look. Huh, they look kind of like…
“You can turn on the light. They’re only slimes.”
Hachirou follows my command and steps out of hiding as we both gaze at dozens of green, gelatinous bodies wandering aimlessly. I reach for Takashi’s notebook as I seem to recall a certain entry.
Slimes. The most common and weakest magical beast found at a life fall. Magically mutated organisms that rely entirely on mana for nourishment. Its position as a magical beast is questionable. Reproduces through fission but creates a spiritual link that warns the slime community if one of its own have died. While most species flee, a few have evolved to swarm the attacker. Its magic cores are of the lowest quality, though in rare cases the fission process fails and produces the special magic cores used in adventurer crests. Some human settlements cultivate slimes at their life wells as a business.
Hrm, while it is interesting, it means these slimes are near useless to me. Still, one of them had a high concentration of spiritual energy, but where is it?
I concentrate on <Spectral Sense> and find my target to be above me. I raise my head wondering if slimes could climb walls, just as a row of serrated teeth fill my entire vision.
A powerful shock rocks through the floor as the creature’s face and body smashes against my spell in a comical fashion. Well I’m not laughing!
Out of sheer reflex, I deactivate the barrier and throw a punch imbued with <Heavy Strike>. A split second before my fist lands, I remember to activate <Fortify>, sending the creature flying onto the slime colony. As Hachirou is shocked back to his senses, and the green little critters scatter in every direction, I realise the thing I just hit is our mystery creature.
It’s about the size of a man, and like the description, it prowls on four legs with two long, spider-like legs ending in razor sharp points. What it failed to state was its dark-blue leathery skin, raptor like claws on each of its toes, an almost simian head with reptilian teeth and its lanky unnatural movements as it strafes and climbs on the walls and roof. It lets out a roar that sounds like a blend of a wailing child and a laughing hyena.
“W-what is that thing!? <Analyse Soul>!”
Species: ($^$## ^^#
<Scanning… 5%… 9%…>
“Huh!? What the- Behind you, Hachirou!”
Just as Hachirou is about to come to my aid, I detect another one charging towards him. Hachirou drops his lantern and reacts instantaneously, reorientating himself and performing an iaijutsu draw at seemingly nothing. However, looking closely, he has just deflected one of those piercing spines… Damn it, where am I looking!
Redirecting my sight, I find my specimen is also making its way to Hachirou’s currently engaged form.
In such a dark place, it doesn’t matter where I throw it as long as it’s near its mark. My target seems puzzled at first by why its feet are stuck to the ground, but to my surprise it flails violently and manages to break free of my spell.
<… 95%… 100%… Scan complete.>
Species: ($^$## ^^#
Max HP: 93
Max MP: 81
Wait, of course! It’s been living in a mana rich environment and has developed high resilience. It seems to be vulnerable to physical attacks, but I must be careful as I’m only analysing the effect of the soul on the body and not including the capabilities of the body itself.
“I’ll create an opening! Jump back and clench your eyes for a second! <Lightning>!”
Hachirou takes a step back as I fire a blinding bolt of electricity at his attacker. It shocks the creature and forces it to retreat a few steps, but soon both beasts resume their approach with a wary guard. I quickly step to Hachirou’s side and try to place myself between him and the first beast.
Why didn’t the flash blind them? Could it be they’re more dependent on their ears? Why didn’t I consider that sooner and why are they targeting Hachioru!? He can’t hold out like this with barely any light!
Without a solid strategy, I start firing <Fireballs> to keep one of the creatures at bay, and due to the high mana concentration, I’m able to constantly fire my skill. Unfortunately, none of my shots connect as the magic beasts make full use of their manoeuvrability. Jumping from the wall to the ceiling and back, skittering behind the rock pillars, the verticality in this battle is unlike hunting on the open plains or the forests. They move from surface to surface and strike from every direction except below. As the sound of swinging blades and screeches resound throughout the cavern, I notice the fatigue in Hachirou’s breath.
I conjure a full protective bubble around us, creating a small moment of reprieve. To my relief, their stabbing limbs are unable to pierce my new and improved spell.
“Enbos, I think… they’re targeting the lantern!”
“I see. Also, they may be weak to physical attacks. Do you have any ideas?”
“My eldest brother… taught me a skill… but to use it I need to get close.”
“In that case, let’s-”
Unfortunately, I’m unable to finish my sentence as I sense high amounts of mana coming from one of the creatures. Between the tips of its long limbs, a ball of dark energy is being formed. <Kinetic Barrier> can’t stop a magical attack, and we both know it.
“Move!” I scream as I deactivate my spell and we dive in opposite directions. A violent explosion ensues and I tumble down a slight decline and end up further from Hachirou than I like. As I look back at my partner, the other creature pounces on the lantern and destroys it, leaving Hachirou in complete darkness. He’s sheathed his katana and taken a drawing stance, but both monsters are preparing a simultaneous attack. He won’t be able to stop them!
“Damn it Enbos, think, think!”
He’s going to die, he’s going to die, he’s going to die because of you!
If I use <Shadow Step>, I can intercept one of them but I can’t stop the other… No choice, I have to do it! I’ll bet on Hachirou to…
W-why is Hachirou so calm? What is he-
“Hachirou, close your eyes!”
At that moment, both predators leap at my friend.
I take in every detail of this desperate scene. Hachirou’s steady breaths. The approaching claws. The phantom smile on the beasts’ lips. I continue to watch every agonising nanosecond, and take it all to heart.
I can’t look away. I can’t get any closer. I must see this nightmare through…
… and hope Hachirou does something in time.
“<Six Claw Slice>!”
He takes a sudden step towards both attackers, and in a split second, he draws his sword and strikes. Both magical beasts land past Hachirou, and both suddenly fall to the ground twisting in agony. Three deep gashes have been left on each while Hachirou only has a scratch on his cheek.
“I-It made it… <Perception Link> worked.”
After half a year of using <Perception Link>, it has evolved to a greater rank skill, thus allowing me to transmit my own senses. As a result, Hachirou made use of my <Night Vision>, although it’s a miracle he coordinated his attack from third person, and it’s the first time I’ve used it for anything other than taste.
While one of the beasts seem to be dying, the other is making an escape. It hops up the roof and tries to crawl away, but…
I send it crashing back down with three times Garea’s gravity.
“Hachirou, slam dunk manoeuvre, now!”
Keeping both figures within my field of vision, Hachirou leaps from outside my spell and enters the field with his descent, taking advantage of the increased gravity to accelerate his attack.
Hachirou swings down with his katana in mid air, decapitating the magical beast with resounding force. The headless body continues to twitch as its blood flows down the slope to my position. I quickly deactivate <Gravity Field> while Hachirou immediately switches to the remaining target. Unfortunately, it’s already making its escape.
“That’s enough. Let it go, Hachirou. We can’t keep fighting using <Perception Link>.”
“I *huff*… I understand…”
“Was the skill that draining?”
“Indeed… I did not have much time… so my siblings only taught a few skills. Unfortunately… my body is still not strong enough…”
“I see… Also, what the hell were you thinking!?”
“The moment before you attacked! Were you calmly waiting for me to say something!?”
“Well, it sounded like… you had a plan…”
“That wasn’t what I had in mind, and it’s a wonder it went as well as it did! Up until then, I had given you two commands. One exposed us to the ambush and the other didn’t work! Yet still, you continued to trust me… continued to blindly follow my instructions! D-don’t you doubt me at all!? Aren’t you afraid I’ll make a fatal mistake!?”
“Enbos, I believe in you.”
“And that’s the problem! I’m a horrible leader! I-I…”
“I believe in you because you care. I know *huff*… that every decision you make is for… the good of us both, and for that… I will gladly follow you. In fact, I suspect you would have fared… better without me, and yet you worry over my own inadequacy.”
“Of course I care! You’re my friend, and don’t you dare say that you’re inadequate.”
“Please Enbos, stop trying to carry my flaws along with your own. We should carry it… together. The only reason I lived today was because I trusted you. I saw how bleak it looked from your eyes… and it was my determination not to disappoint that pulled us through.”
I fall silent before Hachirou’s unbending faith. It seems we both have much room to grow as adventurers- no, as partners. I suddenly recall he is still seeing things through my point of view much to my embarrassment. A flame appears in my palm as I sever our <Perception Link> and continue to lead.
“Let’s go Hachirou. We’ll continue our investigation tomorrow. We’ll also take the body and extract its magic core.”
As we backtrack to the mouth of the cave with our prize, I can’t help but follow the trail of blood left by the surviving beast. It goes to the left, up the wall and into a…
“Enbos? Is something wrong?”
“… Tell me, Hachirou. Is it just me or does that gap in the distance look like a door?”