The device above the basket hummed in the background as the balloon began filling up. As the hot air spewed forth from the device, it was as if an invisible force was blowing into the pile of cloth.
One’day High fiddled with the controls on the device as he prepared for takeoff.
I stood amidst all that with a sullen expression on my face. On one hand was a drill-like device which I was told was meant for communications. On my other hand was a telescope-like object meant for observation. It was this object that captured the attention of my reluctant self at this moment as I tried to figure out its functions.
Di Qi Ju: Hello, hello? Can you hear me?
Halfmoon Leak’age: Hello, I received your message. You’re clear to set off.
His voice rang out from the strange drill in my hand. What sorcery is this? Isn’t he 10 meters below us? Wireless communications? No way, they can’t be that advanced…
—-that’s not right,last I checked, this world’s technology isn’t as advanced as Earth’s. They must’ve made use of wish abilities to make up for this gap.
For all I know, this device could be powered by one of the veteran’s wish ability.
Mhm, that must be it…
…speaking of which, every time I encounter such a situation, I end up going into exam mode…I guess I’m still accustomed to the days of my high school final exams.
One’day High: Oh…have you sat in such a hot air balloon before, Little Ju?
As he fiddled with the device, he had to squat down beneath it to reach the controls. I kinda feel bad for him, having to maintain that position all this while.
Di Qi Ju: Nah, there’s no way I could’ve sat in such a contraption prior to this.
One’day High: But you seem pretty used to this.
Di Qi Ju: Huh?
One’day High: Our current altitude is…100 meters.
Di Qi Ju: …!?!?
Di Qi Ju: WHAT? I , was, busy , thinking, we, actually, got, that, high, up?! AHH—!
One’day High: This might be a little late, but don’t tell me you have the same problem with heights as Leak’age-chan?
Di Qi Ju: No, I’m not afraid of heights…
Di Qi Ju: …but, I’m afraid of falling!
One’day High: Is there a difference?
Di Qi Ju: Of, course !
As I gazed into the distance, the normally sparse vegetation of the wilderness was replaced by the dense foliage of a jungle.
The change in scenery made it look like we had just flown over the hairline of another person.
The dense canopy barely allowed any light through its leafy green shroud. Rarely was I able to catch a glimpse of the shrubbery below.
It was almost as if I was back at the Grand Ravine.
As I turned my head, I caught sight of a few other hot air balloons beginning their ascent. Those must be the other scouting parties, our party is surprisingly efficient at this.
Beep Beep—Beep Beep—-
Di Qi Ju: Ah—!?
I turned towards One’day High in alarm; the control device was emitting a beeping sound.
Di Qi Ju: Are we going to explode??
One’day High: No no, that’s the device resonating with the location marker below us. It means that we have crossed the frontiers of Starfall.
One’day High: Those are the markers the advance party risked their lives to place. On our way back, we should hear them once more.
Di Qi Ju: Alright…don’t give me such a scare.
One’day High: According to the rules, we have to contact the ground team now.
Di Qi Ju: Alright.
After collecting my thoughts, I placed the device next to my ears and mouth and began the communications.
Di Qi Ju: Ground team come in, we’ve just crossed the frontiers of Starfall. We are currently 100 meters above the ground and proceeding ahead.
Halfmoon Leak’age: Got it, increase your frequency now or we will lose contact soon.
Di Qi Ju: Alright, understood.
Halfmoon Leak’age: If you notice anything out of the ordinary, don’t forget to report it or return back immediately. Over.
Di Qi Ju: Got it. Over.
Increasing the frequency…alright, that should do it. We should still be in communications range. The ground team should be able to check up on us from time to time.
One’day High: Say Little Ju, looking down, does the jungle’s edges resemble the five fingers of our hand?
Di Qi Ju: …No? No, they don’t.
One’day High: Huh? Then does the terrain resemble five fingers? I’m busy controlling the balloon so I can’t check on the situation outside the basket.
Di Qi Ju: It’s just a normal stretch of jungle.
One’day High: So the edges of Starfall isn’t similar to the five fingers on our hands…strange, are the geomorphologists wrong?
Di Qi Ju: I’m not sure about that but it seems to have no connection with geomorphology.
One’day High: Alright then…I want to lower the balloon so you can get a better look.
Di Qi Ju: Sure, just take it slowly and no matter what, don’t touch the ground.
Di Qi Ju:—-Ground team come in, we are beginning our descent to check on the surface.
Halfmoon Leak’age: Roger, remember to be careful, please be prepared to take off the moment you notice anything wrong. Over.
Di Qi Ju: Got it. Over.
One’day High: We’re currently…30 meters off the ground and stabilizing. Little Ju, have a look below.
Di Qi Ju: Alright.
I put down the communication device and with a tight grip on the sides, leaned out of the basket and peered downwards with the telescope.
Di Qi Ju: Based on what I can see, the canopy stretches on for at least 10 meters and the trees seem to be around ten to twenty meters tall. They’ve grown surprisingly tall.
Di Qi Ju: Between the seams…it’s pitch black so I can’t see a thing.
One’day High: A pitch black seam…shouldn’t it be pretty old…
Di Qi Ju: You can leave the dirty jokes for later!
One’day High: Let’s go a little lower, what do you think of that?
Di Qi Ju: Hmmm….
Di Qi Ju: Can this balloon perform an emergency ascent?
One’day High: Don’t worry, such precise piloting is within the boundaries of my wish abilities and specialities.
Di Qi Ju: Alright, then just lower us a meter at a time.
One’day High: 29, 28, 27…
Di Qi Ju:…
One’day High: 25,24…
Di Qi Ju: —-stop.
One’day High: We’re currently at 23 meters. What do you see?
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: The ground…it seems to be squirming.
One’day High: What does that mean? Is it an earthquake?
Di Qi Ju: No, it’s almost like a caterpillar wriggling…
Di Qi Ju: Plus, there’s some vines wrapped around the branches of those trees. They seem to be wriggling as well…
One’day High: Hmm…tentacles?
Di Qi Ju: I already said to leave the dirty jokes for later—
Suddenly, one of the objects disappeared from the vision range of the telescope.
It was something inconspicuous…something within the darkness just disappeared under my eyes.
Di Qi Ju: —-hmmm?
I blinked my eyes, making sure that I didn’t get that wrong.
Just as I prepared to peer through the telescope—
I felt a tremendous force clamping down on my right hand. As it hooped around my arm, it began to pull me down!!
Di Qi Ju: —!!
The sudden turn of events made me withdraw my hands instinctively. As I loosened my grip, the telescope fell out of my hands and hurtled towards the ground.
Having recovered my normal field of vision, I focused my sights on what was dragging me. It was a sleek, blackish-green vine tugging persistently on my right arm.
Di Qi Ju: What the f*** is this thing!!
What’s a vine doing up here?!
One’day High: What’s going on?? The balloon is shaking!
I felt a clear shift in the center of gravity as the vine tugged furiously, clearly intending to drag us down.
If it wasn’t for me holding onto the basket so firmly, I might’ve already been dragged down!
Di Qi Ju: Ascend! Ascend! Quickly!
One’day High: I can’t! Unless we stabilize, I can’t perform an emergency ascent!
Di Qi Ju: Damnit…
Di Qi Ju: —A piece of junk like this actually wants to drag me down to hell??!
I twisted my arm, opened up my palms and grabbed inwards with my fingers—-
—*snap*. The sound of a branch snapping filled the air.
The vine tugging at me suddenly slackened and flopped to the ground like a rubber band, slapping the basket as it descended into the canopy.
Di Qi Ju: I’m free!!
One’day High: We’re stabilizing! Beginning emergency ascent!
The sudden ascent caused me to collapse to the basket floor in surprise. As I laid on the floor, I shifted my head to the communications device.
Di Qi Ju: Come in ground team! We’ve met with an accident. We’ve lost our telescope and we’re on our way back right now!
Di Qi Ju: Please inform the other scouting teams right away not to approach the canopy!!
It was a 5500+ character long chapter so I decided to split this chapter into 2. As a reference, most CN novel chapters are around 2000-3000 characters long.
Special thanks to Steve Granger, Ichitsuzen, and LaRue Martin!!