The scouting balloon trembled as the basket touched down lightly onto the bumpy surface. It was a nearly perfect landing but to me, it felt like the world was falling apart.
The moment the basket stabilized itself, I practically leapt out of the basket, tumbling roughly onto the floor as I landed unceremoniously with a thud.
Mo Chuan: What happened?
Di Qi Ju: The the…the treetops…a bunch of vines attacked me when we were 35 meters above the canopy. They wanted to drag me down into the jungle…
Halfmoon Leak’age: One’day High, was this so?
One’day High: I was busy controlling the balloon Leak’age-chan. I didn’t get a clear look but I definitely felt the basket shake from sudden force.
Lee Sole’shot:…I’ve already sent out the news, I just hope that none of the other teams descended to that height as well.
Lee Sole’shot: Ah—Officer Breman is here!
Breman galloped in on a mount that looked like a cross between a wolf and a horse. As his mount came to an abrupt stop in front of us, kicking a tiny storm of dust, he immediately listened to report of the veterans without even getting off his mount.
Well, this is a new sight for me, I bet if the ladies saw him now, they would be swooning over his gallant display.
Breman: One’day High, Di Qi Ju, are you guys alright?
One’day High: I’m fine, the one who was attacked was Little Ju.
Di Qi Ju: I’m…alright too…the vines wrapped themselves around me but I managed to escape in time.
My heart violently pounded as I said those words. Truth be told, I was deathly afraid…if they dragged me down there, there was no way I could survive without my wish points and abilities.
Breman: Can you give me the specifics, Di Qi Ju?
Di Qi Ju: Understood. The vines were growing around the tops of the trees. As we closed in on the canopy, I saw them writhing slightly before disappearing an instant later. Next thing I knew, they wrapped themselves around me.
Breman: So you’re saying that the vines’ intention was to attack any living being that closed in on them?
Di Qi Ju: Most likely…plus, I noticed a slight shaking of the ground as well, as if those something crawling underneath it, like the beastial wrath I encountered.
Breman: Beastial wrath…underground being…
Breman cupped his chin as he lowered it, seemingly deep in thought. Suddenly, his eyes darted to my hands and narrowed.
Breman: What’s that white powder on your right hand?
Di Qi Ju: White Powder?
I lowered my head and stared at my right hand; there really was an unknown powdery substance on it. It was right at the spot where the vines latched onto me.
On closer inspection, perhaps colorless would be a more apt description.
Breman: One’day High, your head seems to have some as well.
One’day High: Huh? Touch touch…there really is some there.
One’day High: What’s this thingie?
Di Qi Ju: Don’t tell me…it’s a part of that vine? Right as it broke off, it whipped about for a second. Perhaps it threw out the powder then.
Breman: Let me take a sample.
Breman put on a pair of membrane-like gloves and gingerly grabbed onto my wrist, with the other gloved hand, he gathered a swab of the powder with his finger.
Surprisingly, that grip felt extremely gentle as if I was being treated extremely tenderly. I wonder if that’s the effect of the gloves?
This level of tender loving care…hard to imagine that he is actually the head of these meat headed macho men.
—-*spit*, what nonsense am I thinking about again!
It’s almost like that previous “incident” with him…what a terrifying person…
Breman: I’m done.
Di Qi Ju: Phew—-
Mo Chuan: Why the long exhalation?
Di Qi Ju:…what do you care.
Breman: We need an alchemist here. Go get me Ethan.
Breman: Oh and send out the word, no one is to descend below 50 meters while they’re above Starfall.
Bodyguard: Yes sir.
Hmm? Alchemist? Ethan?
Roughly ten minutes later, Ethan rode in on a similar mount.
Ethan: Sir Breman, I’ve handed over the task you assigned to me to an executing officer. What do you require of me here?
Breman: Come have a look at this.
Breman took off his membrane gloves and handed over the powder-stained gloves to Ethan.
He received the gloves and gently closed his eyes. 10 seconds later, he opened his eyes again and stared at the white substance.
Ethan: Sir, it’s [Silicon Dioxide]
Di Qi Ju:…!?
Di Qi Ju:……
I was startled by his words. Twice.
The first was the fact that he had just used a chemistry term. According to my understanding of this world’s progress, this shouldn’t be possible.
If that’s the case, there’s only one reason for this: Ethan must’ve had the relevant wish abilities to analyse this power. With that kind of ability, calling him an alchemist seems to be an understatement, he should be called a chemist.
The second thing that scared me was the properties of silicon dioxide. According to my high school knowledge, this shouldn’t be possible. Open air, found on a plant, with a pale color that tended towards colorless, this silicon dioxide powder must’ve had a relatively high purity. No matter how you looked at it, this shouldn’t be possible.
Breman: What’s silicon dioxide?
Ethan: In theory, our military is able to produce this material as well. It is a pretty good fire retardant material.
Ethan: But this level of purity…it’s on the level of a “major discovery”.
A “major discovery”. If such a thing ever landed in the hands of an exploration merchant, it would mean the birth of a wealthy businessman.
To the expedition and country, this was an momentous gain.
Breman: —we can think about the riches later, tell me the information I want to hear.
Ethan: Yes sir. This substance shouldn’t have come from a plant, there’s no traces of it having been stored in a plant’s cells.
Ethan: It must’ve landed upon the vines.
Breman: Couldn’t it be that the vines were stained with this powder while travelling at high speeds?
Ethan: But, this level of purity shouldn’t be possible in nature, there must be something we’re missing…
Breman: Record it down first. We can analyse it once we have more information.
Breman: A vine that attacks people…
Breman: This thing must’ve been one of the culprits for the deaths of our soldiers those ten years ago.
Ethan: It’s highly likely that that’s the case.
Breman: —by the way, you said that this silicon dioxide thing is a fire retardant material right? So that means it can’t be destroyed by fire?
Ethan: That’s right.
Breman: Alright, I have a plan then.
Breman: Get the logistics team here. I want them to strap on a pourable storage device along with some counter balances.
Breman: Also, get the supply teams at the back to ship over a batch of “Fire Dragons” and some Jungle-type extinguishing agents,
Except for the pair, everyone looked at each other, confusion clearly written on our faces. None of us understood the implications of his words.
Breman: The men are to be reassigned to patrol duty. Their mission is to carry the fire dragons along with them as they patrol five meters away from the borders of starfall.
Breman: The moment they see any plant life that moves, I want them to burn that area to the ground!
Breman: If the fire gets too big, the scouting balloons will pour the extinguishing agents over the fire.
Breman: The fire dragons will be used by the veterans who have had experience wielding them. If any beasts try to interfere, slaughter them.
Breman: That will be the second step of Operation Redemption.
Breman: Let’s see how this place reacts to our declaration of war.
Dawn, the next day.
The scouting balloons were fully modified by now. A tank full of fire retardant foam was attached to the bottom of the basket.
One’day High was currently tinkering with said tank. Apparently, this contraption can be controlled by the balloon’s controlling device.
As I walked around, I discovered the true identity of the “fire dragons” mentioned yesterday. They were devices attached with what looked like firehoses.
The device had two nozzles on it, one shot out fuel while the other shot out embers.
It was a simple and crude device that didn’t seem the least bit high-tech.
The fuel efficiency seems to be rather high but the skill needed to operate these were high as well.
Lee Sole’shot was currently toying around with one such dragon, dissatisfaction written all over his face.
Mo Chuan: The veterans aren’t here?
Halfmoon Leak’age: They’ve been assigned to protect the other teams on fire dragon duty. There’s only us here.
Mo Chuan:…sometimes I wonder if they trust us too much or if they simply don’t care about us.
Halfmoon Leak’age: Let’s just take it as the former.
Halfmoon Leak’age: I’ve already figured out how to use this contraption. Mr. Seasonal Wolf, do you mind being my bodyguard?
Mo Chuan: If our opponents are similar to a beastial wrath, I should be fine handling them.
Halfmoon Leak’age: One’day High will be in the air awaiting instructions with the foam. Then that leaves Lee Sole’shot and Di Qi Ju to form a team. Will you guys be alright if they make us take a different route?
Mo Chuan: That would depend on how well Lee Sole’shot can shoot his fire.
Di Qi Ju: You seem pretty confident about me being a bodyguard.
Mo Chuan: Naturally, as long as you’re outside the range of Starfall, you’ll be fine.
Di Qi Ju: I guess that’s true. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
Halfmoon Leak’age: Don’t underestimate the danger just because you managed to make it out of the Grand Ravine. This is a totally different scenario.
Di Qi Ju: I know. No one’s willing to play around with their lives.
Halfmoon Leak’age: Then, we’ll head off first. Mo Chuan.
Mo Chuan: Seeing as you’re no longer afraid of me, I’ll accompany you just this once.
One’day High: Bye—have a safe trip!
As I saw the two of them off, I turned around and glanced at Lee Sole’shot.
Di Qi Ju: —-what the heck!!! Why did you take the fire dragon apart?!
In just a short span of time, Lee Sole’shot’s fire dragon was reduced to pile of parts and a fuel tank.
On Earth, there were soldiers who were able to take apart and reassemble their guns in seconds. I’m just not sure if Lee Sole’shot was one such soldier.
Lee Sole’shot: Err—all these parts are useless to us!
Lee Sole’shot replied with a grin on his face as he lifted the fuel tank onto his shoulders.
Lee Sole’shot: All we need is this baby.
Di Qi Ju:…?
After leaving, I finally understood what he meant by those words.
Unbeknownst to me, he had gathered a bunch of plants and peeled off their outer epidermis, revealing the translucent membrane beneath.
Using these sheets of membrane, he fashioned a bunch of fuel pouches by pouring some of the fuel into them and tying them up.
These pouches were then secured to the tips of his arrows, creating a fuel arrow of sorts.
Looking at him with his giant bow on his back, he truly resembled an experienced hunter in the wilds.
Di Qi Ju: When did you create so many arrows…
Lee Sole’shot: Don’t forget I have an arrow crafting wish ability.
He flashed out a razor and with a few swift motions, carved an arrow out of a nearby branch.
My eyes barely kept up with the speed of his hands and by the end of the process, I still wasn’t sure how he did that.
Lee Sole’shot: Little Ju, help me carry the fuel tank for a while.
He took out roughly half of his arrows and dipped them into the fuel tank.
Di Qi Ju: These are?
Lee Sole’shot: There’s some candles and matches over here. Once we begin our work, I need you to light up these arrows and hand them to me.
Di Qi Ju: Oh…
And so we continued in this manner, chatting, preparing and walking. By now, we were almost at the edge of starfall.
Roughly ten meters away, I saw a marker sticking out of the ground. These must be the location markers.
Di Qi Ju: Is this distance close enough?
Lee Sole’shot: No, we need to get a little closer.
We advanced another five meters.
Di Qi Ju: Isn’t this…enough?
I was slightly worried by now but Lee Sole’shot still shook his head.
Lee Sole’shot: Another two more steps, don’t forget to keep up with me.
Di Qi Ju:…alright.
As we stood merely three meters from the edge of Starfall, the sound of rustling suddenly emitted from the dense foliage in front of us.
Within the darkness of the foliage, a shadow was seen flashing through the tiny gaps of light between the trees. It was a sign of danger.
Di Qi Ju: Let’s retreat! This is too dangerous!
Lee Sole’shot: This distance is perfect.
The crack of a whip echoed throughout the trees, from the sound of it, it was out for blood.
I immediately ducked, as I did so, I felt a gust of wind pass over my head. I had narrowed dodged that first attack!
My eyes widened as I looked up at the culprit. It’s that vine!!
An overwhelming sense of anger and vengeance overtook me, pushing aside my fears of losing my wish abilities. I reached out and clenched my fingers around it in a vice-like grip.
An arrow whistled past my ears, landing onto the body of the vine, two meters away from me.
An overwhelming smell of fuel filled the air as I heard something rupture upon impact.
—it’s that fuel arrow!
Lee Sole’shot: Let go of it! Prepare the fire arrows!
Di Qi Ju:—got it!
I snapped off the portion of the vine I was holding onto and immediately took out the candles and matches.
Within seconds, the fuel-stained arrows were lit up but before the embers could grow any bigger, Lee Sole’shot snatched the arrow from my hands, nocked it onto his bow and fired, the entire process taking less than a second.
Upon receiving an injury, the vine tried to withdraw into the safety of the jungle but before it could do so, the second arrow of Lee Sole’shot pierced into its oil stained exterior. The tiny embers of the arrow instantly roared into a giant flame that rapidly spread out across its flammable exterior.
Lee Sole’shot: Hah! A stunning victory right off the bat!
Di Qi Ju: You’re such a quick shot…
Despite that moment of levity, my hands never stopped moving for a second. Right after that arrow, I immediately lit up the next arrow.
Di Qi Ju: —-watch out, there’s another attack!
Before I could even finish my sentence, he was already in the air, a vine crashing into the spot where he was just a few seconds ago.
A couple of arrows whistled through the air. A second later, the offending vine was set ablaze.
He landed gracefully onto the ground, the next set of arrows already nocked onto his bow.
Twin shot! He even did it while leaping through the air!!
In less than 10 seconds, the second vine laid there, burnt to a crisp.
Di Qi Ju: ……
Di Qi Ju: Why are you so good at shooting?
Lee Sole’shot: Hah, because that’s all I have left.
Lee Sole’shot: Let’s get a move on Little Ju. I don’t want to be a sitting duck for these vines.
Di Qi Ju: Then, let’s retreat a little further back.
Lee Sole’shot: Retreat? No, we’re continuing along this edge.
Di Qi Ju: Sigh…
Lee Sole’shot: Little Ju, what are archers to you? Are they merely people who stand miles away, firing off an arrow into the air at god knows where?
Lee Sole’shot: To me, real archers are warriors who can fire off arrows at close range targets, all the while weaving through the battlefield.
Lee Sole’shot: Five to ten meters is the optimum range for archers, anything further than 15 meters isn’t within my hunting range.
Di Qi Ju:……
That was definitely a new take on the word “archer”.
If it was merely words, I wouldn’t have believed him. But having just witnessed his performance, I’m starting to become a believer.
This short-haired fellow was definitely a lot stronger than I had initially thought.
Lee Sole’shot: Don’t worry. At that speed and accuracy, those green whips will never be able to hit me.
Lee Sole’shot: With years of getting beaten up under my belt, “avoiding a blow to my fatal regions” has become a talent equivalent to a 100 point wish ability!
Lee Sole’shot: Ah hahahaha—
Di Qi Ju: Like I said…
Di Qi Ju: That’s nothing to be proud of!
Special thanks to Steve Granger, Ichitsuzen, and LaRue Martin!!
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.