Chapter Thirty-Four: Giving in to Curiosity

The inky storm clouds above began their assault on the ground once more, filling the atmosphere with a solemn, nigh wistful mood. Combined with the fog that severely limited vision, the rain succeeded in painting the perfect picture for Kaltyr. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and equipment infused, the girl enjoyed the surrealness of the ambiance. Her mind found peace as cool water droplets battered her from above, not too light or warm so as to be ignorable, but not heavy enough or too cold to sting. It was the perfect weather for some sneaky sneaky reconnaissance.

               She took off, darting through the woods between trees and over bushes, her speed increased by a pretty good amount at the cost of a little extra mana. After enchanting all of her clothing, Kaltyr’s collection of enchanted primary equipment that served to boost her total power under any water-related circumstances increased to three. That figure included her spear and pants, unfortunately. Only one of her socks also gave her additional mobility within water and such, increasing her speed by another 13%, bringing the number up to 19%.

At first, such a percentage seemed rather low to her, but after chasing down a particularly swift rodent while out on a hunt, the girl’s perspective rapidly changed. The rodent, despite seemingly being a few Life Levels below, consistently outran her. She couldn’t tell exactly if it was utilizing an Internal Mana Manipulation skill or External spell skill due to how it stayed at the edge of her vision no matter how quickly she pursued, but its speed wasn’t all that much greater—it might have surpassed her by around only ten percent. Yet that ten percent meant an easy escape for it and a loss for her.

               Kaltyr frowned at the memory of the rodent that evaded her, but it couldn’t be helped. The only method of augmenting her speed that she had available was through enchanting her equipment, but she could neither reliably enchant her stuff with speed properties nor could she activate them on a whim. That rodent hadn’t enter a body of water nor was it raining… But now it was. If she came across it again, the girl swore to herself that she’d catch and study it in case it was using a technique that she could steal. Additionally, she had no doubt that she would outpace it, because under the rain her speed was not boosted by a mere 19%, but an entire 31%! How?

               Chuckling, Kaltyr gave thanks to The System for bestowing two of her lesser spears with the properties she longed for, which she carried in her deerskin bag alongside another few more with different properties that she didn’t require at the moment, and so didn’t bother infusing. In her left hand was the deerskin bag—several spears with over half their bodies poking out the mouth—and in her right was the main spear. While her main spear gained another 3% of water damage through the Inferior-quality goo slot, some of her lesser spears were bestowed with different and strange enchantments that the girl couldn’t have predicted. Said enchantments all included properties related to water, but some just didn’t feel like powers that should be possible to obtain from the goo of some random fish’s phantasm.

The first interesting property was the simplest, which extended how long she could hold her breath underwater by a few seconds. The second lesser spear increased her damage toward solely fire-attributed creatures—another reasonable one. Both of those spears were the ones that also gave additional speed. It was the third’s where things became a bit spicier.

Enchantment Slots

Maximum capacity: 1 Decent-quality

—     [1 Decent-quality Water Affinity]

Properties:

–        +7% effectiveness to water-attributed skills and spells skills in water, natural rain, during Blue Hours, and within holy spaces of the Water God

               That word “effectiveness” had Kaltyr thinking hard. With how vague the enchantment was described, she assumed that it meant all of her water-affinity skills would essentially become stronger in every way—more effective. Movement spells? More movement! Damage skills? More damage! Defensive spells? More defense! Granted, the lass lacked any such spells and skills, but at the very least, Bubble Pain Splash would be a little more painful when she cast it while that spear was imbued. Well, she technically lacked any such spell…

Enchantment Slots

Maximum capacity: 1 Decent-quality and 1 Inferior-quality

—     [1 Decent-quality Water Affinity]

Properties:

–        Fish Scales grants a thin layer of defensive scales around one’s entire body that increases total defense by 13%

—     [1 Inferior-quality Water Affinity]

Properties:

–        +5% less damage taken when in water

               The fourth spear’s enchantment was the first of Kaltyr’s equipment to have an ability stored within it. Best of all, it didn’t require she be submerged! It was an ability with no strings attached besides the mana cost to sustain it! After identifying its properties, she immediately put it to the test, flooding the spear with her mana and causing it to physically glow. That soft blue light slowly drifted from the weapon’s haft up the girl’s arm like a cloud, then spread to wrap her entire form before it condensed into a thin layer of scales. Just like that, she’d gained an extra defense… However, she was unable to verify whether the property of the third spear she held in the deerskin bag was capable of modifying the ability of the fourth. No reactions seemed to occur when she activated both at once, and she wasn’t willing to take any hits for the sake of the experiment because she probably wouldn’t be able to feel the +7% difference in effectiveness of an ability that only increased her defense by 13%.

Enchantment Slots

Maximum capacity: 1 Decent-quality and 1 Inferior-quality

—     [1 Decent-quality Water Affinity]

Properties:

–        Alligator Eyelids grants another layer of eyelids that allows for double one’s normal vision range underwater

—     [1 Inferior-quality Water Affinity]

Properties:

–        +2% damage in water

               Lastly, the fifth spear in Kaltyr’s bag competed against the fourth spear for the title of Most Useful Enchantment, because even if Kaltyr likely didn’t need it during this particular reconnaissance mission, doubling her range of vision underwater with a clear set of eyelids like those of an alligator’s could save her life if she needed to hunt down powerful denizens of the deep…or just fish beasts she might find in a lake.

               The girl smiled as she arrived atop the crest of the hill that looked over a body of water. That flowing river had provided Kaltyr with both sustenance and nourishment the last week, acting as her savior in trying times. Without it, she didn’t know what she would have done. It gave her the first meat in her diet as well as quenched her thirst. But possibly more important than aiding in her survival was how it was down that river that the evidence of civilization floated. She hadn’t seen any building materials pass through since the first one, but that was enough. The log planted the seed of hope, and it had long since grown tall. If even the smallest chance of finding other people was present, she’d take it. Kaltyr knew she couldn’t maintain her sanity forever if she was alone.

               Thinking about loneliness, Kaltyr turned her face skyward, searching for signs of Sir Quiggly-Do the Fifth. Still nothing. No puppets of wind, earth, light, or any other element had deigned to pay her a visit for too long, and the lack of conversation was getting to the girl. Thus she steeled her nerves and put one foot in front of the other, opposite of the river’s flow. In her mind, she didn’t have a choice. Dangers were present in her every decision, but she found them acceptable for the chance to integrate herself into a society. Besides, worst-case scenario, if she was captured by people who meant her harm, she could bite off her tongue to kill herself. After participating in so many life-or-death struggles against vicious wild beasts that she lost count of how many, the idea of simply ending her own life if she encountered bad people didn’t seem too difficult.

               ……

               The attack came like a bolt of lightning.

               Kaltyr had been following the river opposite of its stream for over an hour while the storm above simultaneously fought and strengthened her. While the unending rains bearing down on her small frame activated enchantments that gave her power, sudden gusts of wind, at random times, struck her with more force than gravity pulled her down with, sending her tumbling to the ground on multiple occasions. The girl clenched her jaw and growled in annoyance when it happened, but it was unavoidable. The tempest’s rage was more powerful than she’d thought, and her only choice was to persevere as best she could… Though she did find it strange that nothing else was so heavily affected by the gales. Few branches around her snapped from the pressure. Surely such strong winds would destroy much in their paths, right?

               It was only by a stroke of luck that she didn’t lose her arm—her senses picked up an incoming force from her right, but Kaltyr assumed it was just another attempt by the storm to push her down. She didn’t even turn to face the “wind”, simply reaching down with a strand of mana into her deerskin bag to activate Fish Scales on top of Body Mana Reinforcement. The girl was testing whether increasing her physical defense would prevent her from being tossed around by the gusts at the same moment her attacker chose to dive out of the sky to strike.

               Kaltyr hit the ground head-first, hard. Her primary weapon flew out of her right hand, but the deerskin bag’s string latch was tied around her left, and stayed with her. So disoriented that she couldn’t see, she powered through the haziness in her head and lifted her body just enough to perform a combat roll to one side, granting her some of the precious seconds she needed to clear her mind. Something struck the ground beside her, but her discombobulation combined with the water dripping into her eyes prevented her from seeing anything. With a snap decision, the girl swung her now-infused deerskin bag with all her might, striking the unseen enemy. When she felt the creature go flying, she comprehended two things: her new enemy was light, and it was open to be pounced on. She placed as much of her mental resources into her Magic Sense as possible and pushed her hands against the floor to lift herself up again…

               Before releasing a shrill scream into the dark red skies so loud that the nearby trees shook and her own ears took damage. Kaltyr fell to her knees, cradling her right arm in her left hand. The arm seemed to be barely attached and refused to respond to instructions. Even her mana was disrupted in the area just below her elbow, leaking from severed meridians into the surrounding air. As she realized the severity of her injury, the pain flooded in all at once, mentally staggering her, forcing the girl to clench her teeth so hard they creaked. Even her face around the nose burned as her tear glands kicked into gear.

               Yet she had no time for rest or recuperation, because her foe was back on its feet and charging toward her. The beast was fast, Kaltyr’s primary weapon was somewhere off to her side, her right hand didn’t function, and her five other spears were still somehow sitting in the bag in such a position that she couldn’t grab them with her unharmed arm. She settled for swinging the bag again, which the mysterious beast seemed to expect, because despite the deer skin being infused with as much mana as the girl could pump into it in the short amount of time she had, it was torn open as though it were only normal paper. However, what the creature didn’t expect was that all her spears were infused as well. Its claw was deflected by the empowered hafts, giving Kaltyr enough time to get to her feet and punt the damned thing. Once again, it sailed for a few meters and struck the ground with a loud thump that could even be heard over the winds’ howls.

Hurriedly, Kaltyr used the valuable time she’d bought herself to swing the ruined bag off her arm so that it didn’t impede her movements, then grabbed one of the spears she scattered around her. She shot it a quick inspection and was disappointed to find that it was the +7% spell effectiveness spear. Sure, if she managed to land a Bubble Pain Splash it might be more painful, but she doubted she would get the opportunity, considering the beast’s speed. Additionally, the weapon lacked a second enchantment, not even granting her a few extra percentage in speed, damage, or defense…but it was a weapon more durable than her flesh and would serve its purpose well enough. The only reason she didn’t toss it aside to pick another one up was that the beast—whose form she now had enough time to magically sense appeared thin, long, alien, and was the size of a large dog—had risen to its feet in the time it took her to scan her weapon’s enchantment properties.

Gulping, Kaltyr took the initiative by kicking off the ground with a guttural roar—though it came out sounding rather pathetic despite her best attempt—and preparing to swipe with her spear with one hand—her right arm limply hanging at her side. However, after taking her third step forward, she spent as little mana as possible in a surprise flurry of Crude Mana Bolts, hoping to catch her enemy off-guard. Unfortunately for her, whatever she was fighting seemed to have combat experience against spells and wasted no effort dodging or blocking, simply allowing them to land on its reinforced body with no effect. The girl internally cursed, but maintained her charge with gusto, unable to stop lest open herself up for a retaliation.

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That was when the beast revealed one of its trump cards. Even before Kaltyr entered within two meters of it, it swung its strangely sickle-like arm forward and suddenly released a small magical blade. The crescent-moon-shaped blade flew through the small gap between the two and struck the girls midsection, dealing no physical damage, but disturbing her circulation of mana. Not only was the Body Mana Reinforced around her belly disrupted, but her entire lower body! Frightened, Kaltyr swung her spear earlier than she anticipated in order to prevent the strange beast from following up its spell with a physical attack. The exertion of the attack without having her entire body reinforced hurt, it was effective. Despite the attack being weaker on account of the swing being performed with only a single arm, the spear’s head solidly struck the creature’s body, once more sending it flipping some distance through the air.

She regained control over her mana and quickly reinforced herself again, then moved to capitalize on her success…when a sharp pain shot up her right leg. She hadn’t hit her enemy in time, allowing it the opportunity to dig its freaky claw into her flesh again. Nevertheless, the wound only scraped the bone and was not nearly in as bad a condition as her arm, which she began to regain feelings in besides pain. Kaltyr lifted that elbow to her face and wiped the water out of her eyes. With both her mind and eyes clear, she finally got a good look at her opponent through the torrential downpour…and her jaw fell open.

“Like a million tiny mirrors…”

The girl’s mind blanked for a moment as memories surfaced of how a starry-eyed beast terrorized her during her first night in Manic, and how she saw that same creature kill something much bigger than itself just the next day. All Kaltyr had seen of that starry-eyed beast were its unique eyes that sparkled like an untold amount of tiny glass shards. She assumed it was some kind of magical mutation. Never did she think that they were…compound eyes belonging to a huge insect.

The gigantic, green praying mantis assumed its iconic pose for a moment after getting up onto its four feet, before lashing out with another magical blade. This time, Kaltyr saw it clearly—the mantis used a wind spell! A blade of wind, flying faster than anything she’d seen move before, shot at her face. Fortunately, it was cast from far enough away that there was nothing to worry about. The girl slashed at it with her infused spear, shattering the spell.

I wonder if it was also the source of—

Kaltyr’s thought was cut short by the bug’s sudden charge and channeling of mana. She immediately understood that it was casting something different than what it had shown her before, something other than the wind blades because those were near instacast while this spell was taking much longer. Time slowed down around the girl while she bent her knees in a crouch, lowering her center of mass in expectance of what was to come. Sure enough, as the beast neared, its channeling ended and the natural winds picked up. A force rushed at and struck her from behind, sending her forward closer to the praying mantis, destabilizing her stance jut enough so that she couldn’t block with her spear in time for its next slash… Or so it thought. Just as suddenly as its initial sneak attack, the insect beast’s vision was overwhelmed by bright light despite being beneath the dark storm clouds. Its claw passed through empty air as Kaltyr barely leaned out of its path. The girl dropped her spear and sent her now-free left hand toward the stick-thin beast’s defenseless head. She gripped it as hard as she could, digging her fingers through the mantis’ Life Level 5 Body Mana Reinforcement and into its squishy eyes. The bug released its equivalent of a scream in a high-pitch chirp as Kaltyr’s digits made progress, slowly breaking through its magical defense that slowly weakened due to loss of concentration.

Strictly speaking, its reinforcement seemed to be stronger than hers, and if she wanted to bypass it she either required the aide of something sharp, to disturb its flow of mana, or wait until it ran out of mana. Kaltyr chose option two, going for its weak spots to cause it pain in the hopes that it would no longer have fine control of its magical power. And it was working—her fingers found themselves crushing the insect’s fleshy eyes and hard exoskeleton. Granted, it attempted to retaliate by swinging its sharp claws wildly, but only its initial strikes left deep enough cuts to hurt. As its Body Mana Reinforcement weakened, so did its assault, doing nothing more than bouncing off her mana.

Clothing torn further, sopping wet from head to toe, panting for air as though the atmosphere was running out of oxygen, and dripping fresh, hot blood everywhere, Kaltyr proudly made a victory posed within the now-bright forest over the corpse of the first Life Level 5 beast she slayed.

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