Hot…It’s so hot around here. The air feels damp and suffocating, and I am profusely sweating.
As I walk away from the waterfall area, still following the river downstream, the scenery slowly changes.
Shallow, ankle-deep waters now cover the ground, and only few patches of muddy soil emerge. Vegetation also looks different from upstream.
Instead of the huge sequoia-like trees, I can only see smaller trees with twisted trunks. Their roots rise slightly above the water level, and, here and there, aquatic flowers and bamboo-like plants. Unpleasant smells permeate the air.
The worst thing, however, is the constant, annoying assault from small insects. They swarm above the shallow waters, and relentlessly attack my exposed skin.
Their bites itch, a lot. And, no matter how many of them I manage to squish or swat away, they still come. Well…still better than dealing with giant snakes or a pack of slimes.
Luckily, my Inquisitive Eye informs me that these insects are not dangerous or venomous. Only a mild annoyance.
Aldora Marsh. That’s the name of this place, according to Navi’s automated message.
A truly unpleasant place. Walking here is difficult, as the muddy terrain sucks my foot in with every step, and the shallow, stagnating waters make movement even more difficult.
Apparently, the huge waterfall stops the river’s momentum, and water simply covers a wide area instead of properly flowing. But the change is so sudden it feel a bit unnatural to me. Too unnatural. Still, no point in musing about it.
I brush away these considerations, as I need to be focused here. Terrain is bad, so a surprise attack from animal or monsters would put me at great disadvantage.
I’m overusing my detection skill. Since it’s not possible to just keep it active, I need to “spam” Inquisitive Eye’s activation, over and over. It lasts about tree seconds, with a one second cool-down time.
But, thanks to the skill, I managed to find interesting things.
First, some of the mushrooms that grow on fallen trees are edible, while a water plant, similar to lotus flowers, seems to posses healing properties. Although, I would have really appreciated something with “insect repellent” property. That would really be nice.
Repeated use of my detection skill is tiresome, however. But I need to endure it, as I cannot afford to be careless.
I take a small break, resting on a dry patch of land that I found.
Although…”dry” is a big word in this situation, as the terrain is still damp and soft. Still, it’s a proper foothold, and a conveniently placed fallen tree even provides me with something to sit on.
As there are no immediate threats around me, I can finally take some time to think about my situation.
There are too many things that do not seem right here. First, how the hell did I end up in this situation? As I recall, the GOD promised me rebirth.
As he did, he showed me what would happen if I accepted his offer. I would have been reborn as a baby, keeping my memories and knowledge from my former life.
A complete start over was promised to me, and that’s what convinced me to accept. Of course, the fantasy-like world that he showed had a great appeal, but my main drive was a more…human need.
I yearned a family. In my previous world, I lost my parents when I was two years old. Jumping from foster family to another. And the GOD knew that, and showed me what I really yearned for, deep in my heart.
To know how it feels, having a loving mother, to see your father’s tired smile after a hard day of work. He promised me a happy childhood, and after that, I would be starting my mission as a Hero.
But instead, I ended up here. Sure, I am in my teenager body, and I have all my memories from before, but the situation completely differs from what has been promised to me.
I ask Navi if it is possible to review what happened, from the first time she spoke to me to the present time.
[Navi: Record of Recent Events-Would you like to see the Event Log?]
She asks, her voice sounds more automatic than her usual tone.
As I answer her positively, a Event Log materialize in my view. I read all information written on it, from information about the past-world me to recent events. I sigh when I see all the info recorded about me…every single, embarrassing action or thought from my previous life is written there. Quickly, I close the info about my self and focus on my dialogue with GOD. Everything is written as how I remember it…but something catches my eyes.
After I accepted the GOD’s offer, Navi gave me a notification of the rebirth process’s start. However, her voice distorted midway and another voice took over, informing me of the process’s failure.
[Alert!Alert! System Malfunction due to Unknown Interference]
Said the monotonous voice to me. However, here in Navi’s log, the sentence is phrased in a different way.
System Malfunction due to Interference from UNKNOWN.
And that difference makes me think. Before, I thought it was just a random failure, although it is really hard to imagine a GOD’s power failing…
But now, I wonder about this UNKNOWN. The sentence implies an active interference, from something or someone. And I shudder while thinking about who or what could interfere with a GOD’s power.
And here, I set my first goal. Gather information. I need to know more about this world, to see if information or even lore exists about summoned or reborn people.
Of course, if such information exists, it would be classified or even be the stuff of legend, so it could either be unobtainable or unreliable. Also, any lore or information about the GOD will be from religious doctrine, so I don’t know how useful that would be to me.
Still, to reach that goal, I need to do something more pressing. Find civilization. And apparently, to do that, I need to get the f*ck out of this place.
Because during all the time I’ve been exploring here, I did not find a single trace of people, aside from the Ruins where I woke up.
I wonder if exploring and leaving that area was eventually a bad decision, although now it’s too late for that. I cannot go back on my steps now. The only thing left, is to press on.
And have lunch, as my rumbling stomach reminds me. With a deep sigh, I look up to the sky. The Sun is high, so it’s right about time for that, huh?
Still, my lunch is a bit lackluster. Raw mushrooms. The taste is not so bad, but they are too chewy if eaten raw. Next time I will try to cook them.
I also take my time to restock my inventory, grabbing wood and stones, and even craft another spear. It’s better to have some sort of weapon with me.
And, after relieving myself, I depart from my rest spot.
I thread carefully in the swampy terrain, often slipping and ending up on all fours. My clothes are drenched in bad smelling water.
From time to time, small animals scurry between the trees. Small birds, with white feathers and long necks. Pretty little things, they plunge their J shaped beaks inside the water. Perhaps they eat algae, or small fish, I think while observing them from a distance.
One time, a huge, toad-like monster crossed my view. It scared me when it made an appearance, but it doesn’t look like it is hostile towards me. It simply does not care, as it is focused in eating insects, clearing full swarms with sweeps of his sticky tongue.
<<Go for it boy, kill all the annoying pests!>> I mutter, cheering for the toad.
It’s a silly thought, of course…but it entertains me for a bit, and I need a bit of relief from the harshness of my situation.
By constantly using Inquisitive Eye, something unexpected happens.
[Navi: Congratulations! Inquisitive Eye skill Level Up! Inquisitive Eye lvl 2: increase detection range, highlights detected targets, display target skill (only effective against same or lower level target), minor weakness analysis (effective only against same or lower level target)]
Huh, so I can level up my skills by repeated use.
Now, detected target are still in my view, shown by a red silhouette in my vision, even when I deactivate the skill. This is really useful, as I can keep track of things, even if they hide or drive underwater.
I try using the skill again on the toad. I cannot see his skills or weakness, however, as my lever is still lower than his.
After a while, however, I got to effectively use this new skill effect.
In front of me, roughly twenty meters ahead, a small group of worm-like monsters surrounds a large
[Navi: Detected- Marsh Worm lvl 1(x2); Marsh Worm lvl 2. Marsh Worm Skill (lvl 1): Regenerate, Offshot Body, Stinger Dart. Weakness: Blind, Low Intellect, Soft Body]
So, a group of monsters with ranged attacks. I thought about just sneaking away, since it appears that these worms are blind. However I quickly change my mind.
As a small bird lands in the water near the worms, they immediately react to the splashing noise, piercing the bird with their Stinger Darts and killing it on the spot.
It seems they react quickly to sounds, and their Stinger Dart looks really troublesome. Fast, so fast that my eyes could not even properly see it. And probably…no, they definitely are poisonous stingers.
I take a small stone from my inventory and throw it halfway between me and the monsters. As before, as soon as they hear the splashing noise they attack immediately.
Repeating the process with smaller and smaller stones I came to a simple conclusion. I am royally f*cked if I move.
Still, if I don’t move or make a sound I should be ok. I decide to retreat, and so, slowly, I back away.
But of course, my bad luck has other plans for me…
Without realizing it, I stick my left foot in a spot where the water is a bit deeper. I slip backwards, lose my balance and end up splashing water as I try to not fall sprawling in the smelly waters.
As soon as the worms hear the splashing noise, their dart attack flies right over my head. With a shrieking, chilling sound they are now charging at me.
Grey, glistening bodies almost 1 meter long, and their mouth parts look like sharp beaks, still dripping with the carcass’s blood. The higher level one is bigger and darker than the small ones.
They move fast, crawling in the shallow water, and they quickly close the gap between us.
They will surely outrun me if I flee.
I need to think, fast.
I take some wood from my Inventory and throw it towards them. At the same time, I move from my previous spot, still scattering wood around me before I stop.
They seem confused, and the big one immediately go after the splashing sounds, thrashing and attacking the spots where I threw my improvised decoys.
One of the small worms is frantically attacking the same spot where I was standing before, however the other small one is coming straight at me.
At least I managed to separate them. They would have overwhelmed me otherwise.
I brace for the worm’s attack, activating my Black Fluid skill in “blade mode”. Instead of simply shooting at me, it hurls itself towards me.
As the gaping jaws come closer, I back-step to avoid the attack and quickly slice at the monster, cleaving the worm’s body in two halves.
Purple blood gushes from the disgusting thing, drenching my arms and clothes. The severed parts squirm and wiggle, with a ear piercing shriek.. quickly reclaiming the other worms ‘s attention. I use the same technique from before, throwing things around me to distract them.
As I am doing so, I feel a sharp pain in my left leg. Turning around, I see the worm’s head gnashing at my calf. I manage to slice it again, freeing my leg.
This is bad…I already feel dizzy from the worm’s poison. It seems like some kind of paralyzing toxin, as I already cannot move my leg properly. The situation looks really dire here…
And, even worse, the worm ‘s severed half is now getting up…the gaping wound is now inflating, and another worm head bursts from the wound.
Now that I recall, they had Regeneration skill.
The worm that I just attacked is starting to regenerate again. Not only that, the other two are closing in.
I curse out loud. No point in being sneaky now, I need to defend, quickly. I change Black Fluid in “tentacle mode” and grab the nearest worm, smashing it against a tree and squeezing with all my might.
Luckily, their bodies are weak, and so I manage to squish the worm. Of course, it will regenerate, so this is just to buy some time.
There are too many troublesome creatures in this place!
By using Black Fluid I manage to hurl away the other sliced parts of the worm. To keep them away, I start using the skill like a whip, striking the water to distract them and to land some attack.
Wounded, bleeding and poisoned, I have only one option to survive. Even if I flee, the wounds will surely get infected in this place, so retreat is not a good option.
I can only rely on my skill…recalling what happened to the slime before, I decide to try something foolish. I try to absorb them.
Successful absorption recovers full health. That’s what Navi’s message displayed as I managed to absorb the slime before, and that’s my only hope right now. I start with the smaller parts, as I will probably manage to absorb them quickly.
However, I cannot use Black Fluid to defend myself while I’m using it to absorb the monsters, so I take my makeshift spear from my inventory, using it to strike the worms if they come close enough.
As their intelligence is low, they do not coordinate their attacks. It also looks like they flinch when taking damage, retreating for a short moment until they regenerate and attack again.
It’s only thanks to their behavior that I manage to keep my life.
One minute. That’s how much time I need to dissolve and absorb the sliced part. After the process’s completion however, I feel my strength return to me, and the pain and the numbing sensation from the poison are gone.
I can do this. By using the spear and my skill, I finally manage to fully eliminate one of the small worms. Of course, I received numerous wounds during the process, as my combat ability is really, really low. But, thanks to my skill, wounds do not matter as long as I can get a full heal after I use it.
And now, only two worms remain. While evading and guarding their attack, I move closer to a small group of trees, keeping my back towards them. As the small worm charges me, I evade it and plunge the spear inside the worm’s body, with all my strength.
I pierce the worm, and, with all my strength, push it back towards the trees. I drive the spearhead inside a tree’s trunk, impaling the worm on the tree. Although the monster is squirming and thrashing with violence, I manage to pin it to the tree.
I’ll kill it later.
For now, I need to focus on the big one. The big worm’s attacks are troublesome, as the Dart Stingers it shoots managed to hit me several times as I was dealing with the smaller worm. Without my spear, I use Black Fluid to hit the monster, keeping it from attacking me with his poisonous darts.
When it decides to charge at me, I have my opportunity.
I change the Black Fluid, and hurl a spear-like attack towards the approaching worm. This attack is effective, although it resembles too much the Slime’s spear move.
With a shrieking sound, the wounded worm tries to flee. I keep it pinned however, and begin to change Black Fluid’s shape, wrapping it around the worm. I struggle against the squirming thing, and a few times it almost breaks free from my attack. In the end, I successfully immobilize the disgusting creature.
<<Die, bastard!>> I shout at the beast.
Engulfed by Black Fluid, the worm is now being consumed by it. It is a revolting show. Before, I only used it on non-living things, like stone or wood, or I was too distracted to notice how this ability looks like when used on living things. Now, without imminent threats, I can leisurely watch the process, and I am utterly disgusted by it.
The semi-transparent Black Fluid slowly pulses, as the Marsh Worm inside writhes in pain and is slowly dissolving inside it
It seems that the process takes longer when the target is alive. Repulsed, I look away. That’s not a skill suited to a good like me…it’s too…evil.
Still…I need to use everything that I have to survive here. The two battles that I fought have taught me this. Against the slimes, it was almost a one-sided massacre, and I managed to escape only by sheer luck. Same story against the worms. Although this time I have been careful.
But just being careful will not lead me anywhere. By being careful, I did not manage to avoid battling the worms. And God knows what would have happened to me if even one more of the things came at me, or if something else popped out from the water.
Of course, I have not forgotten the small worm, still pinned down with my spear.
I approach it, dragging the still-active Black Fluid behind my back. Without waiting for it to end, I simply use it to absorb the other worm.
Although, I immediately look away.
[Navi:Success! Absorbed Marsh Worm lvl1! Absorbed Marsh Worm lvl2! New Skills Aquired! Regenerate, Offshot Body, Dart Stinger! New skill unusable (restricted to race: monster). Detected compatibility! Regenerate, Offshot Body, Dart Stinger are compatible with Black Fluid! Would you like to Integrate them?]
Looks that this battle gave e some spoils, in the end. Nonchalantly, I answer positively.
The only skill that seems somewhat useful is Regenerate, so I’ll try to integrate it. But…I made a mistake, inadvertently activating Integration for all the skill.
[Navi: Integrating Skills! Regenerate + Offshot Body+ Dart Stinger + Black Fluid! Warning, process failure! Regenerate Skill lost!]
<<What? Skill lost? Wait, stop! Stop the process Navi!>> I yelled in panic. The worst thing right now would be losing my only attack skill.
[Navi: Abort Process-Impossible. Continue with Integration of selected Skills: Offshot Body+Dart Stinger+ Black Fluid→Black Fluid (Offshot Body, Dart stinger skill effect- Can produce and operate Offshots, can use Offshots as Projectile Attack). Integration success!]
What the hell was that! I was scared for a moment…although, now that I think about it, Navi did mention the possibility of Skill loss when she explained Integration. Still…I need to be more careful with this, as it seems that stopping the process is not possible once it starts. Perhaps I should fuse the skills one at the time…or will this method result in higher failure chance? I even tried to directly ask Navi, but her answer…
[Navi: It’s a M-Y-S-T-E-R-Y! Thrilling, exciting! Gamble on! Will you receive new powers? Will you lose your triumph card? It’s the wonderful Skill Integration!]
…was a bit disappointing.
I proceed to try the new skill effects. The first thing I notice, is the increased mass of Black Fluid that I can produce now. Almost two times than before.
I can also extent it further, and even form two tentacles while in “tentacle mode”.Following this new “discovery”, I try to activate the skill in both hand. It’s a success! I can effectively dual wield my skill! Changing form is more energy consuming, however, but with enough practice I will manage to use it effectively.
I wonder what will it look like when at max level…a dark thought pops up in my mind, concerning an evil smile on my face and a young, big breasted woman surrounded by tentacles…No, I must not dabble in these silly, dangerous thoughts.
Still, I learned two useful skill effect.
The first, Offshot Body, allows me to split Black Fluid up to ten times. Each split part can be moved independently, although moving more than two parts at the same time takes a heavy toll on me.
If left inactive, the Offshots return to me. I can freely alter their shape if they are in my field of vision.
Next, after resting a bit, I use the ranged attack. It’s really simple, as it just shoots small, dart-like Offshots. I can shoot them at low distance, roughly four, five meters, so it’s not like I could snipe something with it.
But…it can make some really nasty effect combinations. Since the darts are Offshots, I can freely manipulate their shape.
And, with Inquisitive Eye, their position is highlighted in my vision, even if the object itself is concealed or underwater. It even works if I bury it under the muddy earth below.
By manipulating the shape, I can make spear-like protrusions emerge from the Offshots. In short words, I can use them like some kind of land-mine, just scattering me around me.
Or…I could use them in a very twisted way, by making them expand when they hit something, tearing the poor thing apart. Like an exploding arrow. And, of course…the third way. Use them to directly melt/absorb the target.
Again, I shudder while thinking about this skill’s nasty possibilities. I would really want to avoid using it on humans. Although, I will probably need to use it, sooner or later.
I cannot expect that humans will pose no threat to me, and, since my combat prowess is non-existent, this skill is my only trump card.
After practicing a bit more, I decide to depart from the place, continuing my exploration of the Aldora Marsh.
So, I press on, pushing forward in the foul smelling, insect ridden vegetation. Danger lurks in every direction, but I manage to keep away from monsters.
One group of Marsh Worms almost came near me, but thankfully they were focused on hunting a giant toad-like monster, and I successfully manage to sneak away from them.
Behind me I can still hear their shrieks, and even the sounds of splashing blood and gnashed meat. Definitely a show that I do not want to see.
Exhausted, I press on until I can confirm my safety. I find a small patch of dry land to rest on. Much to my surprise, this time the soil really is dry.
It’s unthinkable how a simple thing, like having proper soil under your feet, can cheer you up when all you did during the day was walk around, fight and flee in ankle-deep muddy waters. Definitely a refreshing feeling.
As I lie down, resting on my back, I still use Inquisitive Eye on the surroundings. And then, something came in my view.
[Navi: Detected-Small Wooden Boat/ Damaged]
Since I woke up here, it’s the first sign of recent civilization that I found.
Excited, I abandon my resting spot and stroll towards the boat. The water grows deeper as I approach it, it’s now reaching my thighs, Nevertheless, I manage to reach it. It is damaged, and half sunk. Still, some luggage has been abandoned inside the boat.
I rummage through the lost belongings, finding wet clothes and a pack of damp, unusable rations. I decide to take the clothes with me, as they are still in good conditions.
I could easily dry them over a campfire, and replace my tattered clothes with them. Sorry, mysterious boatman, for this theft.
As I take the lost belongings, I notice a small carving on the wooden boat. Strange words, probably carved with a knife, and an arrow pointing toward the thick vegetation.
Maybe, the boat’s owner went in that direction. More important, the carving looks recent enough.
After giving some thought about what to do, I decide to go in the same direction. If I’m lucky enough, I will manage to find the boat’s owner. At least, I hope so.
Surviving in this swamp is difficult, so there is a high chance that whoever was on that boat is now dead or injured.
Still, I go on.
I get off the boat’s remains and stroll toward the vegetation. As I come closer, I can see the same writing and direction arrow carved on the bark of a fallen tree.
I follow the suggested direction, encountering several trees with the same carving. It looks like the boat owner marked his path, probably expecting to be found by his companions.
I walk for hours, and now the daylight begins to dim. Still, it’s not like I cannot go on. The air around me is getting noisier. Perhaps the animals here are more active during nighttime, and, as the light wanes, they wake up and hunt.
I shudder with that thought. What kind of creature would roam this marsh at night?
I steel myself, pushing on on the path.
And, in the end, some distant noise catches my ear.
Screams, and sounds of clashing metal.
I hurry up, running as best as I can towards the noise. I even trip on some roots, falling down while splashing water around me.
As my tension is high, I immediately ready my skill and even attack the spot, imagining some kind of monster below the shallow water. I feel pretty stupid after I realize that it was just an overgrown root. Still…it’s better to be on guard than to regret it later.
I get up and continue advancing. As I go on, the water recedes progressively, and now only muddy terrain is below me. It is still hard to move, but it’s a lot better than wading in the murky water.
And, thankfully, it seems that the constant assault from insects is now gone.
The reason is…the vegetation around me. Small grass with white flowers, it seems this plant has an “insect repellent” property. As the terrain here is littered with them, the swarming things avoid this place.
<<Finally>> I mutter, and harvest as much herb as I can.
After this sudden harvest spree, I resume my search.
The sounds stopped a while ago. However, blood puddles can be seen on the ground. Trees are marked with scratches and broken branches.
I follow the trail of blood. Hopefully, the man just had to defend himself and managed to hurt and repel the assailant. Or, he could be injured and in need of assistance.
As I follow the bloodstains, I find something really interesting. A broken arrow, and some intact ones struck into the soil.
The arrow-end is jagged, made to make severe wounds if someone tries to remove them with brute force. I collect them and press on.
Finally, I find the boat owner. It’s not a man, like I had surmised before…it’s a girl. With blond hair, she’s sitting on the ground, resting her back on a tree.
She’s covered in blood, although the short sword beside her suggests that the blood does not belong to her.
She turns her head towards me, and, for a single moment, our eyes meet.