LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
“…Mary and I were friends in the same party when we were still Crimson Moon trainees. Me and Michiki were Warriors, Mutsumi was a Mage, Ogg was a Thief, and Mary our Priest. Things went relatively well for us at the start.
Like you guys, we started by hunting goblins in Damroww’s Old Town area. We saved up our money, and after ten days, bought our Crimson Moon contracts. We then upgraded our equipment, learned new skills, and started going after kobolds in the Siren Mines around five miles north of Altana. Even then, we had an easy time of it, never really having any trouble in fights. Back then, I never realized how unusual that was.
Without a doubt, Mary was the one who brought stability to our fights. In one regard, she’s still the same: a real beauty, but she never let it get to her head. And back then she was always smiling, cheerful. She laughed all the time. With her around, there was no time for the rest of us ever to be in bad moods.
She didn’t just memorize light magic spells. She learned self-defense skills, too, to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with me and Michiki. And of course she never neglected her duties as the party’s healer; she would treat us immediately, even if it was nothing but a scratch. Fighting with me and Michiki at the front, healing us when we got hurt, backing up Mutsumi and Ogg when they looked like they were in trouble… it was like she was three people in one.
Our party was only five people, but it really felt more like seven. Fights were easy. Way too easy.
We didn’t really get much attention though. A lot of people arrived at the same time we did, and some other parties excelled way past us. But the more we fought, the more confident we got.
At that time, we didn’t know about fear. We had never encountered anything that’d give us even a semblance of fear, so I guess that was to be expected. I know now though. But Mary… surely, it was different for her, back then. She must have been afraid for us every time we were wounded, and that would be why she healed us right away.
Maybe she was afraid of the one little tear that could unravel the entire tapestry, and so she prevented it any way she could. I think she knew it all along. She knew that in reality, we were winning our fights by only paper-thin margins. It was the rest of us that didn’t realize it. We had become arrogant. Overconfident.
Other parties were also operating in the Siren Mines, and we didn’t want them to outstrip us. So, confident that we were better than them, deeper we went. Deeper, deeper into the mines. There, in the fifth stratum, is where it happened—and it’s something I’ll never forget.
You may already know, but kobolds are hairy humanoids, but with dog-looking heads. They’re usually a little shorter than the average person, but in the lower depths of the Siren Mines, kobolds larger than 5’6″ are very common, and they’re incredibly strong. Although they’re not as smart as humans in general, their society is highly hierarchical and they have the technology to work metal. They’re advancing in magic, as well.
Kobolds specialize in moving as many-person units, and at least a portion of their society consists of audacious fighters, afraid of nothing. We had gotten used to mowing down those kinds of kobolds on our way down to the fifth stratum and honestly, we believed that we were stronger, superior to them. But it wasn’t like we were careless. As long as we didn’t let ourselves get caught off guard, then certainly, we were way more capable than any usual kobold.
He’s called Deathpatch for his black and white patches of hair and for how he’s killed numerous Crimson Moon warriors. We heard that he and a few of his underlings are always prowling the mines, and if we were to encounter them, we should run without hesitation. He’s been spotted as far up as the mine entrance, so there was need for caution even in the upper strata.
We knew of Deathpatch, but until then, we never saw so much as a sliver of his shadow, no silhouettes of his form. We didn’t really see any need to be careful.
When we saw Deathpatch’s humongous figure coming at us, we weren’t so impudent to think that we could engage him and win. But we were on the fifth stratum. The exit was levels and levels far above us, and there was no way we could easily escape. We thought we didn’t have a choice but to fight.
We decided on a battle plan where Michiki and I took turns keeping Deathpatch occupied while Mary, Ogg, and Mutsumi took care of his underlings. At first it went smoothly. Deathpatch was as strong and tough as the rumors said, but between me and Michiki, we were able to take him on. Mary and the others steadily whittled away at the others. And whenever one of us got hurt, Mary would heal us right away.
Then came the time that all the underlings were dead. We thought we could do it. We could defeat Deathpatch. He was sporting a number of wounds and we were completely fine. To be more precise, we had been wounded, but we were healed to perfect shape.
It was our immaturity and foolishness that led us to misjudge the situation. If we had taken the opportunity to run away at that moment, left Deathpatch behind without a second glance, we might have been able to conceal ourselves and get away.
But we didn’t. We pressed the attack on Deathpatch, reddening his black and white hair with blood. However, no matter how much me, Michiki, and Ogg cut into him, no matter how many times Mary bludgeoned him, no matter how much magic Mutsumi threw at him, he wouldn’t go down. His movements became sluggish, sure, but his endurance was limitless. Rather than weaken him, the pain from his wounds only enraged him further and further.
Deathpatch was an all out aberration, and we were only average. Ogg was first. He took a swipe from Deathpatch’s claws that ripped his face open. While Mary healed him, Michiki’s left arm was cut deeply. And while Mary was treating Michiki, I got hit so hard it knocked me out cold.
I don’t think I was out for any more than thirty seconds, but during that time, Ogg had been killed and Mutsumi was critically injured, with Mary trying desperately to save her life. Michiki was wounded all over trying to hold off Deathpatch by himself. When I came to, I frantically engaged Deathpatch, letting Michiki fall back.
With her last breath, Mutsumi cast a spell that seemed to make Deathpatch falter. That’s what I saw, since that’s what I wanted to believe, but he overwhelmed me soon enough.
“Mary, Michiki, hurry!” I yelled, over and over, not realizing the problem until Mary shouted back, “Hayashi, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! My magic, it’s…”
You see, magic isn’t something that you can use as much as you like. Mages and Priests expend spirit power in order to call on the gods and elementals from which magical energy originates. That much I thought I understood, but it turns out that I didn’t really understand at all. Even if I did occasionally glimpse Mary or Mutsumi mediating to restore their spirit power, I never knew how much they had left—whether their store was more than ample, or just barely enough, at any given time.
Mutsumi and Mary never really gave us cause be concerned about things like that. I all knew was that Mutsumi would cast spells when we needed it and Mary would heal us when we needed it. I had no idea how hard it was on them. But I think that Mary had already used up much of her energy after the underlings had been taken care of. It was a long fight, and she had reached her limit.
Michiki saved Mary and me. Michiki told us to run, and then, mustering the last of his strength, turned to Deathpatch and starting throwing skill after skill at the kobold. Mary, she refused to leave and rushed at Deathpatch, but I stopped her and dragged her away.
I won’t make any excuses. I left Michiki behind to die. He was already mortally wounded and wanted to use his life to give us a chance to get away. As his friend, I wanted to grant him his final wish.
I don’t know how we managed to make it to the surface from the fifth stratum. It took us half a day, and there were times when we thought we were done for. We made it back, but we had lost ourselves.
Three of our friends, our precious companions, were gone forever in only moments. Mary especially was a mess afterwards. She was the Priest, the healer who was supposed to save lives, but she had let three people die and had her own skin saved instead. From that day on, I’ve never seen her smile again. Sometimes I don’t even think I have the right to smile either.
After that, Shinohara found us and we joined Orion, but Mary left the clan before long. I think the companionship that Orion offered only came to cause her more pain. Mary ended up hopping from party to party, never staying in one for long; her reputation spread, but it didn’t sound like the person I knew. I got worried and tried to talk to her but all she would say was that she was fine, fine, just fine.
It was like talking to a wall. I think that it must have broken her heart every time she saw me. To her, I was like proof, a symbol of a past that had been lost. But she needs a future, and it’s not with me. To her, I’m as much of a ghost as Michiki, Mutsumi, and Ogg. There’s no future for her in me.
She needs to find herself again. If she doesn’t, she’ll only sink deeper and deeper into the abyss and when she’s so far down, so far down she can’t move anymore, it will claim her.”