Chapter 4 – Dark mountains, darker waters
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I, Iris, wasn't always a rogue living on the street. I was in an orphanage that raised me to 10 years old. The living conditions were terrible, we were all left almost to our own devices, aside from being fed sandbread and soup stock. The older orphans were a ruthless delinquent gang that made all the younger kids their slaves. I could endure with just that, but sometimes orphans would be led off by suspicious adults from the orphanage we lived in. One day I followed them from the shadows and saw the kid was taken away to the basement, and they looked awfully concerned. I managed to slip in with the doors unlocked and managed to get a glimpse into the forbidden basement. I wish I hadn't, because it still plagues my dreams. They were researchers. Magic researchers, and were performing completely inhuman experiments. There were several tables with figures tied to them or cloths draped over. The figures are bastardized abominations that seemed to once be the missing orphans. Some have limbs replaced with monsters, like massive centipedes or crab claws, their heads warped and bloated with scales, grey flesh, or chitin. One's body from the waist down was a mass of twisted tentacles and the rest of their body looks like a fish's. I covered my mouth and held back the urge to retch. The magicians gathered around the newly brought orphan, who has been gagged, his screams of resistance muffled as he is tied to an operating table with some kind of dark purple icon drawn on it. Then, a light glows on the table and the orphan convulses, as he is transformed into another monstrosity. His head growing twice as large and hair falling out, several eyes sprouting in its place. The arms transforming into something akin to a mantis' pincers and the legs into a chitinous mess. I began to cry, panicking and shaking. This was horrible, cruel, evil. Why were they doing this, what was their goal? Everything darkened around me and the crack in the door dimmed until it was little more than a void. I backed away, but tripped. Eyes formed in the darkness, staring into my soul. One after another, large, bright white eyes opened up in the darkness, and I screamed in terror. Then I awoke in a cold sweat, panting shakily and clutching the bag. It was just a nightmare. A nightmare.

Licht: I'm sorry you went through so much. I can tell that was based on your memories... I suppose you escaped afterwards?

Iris: Yes. I had to survive on my own after that. But at least I could stay human, even if I had to suffer as a street urchin. I can die human too. Though, I guess I already did.

While we exchanged banter in my head, I looked through the bag I took from that man and decided to look at the diary and geography books first. To summarize their contents, it seems the man was an Engineer and a Hunter registered with the associated guilds. Hunters were mercenaries that were contracted to find people, materials, belongings, or monsters. Depending on the situation they would also kill people or monsters. Engineers were scholars that studied the sciences and magic, and were contracted for various engineering jobs involving normal or magical sciences. So basically, this guy was a hunter that focused on magic. But why was he after me? Well it seems this man specialized in tracking magic, and could use fresh traces in an environment to track an individual.

Licht: This is a hypothesis, but perhaps when someone was sent to dispose of our body, they only found the pool of blood? Then after reporting the anomaly, this man was contracted by local enforcement to find us. Or maybe someone simply reported a mysterious pool of blood, and made a request to the guild.

Iris: He also experiments with magic theory on live subjects, though he only uses convicts. I guess he picked up the request thinking he could get another test subject. How unlucky for him.

Licht: ...Speaking of luck, I was dwelling on something while you were asleep.

Iris: You always dwell on things. You dwell on the dust in the air and the color of bricks. You weren't dwelling on this body or something out of boredom were you?

Licht: Of course not! Don't get me off track, this is important- Our status menu. Our luck attribute is weird.

Iris - Age 13 - Female - Level 005

Stats - Str: 8 Dex: 13(^1) Agi: 12 End: 7 Int: 19(^1) Luk: -

Skills - Parallel Thought {1} Sword skill {1} Gunsmithing {1} Mental Resistance {3} Disease Resistance {1}

Capability: 26

Iris: You're right. There's no number, not even a negative. But doesn't that just mean neutral?

Licht: I'm not sure, but we've been very lucky with the encounter with that man. The train began passing the moment we set up our ambush and it masked our sound. The man just so happened to have most of the parts we needed for the steamgun, and he was surprisingly easy to kill. We should be on our guard.

Iris: ...I think I understand what you mean. We can't rely on unseen forces to help us. We need to gather our own strength, to survive. I wont let something unseen arbitrarily decide when and how I die.

Next was the geography book. This was important. It seemed that each individual district of the country, Great Stone Union, was a walled off city on its own that was connected via tunnels and bridges to the other cities. The reason being was each mountain could only cluster 2 or three cities, and between each mountain was a steep chasm that had to be traveled by bridge or airship. This gravel district had a super large tunnel bored into one side as it was close to the outside of the mountain, and it had a port for airships to dock and ferry citizens and goods from one mountain region to another. As for the outside... It seemed there were many kinds of mountains in this world. Some were lush with massive trees, some were barren grey behemoths, some had pillars of foliage and greenery with water pouring down from the top down to the bottom. Speaking of, this is a good place to explain the most feared part of the Outside. The "Bottom". Regardless of what mountain region and where it was, they always had a steep drop down into a flooded chasm of dark water, and outside the Grand Mountain Collective was a vast dark ocean filled with unknown, powerful monsters that emerge from the deep. The Bottom, be it in the Grand Mountain Collective or outside it, will always have nightmarish creatures that excel in slaughtering men. But The Bottom isn't the only place with monsters. The interior of mountain regions will also have vast cave networks full of ores, cave foliage, and deadly monsters of all kinds. That is why the Hunters Guilds became popularized, to gather talented people as mercenaries to help secure the people against threats from the Deep and the Dark. Then there was the steampunk technology of this world, it seems steam became the predominant force of power in technology due to the abundance of water from the outside and inside mountain regions, and the non-poluting nature of magic stones filled with the power of fire magic. Or more accurately, heat magic. This was also how steam canisters for steamguns retain the form of steam within them, the interior had a charged magical heat circuit that kept the steam from cooling. If there was no charge however the steam will return to water, where one will have to re-pressurize the steam canister. During all of my research, over the course of a couple days, I was able to learn the theory of magic and the science behind it. Magic was more akin to supernatural science. Everyone had mana, and through training, they were able to control it, and give it shape in external phenomena. Fire, ice, wind, stone, lightning, water, heat, space expansion, all of these were formed through complicated internal processes. The more complicated the magic, the greater the strain on your heart and brain, it seems. The reason for the strain is theorized to be because the heart produces mana, and the brain calculates the processes. External equipment could ease the burden, but it was expensive or dangerous to acquire, if not downright rare. As I was now, it was hard to cast magic, but I began my training while going into town occasionally to stock up on food. I also got myself a proper set of clothes, even if it was still crude. It was better than before. Now I wore a simple thick cloth shirt and a pair of cloth shorts, with the black cloak I cut the bottom of to match my size covering my figure. I hoped my looks wouldn't attract any attention now being so covered up. My short platinum pink hair was covered and dulled by stone dust to look more like ash, my face was dirtied from the constant smog in the district, and my blooming feminine figure was now hopefully hidden by the thick shirt i purchased from a hand-me-down clothing shop.

Licht: If you look boyish, it should hopefully dissuade the less perceptive eyes from thinking of snatching you and selling you off.

He was right, and prior to my resurrection, I might not have fully understood. But still. This world sure is terrible. Just as I thought as much, the Black Rain started falling. I needed to get to shelter.

Finally, some exposition into the world to clean up some questions that have been raised so far. And yet more questions are raised as the Black Rain falls. I hope the world and characters here are interesting for everyone reading, im kinda rusty and my style might be weird. I hope i can make an exciting series.

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