Jason was only an occasional bushwalker, so as he climbed the steep mountain trail, he appreciated his new iron-rank attributes. He hadn’t become a sculpture of perfection like Farrah and Rufus, but it was still a solid step up.
Jason’s guide on the waterfall track was a man of late-middle years named Hiram. Hiram’s job was to watch over the aperture that was the source of the waterfall. Jason had met him the night before, with Hiram agreeing to take Jason along when he started his shift in the morning.
Hiram was shorter than Jason, who was not tall, but with a barrel chest and limbs of thick, ropy muscle. He guessed the shorter man outweighed him by a good margin, and that compact power didn’t go to waste. He was hauling a backpack half his own size up the mountain, yet barely seemed to notice the weight.
Moisture from the huge waterfall scattered over the mountainside. Farrah had told him that the water had a strong power of vitality, allowing the mountain’s thick tree cover to grow up, even under the desert sun. The dense canopy gave the trail blessed shade, but the heat still made its presence felt. The heat of the desert and the moisture from the waterfall made the air thick and heavy, almost a chore to breathe. Jason reflected that this small patch of desert felt more like a jungle.
There were regular stopping points along the trail, with benches to pause and rest. Hiram didn’t seem to need them, but didn’t begrudge Jason. Each resting spot was placed close to where the tree line met the waterfall, where the air was cooler and anyone resting could look out over the village. With every stop on the ascent, each being higher than the last, the view became more and more magnificent. Jason grew up in a little tourist town and knew the kind of money a place like this could make. He suspected his new world didn’t see a lot of tourism.
“The flesh-eating monsters wouldn’t help.”
“What’s that?” Hiram asked.
“Nothing,” Jason said. “Best get going again, I guess.”
The roar of the waterfall grew louder as they closed in on the point where it erupted from the side of the mountain. The trees became smaller and thinner as they approached the upper tree line.
“Getting close, now,” Hiram said loudly over the noise of rushing water. “These trees are around the same height as the fall, so only the closest ones see a lot of moisture.”
The sound of the waterfall grew to a cacophony where they had to shout to hear each other. The final stretch of the trail was actually a cave that led into the mountain. There was a wooden walkway with grit glued on for purchase and a magic lamp to light the way. Jason was unpleasantly reminded of the cavern he had navigated below the Vane estate hedge maze.
It was the first time he had seen wood used in construction since arriving in the village. Even the doors were made of woven reeds, suggesting the village didn’t have much of a crime problem.
Once they entered the cave, the thundering sound of the waterfall was amplified in echo, making even shouts a futile effort. The cave was filled with wet air and they moved forward carefully. Hiram had the respect for the slippery boards that Jason had learned the hard way.
When lit up by lamplight on glistening stone walls, the cave was actually quite pretty, with much of the stone being marbled green. Compared to the humid exterior, cold, clean air blew over them from the tunnel. Jason enjoyed the refreshing feeling as they made their way toward the light he could see at the far end.
As they closed on the end of the tunnel, a cool mist started wafting towards them. They reached the end of the tunnel and stepped out into a stone chamber. The first thing he noticed was the light, blue and shimmering, glinting off the mist. It gave the whole chamber the feel of being underwater.
The chamber looked like it had once been a natural cavern, later carved into more practical dimensions. The ceiling was untouched from the original cave, but the floor had been worked flat, with grooves cut into it for traction in the wet.
The chamber’s most arresting feature was the back wall, which wasn’t a wall at all. A torrent of water, blasted in one side of the room and out the other, through a tunnel taller and deeper than the chamber itself. The whole chamber looked oddly like a subway station, with the rushing water in place of a train.
There was a fence of vertical bars in front of the water, like a safety rail going floor to ceiling. There was a gate in the middle of the fence, although Jason could imagine no reason to go through it. The water looked like it would rip off any limb someone was foolish enough to shove into it.
Velocity kept the water on course instead of spilling into the room; gravity wouldn’t win out until the water escaped the mountain. More than a little spray still escaped, filling the chamber with wet mist. It left the walls and floor slick with water, quickly making Jason and Hiram the same.
The water was also the source of the blue light. Either there were powerful magic lamps behind it, or the water had its own luminescence. Jason would have asked Hiram, but any attempt to talk would be futile over the sound of water.
Hiram went to the side of the chamber, where Jason noticed a glazed window set into the wall. Through the window was a second chamber, cut deeper into the mountain. Inside, a young man in a comfortable chair was giving them a wave.
There was a metal door along from the window, which Hiram opened and led Jason though. Beyond was a small antechamber, barely big enough to hold both men. A lamp was set firmly into the wall for light, next to another metal door, but Hiram didn’t open it. With a door between them and the main chamber, the din from the water was greatly reduced. Jason noticed that there seemed to some kind of seal around the door to keep the moisture out.
“Just wait a moment,” Hiram said.
Jason looked about the tiny room, but there wasn’t much to see. He did spot neat arrays of fingernail-sized holes in the floor and ceiling. As he was looking at them, hot, dry air blasted from them like a giant blow dryer.
“Close your eyes,” Hiram shouted over the rushing air. “The air will dry them out.”
Jason did as instructed, waiting around half a minute as the air dried out his clothes and hair.
“It draws the dry desert air from the other side of the mountain,” Hiram explained, “with a little bit of magic to help it dry faster.”
When the air stopped, They were both nice and dry. Hiram open the next door and took them inside. There was a comfortable-looking chair in front of the window, a number of cupboards, and an overstuffed bookshelf.
“Morning, boss,” the young man said. “Who’s your friend?”
“This is Jason,” Hiram said, dropping the backpack with a loud thud. “He’s passing through with a group of adventurers and wanted to see the aperture. Jason, this is Griff.”
“Travelling with adventurers,” Griff said enviously. “That must be exciting.”
“It has its moments,” Jason said.
They exchanged greetings and Griff made to leave.
“Any idea when Duggan will be back, boss?” he asked. “I’m really looking forward to sleeping during the night time again.”
“His wife is still on the mend,” Hiram said. “Probably another month.”
Griff’s shoulders slumped.
“Make it to the end of the week and I’ll switch with you,” Hiram said.
Griff gave a weary smile and left. Jason looked out through the window as Hiram unloaded his backpack, stowing its contents in the cupboards.
“Ready for a closer look?” Hiram asked when he was done.
Jason grinned and Hiram led them back out. Leaving didn’t trigger the drying mechanism again.
“It’s set to go off when the outer door is opened first,” Hiram explained.
Back out in the loud, wet chamber, they walked carefully over wet stone to reach the fence. They both grabbed a hold of the wet bars, which Jason noticed were engraved with magic symbols.
Being close to the torrent, water sprayed over them both, but Jason didn’t mind. There was a feeling of refreshment that was more than just cool water on a hot morning. He felt like a child running under a lawn sprinkler on a hot day. Farrah had told him there was magic in the water. Was it the cause of the strange reminiscence, or was he just homesick in a strange land?
He craned his head to try and see the actual source of the water, but it came from somewhere deeper in the mountain where he couldn’t see. As there was no way to talk over the noise, Hiram grabbed his shoulder to get his attention. Hiram pointed in the direction the water was flowing and Jason spotted a tunnel on their side of the fence. It ran alongside the water, through which Jason could see daylight. He nodded at Hiram and they started off in that direction.
The tunnel went all the way to the outside of the mountain, where the water broke free to tumble down through the air. There was a chest high railing to keep people from falling off. The view was breathtaking. Below them was the pool where the waterfall landed and the channel flowing into the village lake. Beyond that, the vast expanse of the desert.
Jason was taking in the view when he noticed the noise of the water seemed to be dimming. At first he thought it was his imagination, but then he saw Hiram looking at the water stream with a confused expression. They watched the avalanche of water rapidly diminish, as if someone was turning off a giant tap. The flow dropped down to nothing, leaving an empty tunnel carved out by the water as smooth as machine-made pipe.
“Is that meant to happen?” Jason asked, in the sudden silence.
“No, it isn’t,” Hiram said, concern plain on his face.
“Has it ever done this before?” Jason asked.
“No, it hasn’t,” Hiram said.
“Should we tell someone?”
“It’s a waterfall, son. I’m pretty sure everyone noticed.”
Hiram went over to the room, ignoring the blast of warm air to rush inside, still wet. He came back out with a large key, unlocked the gate and dropped down into the curved floor of the water tunnel. Jason hesitated a moment before following. Hiram glanced at Jason, but didn’t comment.
Jason immediately spotted the aperture, some twenty metres down the pipe. It was a huge circle with a surface that shimmered with the same blue light the water had produced. Through the circle he could make out what looked like a rainforest, but the distortion of the circle made it blurry and indistinct.
“Is that sky?” Jason asked. “Is there a whole world through there?”
“Never actually been through to see,” Hiram said.
A large shape crawled into view through the aperture. It lumbered through the aperture and into the tunnel, like passing through a sheet of water. It had the body and head of a shark, but instead of skin it had a plated shell in hues of dark purple and red. Emerging from its sides were eight crab legs and a huge pair of pincers. The creature was three metres long and the pincers were bigger than Jason’s head.
“Do you see a lot of those?” Jason asked.
“No,” Hiram said. “That’s new.”
New Quest: [Waterfall Monster]
A monster has unexpectedly emerged from the local astral space. It has already entered the blind aggression stage and will attack anyone it encounters. Defeat it before it causes any harm.
- Objective: Defeat the [Shab] 0/1.
- Reward: Quintessence.
“I don’t suppose you know what that thing is?” Hiram asked, drawing the knife on his belt.
“I think it’s called a shab,” Jason said.
Jason drew the snake tooth dagger at his own waist.
“You any good with that?” Hiram asked.
“No,” Jason said. “No I’m not.”