Rockwall Lou – V1 Chapter 2

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐

(1)

As expected, this place is good.

Luo, clinging to the sheer rock face, thought so once again. All he could hear was the sound of the wind. It felt like being the only one in the world.

For Luo, solitude was not something to shun but rather a state in which he found peace. If he could get water and food, he would want to stay here forever.

He carefully scaled the rock face using both his hands and feet. Each time he touched the rock, it seemed to ripple, providing a grip to support his weight. Among moss collectors, this phenomenon is called the “blessing of Ishigami-sama”. Especially in Luo’s case, the rock’s response was prominent. However, having never compared with others, Luo didn’t think it was anything special.

Moss favors places with poor sunlight and high humidity. However, since it takes a considerable amount of time for a large patch to grow, once collected, there’s no need to revisit that spot.

Without paying attention to familiar sites, Luo continued to descend towards the valley’s bottom.

“Found it.”

A hint of green peeped through the rock’s crevice.

Supporting his weight with one hand and both feet, Luo scraped off the green moss with his favorite shovel. There’s a small bag attached to the shovel’s base, allowing for the immediate collection of the scraped moss.

The day started off well, but Luo felt a tingling sensation from the rock through his limbs.

It might be better to call it a day. It felt like a sign urging him to head home quickly.

However, Luo ignored this sensation.

If he packed up too early, he didn’t know what those boys might do to him. He had been ambushed outside his home several times before.

Moreover, today was a good day. Saji from the general store mentioned rock lizards being around, but Luo didn’t feel any signs of them. So he decided to go a bit deeper, to the mid-layers.

Past noon, Luo discovered something strange.

It was a massive rock protrusion jutting out unnaturally from the rock face. It was shaped like a mushroom cap and had a polished, smooth surface. Clearly, it wasn’t a natural formation.

Although this was the first time Luo had seen this, he was familiar with it from the knowledge passed down by his late father. It was the nest of a demon beast that could manipulate the rock face to create a safe and comfortable habitat.

The rock protrusion served as a canopy to protect the nest from falling debris.

Approaching quietly to avoid making noise, Luo took cover behind a white pine that grew just above the canopy. The trunk wasn’t very thick, but its twisted branches and abundant leaves provided just enough cover.

Listening closely, he heard sounds coming from beneath the canopy.

Something was there.

Merging with the white pine, Luo concealed his presence.

Occasionally, there were rustling sounds from beneath the canopy. After observing for a while, Luo finally saw something definitive.

A yellow figure emerged from the tip of the canopy. The sharp point was the beak of a massive demon bird.

The nemesis of his father—

It was the Rock King Eagle.

 ㅤ

 ㅤ

When Luo was six years old, his mother contracted a contagious disease. He sensitively felt her high fever, incessant coughing, and rapid decline in health.

“We need to buy medicine,” his father said.

But they had no money.

Although his father was a skilled moss collector, he did not earn enough to buy the expensive medicine. He tried borrowing money from the moss collector guild’s boss but was refused.

“I have to go collect the purple moss,” the father declared.

This elusive spice, the purple moss, was said to trade for an amount that dwarfed even that of green moss.

When he was younger and more fearless, his father had discovered the purple moss in the middle layers of the Grand Canyon. However, as the batch was tiny, he remembered the location and decided to turn back. “It’s a distinct place. I should find it easily,” he expressed confidently.

On the other hand, his mother opposed the idea. “If you go down that deep, you might exhaust yourself and not come back. I’ve also heard there are more demon beasts in the middle layers compared to the upper ones. Please stay by my side and Luo’s,” she pleaded tearfully.

Nevertheless, the father left, promising, “I’ll definitely bring back the purple moss. I’ll protect you.”

His father never returned.

Back then, his father had a work partner, Saji, who has since retired from moss collecting and now runs a general store.

Saji had accompanied his father near the middle layers of the “Jaw Gate”. There, they heard the cry of the Rock King Eagle. Fearing danger, Saji refused to go further down but stayed to monitor his friend from a distance.

What Saji witnessed was the ferocious Rock King Eagle attacking the area where his father was likely to be. The eagle then flew away, seemingly gripping something that resembled his father.

When informed of her husband’s death, his mother was consumed by grief. She lost the will to live, finding it even hard to breathe, let alone get up from her bed.

The young Luo tried his best to care for her. He made porridge by mimicking what he had seen and forcibly fed it to his mother. When he asked if it tasted good, she weakly smiled and nodded. Despite Luo’s efforts to feed her multiple spoonfuls, she could no longer swallow. With a mouthful of porridge, she passed away.

The moment Luo realized this, he was overtaken by a chilling terror.

His vision turned blood-red, and everything seemed to sway.

After that, he remembered nothing.

When he regained consciousness, he was in bed, and both of his parents’ funerals had already taken place. With his father’s death and the subsequent passing of his mother within ten days, Luo was left all alone in the world.

Upon waking, Luo realized that he was broken. Memories from the past would suddenly resurface and then fade away. He couldn’t differentiate between reality and delusion. If too many people spoke to him at once, his mind would become overwhelmed, and he would lose consciousness.

Overwhelmed, Luo confined himself to his bed.

If it weren’t for the food brought by neighbors and Saji, he might have starved to death. Clutching the “Stone God(Ishigami-sama)” tightly in bed, Luo desperately pondered.

I needed a reason to live.

Without one, I’d rather die.

The conclusion he slowly came to over the course of a year was simple: revenge on the demon beast, the Rock King Eagle, which killed his father and caused his mother such sorrow.

Only moss collectors are allowed to enter the Grand Canyon, where the Rock King Eagle resides.

That’s why Luo became a moss collector.

Three years have passed.

Luo, now ten years old, finally found the demon beast he was looking for.

He didn’t know if this Rock King Eagle was the one that killed his father. But that didn’t matter. If he turned back now, he would deny his own reason for living. He might completely break down this time.

He absolutely had to do it.

The problem was how to defeat the Rock King Eagle. He had no weapons. A tiny shovel would not be enough. The size of the Rock King Eagle seemed more than ten times that of Luo. Luo had no foothold, while the opponent could fly freely in the sky. He couldn’t win in a direct fight.

Was there anything that could be used as a weapon?

Luo looked around and discovered something unexpected.

Moss growing at the base of a white pine. It wasn’t the common blue-green moss he often saw.

 ㅤ

“Is that the Murasaki?”

That was the mythical moss that the father had been seeking to help the mother.

Although it was the first time seeing it in person, it matched the characteristics he had heard in stories. Upon closer observation, there was a marker placed at the base of the white pine.

When a moss collector finds a small patch of moss, they do not collect it immediately. They remember the location and wait for the moss to grow. The marker is used as an indication at that time. It’s a small metal pin with a ribbon attached, and it bears the owner’s signature.

Luo checked the ribbon.

“It’s Mom and Dad’s marker.”

The middle layer of “Jaw Gate”, a distinctive place, and the purple moss.

All the signs matched.

Luo realized. This was the place his father aimed for that day.

The purple moss was sufficiently large. Luo carefully collected the moss and, after pulling out his father’s marker, gazed at it intently.

At the place his father aimed for, there was his father’s adversary.

He felt a mysterious connection.

“Mom, Dad, lend me your strength.”

The strength to defeat the Rock King Eagle.

After much deliberation, the solution Luo came up with was to use the abundant rocks around him.

Near the white pine, he grabbed a slightly protruding rock wall with both hands. The area touched by his fingertips rippled and softened. His face turned bright red as he exerted force, and cracks formed as he imagined. Eventually, with a thud, a chunk of rock about the size he could embrace was pulled out. The side of the rock that had been against the wall was faintly shining in rainbow colors.

“Huh? It’s light.”

The moment he thought that, the rainbow shine vanished, and it became immensely heavy. Nearly dropping the rock, Luo mustered all his strength and pressed it against the trunk of the white pine. The frail trunk creaked.

He will smash this onto the head of the Rock King Eagle.

He had a plan, but the overhang above the nest was in the way.

Should he aim for the moment it takes off from the nest? No, for that, he would need to lean out from the tip of the white pine, which might break while holding the massive rock. Maybe he should sneak into the nest at night? No, he needs to drop the rock from a high place to defeat the Rock King Eagle.

After overthinking again, the conclusion Luo came to was to wait for an opportunity right there.

When your goal is in sight, don’t let your guard down. Be most cautious when you find moss. That was the moss collector’s knowledge Luo learned from Saji.

Holding the rock fragment, Luo silently observed the situation below.

That day, the Rock King Eagle left its nest several times.

As expected from the ruler of the Grand Canyon, its appearance was magnificent. Wings with a rainbow sheen, sharp beak and talons, and vaguely red shining eyes. However, its head didn’t seem that large compared to its body. If he hits it accurately, there’s a chance.

Eventually, night came.

The Rock King Eagle should have been under the overhang, but there were no sounds. Luo didn’t sleep. He was holding a heavy rock in an unstable place, and above all, he didn’t want to miss his only chance.

The temperature dropped, and the valley wind ruthlessly drained his warmth and moisture. Luo ate some emergency food nuts and moistened his throat with water from his water bag.

The opportunity did not come the next day either.

The Rock King Eagle left its nest several times, but never found the right moment to strike the rocks. The return was always the same, diving straight under the eaves. Holding a branch in its beak, it was evident that the eagle was building its nest. The Rock King Eagle must be on its guard. Luo’s strategy seemed like a bad bet to anyone watching.

The second night passed, and the third morning came.

White pines, which prefer to grow on steep rocky surfaces, have fine hairs on their bark. Morning dew clings to these hairs, making the trunk appear white. This is the origin of the name “white pine.” Luo drank from the bark of the white pine, replenishing his hydration. There was no water or food left. Due to lack of sleep, his consciousness was blurry, and he almost passed out several times. If he were to drop a rock, it might hit the eaves, alerting the Rock King Eagle. He had only one chance; failure wasn’t an option.

That day, the Rock King Eagle didn’t leave its nest at all.

On the fourth day, while Luo barely clung to consciousness, he was swept away in a whirlwind of memories and possibly delusions.

The first scene was from when both his parents were alive. Maybe it was dinner time. His father proudly shared the day’s achievements, and his mother didn’t seem very pleased. She was asking his father not to take risks. Meanwhile, Luo was engrossed in eating a stew with blue moss.

His mother sought Luo’s agreement.

[. . . . . .right, Luo? You think the same, don’t you?]

[Yes, I love mom’s stew!]

His father laughed heartily.

[Exactly. To make mom’s stew even better, I need to collect a lot of blue moss.]

His mother expressed her concerns to his father about Luo’s tendency to become overly engrossed, losing awareness of his surroundings. His father laughed again and said that moss collectors need concentration, patting Luo’s head.

Suddenly, the scene shattered into pieces.

The view went dark, and Luo was bombarded with voices that felt like a curse.

[Suddenly, he screamed out loud and then fainted with his eyes rolled back.]

[It’s over for him; he’s broken.]

[Our voices don’t even reach him.]

[Maybe it would’ve been better if he had died with his parents, for his sake.]

[Shush, don’t say such things.]

[He’s fine now, but what about when he grows up? He could bring calamity to the village? Someone should take responsibility for him.]

[But in my house━━]

The scene shifted again.

Familiar village boys surrounded and berated Luo.

[Hey, orphan Luo!]

Why were they so angry? Luo couldn’t understand. Even trying to think made his head feel like it would split open.

[You’ve been cozying up to Saji-san to become a moss collector, right?]

The Rock King Eagle was said to be a rare demon beast. To find it, one often had to descend into the Grand Canyon. And to do that, becoming a moss collector was essential.

So, Luo had asked Saji for help.

[Usually, there’s a test. There’s no way someone as small and frail as you could pass it.]

Luo did pass the test. He was asked to climb what they called a practice rock wall. For Luo, it felt as easy as climbing a ladder. Saji seemed surprised, though Luo didn’t understand why.

 ㅤ

[There’s no way to descend through the ‘Jaw Gate’.]

If someone said they could, they’d be called a liar.

What on earth are they expecting me to do?

[Defeat the Rock King Eagle? This, blabbermouth fool!]

I’m not just a blabbermouth.

Now, I’m waiting for that moment.

That moment?

Due to the piercing cry, Luo’s consciousness was pulled back to reality.

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