A terrible screech echoes through the forest.
The Fallen Angel roars as it disappears in front of me, a machete still stuck in its back. This is the edge of the forest, and also my line of defense. Not far behind me is the bamboo forest I watch over. Just as I was about to pick up my machete and get ready to go home, something scratches at my legs, and I hear squeaks coming beneath me.
“Oh? Big Ah, Little Ah?”
Unsurprisingly, two familiar rats are circling around my feet. Bending down, I rub their heads affectionately.
“What are you two doing here?”
The two little creatures whine and call desperately, talking to me in a fashion that only I understand.
There are some people that shouldn’t be here on the other side of the forest, again.
“Leave this place! I’ll kill ya if you don’t!”
Standing on a giant boulder, I put on a vicious facade and wave my machete around, yelling at the humans in front of me.
“Run run run!!!”
“He's going to kill people?!”
“Didn’t they say that Food Souls are supposed to be harmless to humans!? It’s all fake!”
They shout, hurrying towards the bottom of the mountain.
Although my yelling doesn’t pause, I never planned to actually chase them.
The only things worthy of being killed are the Fallens. As for these greedy poachers, simply scaring them away is enough.
Watching their silhouettes fade into the distance, for whatever reason, I suddenly remember that woman.
That very special woman.
Along with the memories, two faces appear in my mind. The same appearance, yet opposite expressions.
Each with a content and angry tone, saying two phrases that I still cannot understand.
“The forest is living, the animals are living, you must try to understand them.”
“Your kind shouldn’t exist. Just like Fallen Angels, you should all just die!”
Grabbing at my now aching head, I jump off the boulder and start walking home.
I’m just not fit for thinking about complicated questions.
Compared to those fancy words, fighting is much easier.
Big Ah and little Ah’s annoying chirps awake me from my sleep.
“So noisy… Whaddya want.” Rubbing at my eyes, I tiredly mumble.
Hearing my complaints, not only did they refuse to quiet down, their voices actually got louder.
“Black mist?!” Understanding their message, I suddenly sit up, now fully awake. I grab my clothes and follow them outside.
All along the way, I feel my stomach slowly tying into a knot.
Other than nervousness, there’s something else.
Arriving at the destination, I stop and look at the bamboo forest in front of me with furrowed brows.
This part of the forest is shrouded in a cloud of dark mist, in complete contrast to the places I just ran past.
The originally emerald green bamboo is ashen and dying, trembling in the wind, flowing with a feeling of unease.
“Disease…” I spit out the word, deep memories coming along with it.
Immediately, my feet begin moving and I run into the ruined forest with no hesitation.
“Who’s here!? Come out!”
The machete swings across, clearing out the surrounding bamboo in a circle. I look around, yet I can’t seem the find anything else wrong besides the withering bamboo.
I chop down a few other spots of darkened forest, but there is nothing new.
The black mist is still spreading.
I can’t stop and just stand here, the more important thing is to stop the mist’s advance.
Thinking this, I turn around and dash towards the other end of the forest.
There’s someone who can fix this over there.
The forest slowly thins out, I slow down my pace slightly.
Emerging from the last column of bamboo, I arrive in front of a beautiful house
A plaque hangs on top of the house, marking it as the Bamboo Mist Pawn Shop.
Banging on the door forcefully, I call out someone’s name.
A white-haired man with glasses peeks out of the window, frowning, motions for me to shut up.
“I’m coming, don’t be so loud.”
Dragging Plum Juice with me as I ran, I explain to him what happened.
“Just like before?” Plum Juice pushed up his glasses with a heavy expression.
“Yeah…” For some reason, hearing his response, my voice dropped in its volume.
“Just like that time…”
Ah… Just like that time.
My vision starts to blur, and I unknowingly began to reminisce.
“Hey! Come down here, It’s fine now!” within the forest, I yelled at the top of some tall tree.
At the top sat a human.
She climbed up there when she was being chased by Fallen Angels.
I’ve never seen any human remain so calm in front of Fallen Angels, much less escape.
Out of the nature of us Food Souls (and curiosity), I helped her get rid of the Fallen Angel chasing her.
“You’re a… Food Soul?” That person looked at me from above, and finally decided to carefully come down after a bit of uncertainty.
“Yeah! I’m Bamboo Rice, and you???” I excitedly grab at her hand, shaking it up and down aggressively.
“...I’m Anna.” The woman almost seems shocked by my excitement, backing up with a frown on her face. “I’m a plants and animals specialist.”
Anna and I quickly became familiar with each other. From her, I learned a lot of new things.
Such as Anna’s other job- Adventurer. I like this job better compared to the other one. It’s easier to say, and it sounds so cool!
Anna knows a lot about nature and she loves animals. She wants to traverse every bit of Light Kingdom, and write a book about every type of plant and animal.
Apparently, being chased by Fallen Angels isn’t even anything new to her.
She helped me see many things that I never noticed before.
I never knew that the nature I live with every day held so many secrets.
Other than these, Anna also told me many things about humans.
Originally, I wasn’t very familiar with humans compared to animals. The only ones that I see a lot of are the ones that carry giant backpacks and hold weapons. They always sneak into the forest to hunt while I’m not looking, or to chop down the bamboo forest.
Anna said these people are called poachers, and they’re also businessmen.
“What are poachers?” I asked her this question before, while exploring the forest with her.
“They hunt animals, and then sell them.” Anna climbed onto the bear’s neck with ease, slicing into its flesh with a knife. Within a few breathes, the beast howled and fell down, and then she answered my question with a calm voice.
I can control large bears, even train them, but I rely on my abilities as a Food Soul.
Anna? She’s only a human.
The more I talk to her, the more curious I am about the way she acts.
“Is it any different from what you’re doing right now?” I ask, helping her dissect the large beast.
For whatever reason, the way Anna acts feels different to me compared to how other humans act. Sometimes, I even feel like that I wouldn’t exactly oppose it if she wanted to chop down a few of my treasured bamboos.
If she doesn’t ask for too many of them.
“It’s greed and the hunger for knowledge, it’s the difference of knowing when to stop or not.”
Anna answers my question, her movement steady and her eyes still staring at the bear.
“If you don’t get it, then come help.”
It’s very fun being with Anna, although she occasionally says some words that I don’t understand.
I used to think this happiness would continue.
The forest is a place I treasure like a home.
Protecting it is my nature.
I’ve gotten rid of a lot of people hungering for the forest, like wandering Fallen Angels, or greedy humans.
I’ve always thought that as long as I am strong enough, the forest would be safe.
Until today, I came head to head with a problem I can’t solve.
The forest is infected.
It was a strange Fallen Angel, the black mist that it released kept on corrupting and rotting the forest. Even after I defeated it, the black mist still kept spreading.
I automatically thought of Anna, who must be able to think of a solution, since she knows so much about nature.
“I can’t fix it,” Anna says, wearing a mask over her mouth, standing with me in the black mist.
“Why can’t you fix it? Aren’t you an animal plant specialer or whatever???” Having already been ticked off by the Fallen Angel, my words are also laced with an angry tone.
“If it was just a normal infection, then of course I can fix it. But this is completely different from anything I’ve seen.” Anna looks at me with some unknown expression, “From what I know, there isn’t any kind of infection that can cause the bamboo to decay so quickly."
“Then you can’t fix it?” Fists clenching and unclenching, I walk back and forth anxiously.
“I can try, but no promises,” Anna says quietly, putting down her bag.
“...Do it quickly.”
Time is slipping away, but Anna’s research still hasn’t come up with a solution.
“Can you do this or not?” I can’t remember how many times I’ve pushed her to hurry up, but watching the amount of decaying bamboo grow, I’m almost losing control over my mood.
Surprisingly, Anna’s reaction is far more extreme than mine.
“YOU SHUT UP!” Anna suddenly stands up, letting out an unexpected amount of anger.
“...” I’m stunned at the moment, opening my mouth but not making any sound.
“Do you realize that the forest is like this because of your existence?”
“Do you realize nature is supposed to run on its own, that even if some plants get sick, the natural system patches it up?”
“You think I don’t want to save them? They’re like this because of the Fallen Angels, what do you want me, a human to do about it?
“You think that you don’t have any responsibility? I’m telling you, you Food Souls aren’t that different from fallen angels. You’re all things that shouldn’t exist, do you get that!?”
I was a little reeled back by Anna’s explosive lecture, and although I didn’t understand most of it, I heard two parts very clearly. That we’re not different from Fallen Angels, that we shouldn’t exist.
I understood it very clearly, but also… not at all.
For a moment, I suddenly felt that we got a little further from each other.
Or… maybe, we were never close, in the first place.
The atmosphere got a little awkward. At last, the one who broke the silence was Plum Juice, hurrying to us from all the noise.
Other than me, another group of people also live around this forest- the Bamboo Mist Pawn shop.
After explaining to Plum Juice what happened, he asked Anna if she wanted his help in researching. Anna seemed to forget our previous argument, and fully returned to her work.
Perhaps, the only truly important thing to her is this forest.
Now that Plum Juice worked along with her, their collaborative efforts worked surprisingly well. One provided information about Soul Power, the other gave knowledge regarding plants and the environment. With the two’s hard work, the issue was quickly solved.
Plum Juice let out a sigh of relief, and Anna smiled with contentment.
Except me, who just couldn’t brighten up.
“Bamboo Rice… Bamboo Rice!”
The familiar yelling pulls me out from my memories. Plum Juice is standing in front of me, an expression of resignation on his face.
“What are you zoning out about? We fixed the issue. It’s just an average infection, don’t freak out so much next time…”
“You fixed… it?” Looking around me, I finally realize that the forest has returned to normal under his care.
“Yeah, it’s fine now. Don’t overreact so much next time…” Plum Juice keeps on muttering to himself, but my mind is wandering somewhere else.
I don’t like thinking about complicated things, but right now, all I want is to see Anna again and listen to her talk about those complicated things.
V. Bamboo Rice
Light Kingdom is very vast, with unimaginable beauties and sights within it.
Such as a utopia somewhere in a garden of peaches, or such a secluded and thick bamboo forest.
The loud voice echoes in the forest, scaring a few birds previously resting on the branches of the bamboo.
A boy with a band in his hair and a pancake in his mouth runs into the forest, occasionally looking around, as if to search for something.
“Here!” A wild call answers him.
A man with a thick head of green hair descends from the sky, holding his machete.
“You finally came.” Just as he lands, the man put away his machete, puts his arms around the boy’s welcomingly and begins walking.
“It’s ‘cause the boss is giving me too much work.” The boy answers, the pancake he’s eating slurring his speech. “I came as soon as I finished, don’t blame me.”
“Fine fine, I’m not blaming you. Thanks for your trouble, Pancake.” Bamboo Rice pats at Pancake’s shoulders, awkwardly saying.
“Anyways, you’ll take care of the west today, as usual.”
“Alright!” Pancake answers. “Just checking on the plants and animals, like usual?”
“Yup! You go check, come tell me if there are any problems.” Bamboo Rice says, letting go and turning around, about to set foot east.
“Oh ok, but can I ask something?”
Pancake suddenly asked while waving his hand, as if he suddenly remembered something.
“Didn’t you only care about the bamboo forest before?”
Bamboo Rice’s silhouette shakes for a moment, but quickly recovers to normal.
“It's 'cause now, I’m stronger than before!”
“Oh! Well, you’re big bro, after all!” Pancake doesn’t question him and leaves without any suspicion.
As Pancake walked away, Bamboo Rice sighed to himself in a voice only he could hear.
“I just… want to say we’re different.”
“I’ll… work hard to protect nature.”
“We’re different from… Fallen Angels…”
On the other end of Light Kingdom, in the city of Jiangsha, a woman and an elder stand in a broken down library.
“You really want to join us?” The elder stares at the woman, asking in a scratchy voice.
“Yes.” She answers without hesitation, with a look of confidence on her face.
“But I heard you seemed to have been quite close with a certain Food Soul?”
The elder looks at the small cluster of bamboo out in the courtyard, thinking about something.
“...” The girl is silent for a minute. A sliver of indecision flashes through her eyes, eventually turning into conviction, as if she let go of some emotions in her heart.
“He only saved me before, it doesn’t get in the way of my thoughts about Food Souls.”
“Well…” The elder shook their head, their tone sentimental, yet also expressive. “As long as you don’t regret it.”
“Then come, step in.”
“Carry your values, accomplish the things you wish for.”
“The world of humans doesn't need Fallen Angels, and it doesn’t need food souls, either.”