Chapter 5 - A Herbalist’s Charm
In a dark cave, half a continent away...
Rukham dodged the large goblin’s desperate swing, and stabbed it in the heart.
Dropping its maul, the goblin chieftain staggered backwards, glaring at its slayer with pure hate and resentment. It had spent over a decade fighting and killing its own kind for supremacy. Now, after just three weeks as chieftain, this unknown warrior had invaded its lair and defeated it!?
The goblin let out a frustrated roar, which was cut short when Rukham sliced the creature’s head off.
[You have slain the chieftain of the goblins!]
[The Monster King ability of your main class was activated. This goblin horde has pledged its allegiance to you.]
[Gained "Boiling Blood" temporary ability: Regeneration increased. Expires on death.]
More fodder to swell his ranks.
Goblins are weak even in large numbers, but that’s fine. He wasn’t going to use them against soldiers.
[Emergency notification for Ascendant Headhunter.]
“Hmm?” Rukham looked up. It was rare for the system to contact him out of the blue like this.
[Another Ascendant has awakened within this world.]
“Oh? This is interesting.” He smirked, standing up. “No affiliation, so a wanderer… how many runs has it been since I’ve had a random encounter with one of my kind?”
Excitement started to bubble within him. Duels were one thing, but a battle in an actual world was completely different.
Would the opponent be one of those monstrous hidden overlords?
Will they be evenly matched and have a thrilling battle?
Or would Rukham crush the other Ascendant under his heel like a bug?
Whichever it was, he was very eager to find out.
Rukham cleaned the blood off his longsword and sheathed it. He stretched his arms, the heavy black armor on his body making no noise even as he moved. Then he collected his prize - the goblin chieftain’s head - and stowed it away somewhere unseen.
“Shame it isn’t a Guardian, but I’ll take what I can get. I just hope he doesn’t just kill himself immediately like the last one. That would be too boring.”
The Ascendant donned a faceless gray mask with a black moon on its forehead - the mark of Eclipse. When he walked out of the cave, hundreds of red goblins were waiting there, standing at attention. There were other monsters as well. Massive arachnids. Tall kobolds with spears. Scrawny feathered beasts carrying bows.
It was a sight that defied all common sense. Monsters under one banner, standing in orderly ranks. An impossibility brought to life by something that should not exist.
“Now then… which kingdom should I search first?”
* * *
Southcreek is a tiny village with only three hundred or so people, but it has its own charm. The fresh air was filled with the sounds and smells of the woodlands. It was very different from the smog-filled city I was used to. Lush vegetation grew beside the cobblestone paths. All of the buildings were made of timber, and most have been standing for at least two generations.
This was also a place with a strong sense of community. Everyone knew everybody else.
As we walked through the village, I paid close attention to the people we passed by. There is old man Norwyn patching up his home’s roof. Yesterday’s heavy rain must have caused another leak. Those two kids using sticks to draw lines in the earth are twins. Their father is Gael from the third hunting party, one of the best archers in Southcreek despite nearing fifty years old.
The cheerful voices of my fellow villagers filled the air.
“Oy Hans! Good timing, let me borrow your saw for a bit. Mine’s too dull for this job.”
“You haven’t even returned my sickle yet! Give it back before asking for something else!”
“Now now, we’re in-laws right? What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is yours.”
“Damien! Lunch is ready! Oh, where did that boy wander off to this time…”
“I think I saw him playing over at Conrad’s house, Mrs. Bertha.”
This charming noisiness is part of any normal afternoon in Southcreek.
It felt strange. Every part of this place was familiar since I spent the past six years growing up here. Yet this was also the first time I’ve ever really seen it. My head hurts at the contradiction. Blending the memories of two distinct people together like this can’t be good for the mind, can it?
“Does it hurt?” Gina asked in concern. I became aware that my face had scrunched up while I was thinking.
“No, and I think the bleeding has stopped. It’s a pretty shallow cut.” I answered.
“Mom still needs to look.” My childhood friend insisted, walking faster and pulling me along. “A worm might have crawled into it or something! It’ll get into your brain!”
Gee, thanks for that wonderful mental image.
Gina and her mother lived near the center of the village. As the community’s most experienced healer (or rather, its only healer…), Ms. Hyacinth was always busy. Whenever she’s not dressing wounds or setting bones, she’d be brewing a new batch of salves and various herbal tonics.
A few minutes later we finally arrived. I looked at the makeshift wooden sign above the doorway, which depicted a bowl and leaf - the most common symbol for herbalists in this world. Gina knocked on the door and we entered, being careful not to make too much noise. Distracting her mother might ruin whatever she’s working on.
We were greeted by the scent of freshly crushed leaves and stems, accompanied by faint mutterings from a familiar voice.
Hyacinth was at her crafting table, surrounded by bowls, racks, and vials filled with all sorts of plants and oddly colored liquids. In front of her was a well-used black cauldron roughly the size of three fists. A flame roared steadily underneath it, melting the contents into a thick green paste.
The herbalist’s shaggy purple hair was tied into a ponytail, and her brow was furrowed with concentration. While gently stirring the contents of her tiny cauldron, she slowly decreased the heat until the fire was extinguished. Then before the solution had a chance to cool down, she added two types of chopped leaves and mashed it all together with her pestle. After the leaves were completely pulverized, Hyacinth poured her finished salve into a round clay pot.
Wiping the sweat off her brow, Gina’s mother turned to us with a smile. Man, Hyacinth is gorgeous - it really is tragic how she was widowed at such a young age. She’s had more than one suitor since then, but they were all shot down mercilessly.
“Hey brats.” She said cheerfully. “You’re back early. Lunch’s not ready yet, you know?”
Given how terrible my Uncle Whitelaw was at cooking, I often ate with Gina’s family instead and brought some of it home for him. In many ways, this woman had raised me more than my uncle had.
“Mom! Thomas is hurt.” Gina said urgently. She’d been holding back earlier since Hyacinth was preoccupied, but the girl was really on the verge of panicking. “You’ve got to save him!”
“Like I said, it’s not a big deal…” I said in embarrassment, subconsciously covering the back of my head.
“Come over here, let me see.” Hyacinth said, striding over. She grabbed me and turned me around. “Good grief, that’s one ugly gash boy. Where did you get it from?”
Really? Was it that bad? I can’t see it, but it didn’t hurt too much.
“It was my fault mom.” Gina said, practically in tears. She then explained what happened.
Hyacinth shook her head. “You’re lucky it wasn’t worse. Slipping headfirst onto a rock isn’t a joke.”
“It was my mistake. I wasn’t paying attention to my footing.” I said, trying to ease Gina’s guilt.
Hyacinth grabbed a nearby jar filled with a green liquid similar to what she was making earlier. This one was a bit lighter in color though. She washed the back of my head with clean water to remove the dried blood, then covered it with a thick layer of the salve. It stung a little at first, then felt incredibly soothing. The pain had disappeared by the time she finished wrapping a bandage around my head. Wow, Hyacinth really does know her stuff.
“Both of you aren’t allowed to play in the river for a week.” Hyacinth said firmly. “Especially you Gina. You still haven’t memorized the last two dozen herbs I taught you, right? Spend more time studying.”
“Yes mom.” Gina said obediently, looking at the floor. I nodded as well.
Hyacinth sighed. “Alright then. Gina, help me clean up. Tommy boy, head home before it gets dark, your uncle was looking for you earlier. And go to bed early to let your wound heal.”
“Yes Ms. Hyacinth.” I said, but my thoughts wandered back to the scene earlier. Hyacinth bent over her cauldron, skillfully adding one herb after another to create the perfect healing item - it was pretty amazing. I can’t help but think, shouldn’t I try to learn that myself?
If I’m going to stay in this village, I will eventually need a job. My pride doesn’t allow me to stay dependent on Uncle Whitelaw any longer than necessary. Even though I’m technically a child right now, my mind is still that of a self-respecting adult. What am I supposed to do for the next few years? Just play outside and do my chores? No, I want to earn my keep in this place.
Becoming a herbalist seems like the perfect answer. It’s a safe, comfortable job that I can do right now, and it’s just a very valuable skill to have in general. It might even count towards the five survival skills I need to learn for that Main Quest the system gave me. Yeah, it’s worth a shot.
Instead of leaving, I walked over to Hyacinth and pulled her sleeve. She stopped tidying up the clutter on the crafting table and turned to face me.
“What is it kid? Feel dizzy or something?” She asked curiously.
I took a deep breath, then looked her in the eyes and spoke.
“If it’s not too much trouble… can I help you with your work sometimes?”
What I didn't know then was that decision would end up having a massive impact on my future.
* * *
“Good morning Mr. Norwyn. I hope you have a pleasant day.” I said cheerfully as I passed the old man basking lazily in the sunlight.
“A good day to you as well, boy.” Norwyn chuckled. “My wife is making apple tarts right now. Would you like to come in and have some?”
“Thank you, but I have to hurry to Ms. Hyacinth’s shop.” I declined, before bowing and going on my way.
“What a good child.” Grandma Clair said, coming out from their house. “It’s nice to see him opening up more now.”
“He used to be terrified of everyone but that friend of his.” Norwyn added, nodding. “Though he still isn’t playing with any of the other children…”
A short while later I was in front of Hyacinth’s shop. With a quick knock on the door, I went in and prepared myself for another day of learning and hard work.
It’s been a week since my awakening.
Hyacinth was fairly amused when I asked to be her apprentice, but she decided to humor me. At first she only asked me to fetch ingredients from the shelves while she was working. I think she was expecting me to grow bored when she didn’t let me use the cauldron right away. My first day on the job, however, surprised her - I diligently followed her orders and did my best to memorize every ingredient she mentioned.
In just a few days I had already caught up to Gina in herbal knowledge, and Hyacinth was growing more and more impressed. She began teaching me in earnest about flame control, the interactions of different herbs with each other, which salves or potions work best for specific wound types, and so on. It was a ton of information to take in, but I did my best to keep up. Every night I would spend at least two hours studying the book of plants she gave me.
It was pretty fun though. Hyacinth had a great way of explaining things in the most simple way possible.
"Someone tripped and a sharp branch pierced right through their calf. What do you do first?"
"Disinfect the area with a topical cream made from Bright Tassel leaves and crushed Yarrow flowers?"
"Wrong. You remove the damn branch first, obviously. Hah! Just messing with you, that's a decent answer. But what you really want to do..."
That's how our lessons usually went.
Even back on Earth I was a decent student. Now that I’m stuck in this backwater place, most of my modern knowledge is useless (my old job involved lots of excel sheets and online commerce) - so I’ll take any chance to learn what I need to survive.
“That knock on the head really did your brain wonders, eh Thomas?” Hyacinth had remarked once, looking completely baffled. It was a fair assumption; this wasn’t the kind of thing a six year old should be able to understand, but I absorbed everything she taught me.
It wasn’t completely effortless though. My mind actually feels a bit slower when compared to my previous life. My focus drops after a few hours, and memorizing things takes longer. Maybe it’s because of the lowered intelligence stat? Aren’t kids supposed to learn quicker though? Ah whatever, this was a minor disadvantage that I could easily make up for with effort.
I had even started creating my own healing powders. No use of the cauldron yet - making these items was supposed to train my ability to measure ingredients and process them to a perfect consistency.
Every beginner starts with something like this, but it was surprisingly hard. Tiny fingers and a dreadfully low dexterity stat meant that I kept messing up. So I had no choice but to take it slow and pay close attention to every step.
The first two batches were total failures, but I made a semi-passable product on my third try. I was even rewarded with a notification from the system.
[Item created: “Basic Healing Powder”.]
[Quality: Very Poor]
[Slightly heals small cuts and bruises.]
The evaluation of “Very Poor” aside, I was ecstatic at my success. So happy, in fact, that I decided to make a small cut on my arm to test its effects. But wait, I should compare it to Hyacinth’s work to see how big the difference is… two cuts it is then.
“What the hell are you doing!?”
Hyacinth walked in just as I finished dragging the knife across my other arm. She stood at the doorway, her expression a mix of horror and confusion.
“Um, science?” I answered with a sheepish grin.
After explaining what I wanted to try, she sat down and buried her face in her hands.
“There are easier ways to test your products. Good grief...” She muttered in exasperation. “Weren’t you too afraid to even see blood not long ago?”
Nevertheless, she let me go through with the experiment (since the damage had been done anyway). The results were clear: Hyacinth’s powder made one wound close almost immediately, and it took away all of the pain. The one I made was barely more helpful than a band-aid. My teacher then forced me to use a more effective item on that wound to prevent scarring.
That's one more thing I learned. Somehow, these "primitive" herbal products are more powerful than anything I've seen on Earth. Expensive potions can rapidly heal serious injuries and restore wounded soldiers to fighting shape. Hyacinth's books even told of legendary elixirs that could regrow lost limbs. Maybe the plants in this world are infused with magic? It certainly seems like it, since you weren't allowed to use too many at once, or it would have disastrous consequences.
Oh, and apart from my reckless “clinical trial”, Hyacinth was impressed that I had managed to make my own healing powder without her assistance.
“You learn fast, kid. Keep this up and you’ll be working in the capital one day.”
I don’t really plan on going far away though… I’d usually be glad to explore a fantasy world, but the “Extreme” danger level that the system showed me is still weighing heavily on my mind. It might be a good idea to just live out my days peacefully within this secluded province. At least until I finish that Main Quest.