Chapter 6 - The First Milestone
One morning I woke up earlier than usual. I was brimming with eagerness and ready to continue my lessons at Hyacinth’s shop. After a quick breakfast of rye bread and red berries, I was already halfway out the door when my uncle’s gruff voice called out to me.
I stopped and turned towards Uncle Whitelaw. The large smith’s graying hair and beard was already tinged with sweat. Whitelaw was the kind of man to get up and start working at three in the morning, and not stop until nighttime. The sound of hammer striking metal often filled every corner of this house.
He was seated on a bench in the middle of his workshop, using a whetstone to sharpen a large machete. I couldn’t help but stare at the many scars on his body… Whitelaw had a colored history, one he never wanted to talk about. Whispers around the village say that he used to be a soldier or a mercenary. He fought in a war against the neighboring Bulirin Kingdom many years ago, and only came back to settle down in this village once it was over.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time in Hyacinth’s shop lately.” He said, not stopping his hands.
I nodded. “She’s been teaching me a lot.”
...What is he asking? Why is Hyacinth bothering to do this, or why I'm studying under her?
"I just think it's time that I start making myself useful." I answered him, shrugging.
That plus I can't think of a better way to spend my time than getting free lessons from a beautiful older woman.
Uncle Whitelaw put his tools down. He wiped his hands on a nearby rag, then beckoned for me to come over. To my surprise, he clapped both hands over my shoulders and looked at me with an unusually gentle gaze.
“I’m not going to tell you to stop. It’s good for you to learn.” He said calmly. “But don’t be in a hurry to grow up. There’s plenty of time before you need to worry about your calling, hear?”
After a short moment of confusion, I realized why he was telling me this. A few hours before I awakened in this world, Uncle Whitelaw had scolded Thomas for doing a poor job of cleaning the workshop. I think he even went on a rant about how kids these days were too lazy and didn’t understand the meaning of a job well done. It caused the boy to run away in tears before meeting up with Gina and going outside the village to play.
Now Thomas had transformed into a hard-working, eerily mature boy. There was no trace of the timid, bumbling kid who always hid behind his childhood friend. I guess my uncle’s feeling guilty about losing his temper back then, and thinks that I’m pushing myself because of what he said.
“Don’t worry uncle.” I said. “I’m doing this because I want to. I’ll definitely be a great healer one day.”
He froze. A look of understanding passed over his face. With a sigh, my uncle patted me on the shoulders.
Then he just pushed me towards the door, telling me to go. I think his eyes were a little watery too. Wait, did he misunderstand something? Ah whatever, let’s just go.
When I arrived at my teacher’s shop, I was met with an interesting sight. Hyacinth was using her largest cauldron, stirring the contents with a wooden ladle. All she needed was a pointy hat and she’d look just like an attractive witch. I’m not stupid enough to say that out loud though.
Without looking up, Hyacinth asked today’s first question.
“Recite three herbs useful for treating a snake bite. Describe their appearances and where they grow.”
I smiled and rattled off the answers.
“Correct.” She nodded approvingly. “Now get over here and help me stir. My arms are killing me.”
* * *
Time continued to pass by. Before I knew it, it had already been six months since I awakened in this world. Most of my days were very monotonous; when I wasn’t busy with chores like cleaning Uncle Whitelaw’s tools or chopping firewood, I’d be helping out Hyacinth with her work. We would also often go into the forest to gather ingredients - some just couldn’t be bought in bulk.
Those treks into the forest were fun. I quickly became pretty good at spotting and identifying common herbs. Gina would usually come along with us, but she never found much of use. The girl was too busy swinging on vines, climbing up trees, and so on. Wait, no, she DID find things.
“Hey Thomas, look - that’s the entrance to a rabbit’s warren! See the tracks and half-eaten grass?”
It looked just like any other hole in the ground to me but I nodded along. Gina was apparently much more talented at detecting tracks and other signs of wildlife than useful plants… kinda like a very energetic hound. She even disappeared into the woods once and came back with a rabbit impaled on a makeshift spear. After the massive scolding that followed (for running off, not for killing the adorable little critter), Hyacinth had just sighed and muttered something about “taking too much after the father” under her breath.
The rabbit became our dinner that night.
We never went too deep into the woods, though… Hyacinth said that wild beasts may have learned not to mess with armed hunters, but women and children are still easy prey in their eyes.
That’s an important lesson I ended up learning firsthand, to my dismay.
I’ll never forget that time we were almost attacked by a starving wolf. It had snuck up on me, and when I turned around I came face to face with the ugliest, skinniest mongrel I’ve ever seen. The wretched creature had probably been driven from its pack, and was desperate for anything to eat.
Its appearance instantly dug up an old trauma. See, I was attacked in the street by a rabid dog when I was fifteen. While I ended up accidentally killing it during the struggle, the mutt gave me several stitches to remember him by. Ever since that incident, I've had a bad phobia of large, aggressive dogs.
Now, can you imagine what I felt when I was up against a god damn wolf?
“G-good boooy… easy now...” I stammered while grabbing a nearby rock to defend myself with. The beast snarled and lowered its body, preparing to pounce.
That’s when I learned that Hyacinth has really good aim. A herbalist’s knife - not even properly weighted for throwing - sank into the base of wolf’s neck, sending it running back into the woods. She then had to help me calm down and stop shaking before we could go home. It’s a good thing Gina didn’t come along back then, or I would have never heard the end of it.
“This is why you’re not supposed to wander too far.” Hyacinth had lightly scolded me. Lesson learned.
* * *
You might think that Hyacinth’s daughter would be jealous of all the attention I was getting, but it was quite the opposite. Gina was incredibly grateful now that her mom wasn’t constantly nagging her to take herbalism more seriously. The girl had always been a major tomboy, and she wanted nothing more than to join the hunting parties one day.
Hyacinth needed a successor. The village can’t do without a healer. Unlike her daughter, I’m perfectly glad to fill that role. But if there was one thing that my childhood friend was mad about...
“Geez Thomas, you never play with me anymore.” Gina pouted, her feet waving idly in the air.
Yep. Aside from our trips to gather ingredients, I’ve been spending very little time with Gina since my awakening. Whenever we do play, the only times I’m not bored out of my skull are when the two of us explore the outskirts of the forest. I’m not a big fan of hide and seek or tag. Such is life as an adult in a kid’s body - too grown up to enjoy simple games, too tiny and vulnerable to really do much else.
“I promise I will soon, okay?” I said, still concentrating on the swirling liquids in my cauldron.
“Boo.” She complained, sticking out her tongue. But she didn’t say anything more - the girl knew how important it was not to disturb a herbalist at work.
Right now I was making a batch of antidotes. Hyacinth had already given me permission to use any of her tools and all but the rarest of ingredients in her stockpile. And if I produce anything worth selling, she’ll only take the cost of the materials and let me have the rest.
Because of this I was tempted to just keep making the two items I had already mastered - Basic Healing Powders and Insect Repellant Creams. Both of them are in high demand in this village and Bask town, so they’re great for making money. But instead, I kept trying out new recipes.
As you might have guessed, this is because of the “Main Quest” I was given.
I can feel myself making steady progress. However there’s no progress bar or other RPG-like mechanic to show me how close I am to achieving “proficiency” in herbalism. All I have is gut instinct, and it’s telling me that I’m on the verge of some sort of breakthrough.
So I keep challenging myself. These damn antidotes have been the bane of me for the past week. When Hyacinth judged the first one I made, she just shook her head.
“This is deadlier than what you’re trying to cure, boy!” She said in exasperation.
All of the following batches weren’t much better. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it, but you really don’t want to take chances with anything related to venom or poison. Every failed product was immediately scrapped.
I’m feeling confident in this one though. Gina watched with interest as I added the final key ingredient: finely crushed leaves of the Krianna shrub. The moment I turned off the heat and transferred the cauldron’s contents to a new container, the notification I had been waiting for finally appeared.
[Item created: “Weak Insect Antidote”.]
[A general purpose antidote for treating venomous insect bites.]
And to my great delight, it was followed by another one.
[You have achieved Novice Proficiency in Herbalism!]
[10% increased potency of items made from plant ingredients.]
[You have gained the ability: “Basic Plant Analysis.”]
[Main Quest “Learn to Survive” updated: One out of five survival skills learned.]
My eyes lit up. Excellent! I was starting to wonder if I was going about this the wrong way. Before I could celebrate though, I felt a sudden rush of dizziness and staggered backwards.
Gina cried out. I managed to sit down on a nearby chair on time.
“Are you okay?” She asked, looking alarmed.
“Yeah, thanks. I think I just breathed in too much of the fumes.” I said with a smile.
Gina calmed down then picked up my finished antidote from the worktable. “I’ll go ahead and bring this to mom. I wanna know if this one’s good!”
I nodded, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Something incredible was happening to my mind. All of my knowledge regarding herbalism was being… rearranged? It’s hard to explain, but I feel like a lot of things have just become more clear. I got up and decided to try making something.
But when I got to the stockroom, I experienced a pleasant surprise. Focusing on any of the plants there resulted in a system window popping up with the ingredient’s basic properties.
[Dwarf Milkweed (Common)]
[Helps reduce fever and cough.]
[Taunting Coneflower (Uncommon)]
[Boosts stamina, energy, and virility. Causes anger and recklessness.]
Amazing. I guess this is the Basic Plant Analysis ability I just received? It even works for plants that I know nothing about. What an absurdly good bonus. However, it didn’t work for everything.
It seems like it only displayed information for Common and Uncommon plants. If I don’t already know a Rare plant’s name or properties, I’ll only see a bunch of question marks. Well, it’s still a great ability to have. Now I should test my actual skills and see if there’s been an improvement.
Let’s start with a basic healing potion. It’s more or less as difficult to make as the insect bite antidote. I grabbed the necessary ingredients and quickly immersed myself in the work.
Several minutes later...
“Hey kid, good job! This antidote you’ve made isn’t th-”
Hyacinth’s cheerful voice stopped. She stood at the doorway, watching in blank amazement.
Chop the roots, crush the seeds, peel the stems, extract the sap. Adjust the flame, add the next herb. Watch. Listen. Smell. Wait for the perfect timing.
My hands were moving faster and nimbler than ever before. I felt like I was in a trance, and my senses were heightened to their limits. Two hours passed without my concentration wavering in the slightest.
So this is the power of having “proficiency” in something...
Low dexterity? As if such a thing matters when the action is as simple as breathing to you.
These basic steps were ingrained in my muscle memory now. No, it went beyond that. They were instinctive.
With a master’s practiced ease, I extinguished the flame and bottled the finished healing potion. The system’s familiar blue window appeared right afterwards.
[Item created: “Healing Potion”.]
[Rapidly heals internal and external injuries while restoring stamina.]
[Herbalism Proficiency Bonus: +10% effect]
Grinning, I turned around and walked over to Hyacinth. She had been watching quietly the entire time, totally dumbfounded.
“Please check this, teacher.” I said in a humble voice, presenting the potion.
She grabbed the bottle. A quick look and a sniff of the contents later, Hyacinth just sighed.
“I’m teaching a goddamn monster.” She muttered under her breath.
Hey. I heard that!
She affectionately ruffled my hair, and let out a low chuckle. “You’ll be as good as me in three or four years at most. Keep it up, kiddo.” She said. It was my turn to be shocked.
Her smile was radiant, full of pride and joy.