Chapter 10 - Much Less Tiny
Three years later...
Gina nocked an arrow in her bowstring, aimed at the target, then let it fly.
The projectile soared across the sixty yard distance before sinking into the target - a crude wooden sculpture that vaguely resembled a deer. Her arrow was two inches off the red painted area on the thing’s body, but it was still an amazing shot as far as I was concerned.
My friend's talent had blossomed over the past few years. Not just with the bow - she’s already joining the hunts once a week. The stories I’ve heard from other hunters paint her as a terrifying predator that stalks silently through the underbrush, cleanly dispatching prey with a single shot. While I’m sure it's exaggerated, the fact that she’s bringing game home isn’t made up. She has yet to kill anything larger than a six month old boar, but getting a buck is just a matter of time at this point.
“Aww, missed again.” She said, her cheeks puffed out.
“If it was a real deer, I think that shot would still bring it down though.” I said, trying to cheer her up.
“Not good enough.” Gina shook her head while nocking another arrow. “If I miss the vitals, the deer will run for a really long time. The party can spend hours tracking it without finding a body.”
And it would be extremely cruel to the animal too.
“Don’t forget that a gut shot ruins the meat. Nothing worse than tainted venison.”
A lazy voice wafted out from behind us. I turned around to see Hans, our archery teacher, casually strolling towards us with a basket in his hands. The lanky young man with shoulder-length silver hair is now Southcreek’s undisputed best marksman, and recently became the leader of our village's second hunting party. Gina became his protégé shortly after that trip to Bask (surprising absolutely no one), and I eventually started learning how to shoot from him too.
Hans was the reason Hyacinth allowed Gina to join the hunts in the first place. As laidback as this guy might look, no one holds a candle to him in the woods. He is probably the only one who can rein in Gina’s reckless tendencies to scout ahead or chase after startled game.
“Good morning Mr. Hans.” Me and Gina greeted him at the same time.
"Hey kids." He answered, stifling a yawn. "Thomas, you paid attention to her form, right? Take a shot at it too. Thirty five yards."
"Understood." I nodded seriously, picking up my own bow and walking a little past the thirty yard marker on this makeshift practice range.
With practiced hand and focused eye, I nocked an arrow and aimed at the deer sculpture. I am one with the bow - it is an extension of my body. All I have to do is imagine the arrow hitting the target and the wind will take care of the rest. Steady... gotta control my breathing... fire!
The arrow soared spendidly through the air and ended up missing the deer by two feet. It sank into a tree some distance away. Turns out that psyching yourself up with a pretentious inner monologue doesn't guarantee a hit. Fiction has lied to me.
"Ahh..." The disappointed voices of my childhood friend and instructor came from behind me.
"Well, it was pretty close. Try again." Hans said, trying to reassure me.
"You can do it Thomas!" Gina cheered.
Okay, fine. I'll definitely get it. But first I need to calm down and focus. This is a shot I've made before, it's not that hard.
After regaining my calm, I fired four arrows in quick succession, skipping the stupid thoughts this time. Two of them hit the deer but missed the red painted area symbolizing the "kill" zone. One hit dead center in the target area - a perfect shot that would have punctured both lungs. The last arrow missed the deer, but only by a few inches. Better than the first one at least.
Still, this was pretty discouraging. I'm a bad shot at any distance past twenty five yards. It's a barrier that I haven't been able to break, even after months of dedicated practice. At my current level of skill, I don't think I would be of much use if I ever did come along with the hunting party.
Meanwhile, Gina never misses within fifty yards, and has fairly good accuracy at sixty. She's had more time to practice than me, of course, but the girl has an overwhelming advantage in talent too. I know that her dad used to be an even better hunter than Hans is now, so it probably runs in her blood.
But I think the biggest difference maker is my naturally low Dexterity. My body has grown a lot over the past few years; I'm finally capable of lifting heavy stuff and using bows with respectable draw weights. However, this damn Dexterity stat is the one thing that has barely moved. Here's what my status screen looks like these days:
|ASCENDANT - RICHARD BROOKS|
|Body Name: Thomas||Age: 10||Race: Human|
|HP: 41/41||MP: 36/36|
|Affiliation: None||Class: None||2nd Life|
|STR: 25 (24 + 1)||AGI: 29 (27 + 2)||DEX: 18|
|CON: 32 (30 + 2)||INT: 24||WIS: 21|
|CHA: 30||LUK: 10||Stat multiplier: 60%|
|No active blessings or debuffs. Base stats lowered to 60% because of age.|
It's barely over half of my current Constitution! On the other hand, I'm faster than Gina at a full-sprint and I have much higher stamina than her too. I'm confident that I can beat most people in a contest of pure mobility, such as getting to a designated spot in the forest first. My Pathfinding Proficiency will see to that. Oh, and for some reason Luck didn't increase at all. I think it's a static value that normally can't be changed, which is why I couldn't spend Karma on it while I was dead.
We continued shooting in turns for a while longer before Hans called for us to stop.
"Let's have lunch first. I brought sandwiches for you two."
I pumped my fist in celebration while Gina jumped up with a happy “Woo-hoo!”, all thoughts of practicing gone.
Yes, sandwiches. My second proudest achievement since awakening is introducing this convenient snack (and the concept of toasted sliced bread) to Southcreek village. It wasn’t long before every hunter and woodcutter started packing sandwiches for their trips into the forest. I heard it’s even catching on in Bask, but I’ll have to wait until my next trip into town to know for sure.
Gina slung her shortbow around her shoulder, and the three of us sat down on the grass. Hans opened the basket he brought and started handing out sandwiches. In the absence of plastic, each was wrapped in broad leaves taken from nearby trees. It was charmingly rural.
“Your wife makes the best sandwiches, Mr. Hans!” Gina said happily, practically inhaling her food.
I took a bite and nodded vigorously. Yum, shredded pork and venison is such a nice combination. Deer meat is pretty lean, so the fatty pork is an excellent complement that really deepens the flavor. With fresh crunchy lettuce and homemade dressing, this tastes heavenly.
Hans laughed. “Why do you think I married her? Madalynn can make a feast out of kitchen scraps.”
We talked, ate, and relaxed for a while longer. Then my archery instructor suddenly stopped and turned to me.
"Hey Thomas, you're good at making stuff, right?" Hans said.
That's an odd question.
"I like to think that I am." I shrugged. "Being a herbalist and all."
"Yeah, that's what I mean." Hans nodded. "Maybe you don't have to be good at archery..."
He finished his sandwich and stood up. I stared at him in confusion. What was he talking about?
"I'll be heading back first, you two have the rest of the afternoon off. Thomas, keep your schedule free tomorrow."
"Um, okay." I nodded. While I'm not sure what he's thinking of, I've learned to just go with the flow when it comes to this whimsical man.
* * *
Let's take a step back and go over everything that happened over the past three years.
Lumor has mostly gotten their shit together and ramped up the army's patrols, significantly reducing the number of monster attacks. It hasn't stopped completely, though, and they're no closer to finding the mysterious knight behind this. Bulirin still denies that it has anything to do with it. Relations between the two kingdoms have worsened to the point that a few battalions are permanently stationed at their borders, ready to fight at a moment's notice. Trade has stopped completely between them as well; caravans are immediately accosted by the military. Minor skirmishes happen every few weeks, and full-blown war seems unavoidable within the next year.
But the worst part is that the monster attacks have spread to Elswain as well. Even though we had several forts in the area conducting regular patrols, five border villages and a small town were razed within two weeks, sending shockwaves throughout the kingdom. The capital immediately sent out a call to arms, moving more of our military forces nearer to the border as a means of defense. Unfortunately, this also meant that the bulk of the Elswain military was now within striking distance of several Bulirin castles and strategic territories...
This could be interpreted as a severe violation of the ceasefire treaty with Bulirin. But what else was our kingdom to do?
We needed to protect the border territories. People there were already in mass panic, and a large number had started moving inland. Elswain was not eager to go to war with Bulirin; Hyacinth said that the memories of the last conflict were still fresh in the populace's mind, and even the more cynical lords wanted Lumor and Bulirin to fight it out by themselves and leave us the strongest nation in the continent.
Nevertheless, it's hard to rationally judge the actions of a country you were at war with barely a decade ago. The Bulirin royal family publicly denounced the movements, calling us opportunistic vultures looking to stab their kingdom in the back during these turbulent times.
Those pompous idiots... that is not the kind of statement you make to a country grieving over its dead citizens, especially when one of your knights is the biggest suspect. In response, Elswain only further increased the number of soldiers we had stationed there. Diplomatic talks have ceased entirely.
Rumors say that a Lumor emissary will be visiting the Elswain capital soon, though, and a formal alliance between our two nations seems to be in the works. With any luck, the combined might of two kingdoms will be enough to prevent an actual war with Bulirin. I can't imagine them having the guts to take on both armies at the same time, even if they may have the strongest military right now.
So what have I been busy with? Well first, those regular trips into the forest paid off in an unexpected way. I got two different survival proficiencies: Gathering and Pathfinding.
[You have achieved Novice Proficiency in Gathering!]
[Detecting and harvesting useful plants is now easier.]
[Main Quest “Learn to Survive” updated: Two out of five survival skills learned.]
The benefits aren't as dramatic as when I first achieved Novice Proficiency in Herbalism, but it's still a very nice skill to have.
Within fifteen feet of me, useful plants are highlighted in a faint yellow aura. I can even detect those growing underneath the roots of trees or in other dark, out of the way places. The efficiency of my actions have also improved; I don't get stung by thorns anymore or accidentally damage the more delicate plants as I uproot them.
My ability to gather herbs soon surpassed my teacher’s. She was slightly miffed about that at first - seeing a kid with twice your haul must have been pretty embarrassing. But eventually she just got lazier and made me do most of the work while she stood guard (preventing any more “wolf incidents”).
Thanks to this, I doubt I'll ever have trouble finding ingredients again in the future. But I'm even happier about the other skill I learned.
[You have achieved Novice Proficiency in Pathfinding!]
[You are better at finding hidden trails and maneuvering through wild terrain.]
[Main Quest “Learn to Survive” updated: Three out of five survival skills learned.]
Pathfinding is amazing.
No matter how many branches or leaves are scattered on the forest floor, I never lose my footing. Are the paths muddy due to heavy rain? No problem, I won't slip. My speed while moving through the woods has greatly improved, and it's less draining on my stamina now too. I'm confident that apart from Hans and a few other veteran hunters, nobody in Southcreek can catch up to me within the forest.
Unfortunately, neither of my two new proficiencies gave me a unique ability like Plant Analysis. Its a shame, but the passive benefits are still great.
As for Herbalism? My skills were good enough that Hyacinth was basically pushing all of her work on to me now (not that I’m complaining - it’s nice practice).
Since we’ve already covered everything she knows about potion making, for the past few months she had mostly been teaching me how to treat actual injuries, like dressing and bandaging wounds or setting broken bones. The wounded hunters I practiced on were not happy whenever I screwed up, but it was good motivation for me to get better fast. I think I’m pretty decent now, and I feel like I'll get a proficiency related to it soon.
* * *
It was the day after our archery practice. I was busy working in Hyacinth's shop when Hans walked in.
"Hey Thomas, the caravan from Bask just came back. Here's a letter and two packages from Lucas."
Ah, finally. But why are there two packages?
I took the letter and the items from Hans. One was the usual leather pouch, filled with silver and copper coins - this was the payment for the last shipment of medicinal items I had made for Bask. The other package was a long, thin object wrapped in gray cloth and bound with cord.
Well, let's read the letter first before opening it.
I hope this message finds you in good health. Thank you for another excellent batch of goods. I dare say your skill is already equal to Ms. Hyacinth's. These potions will serve our soldiers well if - Gods forbid - any large scale combat occurs at our borders.
Captain Alvaros also wishes to thank you for taking the trouble to fulfill his custom order. The "Dragon's Desire" worked far better than he had hoped. You should have seen the way he strutted into my office the following day.
As such, he insisted on giving you this additional reward on top of the agreed upon fee. This is a one handed iron spear that is commonly used by Elswain's military officers. There was a surplus of them in the barracks, and Alvaros thought that you might like one. While I cannot agree with him giving away military equipment like toys, I believe you will use this responsibly.
Please reconsider making the "Dragon's Desire" a regular product - I am certain that there is a huge market for it.
Oh, and here is a list of the products we would like for the next shipment. The Merchant's Guild thanks you again for your work.
I shook my head. No way in hell, Lucas. Do you have any idea how hard it was to sneak around Hyacinth's back while making that thing? I had to come up with so many excuses... maybe when this body is older and she's less likely to care about me making that kind of stuff.
Alvaros really shouldn't have given me another gift, though. The payment for that potion was extremely generous already. But as I unwrapped the long package, I couldn't help but let out a whistle of admiration. The spear's five foot long shaft was made of glossy ironwood that was both lightweight and flexible. Its leaf shaped spearhead shined in the sunlight, and I could tell at a glance that it was razor sharp. There was an iron buttspike at the bottom of the spear for added utility or as a backup point if the spearhead breaks.
Ho, this seems like a really nice weapon. If it's meant for officers, then it's probably better than most of the stuff you can find in shops. I wonder how much this cost to make? Uncle Whitelaw once mentioned that Elswain's troops tend to prioritize mobility over power. This weapon seems like a good example of that concept; it's very lightweight and shorter than what you'd normally expect from a spear. You could almost mistake it for a javelin. However, the reach and weight is actually perfect for me to use with both hands right now.
"Ooh, not bad." Hans said admiringly as I practiced swinging and stabbing with my new weapon. "Is that a reward from the guild?"
"Something like that." I answered, shrugging. There's no way I can tell him about the guard captain's "problem".
"Anyway, it's perfect for where we're headed. Bring it along with you."
"Oh right, you wanted to take me somewhere today... can it wait fifteen minutes? This potion's almost done."
"Sure, no problem." Hans took a seat to watch me work.
I put the spear down on a nearby table, then turned back to the bubbling cauldron.
Because of the current delicate situation, all of the inner provinces have been ordered to send troops and supplies to the front line. Bask is no exception. Since the demand for healing items is especially high right now, the Merchant's Guild has contracted me on behalf of Baron Humfort to produce a set number of potions, powders, and salves every three months. These would be carried by our province's soldiers as they make their way to the border.
Right now I was working on an extremely strong anaesthesia with an equally potent drawback: the Nervekiller Brew. An essential item in any army or hospital, it was used to put patients under while doctors operated on them (surgery actually does exist in this world, surprisingly enough. Not everything can be fixed by healing potions). Or more commonly, it is used to ease a dying soldier’s suffering.
Simmer the solution until its volume decreases by roughly 25%... extract the oil from Nightshade flowers and put in three drops every fifteen seconds...
My hands didn't stop working until I bottled the brew and saw the familiar notification.
[Item created: “Nervekiller Brew”.]
[Removes all sense of pain for six hours.]
[Backlash: Lose sight, mobility, and significantly decrease hearing during effect.]
[Herbalism Proficiency Bonus: +10% effect]
I felt a chill run up my spine as I read the notification. This was an item of last resort; something that you only take when the pain is too overwhelming to bear. It doesn’t heal anything, yet it renders you completely helpless for six hours. How terrifying would that sensation be?
This wasn’t something a slightly injured hunter would take. Willingly locking yourself into a world of darkness, just to escape from the pain… many don’t ever wake up after taking it. The soldiers who would one day drink this potion I’ve made, what kind of horrors will they experience?
"Hey, Thomas? You ready yet?"
I snapped out of my distracted state. "Yeah, let me just put this away and clean up."
A few minutes later, Hans and I left the village, with my new spear strapped to my back.