Chapter 13 - Stench of Blood
Apparently, proficiencies develop at different speeds.
It took me several months of hard work to get Novice Proficiency in Herbalism. Gathering and Pathfinding took even longer, but that's mostly because I didn't focus on those two at all - they just popped up thanks to my regular trips into the forest. My previous belief was that it takes an average of six months to learn any skill.
Guess who just got Novice Proficiency in Trapping after two weeks of messing around?
[Gained Novice Proficiency in Trapping!]
[Trap making and setting speed improved by 10%]
[All traps are more effective and harder to detect.]
[Main Quest “Learn to Survive” updated: Four out of five survival skills learned.]
I was so sure that I would get Wound Treatment first, since I'm just a hair away from it...
If I had to guess why trapping was so easy to gain proficiency in, I'd say that it's because of the complexity involved. There are a hundred different factors you have to take into account when making a potion; the intensity of the flame, how skillfully you prepare the ingredients, even the material of the container used has an effect on the final product. Traps might seem complex at first glance, but as long as you know how to make them and set them up in the right place, there's not much room for human error.
After successfully catching my tenth rabbit with a drowning snare, that system notification popped up. The bonuses were fairly modest but still made a noticeable difference. I got better at placing and concealing my traps, increasing the success rate. Then when I found a recipe for an Animal Lure potion and started spiking my bait with it, the number of critters I got every day skyrocketed. It was almost ridiculous - I had to give some to the neighbors since there was no way we could eat all of it. But there was one event when the special bait ended up luring something too big, and the trap was destroyed by the time I went to check on it... how regretful.
Anyway, it's probably time for me to stop doing this. The only reason I decided to pick this skill up was to finish my main quest (archery was just taking far too long for me to master, and I wasn't even sure if it would count as a survival skill in the first place). While Southcreek's other hunters are giving me a free pass right now, some may eventually become resentful if I continue using "dishonorable" hunting methods when they aren't really necessary.
* * *
Today would be the last day I'd go into the forest to check my traps. After this, I'll dismantle all of them and focus my attention on other things. My Elswain officer's spear was slung on my back in case I ran into anything dangerous along the way, but I honestly wasn't too worried. I had a very reliable companion today, after all.
"Hey Thomas~, I was wondering... what will you even do with all that money you get from Lucas?"
Gina's round eyes stared at me with curiousity. Her head was tilted slightly to the side, the two purple twintails almost reaching her shoulders. It's hard to think that this innocent looking young lady was actually a skilled huntress who kills wild beasts without any hesitation.
Ahh, this girl will definitely grow up to be a peerless beauty like her mother. Hopefully she won't inherit Hyacinth's attitude and foul mouth, though.
"Well, I don't really know. Maybe I'll buy property one day in Bask or some other large town." I answered her, shrugging.
"Ehh!? You're leaving the village?" She gasped, looking devastated. Gina immediately latched onto my arm. "No way!"
Looking at her stubborn appearance that seemed like she would drag me home by force if necessary, I couldn't help but laugh. "Don't worry, I'm not moving out of Southcreek. Maybe I'll just open a store or start a business as a hobby, you know? I've got a few great ideas that I'm sure would be a hit."
"But... that would just make you richer. What are you even planning to spend it all on?"
Once again, I shrugged.
To be honest, I absolutely did not need that much money to live here. This village already has everything I could ever want, so why do I still keep building my wealth? Perhaps it's an old habit from my previous life; while my family wasn't poor, we didn't have much breathing room either. A fire or other disaster could have wiped out any meager savings we had. That's probably why I feel anxious if I don't have a nice little emergency fund tucked away somewhere. Besides, wealth is a form of power too, so it's better to have it than not.
We arrived at the first trap near a riverbank, which was unfortunately empty.
"This is a drowning snare." I explained. "Once triggered, the noose drags both the animal and that rock into the water. I've caught a few rabbits and squirrels with this one before; drowning puts the critter out of its misery fast, while the rushing water keeping any scavengers away."
"Yeah, but needing water limits its usefulness."
I crouched down next to the snare and carefully deactivated it before putting the parts in my rucksack. Gina watched with interest as I worked.
After several minutes of walking, we got to the next one, which was a snare that used a bent sapling. Any animal that triggers it would be caught and suspended a few feet off the ground. This one was empty too, yet parts of the bait were missing. Damn, looks like it didn't activate for some reason.
"Don't touch the noose. It'll rip your finger off." I said sternly when I noticed Gina staring at it.
"Okay." Gina answered while grinning. She picked up a stick and poked at the bait.
The noose immediately snapped upwards, knocking the stick right out Gina's hand and sending it flying in an impressive arc. Well, that's one way to disarm the trap I guess. I removed the components and stored them away, while Gina looked around with a slightly odd expression.
"What? Did you notice anything?" I asked her.
She shook her head. "It's just that, this place smells kind of... weird? Nevermind."
Perhaps that was the first sign. Her senses had always been unnaturally sharp, so she must have noticed that there was something different about this part of the forest. But we decided to go ahead and check out the other traps anyway. Every single one was empty... one of them - a wooden cage trap like the one Hans had used to catch the boar - had been torn apart. I first thought that it was done by a hungry wolf that wanted whatever was inside, like what happened before with the spiked bait, but there were no claw or bite marks on the shattered wood pieces. No, it was more like the cage was hacked apart by some sharp instrument.
Feeling completely unnerved, Gina and I immediately decided to head back home. There were still a few left that I needed to deactivate, but something was wrong and we weren't going to stick around any longer.
* * *
"It's okay Thomas, you'll catch something next time." Gina stuck her tongue out at me. Maybe she was just trying to lighten the mood.
"Give me a break. Today's just unlucky." I sighed.
"Mm-hmm, don't worry. Your big sister will make you something nice when we get back home." She giggled.
Somehow, it was profoundly depressing that such a young brat was calling herself my big sister. I'm older than your mom, you know?
But before I could refute, she froze in her tracks. There was a trace of fear on her face as she quickly looked towards the left of the forest path. She was staring at something far off in the distance. While I had no idea what it was, I could tell that Gina had sensed something again so I immediately brought out my spear.
"What is it?" I asked her.
"There's... blood. A lot of it." She said in a slightly shaky voice.
Could someone have been attacked by a beast in those thickets? Dying to wild animals was rare around here, but it can happen. I thought about ignoring it entirely and coming back with some adults from the village, but by then it would be far too late to help any survivors.
"I'll go check it out. Stay here." I said firmly. If the victim was still alive, I may be able to save them with the potions I brought.
"No! I'm coming with you." Gina immediately shook her head, drawing her bow.
After a short moment of hesitation, I nodded. Bringing her there would be dangerous, but splitting up isn't exactly safe either. If there's some kind of predator lurking around this part of the woods, we would stand a better chance if we worked together. Both of us had grown up here, after all, so it shouldn't be too hard to escape even from a pack of wolves.
It didn't take long for me to notice the overpowering smell too. A short distance away from the path, we finally saw where it came from.
My childhood friend's viselike grip on my arm was painful, but I barely even noticed it then.
"Thomas..." She whimpered.
"Yeah." I answered grimly.
It was a scene from a nightmare. There were around a dozen corpses in the clearing. Men of varying ages, dressed in furs and covered in freshly spilled blood. Some bodies were riddled with primitive looking arrows. Others were impaled onto the ground or nearby trees with spears. Still others were covered in vicious gashes, or crudely torn apart by some creature's brute strength. Only a few faces were still recognizable amidst the carnage, but there was no doubt who these dead men were.
Southcreek's first hunting party.