Sofia had finally reached her destination - the Great Forest of Javl. Just like the guard in the city of H'ulm had told her, the summoned mount had disappeared. She quickly fed Alviona and took a quick break to recover her strength and stamina. Food was essential, and fortunately, she was prepared for this. From her magical pouch, she took out a slice of bread and a tomato. She also removed the small flask attached to her belt and drank the water from it. After she was done, she got up, kissed Alviona and strapped her with the baby-strap as close to her chest as was possible.
"I promise, that no harm shall come to you, my beloved daughter," she whispered. Seeing that Alviona was awake and giving her warm giggles and a smile, Sofia could not help but smile back. Again, she kissed her and shortly after, she activated her [Track] skill.
The way [Tracking] worked, was that it consumed an initial portion of mana well, therefore limiting the use of other skills while it was in effect. It lasted for as long as the user would not wish to deactivate it. Since this skill caused significant fatigue, using it was rather hard. If a user was engaged in a fight and had forgotten to disable the ability, fatality due to exhaustion was most likely to occur.
In this world, only spies excelled at using this skill to its full potential. They were most suited for it. Hunters, on the other hand, trained very hard from their early teens to be able to utilize it without straining their body too much. The reason they would want to use this skill was to be aware of the surroundings at all times and to distinguish different wild-life from each-other.
While results were identical for everyone using it; for different professions, there were their respective criteria and ways the skill was used. For example - a spy would always be better at handling the power as opposed to a hunter. However, hunters would be able to use it even during the combat, for their senses and their combat capabilities were much higher.
Sofia belonged to a class of its own. She was very proficient in the magic arts and had high affinity towards elemental magic, more precisely wind. While being able to utilize fire and earth magic if desired, the wind was by far her most favorite. Since she had trained in archery and had undertaken a profession of a hunter, -which she had passed, Sofia was bestowed the title of an Elemental Archer.
When she entered the forest, she attempted to locate a mana-well that did not belong to any possible wildlife. After about an hour worth of traveling, she found only one such pattern. Based on what Vix had told her earlier, she immediately started heading towards it. As she was, Sofia had quickly picked up on the sudden shift of the wind and the unusual silence of the forest. Since everything in this world had a form of mana reserve only beasts such as wolves would cause this sort of effect, which meant that combat preparations were in order. Earlier she had noticed that the goblins were hunting some distance away, so the ruckus would undoubtedly get her ambushed, which is why she had devised a masterful plan. You see, Sofia was not just an ordinary hunter, but an expert. This woman was used to survival in such circumstances. Besides, due to the responsibility she had as a mother, she was prepared to deal with much worse adversaries, if they were to present themselves.
Sofia quickly checked her surroundings. Judging from the information that she was retrieving from [Tracking], she knew exactly where the wolves were coming from.
She cast a skill called [Perimeter], which produced a circle inside of her [Tracking] vision. Next, Sofia removed a magical handle from her belt, and as she did so, it responded to her mana pattern; taking the shape of a bow. It was a magical bow crafted by her when she had acquired her profession. It allowed mana to concentrate on the strings and create elemental arrows. For this occasion, the bolts were made of two elements - water and wind, which formed ice.
As the wolves appeared and approached the circle that Sofia had marked, she quickly took a posture to draw the magical arrow and then let loose. The moment she did, it split itself into three projectiles hitting the wolves and killing them instantly.
Just as Sofia expected, the goblins picked up on the disappearance of the mana pattern, so they started moving towards her. Right now, she was the mana beacon to the enemies, which is why she had prepared [Elemental Traps] made of the combination of fire and wind elements. The moment the enemies activated it their vision would blur out, and their lungs would be affected causing paralysis.
Since she had already used up a lot of her mana, Sofia began getting exhausted, forcing herself to turn off the effects of the [Tracking]. In this scenario, it would prove to be of little value.
As the goblins appeared, they decided to check on the slaughtered wolves. Since this was a hunting assembly, they would investigate corpses and pick up the scent to locate Sofia's whereabouts. The moment they did so, the traps activated causing them to start choking and getting paralyzed.
Sofia came from behind the trees where she awaited, with her presence masked. She quickly took a posture and then repeated the same action she did with the wolves, except this time the arrows had split into twenty pieces. The strain on Sofia was enormous. However, she was willing to tolerate the pain for the safety of herself and her daughter.
What she had not expected, was the appearance of a giant wolf. While it looked majestic by all means, Sofia was scared to death. She was exhausted, and her mana-well would take some time to recover, so she was very vulnerable at the moment. If anything, she was willing to push the limits and destroy the beast by blasting her powers to its full. However, the result would prove to be fatal for her. This action might kill the creature, but Alviona would die alongside her, and this was something that the mother could not permit to happen.
She thought of many options in the precious moment she had, to come up with different strategies, but none were any good. At that moment, a young girl jumped off the wolf and approached her.
"Who the hell are you?" she asked in a demanding tone, which forced Sofia to step back. What had just happened? Who is this girl? What is this beast? She kept asking herself.
At least she was not dead, meaning that chances of survival still existed. She had to come to the proper terms with this woman. It was crucial. With a light gulp, she answered - "Sofia. My name is Sofia".
"Well Sofia," replied the girl, "First and foremost, what brings you to this forest? Are you lost?!" she asked in a demanding tone.
"No," came a simple reply.
"Then, pray I ask, why were you looking for the residence of mine? Do you have business with me?" she continued asking. The girl appeared to be somewhat irritated and suspicious but seemed to harbor no ill.
Sofia got confused by this question, so she merely shook her head. As the girl witnessed this, she threw her hands into the air.
"Piu! Is she telling the truth? I am not going anywhere with this!" she stated to the wolf in a commanding voice.
"I do not think that she would lie to you, in her current condition, Anita," came a reply from the wolf, its voice full of power.
Anita fell into deep thought. She had to assess everything that had just happened.
"What was the skill that you had just used?" she asked Sofia, still showing a cold expression on her face.
"Which one do you refer to?" asked Sofia, still confused.
"The bow... What was that? How did you make twenty arrows appear? Better yet, how did you draw a bow with twenty arrows and then hit the targets flat in the head?" asked Anita while waving her hands in anger. It was tough for this elf to believe this.
Realizing that Anita had never seen this skill, Sofia started laughing. As she did, Anita threw a cold glance at her. Coming back to reality, Sofia bowed down slightly and apologized.
"I am truly sorry. It's just that this ability is nothing special. Almost every hunter knows of this skill," she said with a smile.
The moment Anita heard the word "Hunter," she burst out into tears. This action was so unexpected that even Piu was not sure what to make of it, let alone the girl in front of him.
If any degree of threat existed in Sofia's mind, it was for the most part - gone. She let her guard down and approached Anita. As she did, she hugged her and started to pat her on the head. Anita was baffled, yet still welcomed this action.
*Sob* *Sob* *Sob*
"Why are you crying child?" asked Sofia, still hugging Anita with her gentle and warm body.
"Uwah... You... *Sob* druid, *Sob*, you.hunter... n...n... not.druid. *Sob*..." her blabbering made almost no sense. Anita's sobbing was so intense that it felt like the forest was going to flood.
"I do not understand," said Sofia. "Please do not cry. Calm down. It is me who is in an awkward situation here," she begged. The elf's behavior was truly hard on the young mother for even her child, who was still an infant, did not cry this much.
Anita was in despair. Only one fact was flowing through her mind: This woman had not come to the forest to undertake the class of a druid. It was a disaster! She had not met a single druid yet in last decade, and this had become somewhat disturbing. She was bored and did not know what to do.
"All right," said Anita, instantly calming down and her tears disappearing as if all of this has just been a show. "You still owe me quite a lot of explanations," she told Sofia, who was still embracing her.
Sofia had no idea of what had just happened. What did happen actually? Realizing, that she was still clutching Anita, she let go.
"Also, why do you carry a doll with you?" asked Anita, pointing at Alviona.
Sofia did not understand as to where she was pointing at.
"I do not quite understand what you mean," she told Anita.
"Do not take me for a fool! Sure, I just got a tiny bit frustrated right now, because I was very excited earlier and you telling me that you are a "Hunter" is rather disappointing! Who would not shed a tear from that?! Regardless, this doll that you have strapped on to your chest. Why do you need it, if you are not becoming a druid?" She asked Sofia coldly.
"What?" asked Sofia in an overly defensive way. What nonsense is she spitting out, she wondered. "This is not a doll! It is my child," she replied with anger.
"Nonsense!" came a quick reply from Anita.
"Your child has no mana-well. Which is why I assumed that she was a doll," said Piu who had just been observing up to this point. "I am a greater spirit. Therefore, I can sense it better than anyone else in the world. It is not a living thing," he continued.
"You are insane!" yelled Sofia at the pair. "She is a living thing! She can breathe, giggle, sleep, and eat! Dolls cannot do such things!"
Piu and Anita looked at each other and then back at Alviona, after which they looked at Sofia.
"Prove it!" ordered Anita.
"What do you mean?" asked Sofia suspiciously.
Anita approached the mother, and gently extended her hand to the child. Sofia clutched Alviona as if she was being taken away from her. She assumed her defensive stance.
"Relax, I shall not harm her. If she truly belongs to the living, then I will be able to tell," she assured Sofia.
"All right... but be gentle please," said Sofia who still did not believe Anita. However, she needed a place to stay at. She needed help, and she needed this person to protect her in case something was to happen. Anita was the only person living inside this forest apparently, so an ally such as this was precious.
Anita checked the doll's ability to observe. She waved her hand in front of its face and much to her surprise, the eyes followed the hand. Next, the girl checked the breathing patterns. Undoubtedly, it was breathing indicating that it had lungs. Lastly, she gently grabbed the child's wrist and checked the pulse. It was there.
Finally satisfied, she told Piu that it indeed was an actual, living and breathing child.
Piu was surprised.
"How is this possible?" he asked Anita, who in turn just shrugged.
"The priestess from the village that I came from had told me that her mana-well statistic might have been hidden. However, I assure you that this child is mine and she was born from my body," told Sofia to the two individuals, who did not seem to be able to come to terms with what they had just witnessed.
"So, what brings you to this forest? Surely there are better places to visit, especially when raising a child. No? Is she ill? Are you ill? Have you come here for healing?" asked Anita, this time with a little bit of respect and courtesy.
"I was advised to come here by the city guard. The war has broken out in the Kingdom of Damas; therefore the city I sought refuge at was not the best place to stay, especially since the reports stated that it was going to be besieged. So, I came here instead.
The rider I had traveled with, had told me that there is an elven woman who lives inside the forest. A pure-blood. I was hoping that I would get to meet her. Judging by the fact, that my [Tracking] skill only managed to find you, it must be that you are the mentioned elf whom I seek" stated Sofia.
"That is incorrect," replied Anita. "The woman whom you refer to is my mother. However, she has gone into slumber due to severe exhaustion caused by a plague that occurred fifteen years ago," continued Anita in a depressed tone.
Sofia apologized, in an attempt to ease the tension. Anita did not seem to mind it much.
"So, a refuge. This is what you seek?" asked Anita.
"Not permanently, but for the time being. Yes. Please, allow me to live in this forest under your protection. I swear by the life of my child that I will be of use. I shall not bother. I do not need or require any accommodations. I do not require much of the food, for I can hunt for myself. But my daughter needs a shelter. I beg of you; please take care of at least her," started Sofia to beg the elf. "She is a pure-blood, like you too. Please, show mercy at least to her," she added while starting to tear up.
"Please, repeat your last sentence," quickly said Anita with an excited and a surprised tone.
"... She is a pure-blood, like you. Please..." as Sofia said these words, Anita quickly lifted her hand indicating that she should stop speaking. Sofia immediately obeyed.
"A pure-blood?" asked Anita again, to which Sofia nodded. Her ears started wiggling in excitement again. Her body began trembling. "Yes!" she screamed so loudly, that it would not be surprising if the entire forest had heard it.
"All-right Sofia, you have a bargain! I shall allow you to live in my house alongside, your child. You must stay until she grows up, for I do want to observe her growth. Like it or not, a child without a mana-well should not exist, hidden statistic or not. Piu is a greater spirit, and it should be visible for him. My curiosity is fully aroused so, this much you owe to yourself and me. As for the compensation for sheltering you, there is only one simple condition. Your daughter absolutely must become my pupil. The moment she starts to walk and properly talk, she is to study hard, to become a fully fledged druid." As Anita finished up her sentence, she burst out into loud laughter.
Sofia thought of the advantages and disadvantages that this girl offered her. It was a pretty good offer. If she genuinely intended something malicious, she could have disposed of me for I am weak at the moment. She could easily walk away with Alviona and let this beast deal with me, thought Sofia while assessing the situation. If she agreed, she would get shelter, and her daughter would have an opportunity to grow. She would also attain some knowledge. No, this was almost too good to be true. Without hesitation, she nodded and thanked Anita for her offer.
Anita looked at Sofia and then at Piu. Her facial expression gave it all away. She was excited, very much so.
"Those will be some interesting years!" she mumbled.
"Indeed they will" replied Piu.
After the pleasantries were done, Anita mounted Piu once again. Feeling bad for Sofia, who probably was exhausted from the developments of last few hours, she asked Piu to kneel a little and ordered the woman to mount up. Seeing that she had a hard time getting onto the wolf's back, Anita helped her out. Once ready, the company ventured deep into the forest and pathed back to Anita's residence.