“Do you have to make so much noise?”
Cassandra hissed at Leah, who had just finished snapping a twig underfoot, and was busy rustling every leaf on the bush she was pushing past. Thoroughly frustrated after only 15 minutes pushing through the underbrush, snapped back.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m just a girl from another world who’s never had to sneak through the woods before. Maybe the expert Ranger can teach me some of her ways instead of complaining all the time!”
Glaring back, Cassandra pointed at the twig Leah had just stood on, and then down the loose path they were following.
“Its simple. You look where you are going, and you don’t step on the things that make noise. Just watch me, dammit.”
Cassandra slowly exaggerated her movements, as she walked on her tip toes, almost stepping on a branch before making a show of spotting it, then moving her foot away. Irritated, Leah did as she was bid, and watched her move. Though she was mocking Leah, Cassandra was actually proving to be a useful target to watch. Her feet seemed to unerringly find a spot of ground with no detritus on it, and her weight was balanced carefully with each step so that any noise made would be minimal. Leah took it all in, ignoring Cassandra’s face as she knew her eyes were always focused ahead. She watched as she balanced her weight, controlled her muscles carefully, letting her toes gently feel the ground before allowing her foot to come down. A few seconds felt like a lifetime as she took it all in, and it suddenly struck her where she had been going wrong.
You have gained the skill, Stealth.
Stealth, as the name might suggest, improves the users ability to move silently through their environment. From passing through a crowd unnoticed, to tracking their prey through a forest, Stealth has a wide variety of uses. Highly dependent on the terrain the user is in, their knowledge of the area, and other factors, though a high stealth skill is always a boon.
Negative modifier to being detected by any mortal senses or special senses, opposing the targets applicable detection skill.
You have gained the sub skill, Rangers Stealth (Forest).
Ranger Stealth is an improved version of the Stealth skill. No longer generalised, it complements the original skill by improving the users ability to move through certain terrain, denoted by the sub category in the skill name. While others might take a more general approach to stealth, you have chosen to master just one, and your experience shows.
Ranger Stealth is added to the users Stealth skill when in terrain matching the sub category held by the user.
Gain an innate understanding of the terrain up to (Skill/5) meters away, to a minimum of 1, and what modifiers affect Stealth in that region. Only applicable in sub category terrain.
Leah blinked a few times as she looked first at her feet, then at the forest around her, wondering how it was she had been crashing through without any thought behind her actions before. It was so simple when she looked at it now, and she knew where she should be improving, at least in the short term. She looked back at Cassandra, who was giving her an odd look, and responded, self consciously.
“That… actually was very helpful. Thank you.”
Cassandra stood up straighter, and looked at Leah’s stance. She had definitely adjusted her weight better, and her eyes were picking through the undergrowth with a more discerning eye. Something had changed in her, and it had only taken her a few seconds of watching.
“…Leah, did you just learn Stealth?”
“Yeah, and something called Rangers stealth.”
A branch that Cassandra had been gently pushing out the way snapped harshly, causing a flock of birds nearby to startle into the air.
Her voice was strained but quiet, her training fighting against her emotional need to yell at the absurdity of what Leah had just said.
“How, no, I get it, just… That is just unfair.”
“…I’m guessing I skipped a few steps then.”
“More than a few. I thought it would take you at least a few days of watching me before you unlocked the skill. And Ranger Stealth too… that is really just unfair. I’m guessing its the (Forest) subcategory?”
“Considering we are in a forest? Yes, it is.”
“No, thats not what I meant. Thats the category of Ranger Stealth that I have. You must have picked it up from me.”
“And thats special, I take it?”
“Yes, because Ranger Stealth is a class skill for Ranger classes. I’ve heard of other classes learning it, but never so quickly. I hope thats just your trait in action, because if there are other people like you out there, I really might just give up and become a farmer.”
Smirking, and with her pride holding her up, she skipped elegantly forward, overtaking Cassandra.
“Well Cass, lets just hope I’m special then…”
She came crashing back down to earth as her foot caught on a rock and she almost fell, having to grab onto a branch to keep her balance. She heard Cassandra snickering behind her, and her ears turned red. She glared back at the elf who was taking pleasure in her bruised pride.
“Yeah, you are special all right. Come on, we can move faster now. Just pay attention, because your skill clearly isn’t that high yet. One day, you’ll be able to move through the woods like me.”
The two set off back on the trail, this time a great deal quieter, but for the whispered conversation back and forth. Leah had a thought from what Cass had said earlier.
“Wait, so if you thought it would take a few days for me to pick up the skill, why were you getting so upset with me making noise?”
“Because believe it or not, I might understand that it takes a while to learn things, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when some city girl is ruining my hunting trip with her bumbling.”
“Lets not forget it was you who invited me, or rather dragged me along. And how do you know I’m from a city anyway?”
“Please. No one who lives rural would be so inexperienced at hiking as you…”
The banter went back and forth for a while longer, before Cass held up her hand for them to stop, the other going to her lips in the apparently universal sign for silence. Leah did as she was told, watching as she pointed out a print in the ground, barely visible amongst the shrubbery on the forest floor. Cass leaned over to Leah, whispering into her ear. Her breath gently tickled her newly sensitive ear, and it twitched in response.
“Deer. A small group, not far off. No more talking unless I start it, or you’ll be going hungry tonight.”
Nodding, Leah zipped her lips as an affirmative, drawing another confused look from Cass. She sighed, and covered her mouth instead.
“Good enough. Lets go.”
The two set off, following the trail of the deer, Cass pointing out the signs as they passed almost silently through the forest. Spurred on by her earlier gains, Leah paid careful attention to where Cass was pointing, and watched as she scanned the forest floor, hoping to gain another skill she suspected the elf Ranger was using. Her efforts paid off, and a new notification flashed across Leah’s vision.
You have gained the skill, Tracking.
Tracking is the ability to identify and follow the trails of various creatures. With this skill, you can identify what animals have been through an area, and as it improves, the accuracy of what direction they are travelling, how many and other useful information improves with it. Experienced users can even detect an ambush simply from the feel of the air around them.
Positive modifier to any detection skill used when when identifying the trails of creatures in an area. Accuracy and bredth of information improves with level.
With this being the second time that detection skills had been mentioned, Leah made a mental note to ask Cass about the different kinds of skills when she next had an opportunity. She didn’t want to run the risk of losing her meal that evening, even if she didn’t especially need to eat. The rations they had eaten on the trail had been less than filling, even if Liam assured her that they were plenty enough to keep her going. As they travelled, more notifications appeared.[Make sure she asks about these]
You levelled the skill, Stealth. Its total level is now 5.
Experience gained from levelling a skill.
You levelled the skill, Ranger Stealth. Its total level is now 3.
Experience gained from levelling a skill.
You levelled the skill, Tracking. Its total level is now 2.
Experience gained from levelling a skill.
The notifications, while they didn’t seem to interfere with her vision of the world, were still irritatingly in her way. The task of focusing on two things at once distracted her, and had already caused a few blunders when they suddenly appeared. As if matching her thoughts, the latest notification shrunk, and fell away to the bottom corner of her vision, where it remained. Curious about this, she let it fade away, then tried to bring it back. It came back as if it had never left at all, in the same place. Time would tell if future notifications would do the same thing, but she had a good feeling about it. Hopefully, she wouldn’t get distracted by a notification at a bad time now.
Letting it fade back out of her vision, a thought struck her about how it looked. A quick mental nudge, and a bar appeared in the top left of her vision, unobtrusive, but easily accessible. It was her Mana bar, as of yet untouched. Another nudge added a smaller bar, for her Internal Mana Pool. It had recovered at some point in the journey, and she was still unaware of how long it took to recharge. Hopefully by having the information more readily at hand, she could make a better estimation, once she used some more. Maybe skipping the meal wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all… Her stomach complained at her, informing her that it most likely would be.
Cass called for another stop an hour after the picked up the trail. Kneeling next to a fern, she gently pushed it back, and sucked air through her teeth in frustration.
“This isn’t right. They should be slowing down to rest, but they just keep moving.”
“Could they know we’re tracking them?”
“No, we’re still a good ways off from them yet. I’d sense their presence long before they would detect ours, even with you crashing through the forest behind me.”
Ignoring the jab, Leah took a look at the footprint and trample leaf.
“It looks like it was running.”
“Yeah. And thats what worries me. What from? I don’t see any other tracks.”
She looked around, pulling her bow from its resting place on her shoulder.
“We should head back. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“I thought you said-”
“I know what I said, Leah, and I also know what my gut is telling me. There shouldn’t be anything out here that I can’t track. So either those deer are the luckiest bastards alive, or theres something dangerous out here, and we need safety in numbers. Let’s move.”
The two set off again, back the way they came, though at an angle, which Cassandra assured Leah was in the direction of the camp. Another fifteen minutes passed, a thick air of tension over the pair, both of them nervously darting their heads in the direction of any noises around them. The rapidly approaching night certainly didn’t help with the apprehension. A familiar thought at the back of Leah’s mind kept prodding her, telling her she didn’t need to be afraid, that she needed to pay attention, but she ignored it. She was absolutely certain now that something was following them, and it was getting closer. She wanted to speed up, and was about to tell Cass the same, when she felt a pair of eyes boring into her back. She froze, and sensing her partner stop, Cassandra turned around, nocking an arrow on her bow as she did so.
“Leah? Whats wrong? Don’t tell me your doing your thinking thing again, not now…”
“No… Cass… Theres something behind me…”
Leah’s voice came out in a strangled whisper, as she fought against the voice that was telling her to look around. Her whole body felt like lead, and she didn’t know if she could move even if something came running at her. Cassandra peered into the rising gloom behind her, keen eyes darting from side to side.
“Leah, theres nothing there. Don’t do this, you’re scaring me now…”
The voice was yelling at her now, practically begging her to turn around. She wanted nothing more than to ignore it, to switch it off, and wondered just where the hell it was coming from, when realisation struck in an instant, and the fear faded to a natural level.
You levelled the sub skill, Firewall. Its total level is now 2.
Experience gained from levelling a sub skill.
You levelled the skill, Parallel Processing. Its total level is now 2.
Experience gained from levelling a skill has been discarded due to the primary skill benefiting from a sub skills level. Experience will be applied when you next level the primary skill.
The voice had been her submind, shouting at her that she was under a mental influence. And once she became aware of it, all she had to do was let her submind take over for a moment, and the effect was broken. She took a deep breath, and spun around on her heel, thankful for her dexterity allowing a more graceful act than she otherwise would have been able to perform. She felt whatever influence was assaulting her mind still out there, trying to get back in, and her eyes tried to track it, ears twitching at every tiny noise. The world felt vibrant and alive as she dedicated all her focus to detecting what was out there.
“There definitely is. Something just tried to get in my head. Its still trying, but I’ve got its number now. Stay alert.”
“Get in your head? Shit.”
Cassandra’s face set in a firm expression, the fear that had been clouding it moments ago fading away.
“If it works out it can’t get you, its going to go for me next. Whatever it is, its bad, and its almost certainly a monster. If I freeze up like you just did, you need to run. You won’t be able to stop it, I’ll already be dead.”
“No way, I’m not leaving you behind to get killed-”
“Yes you will. I brought you out here, you are my responsibility. You know the direction we were travelling, run that way and make as much noise as you can. If you find Liam, tell him what happened, and pray that he can get here in time. Now, we’re going to back away slowly, and see if we can’t spook it now that you shook off its mojo.”
Still determined not to leave behind the Ranger, Leah kept her mouth shut and followed Cass as the two of them backed away through the undergrowth, taking turns to check that they weren’t about to walk into a tree, or worse. The presence shifted around as it followed them, and the pressure never let up on Leah’s mind. Again, the two walked in tense and anxious silence, broken only by their footsteps on the underbrush, neither making the effort to conceal their presence any longer. As they crawled slowly backward, Leah ran over everything she knew, every bit of knowledge she had gained from her short time in this world, trying to think of any way she could give them an advantage. Whatever the effect was, it was clearly supernatural. Nothing mundane could give off that level of malice and fear. So if it was supernatural, it could be reasonably assumed, at least with Leah’s limited knowledge, that it had to be manipulating mana. It was a leap, but the only reasonable one she could make, and she had to start taking chances here. So if it was manipulating mana, could she detect that? She knew she could see mana, but it was a chaotic mess, and she could only resolve this mess into useful information when her mundane senses could resolve it. Or could she?
Having no frame of reference, but an inkling of an idea, she pushed all her attention inside herself, letting her submind take over walking and watching the real world. The submind reported a notification, but she suppressed it for the moment. Now was the time for deep focus. She watched the mana that her body had accumulated, through a sense that felt detached from her body. She knew where it was, and what it was doing, so long as it stayed within and around her. She’d never actively tried to manipulate it before, but it had to be doable, else what was the point of it? So, she singled out a strand, wrapping around her hand, and tried to get it to move outwards from her body. She felt a resistance, like something pushing against her mind, and the strand expanded outwards, its radius growing as it kept up the same motion. She noted that her mana hadn’t depleted after doing this. Feeling vindicated, she tried again, this time focusing on the entire swirl around her. She imagined it growing and condensing together, the disparate flows and channels becoming a net around her, and then pushed out with it. At once, the flows obeyed her will, and a dense grid of flowing lines formed around her, connected to her body by thick ropes. It slowly expanded, and she felt her mana begin to drop as the flows rent and split in places, mana leaking back out into the world. She pushed it out further, now a meter from her body. The mana loss increased, and she gave it a small amount of her attention. 1 mana per second on maintainance.
Managable for now. She turned her attention back to the net, which now encompassed Cassandra, and sensed her, without the feeling passing through her senses.
It was as if she could understand everything inside the net as if she were looking, smelling, hearing, touching, all at the same time. And Cass was no exception. When she focused in on the elf, she could sense every curve and ridge of her armour, and the body underneath it. She quickly turned her attention away. There was no sense getting distracted, even if she was processing the world faster than normal inside her own head. The submind reported another notification, but she told it not to report any further. She needed all her concentration if she was going to pull this off in time. Precious seconds passed, her mana dropping with them, as she played with the net, and learned what it could do. If she shrunk it down and pushed it in just one direction, the cost dropped considerably. If she pushed it further, the cost grew. Nice and simple. She could see things from further away if she didn’t try to see too much at once. Feeling once again for where the presence was coming from, she was frustrated with only a vague direction. Putting aside why she could detect the presence assaulting her at all, she made the net as narrow as she felt comfortable, and pushed it outwards, away from the pair and hopefully towards whatever was out there. 10 meters, 30, 50. She grew it, slowly at first, then slowed as the mana drain went from a trickle into a flood. Her mana was still draining fast when she picked up on an oddity, sitting amongst the branches of a tree, 30 meters ahead and slightly to their right. She passed back over it, confirming it wasn’t a trick of her mind, and narrowed her net as much as she could on the target, as not to lose it again. Whatever it was, it was grotesque. It looked like nothing she had ever seen before, except maybe in some creepy pasta on the internet. Vaguely man shaped, it felt like it was moulded from roots and bones, with a loose skin of something rubbery constantly shifting across it. She let her submind take over the task of monitoring it, and returned to her body. She stopped, and held up a hand for Cass to do the same. Cassandra spared a glance towards Leah before returning to checking around them.
“Leah? Did it get you again?”
“Tree. 30 meters ahead, 1 o’clock. About… 6 meters up. Can you hit that?”
Her breath was clipped and forced, as she felt the comforting presence of the mana surrounding her bleed away to nothing. It left an emptiness behind it that seemed to want to suck at her and everything nearby.
Not interested in another round of cross culture confusion, Leah pointed at the tree directly.
“That tree. Hurry, I can’t maintain this…”
Without another word, Cassandra drew, sighted and fired in a single motion. The shot was straight and true, and an otherworldly wail filled the night air. Suddenly, the presence was no longer a presence, but a shape, that barrelled away from its perch, and into the night away from them. Cass grabbed Leah’s arm, shouldering her bow with her other hand, and shouted,
The two turned around and fled through the woods, just barely avoiding an all out sprint for fear of tripping in the dark. Behind them, they heard crashing and rustling as whatever it was decided that it could take them after all, and the noise only spurred them on. The two crashed through the night, bursting through shrubbery, and breaking branches as they went. Once or twice, Leah was sure she saw something only meters away, keeping pace easily, but she continued to run, focused only on following Cassandra’s trail, the elven Ranger beating a path for the both of them with her expertise. Then suddenly, she stopped. Too fast for Leah, who barrelled past her, and over the edge that Cassandra had noticed in time, and tumbled down a short rocky hill, sharp pains covering her arms and legs from various impacts, before rolling in a heap at the base of it. Alert a moment later, she pushed herself up, eyes and ears darting around, and she whipped her head around, rock in hand, about to hit whatever it was coming towards her, when she recognised the scarred mess looking past her with a steely look. Liam held his dagger at the ready, and leaned down to haul her to her feet with his other hand.
“Leah. Nice of you to drop in, but could you tell us if you are bringing a guest next time?”