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Grendel was slowly dragging his feet unchallenged in the direction of the still closed gate when someone called him out. "Grendel, wait!" He turned around. It was Apothecary Alvus.

"I believe you humans would like me out of your town the sooner the better. I will take the orcs away into the wilderness, rest assured. I'm also very sorry about the Baron and his men, but they attacked first."

Behind him were several adventurers, Cloude and Rowdy included. They were wary of the troll but none had drawn weapons. And then one of the young girls that made the flower wreath dashed between the legs of the men.

"You took it! Our wreath! Are you really a bad monster, mister?" The girl jumped past some adventurer that tried to grab her and hugged his leg.

"Yes, I am. I killed a lot of people. I even ate some of them. I'm dangerous. You should go back to your parents, they are worried with you. And you shouldn't touch me." He peeled the girl off. "Now there is blood in your cute dress. Don't go near any monsters, including me. People will give you weird names. Lock you in jail for just that."

"Liar!" The girl shouted. "Grendel is a big liar! The blue window told me Grendel is my friend. That I am a friend of all monsters! And the blue window never lies!"

'One more with that funky title'. He thought. "Alvus, please look after these people. They are getting some weird 'Friend of Monster' title after interacting with me. They will be persecuted and I don't like it. Worse yet, I won't be here to protect them. Cloude! Step forward."

The young warrior was befuddled after being singled out. But he came after being pushed by Rowdy. "What do you want of me."

Grendel opened a large sack that had some staves upside down sticking out of it. From it he took a sword wrapped in a piece of cloth. "I want you to have this. It is a fancy sword I got from some idiots that tried to kill me. I have no use for it. Here."

Cloude unwrapped the blade and let it fall to the ground, surprised. He had recognized the sword. It was a priceless national treasure, the 'Shining Blade'. It was the blade of Helmholtz, the magic swordsman leader of the party named after the sword. "I can't have this. I was there with Marcy, tracking Helmholtz and the other adventurers. Then Marcy shouted something about Helen and we heard a roar. We panicked and ran away. I'm not worthy."

"As I suspected it was Marcy shouting. The roar was mine. These guys almost had me. Well, I have to thank you for leaving your bags behind. They were very useful. If the blade is that important, sell it or do whatever you want. It is your problem now."

"Do you have the stuff from the other three?"

"Yeah. But I won't give them away. If you want them, buy them off of me." Grendel took a shield, a staff and a bow from the same sack. Each of these items were well worth over a hundred gold coins. "Name your price."

Alvus took the lead. "I'll give you twenty mid-grade healing potions for each of these tools. In a hardened travel case so they won't break."

"Yeah, deal." Some of the more money-savvy in the audience were left slack-jawed. A mid-grade healing potion was a bit less than a gold coin each. But the troll valued utility over monetary value. He would have to find someone that would accept money to be able to trade. To a monster, that was just shiny metal. To be honest, he would even just leave them behind if Alvus asked.

"Come to my clinic to get the potions then. I guess I could also get some seamstresses to repair your stuff and clothing." Grendel knew the apothecary wanted to stall him from leaving town. He could not figure out the reason. He followed anyway. Once again the crowd of farmers and villagers watched Grendel from the sideways. With the gates closed shut and the fields taken by the orcs they had nothing else to do anyway.

The other girls came led by the first one. "Mister, is it true that we will get a special power if we hug your leg?"

"No. You will get a special trouble. And it will be hard to find a husband later."

"Don't believe him! He is a big liar. Attack!" The other girl became something of a leader of the little girl squad. They ran and grabbed his leg. The troll had to remain still or he would risk hurting one of these little tykes. "You have to hug him like he was your gramps during the winter festival!"

One by one the girls let out a surprised shout. "I got it!" "Me too!" "Yes, I'm a friend too." They let go of Grendel's leg after each one of them confirmed the title.

"Alvus, just take the weapons and keep the potions. I have to get out before I taint the entire population."

"No. Come with me. Hey adventurers, escort the troll. Don't let any other townsfolk get near him."

The ridicule of the situation was lost to everyone there. The adventurers were escorting the monster. There were no other incidents until they reached Alvus' clinic. The middle-aged apothecary opened a gate to his backyard herbal garden and told Grendel to wait there. The adventurers didn't enter and Grendel was left alone. The fence was tall enough to block view even for someone as tall as Grendel and the smell of the herbs was pleasant.

After a while, Alvus returned with a woman. She had short red hair and resembled Marcy. Probably her mother. Grendel pinched his brow and then noticed a small rat wearing a leather collar on the woman's lap.

"This is Ms. Mercy, Marcy's mother. She is a midwife. We want you to take this child with you if you are going to look for Helen." Alvus picked up the rat and placed the critter on the ground. The rat ran and sniffed Grendel. It squeaked and then climbed the troll, crawling inside one of his strapped backpacks.

Grendel placed the backpack in the ground along with the crate and opened it. The rat was hugging the collar they found on the dead rat near the meadow.

"Is this one also one of Helen's? I found this collar on a dead rat near my place in the woods."

"Yes, the collars are equal. I had them made for her. These rats are Helen's familiars. She left this child behind to act as a guide for you. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to get you your potions."

As part of her plan to escape prison, Helen used her magic to bind twelve rats to herself, the magician's familiar pact. She could share the senses of the familiars and used them as eyes and ears to trace her escape. She would not have made it without the help of these rats. During that time she sent one rat after Marcy and Cloude when they went into the woods to track the whereabouts of the Shining Blades but that rat succumbed to the poisonous Death Willow Fog. Before leaving on the wood golem, she ordered a rat to remain behind in Alvus' clinic.

"She... Did she tell you about me?"

"Yes. She told us and at first, we didn't believe. I was treating her wounds inside the prison. I must tell you that girl was the strongest person I've ever seen. She escaped on her own and took Marcy with her. They went north."

Mercy approached the troll and touched his hand, "Please look after those girls. We know you were human once. They are alone there. Find them and keep them safe."

"You don't mind having your daughter associate with a monster?"

"This world is crooked. If I look at you and at the men that were plotting to kill an innocent girl just to fertilize the soil with her blood, who is the monster?"

"Both. Don't be fooled."

"At least you are aware. Don't lose that awareness."

"Well, Alvus will take a while. I'll get rid of the excess weight here, don't mind me." Grendel sat on the ground and opened the crate. He ate all the monster cores inside. There wasn't many, and the highest rank was C. But he would convert all of those into points, and then he could use his unique skill to get more skills.

You gained 12,248 monster core points. Available Points: 42,544 - Lifetime Points: [43,321 / 100,000]

Skill Loot Crate Maniac level 5.

Allows the user to summon Loot Crates containing skill crystals. These crystals contain a different skill each and are exclusive to the user. Unused crystals disappear in 1 hour. Upon consumption, the wearer will learn the skill contained in the crystal. Uses monster core points. From 3 to 5 crystals will be given in each chest. +1 max range of crystal for every 2 skill levels. (3 ~ 7 at level 4).

Crate Rank Point Cost   Crate Rank Point Cost
Peasant Crate (Rank: J) 2   Duke Crate (Rank: C) 1,500
Merchant Crate (Rank: I) 8   Lord Crate (Rank: A) 15,000
Knight Crate (Rank: G) 15   King Crate (Rank: S) 150,000
Count Crate (Rank: E) 150   Emperor Crate (Rank: SS) 1,500,000

Grendel had already played a little with the skill and summoned peasant and knight crates. The peasant crate had only joke skills like 'Belching', 'Complaining', and labor ones like 'Farming'. The knight crate had some less crappy but rather common skills combat-oriented skills. But now he was going to aim for the big fish. He had enough points to get two 'Lord Crates' whatever that meant.

He activated the skill and paid for two 'Loot Crates'. He wondered again if he were that much of a microtransaction maniac back on Earth. Two complex magic circles containing several interlocking rings made of purple light appeared. The rings floated up and down in a seemingly random pattern but after a while all of them aligned. The rings went up and produced an opaque surface then slowly went down. As they descended two silvered chests made of carefully engraved hardwood appeared. These chests would be worthy enough to carry a mighty gift to some prince.

But Grendel knew the chests would vanish after he removed the crystals or after the hour. He opened them and found twelve crystals. Upon picking them up the knowledge of the skill was imprinted in his mind. The skills he got were Shadow Clones (S), Item Duplication (S), Control Animals (A), Telekinesis (A), X-ray Vision (A), Size-Shifting (A), Eidetic Memory (A), Immovable (A), Spider Web (A), Lord's Tailoring (A), Eat Anything (B), Princess' Scrapbooking (B).

"It seems the joke skills are peppered at every rank," Thought Grendel after he touched the last crystal. The chests vanished and Grendel ate all the crystals, making the skills his own. He could get some crates of a lower rank too, but he was running low on SP.

He was so absorbed in the joy of opening the Loot Crates that he forgot he was being watched.

"That thing with the chests right now... What was that, if I may ask?" Mercy was there with a puzzled look.

"Just something I do to learn new skills. Keep this a secret between just the two of us, okay?"

"Of course." She answered without batting an eye. Grendel did not feel danger from her. She was sending the monster after her own daughter after all. It was strange but they were probably giving a great weight to the 'former human' part of his backstory. Not entirely wrong.

Alvus returned with a leather box after a while. It was even bulkier than the crate Grendel discarded. The apothecary noticed the troll's gaze shifting between the box and crate.

"I'm sorry. This was the smallest potion carrier I could find that would fit sixty potions. It is for a hundred potions but I can guarantee their safety inside this case."

"And the next smaller one was for how many potions?"

"Forty."

"Then I'll take that one. The other twenty potions you will give to Cloude in secret. Tell him that these potions are to be used only if trouble arises, to bring you two, himself and Rowdy to the Death Willow Meadow. I can guarantee that zone will be free of monsters. And if any humans go there without my permission, well... I don't like invaders."

"That is very generous of you. I'll go move the potions to another container then."

"It is time you hire some help, Alvus. I know a girl that will love to become your apprentice. I'm bringing her tomorrow whether you like it or not."

"Yes, Ms. Mercy. I will agree with you this time."

Alvus returned with a potion case that was way smaller than the first one. Grendel could carry it strapped to his waist and his movements would not be hindered.

"Well, I think I'll be going. There will be trouble coming your way because of what you did here. If you need to seek refuge, go to the Willow Meadow. I'm sure you have antitoxins to help resist the fumes. I'm done here then. I'm going north now. Can I ask you for a piece of worn clothing with your scent? I'll use it to give it to my minions so they can identify you. I already have Cloude and Marcy's."

There were two distinct sets of bags from those gathered by the devil monkeys after the battle with the Shining Blades. You could tell them apart because the leather used and the backpack's designs were radically different. One set was for four people and had medals with the renowned adventurers' party symbol, the others were more modest and belonged to a man and a woman. Adding everything together, it was obvious that they were Cloude and Marcy. The apothecary and the midwife took their own shirts and handed them over to Grendel.

"About the maintenance on your clothes..."

"You don't need to worry. I can do that myself. Bye Alvus. You two were an island of decency in this town."

"Wait. I have this crude map of the region north of here. It might help you. We don't know what town she went to, but probably they crossed into the northern Ascot Kingdom. It is probably one of the towns of Barnsley or Colchester."

"Thanks a lot. And between here and there... there is this town, Strawford. This one is still in Heorot, right?"

"That is correct. Have a safe trip."

Grendel activated his trademark strengthening skill and just went away leaping over the buildings and eventually bounding over the wall and into the crop fields. He had a bearing, he had new minions, he had even a new traveling companion. It was time to make a long trip.

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Skill Growth:

Skill Loot Crate Maniac level 5.

Skill Shadow Clones (S) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to summon clones of themselves spending ST. Can create a maximum of one clone per level. Clones have 60% + <level> x 3% of the user's own stats and skills. Each clone summoned after the first reduces that percentage by 4%.

Skill Item Duplication (S) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to create a perfect duplicate any item. A number of monster core points equal to twenty times the item's cost in silver coins must be used. This cost is reduced by <level> x 6%.

Skill Control Animals (A) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to tame and control non-monstrous animals. A maximum of one animal per level can be tamed. Tame animals receive a bonus to all stats equal to <level> x 4.

Skill Telekinesis (A) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to move items weighing up to <level> x <level> x <level> x 5 lb spending MP at a distance of up to <level> x <level> x 2 feet. Precision and speed of movement increse if a lighter weight is lifted. Items cannot be moved fast enough to damage a creature.

Skill X-ray Vision (A) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to see through up to <level> feet of solid opaque materials. The distance is divided by a factor depending on the material: Wood: no change. Dirt: 2. Stone: 3. Metal: 6. Lead: impossible. Costs a large amount of ST each minute of use.

Skill Size-Shifting (A) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to increase or reduce own size by up to 15% per level (405% ~ 20% at level 10). Costs ST every 10 minutes. The user can get stuck inside a tight space if caution is not used.

Skill Eidetic Memory (A) level 1 awakened.

Passive. Allows the user to remember perfectly any event after the acquisition of this skill. Increases own status by <level> x 100% to resist memory manipulation.

Skill Immovable (A) level 1 awakened.

Passive. As long as the user does not move own feet, increases resistance to any effect attempting to move the user by <level> x 25%. Does not allow the user to hang in the air.

Skill Spider Web (A) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to spend ST to create spider webs. The strength of webs increases with level. ST costs to weave webs decrease with level.

Skill Lord's Tailoring (A) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to create items of clothing of excellent quality. Value and aesthetic sense of created clothing increase with level.

Skill Eat Anything (B) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to gain nourishment from any kind of matter. The rate of absorption and quality of nourishment increases with level. Does not alter the taste.

Skill Princess' Scrapbooking (B) level 1 awakened.

Allows the user to craft scrap materials into wonderfully cute scrapbooks. Value and artistic sense of created scrapbooks increase with level.

Grendel's Status:
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About the author

MDW

Bio: The author would like to reinforce for the umpteenth time that the characters' opinions are their own, may be intentionally wrong, do not reflect my (MDW's) personal viewpoints neither are included in this work to further any political agenda (I don't even live in the same hemisphere or country as you, whichever those are. I'm writing from the Earth-Sun L3 point for all I care). My works serve no purpose other than to tell stories with conflicting viewpoints. Use of the reader's critical sense is highly advised.

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