|Target host found!|
|Negotiating with host…|
Please. Please… anything but this. Someone—anyone, save me… Tabi gasped for each ragged breath in fright as clawed hands scrabbled, pawed, and grabbed at her leather jerkin to tug and drag her prone form through the muck and matted plant vegetation. Her head was in splitting agony from the blow struck to her temple, a fresh line of blood snaked down her brow to run across her dirt-smeared face, and Tabi’s entire body ached from the beating she’d taken.
The hunched-over creatures snarled and hissed at each other in a guttural form of speech she didn’t understand, and raw terror urged her to struggle again. With the last of her ebbing strength Tabi flailed, attempting to twist out of those filthy hands and resist being pulled into the goblin den. A novice adventurer of only thirteen summers, Tabi knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that once she was stolen away into that foul-smelling hole, there would be no return.
|Target host accepts!|
|Overwriting Tabi Mure…|
Annoyed by their captive’s uncooperative kicking and screaming, one of the goblins struck her across the face with a gnarled fist. The haphazard punch had more than enough force to stun Tabi into stillness. She tried to blink—the world seemed like it was spinning—and that knobby goblin hand came down across her twice more for good measure. Tabi sputtered out a mouthful of blood, seized, sagged, lurched, and then—
|Tabi Mure → Tabitha Moore|
|Level||2 → 16||Health||13/70 → 52/280|
|Strength||6 → 30||Intelligence||13 → 64|
|Dexterity||7 → 44||Wisdom||7 → 35|
|Constitution||6 → 26||Charisma||5 → 40|
Disoriented and confused, Tabitha let out a startled breath of surprise, shrugging off her would-be captors with a shove and sitting up in alarm.
She was outside somewhere, seated on a sloping streambank at the bottom of an overgrown gulley leafy with ferns and foliage. Scattered sunbeams broke the canopy of branches overhead here and there, illuminating a gloomy ravine bottom. Steep, muddy banks and the stagnant puddles remained of what might have been a small stream in rainier seasons, and the apparent passage of water had eroded the empty streambed into overhangs of tree roots and trapped soil.
The goblins rushed her, all five of them pouncing at the same time to knock her flat into the sludge again.
“What the—who—?” Tabitha screamed out. “Get the fuck off of me!”
To the collective surprise of the creatures, this didn’t seem to be the last surge of strength of a cornered animal. The young adventurer girl they’d subdued so easily earlier was inexplicably now five times stronger. Tabitha’s panicked thrashing broke one shocked goblin’s arm and two of the others were thrown off of her as if from a bucking horse. The goblin hunting party’s leader, Scassh, raked filthy claws across the girl’s bare arm. The supple human flesh that should have sliced and split between his sharp digits was now impossibly tougher and hardier than it had been moments ago—he left only bloody scrapes behind.
“Ow, ow! That fucking hurts!”
Realizing something had gone horribly wrong, the goblin leader’s grotesque features twisted in dismay. Scassh was already trying to disengage when Tabitha kicked him, but the sheer force of the strike caved in his chest with a crunch of snapping bones and folded the goblin scout in two around the girl’s boot. He was killed instantly.
|Goblin Scassh has been defeated!|
|150 XP Gained!
“Stop, stop!” Tabitha shrieked. “Get the—get the fucking fuck OFF OF ME!”
Managing to fight her way back up onto one knee, Tabitha grabbed the final hissing and biting goblin that was trying to claw its way atop her by the arm and hurled him. The gangly creature flew, landing hard on the slope of the distant bank with a heavy splat. One of its limbs—as well as the entire shoulder it was attached to—twisted backwards in the muck with the impact, and dark-looking blood blossomed beneath the skin across its naked abdomen as organs ruptured. The thing let out a brief inhuman squawk that faded into a choked, gurgling rattle as it died.
|Goblin has been defeated!|
|75 XP Gained!
“What the—what the fuck?!” Tabitha yelled out as she stumbled to her feet.
One of the surviving goblins rose from the ferns and growled out something that sounded like ghrassu vlat and was almost certainly some form of swearing, but its two companions were already scurrying away through the brush in different directions. The monstrous creature regarded Tabitha with hateful beady eyes for one last lingering moment. Then the hideous goblin turned away with a hiss and made his own escape.
“What the fuck,” Tabitha repeated breathlessly, wheeling around in dismay.
She felt exhausted, battered with bruises and covered with scratches and cuts— many of them stinging, deep, nasty ones. Her clothing was unfamiliar and hanging on her in wet, filthy tatters. It felt like she’d crawled her way through a flooded latrine or a sewer, and she had no idea what the fuck was even—
No. No, I DO know what’s going on, Tabitha realized, grabbing for the knife she kept on her belt. The empty leather sheath dangled there, flaccid and impotent. Tabi’s treasured knife was long gone. I... sort of know what’s going on. Sort of. Kind of?
She was once Tabi Mure, an orphan peasant girl pressed into becoming a novice adventurer at the promise of coin. The insides of her skull felt positively slick with unfamiliar memories and the context of Tabi Mure could be immediately gleaned in a weird, unsettling way. Everything she could grasp about the situation seemed like completely bad news, but at the very least Tabitha had a distant sense of what the hell was going on.
Focusing on the slight mental pressure lurking on the periphery of her awareness, Tabitha allowed the waiting status windows to appear one by one, examining them with disbelief as they swam into view.
|Class: Adventurer (E Rank) → Undefined (Err̸o̵r̵ Ran̴͖̫̗̙̖̆k̶̳͎̱͎̓͋̒̋̽̐̀)̵̡̳͓̹͕̞̉̽̄̉̚͝|
A problem has occurred with Class Advancement.
Please notify your Undefiň̷̥ed Class Trainer for assistance.
Adventurer Basic Survival (Simple) → Martial Art: Taekwondo (Yellow Belt)
→ Movement Art: Parkour (White Band)
|Short Run (400 Paces) → Sustained Run (10,000 Paces)|
|Literacy (Simple) → Literature (Advanced)|
|Handcrafting (Simple) → Craft Specialization: Climbing Harness (Advanced)|
|Mure Region Cooking (Simple) → Undefined Cooking (Erro̴̤̎ȓ̵̪)̵̟̼̱͛|
A problem has occurred with Skill Advancement.
Please notify your Unḏ̵͕̣͊́̚e̷͔̝̖͌f̷͓̈́́͂̆̔̈́̎̕̕ ḛ̸̡̨̤͕̤̤̥̙̞͈͖͈͙̲̞̈́͂͑̄͊͊͒̒̓̕͠d̷͖̱̰̀͜ Cl s̵̛͇͙̗͓̩͍͍̟̼̥͛̇̋͑̋͑̒̈́͌̆̚̕ r̵̻͍̞͙͇̗̔à̷̟̥̘̪͔͚̩̖̜͋̎͂͌͝͝ỉ̵̹̖̱̖͈̥̝͉͎̭̩̻̆ņ̸̼͓͙̫͖͙͒e̸͇̺̳̠̖͔͍̞̤̩̪̥̪͑̈́̅͐̈́͑͋̆͒̂̆͜ͅͅ f̷͍̙͇͍͇̲̬̃̒̑́͒̐̔̒͒͊̀̌͜͠ơ̷̧͙̝̰̦̗̲͚̞̣͕̹̗̙̈́́̑̅͌̓̽̽͂͐̚͝ͅ a̸̢̨̯͇̬͝s̶̢̳̱̏̈̌̅̏̈́̇̈́̆͊̐̓̆͛̈́̕ ì̴̫̞̊͂̒̈̓̒̋̿̀̃͒͌s̷̛̝̬̙̜͑̈́͂̈́̽͆͊̐͗̂̽̽̃̚̚ţ̵̢̛̰̟͍̫̖͖̙̦̈́̀̏̈̉̎͊͗ͅͅà̷̗̘̳̦̹̩̮̹͍̻͈̖͊͂̇̿̀͒͗́͛͋͋̕ ę̸̮̊̓͐͂̈́͊͑͊̐́̑͘͝͠͝..̴̢̼͕͍̱͔̪͍̭̫̲̻̍̎͒̽̕̚
Arithmetic (Simple) → Mathematics: Algebra (Error)
→ Mathematics: Geometry (Error)
→ Mą̶̞͗͊̉̆ṱ̶̟͚̭͎̙͔̝̖̿̄̀̃͜͝ẖ̸͖̜͖̝́ mat̴̼͔̺̟̹͂̏́̍̓͠ḯ̶̲͈͑̂ s̴͚̺͑: Č̶̢̡̢͇̦͕̹̭̰̙̦̹̙͙̜̓̇̂̐̌́̒̚͠ą̶̣͙̟͓͇̮̠̫̯̱͔̣̊̽̍̓̿̏͒͗͘l̵̡̛͍̲̗̦̝͎̹̜̤͎͙̪͍̋̒͜c̶̘͊͌́̀̆̔̕͝ ļ̵͈̹͓̝̩̘̥̭͍͔̽̑͌̄͗̉͋̂̏͗͋͝ȗ̶̠̳̄̓̇̍s̶̲̯̯̳̈́̌͑̍͝ (E̶̡̢̦͇͎͈̙̤̯͈͓̯̪̳̝̪͖̱̋͐̓͑́͑͌̄͆̈́̄̉̎̈́̕͜͝͠r̸̗̤̂̐͐͑̕r̸̡̨̙͈̗͖̲̠̲͔̝̮͓͙̝̘̖͖̺̙̼̯̹̱̰͍̹̹̫̪̺̘̹̜̫̈́̏̋́̔̇̇̏͆̇͑̎͒̉̎̈́̏͑͊̑̆̏̀̇͊̌͑̚͜͜͜͝ͅǫ̸͍̹̮̝͕̥̳̩̣̣̯͉̲͔̪̳̬͕̪̜͗̈͑̌̂͐̋̀̇͜͠ͅr̷̥͉̩͓̻̬̖͕̜̖̬͖̹̜͋̌̄͝)
A probl m has oc urred with Sk ll Adv ncement.
Plea̸̺͝se no ify yo̷̲͝ r Unḏ̵͕̣͊́̚e̷͔̝̖͌f̷͓̈́́͂̆̔̈́̎̕̕ ḛ̸̡̨̤͕̤̤̥̙̞͈͖͈͙̲̞̈́͂͑̄͊͊͒̒̓̕͠d̷͖̱̰̀͜ Cl s̵̛͇͙̗͓̩͍͍̟̼̥͛̇̋͑̋͑̒̈́͌̆̚̕ r̵̻͍̞͙͇̗̔à̷̟̥̘̪͔͚̩̖̜͋̎͂͌͝͝ỉ̵̹̖̱̖͈̥̝͉͎̭̩̻̆ņ̸̼͓͙̫͖͙͒e̸͇̺̳̠̖͔͍̞̤̩̪̥̪͑̈́̅͐̈́͑͋̆͒̂̆͜ͅͅ f̷͍̙͇͍͇̲̬̃̒̑́͒̐̔̒͒͊̀̌͜͠ơ̷̧͙̝̰̦̗̲͚̞̣͕̹̗̙̈́́̑̅͌̓̽̽͂͐̚͝ͅ a̸̢̨̯͇̬͝s̶̢̳̱̏̈̌̅̏̈́̇̈́̆͊̐̓̆͛̈́̕ ì̴̫̞̊͂̒̈̓̒̋̿̀̃͒͌s̷̛̝̬̙̜͑̈́͂̈́̽͆͊̐͗̂̽̽̃̚̚ţ̵̢̛̰̟͍̫̖͖̙̦̈́̀̏̈̉̎͊͗ͅͅà̷̗̘̳̦̹̩̮̹͍̻͈̖͊͂̇̿̀͒͗́͛͋͋̕ ę̸̮̊̓͐͂̈́͊͑͊̐́̑͘͝͠͝..̴̢̼͕͍̱͔̪͍̭̫̲̻̍̎͒̽̕̚
A dozen more garbled windows followed, each successive one growing more unreadable than the last. With an uneasy laugh, Tabitha dismissed all of the remaining Skill Advancement windows. From what she could surmise, this system failed to translate a lot of her previous life correctly into concepts here.
My previous life… Tabitha felt herself begin to tear up. No, no. No time to think about it right now. I’ll—I’ll figure it out somehow. Right now I’m in danger. Need to focus on surviving.
The two broken goblin corpses strewn across the bottom of the gulley were a grisly reminder. Tabi had been utterly terrified by the creatures—and with good reason—but that weaker girl had been subsumed. Looking at the gory stinking remains, Tabitha Moore felt only nausea and disgust. It was a bit like looking at some large animal she’d accidentally hit with her Honda Pilot on one of Kentucky’s back roads. Roadkill. She hadn’t intended to murder them and didn’t wish violence on anyone, but... it had happened. They were dead, and Tabitha didn’t want to dwell on the fact a moment longer than necessary.
There was still an insistent vague pressure and she knew there were still a few more status windows demanding her attention— these ones even felt more important somehow— but Tabitha needed to take a look around her and get her bearings. The vast swath of forest to the far west of her hometown Mure could be a dangerous place.
The small creekbed had been drying up for days and days, and it wasn’t one significant enough for Tabi to remember from any oral description of the area. Glancing from one end of the small valley to the other, Tabitha couldn’t even tell which direction the water flowed when there was water, and that was a problem. Her cursory glances at the muck and dark clay covering her entire body revealed several gashes that needed immediate attention, and in Tabi’s small experience that meant she needed a source of fresh water to clean her wounds.
Behind her, buried deep in the recesses of an outcropping of tangled roots, was a goblin warren. The opening was small, not something she could enter just on her hands and knees. To get inside, she would have to actually crawl, slither down some fair stretch of tunnel, the sides of which were packed with pressed goblin feces and the parts of animal carcasses that goblins were unable to digest.
Which, obviously, I’m never, EVER going to do, Tabitha decided, taking a healthy step back from the entrance.
Tabi had been an E Rank Adventurer, which didn’t have much of an analogous comparison to anything from Tabitha Moore’s world. It was the necessary rank to explore the wildlands on her own to harvest bundles of tillyweed. Because of how dangerous the forests were, citizens weren’t allowed outside the far boundary wall without a minimum E Rank— feeding even helpless humans to monsters was commonly known to slightly stimulate monster’s growth, making them more intelligent and cunning and ultimately raising their threat level.
Or worse, girls getting dragged away to become a goblin seedbed, Tabitha thought to herself, warily eyeing the goblin warren one last time and then heading off down the ravine a ways. She was now fourteen full levels higher than the poor ill-fated Level 2 Tabi Mure, but there was no sense taking any chances. When she was a fair distance down the old creekbed she climbed up the slope to where she had a better view of her surroundings, and then finally released her mental hold on the status messages.
|Host retains memory buffer when targeted by time revision magics, skills, or effects.|
|Host remains lucid when targeted by dream encroaching magics, skills, or effects.|
|Host values aggregate for local conversion when traversing incompatible realms.|
Okay. Bonuses, maybe, Tabitha thought, reading them over again before dismissing them. Cool. Definitely sound handy, but I honestly really, REALLY hope I’ll never be in those kinds of situations to need them. There’s… apparently both time magic and dream intrusion? What the fuck else do I need to watch out for, then?
Titles seemed to be rare, at least. Tabi hadn’t been aware of any titles besides Lord, because there was a ‘Lord Conneran’ who ruled over the several small towns and one little city that existed in their region.
Whatever. Not important, Tabitha decided. Not a priority, right now.
She was seriously hurting. Her health had at some point ticked down a few numbers to 48, but she wasn’t extremely clear on what the points represented beyond the obvious. Every part of her body ached with bruises and injuries as if she’d taken a bad tumble down a long staircase and then been unkindly dragged back up said stairway for another tumble or two.
Well... I also want to see what I look like, Tabitha admitted to herself with a wince. It’s not superfluous or vain in this situation. I actually have no idea who I really just QUANTUM LEAPED into. Memories are suspect, I want to—no, I NEED to see this and really confirm it for myself.
If her circumstances were to be believed—and despite the twists and turns her life had taken she found herself a little incredulous—she was in someone else’s body, in someone else’s world. A fantasy world by every indication, with monsters and magic, where personal attributes were measured and expressed by some intangible systemic entity. As game stats. Although Tabitha had never been a real gamer, she’d lived through 2045 and it was impossible for her to be unaware of the Elder Scrolls Eight memes that permeated every crevice of the net. Large game releases had long since eclipsed television and film as hyped-up cultural events.
“Status,” Tabitha said aloud.
“Info,” Tabitha tried all the popular voice commands she remembered. “User commands. Menu. Help. Emergency logout. Inventory. Item box. Settings?”
The ridgeline she was hiking along began to taper off to the sheer drop of a cliff on one side, so she decided to double back down into the ravine. There was no moving water in sight, and this part of the gulch didn’t look particularly familiar, but the trail the goblins had left through the forest when dragging Tabi towards their den was impossible to miss. Even if the grass and leaves weren’t completely trampled into a trodden mess of goblin footprints, the grotesque little creatures had blundered a visible path through the ferns and brush in a bunched-up little party rather than dispersing to weave separately through the trees. It was remarkably unsubtle, and Tabitha knew from the common sense of her otherworld memory that it meant the goblins had all been young; likely all level one.
“Alexa, Siri, Waifu, X-box, Cortana: c’mon, fetch me a tutorial, guys,” Tabitha muttered to herself. “Alphapage: delete that post. Don’t ever let me post that again. Binge: play next episode. Netflix: chill.”
Predictably, none of the windows were summoned back into existence. Even more dismaying, Tabi didn’t know much about them at all. The messages came spontaneously and then they were gone, and the poor orphan girl Tabi had last seen one several years ago. When she was eleven summers old, she’d advanced from level one to level two. Tabi knew some letters and one or two words, but looking into her self required a level of mental focus she didn’t quite have the discipline for.
SELF, huh? Tabitha mused. That’s how they refer to… checking your own stats or whatever, here? So, I just…
|Class||Undefined (Err̸o̵r̵ Ran̴͖̫̗̙̖̆k̶̳͎̱͎̓͋̒̋̽̐̀)̵̡̳͓̹͕̞̉̽̄̉̚͝|
|Titles||Returner, Dreamstrider, Transmigrator|
It was a very strange feeling, like the polar opposite of letting her concentration relax and let her mind sink down into sleep. It was more than just thinking it, she had to push her mind towards Self to sense the system scores at all. When Tabitha finally pulled it off, it was only a simplified set of statistics. She somehow intuited that with more practice, experience, and likely intelligence points, it would be easier and easier to bring up. If she stopped walking, sat down and closed her eyes for a bit she felt sure she could press her mind all the way through to expand a profile page on her that was much less abbreviated.
In a vague way, the Tabi girl had known that something like meditation was a common practice among the culture of their fantasy world, that people journeyed deeper and deeper into the mysteries of ‘self’ for increasingly thorough and elaborate explanations of various skills, titles, or even how the system determined value attributes. It was naturally all incredibly interesting to Tabitha Moore, enough to frustrate her in realizing that this was absolutely not the time nor place to delve deeper into the mystery mechanics. Definitely not while alone here in the dangerous wilderness.
Instead, Tabitha allowed herself to stop by one of the larger remaining pools of water trapped along the drying creekbed to take a look at her appearance.
The face that stared back at her wasn’t one either Tabi Mure or Tabitha Moore knew. Tabi had remembered herself as a waif almost skeletal with malnutrition; frail limbs, the flesh around her eyes pulled tight and sunken into their sockets, cheeks that were thin and gaunt. Her constitution and charisma values added together had amounted to a paltry eleven back then, and Tabi knew that the sum of constitution and charisma was generally regarded (by the gossiping girls and wives throughout the town of Mure at least) as a measure of appearance or attractiveness.
Eleven was not an attractive rating.
After a transmigration, her skill sets reconfiguring, a series of titles being granted, and fourteen levels, however, her attractiveness had leapt into the stratosphere of sixty-six. She now looked great, much better than average, her face had filled out and no longer resembled a dying street urchin on her last gasps. There were plenty of similarities to Tabitha Moore’s previous appearance, and she thought that if their likenesses been compared side-by-side one might guess the two were related.
So… I look kind of intense? Tabitha turned her head this way and that to gauge how she looked. Fierce? Something about the eyes makes me look confident and a little… dangerous? Maybe because my ‘appearance’ attributes are so lopsided. With my charisma up way higher than my constitution for… whatever reason?
There were way too many unanswered questions and way too much extraneous information to process right now, and her Tabi memories weren’t as useful as she would have liked. The peasant girl had been fairly ignorant of anything not relevant to her immediate survival or securing her next meal, really. Her ‘mind’ score from likewise adding her intelligence and wisdom together had been a respectable twenty, so she couldn’t have been called stupid for an orphaned young woman… but Tabitha was packing ninety-nine mind now. Her future prospects were about to change in a dramatic way.
“Strength and constitution together are considered body, strength and dexterity make up your physical ability score…” Tabitha murmured to herself as she scooped a palmful of water out of the puddle to carefully clean and wipe some of the muck out of her larger gashes.
Tabi had been confused by the innumerable different stat values—it seemed like many of the base stats commonly paired together to form various different expressions of attributes. Inspecting your self was a little different for everyone based on their comprehension and capability, and only those well-off enough for more than a basic family education knew how everything was actually laid out. With her ninety-nine mind, Tabitha was now puzzling out different combinations of values and matching them up to different conversations that Tabi had overheard but not completely understood in the past.
This is so stupidly weird complex that it loops back around to being simple in a crazy way? Tabitha flinched and swore as her fingertips probed the deep cuts on her arm. Health points climbed back up a little already, so I guess this isn’t as bad as it looks. Hopefully. And hit points are constitution multiplied by… something, with some hidden soul value added in. From what Tabi remembers. Actually, at some point I can probably work out the exact soul number with alge̶b̵͙͐ř̵͚a̷͇̓—
“Ow!” Tabitha swore, letting bloody water trickle down her arm as she clutched at the sudden headache.
After a few moments, it faded away, not unlike one she’d get from a brain freeze.
“Did you just—” Tabitha glanced around suspiciously, then looked up towards the sky. “Did you just fucking zap me for thinking about ạ̷̧̛̓l̷̡̛͔g̵̰̦̃ę̴̳̰̳͉̦͉͋̈b̷̳̖̜̙̼͛͌r̷̛̪̉͊̒͌̋ȃ̶͖̱͖͓̲͓̦̆̈́͝?̴̢̾̄!̴͎͠"̵͎̅
“Ow ow ow ow okay, okay!” Tabitha yelled, jolting up to her feet as she grabbed the sides of her head. “I don’t really like thinking about mathe̸m̴at—I never liked arithmetic anyways, geez.”
That’s—that’s INSANE, though! Tabitha’s mind whirled at the implications. So, what, higher knowledge is a big NO-NO or something? Who decides that? Is there a pantheon of deities or something calling the shots here? Does the SPIRIT OF MAGIC just not want people relying on mundane advancements to get out of this medieval stasis whatever’s going on with the world? That reeks of, I don’t know, some INTENTION or PURPOSE administrating the weird system and self thing, doesn’t it?
After a few more intentional tests—and more than a few unintentional, because it was hard to force yourself to stop thinking about a distracting concept—Tabitha earned herself a splitting migraine, and her mood was plummeting. Wiping her wet hands angrily across her ragged clothing, she stomped away from the puddle, kicking a nearby stone across the ravine as hard as she could. With a furious scowl she returned to following the trail the goblins had stamped through the brush when abducting her earlier, picking up the pace and striding through the forest with purpose.
“This is bullshit,” Tabitha muttered. “Bullshit!”
A horned hare darted away from her through the ferns at her sudden exclamation, and the Tabi in her lamented—a horned hare was something within her ability to subdue, and bringing its fur and horn back to Mure would have been much, much better than returning empty-handed.
“Didn’t even want to be here in the first place,” Tabitha growled, lowering her voice. “Your lore here is boring drudgery compared to any good fantasy setting. If this was a Tolkien world, my every step would feel like it had some fucking meaning. Your world sucks. Your system even sucks—back in my old reality, video game designers probably have like, thousands of systems better than this. And they worked them all out without magic! Yep, without magic.”
“Just math and money.”
She was grudgingly forced to admit that the scenery was pretty amazing. The terrain of this place was wild with ridges and slopes littered with the enormous shapes of gigantic boulders, each green with patchy swathes of lichen. Every vista of the forest seemed to feature picturesque vistas of natural beauty, and looking in any direction conjured memories of those Ghibli anime movies Tabitha had adored in her original timeline. Admiring them on a screen couldn’t compare to walking through it all herself though, and after immersing herself in the wonder of it all for a while her anger and headache began to fade away.
The heartache remained, but with thirty-five wisdom Tabitha was just barely managing to keep her thoughts from the family and friends she’d left behind. By the time she chanced upon Tabi’s lost knife, simply laying there amid the crushed grasses of the goblin trail, Tabitha had schooled her emotions into the back of her mind and simply stared at the ten-inches of sharpened iron without expression for a few moments. She let out a slow breath and retrieved it, returning it to the leather sheath on her belt, and continued onward.
Just how far away did that fucking goblin party carry me? Tabitha frowned. This is... quite a hike. Though, I guess they’d have to be ranging in from pretty far outside of Mure, or someone would have put up an extermination order for them.
Tabitha paused midstep.
Actually… shouldn’t I go back for the two goblins that I killed? She couldn’t help but groan to herself and make a face. Now that I have my knife, I can collect proof of the kills. I don’t want to go back, fuck no I don’t, but… I’m also going to need coin for food, or… fuck, FUCK!
Furious again, Tabitha turned around and began to march back the way she’d come.
It was a long trek back through the woods towards the pair of broken and discarded goblin corpses in the ravine, and Tabitha slowed to a quiet stalking creep as she neared. The treeline on both slopes was obscured by ferny undergrowth, the unexplored goblin warren was a possible threat, and her heart was racing at the potential danger of being ambushed by the survivors of the raiding party.
Or goblin reinforcements from the warren, Tabitha thought as she hunkered down to creep forward. One of the Elder Scrolls Eight memes she remembered had insisted that crouching down was somehow synonymous with stealthy sneaking. It wasn’t nearly as funny when her heart was pounding and naked fear tickled through her fingertips, but showing a lower profile as she advanced was a little comforting. Tabi’s rather cursory adventurer training covered a bit on goblins. Each big den’ll have a hag— a goblin mother, abducted human or otherwise. This den looks small. Hopefully nothing in there. Not going in there to see. Nope, no way, nope, not a chance, all of my nope. Should I… what, collapse the entrance somehow?
Staring at the dark hole clawed in beneath the overhang of tree roots, Tabitha swallowed uneasily. It smelled terrible, she had no idea how to safely collapse even a small tunnel like that, and the Tabi memories didn’t have anything helpful to contribute there, either. Turning her attention instead to the dead goblins, the red-headed adventurer girl drew the simple knife from the sheath on her belt.
Goblins. They didn’t look anything like the ones from her Goblin Princess novel back in her own world, and there weren’t many commonalities with the popular depictions from Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons, either. They were bipedal humanoids, and stood about as tall as a child but with a much wider, more gangly frame. Naked, their skin wasn’t green or even greenish—it was pale in some places and dark with pigment or perhaps simply filth in others. They looked bad. If anything, it looked like these goblins were unfinished, or created in a rush.
Oh God they stink, Tabitha choked up at the stench and fought to keep from hurling. Goblins could maybe pass for human. Malformed… pygmy humans with a lot of birth defects, or something.
She prodded the nearest one with her boot, carefully tipping it back so that she could see it’s face.
...Huh. Tabitha blinked. Well, at least I know for sure it’s mother wasn’t human. That’s a good thing, at least.
The thing’s face was twisted in a rather horrifying expression, but clearly this brood had been spawned by a pig, or hog, or boar-like monster of some kind. Had this been a creature from a video game, the designers would’ve likely cherrypicked only the cool or intimidating-looking features to give it a proper enemy mob aesthetic. In this world, the goblin instead looked like some sort of small subhuman neanderthal that shared certain porcine elements. A bit of ape and a slapdash of… pig or orc or something?
The ears were elongated but didn’t quite taper to points, and Tabi’s memories warned her that only cutting off the ear on the right side—a careful cut at the base of the ear to ensure the entire ear was removed intact— counted as a proof of kill. Goblin ears were easily recognizable, convenient to collect and carry, and dried out but didn’t rot if kept wrapped in a bit of cloth. Probably don’t stink quite as much as any other… body part that’d be handy to chop off, too.
Tabitha was more than a little squeamish actually touching the thing, but the Tabi in her was unfazed at butchering dead animals. Seeing the situation through the strange lense of her otherworld memories helped a lot, because Tabi was well-versed in dismantling a wild chicken-like bird that was local to the Mure region.
Galliforne grouse, Tabitha learned. Not terribly filling, but easy to catch and kill. I guess they were a staple of this previous body’s diet?
With exaggerated care, Tabitha pulled the goblin ear taut with one hand and applied her blade to the root, up against the thing’s subhuman head. It bled when she made her cut, a sickening little squirt of red, and the sound made when she pulled the ear free was like shearing a stubborn branch off of a tree.
Oh God gross gross GROSS! Tabitha almost panicked and threw her collected prize away immediately. Okay. Okay. It’s gross but I can deal. I can handle this. It’s just… it’s just like taking apart Galliforne grouse. That’s something this body did all the time. Well, not all the time. Sometimes. Whenever she could. Anyways, I REMEMBER doing it, even if I’ve TECHNICALLY never done it myself.
The next ear was easier to take, although the horrid state that second goblin corpse was in absolutely mortified her. Hurrying away from the crime scene, Tabitha placed one right ear atop the other and then pressed and rolled them into the kirtle of cloth around her waist with practiced but at the same time unfamiliar motions. This world didn’t have pockets, and only the wealthy carried things in leather pouches. Ordinary peasants like her stowed things wrapped a certain way in their kirtle sash, which in context here was a garment less like a dress and more like some sort of smock. Or maybe an apron?
The strange fantasy-wear was one of the few things Tabi had owned herself. The shoddy knife, the sheath on her belt, the waxed leather jerkin she wore atop her kirtle, and even her boots were all on loan from the adventure guild outpost. They weren’t worth coin, and calling them hand me downs would be a little too generous in the awful state they were in, but they weren’t free— it was custom for adventurers to either return them in better condition, or replace them when they advanced adventurer ranks. If they survived to advance their rank.
Annnd my rank’s gone. Naturally, Tabitha thought as she fled through the forest. Tabi was E rank, but whatever happened in the transference messed up overwriting that bit. I guess. I mean, she was super thrilled and proud to make E rank, but with my perspective on things now…
E rank was pretty much bottom-of-the barrel. Anyone below level five would fall into E rank, and in the town of Mure that basically just means young children. They probably only qualified Tabi to leave the village at all because the local merchants are either out of or getting low on tillyweed. Any normal girl would have parents around absolutely forbidding her to go out past the outer boundary wall alone before reaching D rank. They gave Tabi E rank and let her outside the walls because she was EXPENDABLE. E rank for ‘expendable,’ E rank means ‘hey, she MIGHT not die.’
“This is all way too much shit to sort out,” Tabitha grumbled to herself. “But, I’m absolutely not going to be expendable.”
Tabi hadn’t been clear on how much proof of a goblin kill was worth to the guild. An economic system revolving around barter and haggling almost guaranteed that the nobody orphan starving-to-death newbie adventurer was going to get ripped off in every trade she made. I need to make sure I at least get… what, thirty coppers each? A party of goblins sighted near Mure is going to stir up a local fuss, and I AM obligated by charter to report the nest. How can I make sure they don’t short-change me when—
Before she could even finish her thought a wolf crashed into her from behind, toppling her to the ground. For a disorienting moment all Tabitha could think of was that she’d been pushed again. This wasn’t a random teenage bully at the school bus loop, however, and the wolf’s fangs immediately went for Tabitha’s neck upon bringing her down. Snarling and tearing teeth ripped across her fair skin, immediately eliciting a shriek of pain from the startled girl.
Oh my God oh my God oh my God, Tabitha twisted beneath the weight of the beast and flailed, rolling with the wolf through the leaves and ferns. That HURTS, that HURTS YOU STUPID FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT MANGY DOG!
The young wolf had silently snuck up on her—or maybe it had been tracking her all this while—and Tabitha had been caught completely off guard despite her attempts at watching her surroundings. The flash of panic and terror subsided quickly, however, because Tabitha realized something was really off about her attacker.
|Lodestone Wolf has been defeated!|
The wolf died suddenly, with only a yelping whine cut short when the easy prey turned out to somehow be ten full levels higher than it. The moment a surprised Tabitha attempted to grapple with the wolf vying to tear out her throat... her superior strength crushed and pulped the creature. It came apart in her hands in a mangled mess of musky fur and steaming innards.
“What the—pffffttt!!” Tabitha sputtered through an unexpected spray of blood as she flung what remained of the wolf across the forest floor. “What the fuck! STOP TRYING TO KILL ME, YOU FUCKERS!”
Still huffing as she tried to calm herself back down, Tabitha brushed errant bits of matted gore off her already disgusting leather jerkin. The wolf looked more like a larger, somehow scrawnier dog… probably. It was hard for her to tell now that it’s head and neck had been mostly twisted off its body and it’s entire front half was ripped open and deformed inwards. Wolf, wait, WOLF?!
Tabitha froze and scanned her surroundings, but there was no sign of the rest of it’s pack.
Right. Not like a REAL wolf, it’s like… a monster, Tabitha breathed a sigh of relief. Not a pack hunter. Monster wolf; lodestone wolf. Tabi didn’t know much about them, huh. Something to do with guarding a territory centered around a magic rock? Or magnetic rock? Something like that?
She wasn’t sure if magnetism counted as magic here, and she wasn’t about to go hunting for a random rock right now, no matter how valuable it might be. Probing with her fingers along the back of her neck, she found it was already bleeding. Slight punctures in the skin at the top, with a bit of a ripped gash along the bottom, and it fucking hurt. The scratches and gashes the goblins had given her seemed like insignificant little stinging pains compared to this, this felt serious. Clamping a hand tightly against the agonizing bite marks, Tabitha gritted her teeth and focused her mind inwards.
|Class||Undefined (Err̸o̵r̵ Ran̴͖̫̗̙̖̆k̶̳͎̱͎̓͋̒̋̽̐̀)̵̡̳͓̹͕̞̉̽̄̉̚͝|
|Titles||Returner, Dreamstrider, Transmigrator|
My health was at… what, fifty before? Somewhere around there? Jesus this freakin’ hurts, Tabitha scowled. I was fortunate. But still, at this rate, I might not make it out of here alive. Even if Tabi had somehow escaped the clutches of those goblins, the wolf stalking along behind would have finished her with absolute certainty. All this pain and suffering, and for what? So some villagers have a pinch or two of tillyweed to put in their pipes?
The knife came out again, and Tabitha stepped over to the bloody remains with a gleam of menace in her eyes.
Adger’s senses tingled with alarm as his Watch skill triggered, and the young guardsman swiveled from where he had been standing atop the western lookout. Though the local pissants called the three meter high haphazard wooden construct a watchtower, Adger knew it was anything but. He was from a branch of the Bancroft family, after all, and had grown up among proper stone and mortar fortifications that rose up to nearly touch the sky. Leaning against the shabby railing—a new addition just last summer, and he and the other four guardsmen stationed in Mure were pressing for awnings to keep out the rain next—Adger strained his eyes to scan the outer boundary wall. It was a mere sliver of old earthen wall in the distance.
Damn, damn, damn, Adger swore to himself.
Unlike the other local guards, he’d trained up no Hunter skills and therefore didn’t possess Keen Eye. Adger’s personal route of progression focused on a future where he would serve as a guardsmen for the Bancroft family, protecting their estates and storehouses from thieves. Keen Eye was of little utility in the confines of a city, while the more difficult to attain Watch was damn near a prerequisite.
Never had the ol’ WATCH scream at me like this, though, Adger hurried to secure the bandoleer of his nearby quiver so that it hung low at his waist and then tied the sash of his belt over the strap so that it wouldn’t bounce and scatter his arrows everywhere if he had cause to break into a run.
The tension he felt didn’t dissipate when he finally spotted it— the shape of something was scaling the wall in the distance. This far out, he had no idea what it was. Scrabbling for the empty tankard near the leg of his bench, he struck it twice against the dangling bronze plate to sound out a general warning. It wasn’t quite loud enough to reach the other two lookout posts, and the southern one wasn’t even manned today. All the same someone heard it, and he heard one of the Mure villagers calling out in response.
“Warning from the west!” The shout in the distance calling out sounded like one of the older farm hands.
Having satisfied protocol, Adger grabbed his bow and began to quickly climb down the lookout. The thing that had crossed the wall was big, person-sized at least, and his Watch told him it was dangerous— probably higher than a C Rank classification, if the adrenaline surging through him was any indicator. He remembered his training, however, and carefully tucked his bow between his legs, leveraging it from the front of one shin to the back of his other thigh so that he could slowly bend the weapon enough to properly string it. Taking no chances with a threat that could be serious, he grabbed the pike leaned up against the western lookout and marched out to the gantry of the western gate.
The inner wall where he stood was an aging row of weathered timber that had been constructed from clearing the trees well over a generation ago in the founding of Mure. The press of vertical logs lashed and nailed together rose up two meters to sharpened points and had never been nice to look at, but such a mainstay of any frontier village wasn’t meant to look pretty. The large, open stretch of fields outside the town’s inner wall was all farmland, and the western expanse this season was lying fallow to let the rain, wind, and elements replenish the soil for future summers.
In contrast, the outer boundary wall that ringed these fields was almost a joke. The sheer absurd length of it to encompass all the fields in Mure’s domain meant a town this size couldn’t spare the expense of any proper construction there. The boundary was an earthen work along most of the stretches, mostly a steep hill of pressed soil that would hopefully deter simple beasts from just wandering in. On the eastern side, near the great road they’d managed to spruce up the boundary to shoulder-height stone pilings, but in the west? It was an old fence and a heap of dirt occasionally reinforced with discarded timber from the inner wall when those needed replaced.
“What do we have a visitin’ today?” One of his fellow guardsmen Brigham yelled as he trotted over from within Mure.
“Watch went off,” Adger reported, displeased that Brigham hadn’t thought to carry his pike with him. “Over there, you can see it moving this way ‘cross the field.”
“Watch went off?” Brigham frowned, and the man’s eyes flashed with the telltale activation of Keen Eye as he glared into the distance. “It’s some girl—young little thing. Got a deer or somefin’ ‘cross ‘er shoulders. Poacher, mayhap?”
“S’not right,” Adger scowled. “Young girl wouldn’t set off Watch. Not like this.”
As they watched the distant shape approach them through the grassy field of knee-high weeds and ferns, Watch continued to throb in Adger’s mind. Though the appearance of the intruder indeed resolved into a young girl with some large carcass strung over her shoulders, the unsettling feeling only intensified, until Adger was wringing the shaft of his pike in fear. Something’s not right.
“Whoa, there!” Adger finally shouted over. “Stand fast. Who are you, and what’ve you got, there?”
It wasn’t a law that Mure’s Explorers, Hunters, Lumberjacks, their few low-level Adventurers and the one Ranger couldn’t traipse over the boundary wall, but guardsmen could still give them grief for it. Trodding more foot trails over the already unimpressive earthenworks went against common courtesy, and avoiding the proper entrance on the eastern side of Mure seemed to imply this girl was up to... questionable activities.
“Tabi Mure,” the girl answered, slowing to a halt twenty paces away. “I’m carrying a... lodestone wolf? It’s heavy.”
“Lodestone wolf,” Brigham repeated in a skeptical tone.
“Tabi?” Adger muttered, turning to Brigham. “Local girl?”
“There’s a wee Tabi they just let out this morn to forage fer tilly, but this can’t be ‘er,” Brigham squinted his eyes. “She’d of been level one, mayhaps level two, at best. Little thing couldn’t lift a lodestone wolf, let alone fetch a one all the way o’er here.”
“Where’d you find it?” Adger yelled to the girl. “What are you doing with it?”
“Find it?! It found me,” Tabi called back in a wry voice. “Almost tore my throat out. Sorry I didn’t go all the way around the boundary wall—my health’s dropped into single digits, and I’d really like to find someone to help tend to my wounds.”
“Hold there!” Adger rebutted. “Why’re ye carrying tha blasted thing if ye’ve injuries to the single digits?”
“Ah, well you see,” Tabi shrugged, actually hefting the large carcass across her shoulders up and down. “I haven’t any coin. If I promised payment for care with a pelt I didn’t have in hand—well, who would believe me?”
“I’m lookin’ ‘er right on and I don’t believe it,” Brigham whispered.
“Approach, then!” Adger barked out.
A tinge of guilt started to seep in as the girl stepped closer. She was young, barely of any proper age to be out past the walls, and the poor girl was in a sorry state. Dried blood from a fairly serious cut ran down her brow, her roughspun kirtle was ragged, and the leather jerkin she wore that signified her status as an E rank adventurer was spattered with blood and filth. Bedraggled as she was, this Tabi girl carried more than just a large animal carcass with her—she had an aura of gravitas to her, an air of pride and determination that seemed to press at his Watch skill in a peculiar way.
Ye Gods. She’s… she’s higher level than me?! Adger realized, instantly going pale. That shouldn’t even be possible. Look at ‘er! She’s not even half grown into ‘er kirtle!
At twenty summers of age, Adger Bancroft was a very respectable level six, right on the cusp of his class advancing to Guard (Senior) and his promotion to outside of the rural nowhere backwoods that was Mure. With the exception of their local guard captain Lyndon who was at seventh level, the other guards were all in the D ranks—level four or level five. The idea that a disheveled peasant girl who’d clearly not yet seen her fifteenth summer was higher level than him—despite Adger’s personal instruction from a Bancroft family tutor—was a concept so absurd that he found himself in total disbelief.
“Hnnng—oophh,” Tabi grunted, heaving the wolf down off her shoulders to land heavily on the grass in front of them. “Dumb thing snuck up on me. Killed it, tried to remove the pelt... but I was bleeding myself, and realized I was botching up the job something awful. It got me good here. How bad does it look?”
The young girl turned, pulling her tangled red hair to the side to expose a series of deep, painful looking gashes across the back of her neck, wet with blood and beginning to trickle down her jerkin now that she didn’t have the weight of a lodestone wolf pressing the wound shut. It looked bad, the serious kind of injury that should have by all rights completely incapacitated even a grown adult with the sheer trauma, and Adger stared at the mess dumbfounded until Brigham’s swearing snapped him out of his reverie.
“What the Gods did this?” Brigham mumbled out a curse, crouching down to inspect the carcass.
Both guardsmen stared in shock at what remained of the creature, barely recognizable as a wolf at all. A lodestone wolf was dangerous even for them, and with the size of this thing it wouldn’t have been anything Adger would have been eager to tangle with alone. This one’s front half had been mashed, however. Crushed; brutalized in a grotesque way, with the neck and head lolling freely and barely connected to the body at all. Ye Gods—what did she do, tip o’er a boulder onto the poor thing?!
“Uhh, hey,” Tabi interrupted with impatience. “Health just dropped from seven to six. There any chance either of you knows first aid, or anything? Carrying that little bugger here took a lot out of me, I think I’ve maybe lost a lot of blood because I’m getting real woozy, and hey, I’d really like to not die today?”
It was jarring and surreal that a peasant girl from Mure would have the cheek to speak to him in such bold manner. But the circumstances, her injury, the horrific state of the monster she’d dropped at the foot of the western gate, and more than anything the sheer pressure this girl exuded terrified him. Looking her once over again with wide eyes, he found the angry bloody lines of claw marks across her arm, and they didn’t look like anything he’d expect from a wolf. They were set too widely apart. In fact, this girl was torn up all over, as though she’d waded through pitched battle with several distinctly different monsters in her trek through the wilderness west of Mure.
“R-right then,” Adger stammered. “Best get ye to Lyndon straight away. Brigham—keep watch ‘ere for a spell!”