Sam dusted himself off as he got up off the ground. Hitting the wall had been painful and he was sure he would have a few bruises in the morning but he was grateful nothing was broken.
He waited a few minutes so he could calm himself down. His heart still stammered with fear. Fear that the werewolf would return and end his life effortlessly. When he felt a little bit calmer, he headed to the barn door. He guessed Jerald wouldn’t be back yet since he was dealing with the werewolf but maybe he could find Jeremy.
Jeremy arrived at the barn door just as Sam was exiting. On seeing a person, Sam’s body froze in shock. On realisation it was just Jeremy, he relaxed. Jeremy looked serious as he spoke.
“It's just me. Let’s talk inside. I saw them head off towards the mountains so it will be awhile until they return.”
Jeremy led Sam to a stack of hay bales and sat down. He offered the spot next to him to Sam, which he took.
“I know you are frightened. It is understandable but we are safe now. Let me explain some things? It might help you understand the situation a bit better.”
Sam nodded but he doubted how safe they really were. Jeremy began speaking.
"I remember the first time she transformed in front of me. She did it so that Pa and I could recognise her Beast form. When I saw it, I thought it was powerful and I was excited. I even wondered if I could someday gain the ability to transform.”
Jeremy chuckled darkly before continuing.
“The Beast form is an ability from Tier 5 of the Beast Mastery. Pa and Ma had discussed for months whether she should purchase it and if it was worth the risks. They even asked me for my opinion. Back then I didn’t think the Masteries could be harmful; they all seemed to be only beneficial. Beast form came with side effects and risks which we all knew. It was common knowledge for anyone who knew anything or heard stories about the Beast Mastery. I wasn’t worried back then because Ma was strong and I didn’t think such things could happen to us. If I think back, I think we were all a little naïve. Pa was insistent that Ma shouldn’t waste her potential despite the risks and warnings and Ma wanted to progress and get stronger. It made sense then to get the ability so Ma did.”
He stared at a point on the barn wall as he continued.
“On the day that I experienced the Beast form, Ma had been working out in the paddocks all day. She was delivering foals and looking after the mares to make sure they didn't die during childbirth. It would have been a tough day for any person but it was worse for Ma. She had been exhausted because she had woken up almost every night for the previous two weeks to check on the mares and help deliver foals."
Jeremy began unbuckling his overall as he spoke.
"I had been staying with friends up in the mountains nearby for about two weeks. We all got tired of sleeping on the hard ground so we had decided to head back two days earlier than planned. I still remember being so excited about gaining a level of [Hardship] from the sheer exhaustion of the trip."
Jeremy finished with the buckles and his overall hung loose around his waist. Jeremy had been wearing a t-shirt underneath his overalls which he left on.
Sam was impressive by Jeremy’s physique. His arms were very muscular and Sam guessed it was from a high level of the strength attribute. The high number of points in Labour Mastery probably helped as well. Sam was surprised that the ladies weren't lining up to talk to him.
"I arrived alone on the path heading home towards the barn. The others had gone in different directions to go back to their family’s farms. It was after dusk but there was still enough light to see. I wasn’t concerned about walking at night though because the farm is quite safe and I knew my way around it. Bandits hadn’t been seen in the area for quite some time so I didn’t expect any trouble.”
Jeremy took a deep breath, like he was reliving an unpleasant experience.
“When I got to the paddocks it was a bit darker than before but I knew the way and didn’t stray from the path. I heard some growling which I thought was odd. I remember thinking it was a fox or something and I had scared off a few foxes in the past so I wasn’t worried. I continued walking without further thought; it had taken a few extra hours to get back so I was tired and eager to get home. It was all fine until I kicked a stone by mistake which skipped into a wooden post. I hadn’t seen the stone which had been sticking out of the path. The sound scared one of the foals nearby. It ended up crying out for help in fear of the sound.”
Jeremy stood up.
"Next thing I knew, a fur covered arm had pierced through my chest. The last thing I remember before passing out was the growling and snarling."
He took off his t-shirt to reveal a huge scar on his back. The scar was made up of a large wound in the centre with three large jagged scar lines that extended outwards from it. All of the scar tissue was glowing an unnatural green colour.
Jeremy turned back around and started putting his t-shirt back on. Sam could see a smaller entry wound on Jeremy’s chest which was still bigger than a human fist. It also glowed with the same colour. Based on the wound’s size and angle of attack, Jeremy’s lungs should have been almost completely destroyed by the attack.
"It is a magical scar, hence the colour. After Ma stabbed me, she seemed to come to her senses. She immediately spent all of her Mastery points on different types of healing magic and then began healing me. Ma eventually passed out from exhaustion and Pa found us both. Pa told me afterwards that three foals died that night due to unknown reasons and Ma never mentioned why. I have heard some types of powerful healing magic using sacrifices..."
Jeremy sighed and then knelt down, his face very close to Sam’s. When he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper.
"The reason I told you this is because when I woke up, I realised that I had been baptised in the Beast Mastery..."
Sam blinked in shock.
Jeremy opened his palm. Inside of it was a large claw that looks to belong to a huge animal. It was definitely larger than any animal claw from Earth. It glowed with soft green light.
"This is a Baptism Claw. It can kill any beast, regardless of strength or Tier. At least that is what the town library says."
Sam thought back to the Baptism ring he had received. The ability to kill any beast sounded very powerful. He wondered what his ring had done?
"When did this happen?"
"It was a few years ago, I was nearly 18 when it happened."
"When I used my Baptism Ring, I got my tattoo. Did you get something like that?"
Jeremy's expression darkened and shook his head.
"When I found out that you had completed your Water Baptism, I was surprised and scared. I think Pa was foolish to encourage you to complete it."
Sam was surprised, he had never heard Jeremy speak ill of his father. Jeremy saw Sam’s surprise and explained.
"After that night that gave me the scar, I knew about the baptism. I gained the [Beast Baptism] Talent, even though it didn’t give me any bonuses. I was worried and scared and almost spoke to Ma and Pa about it. They were struggling to deal with me almost dying so I didn’t burden them with my worries. I instead did some research in the Haventown library. It took a few visits but I eventually understood what had happened and what would happen next."
Sam listened intently.
"When you accept the Baptism artefact or gift, the baptism is completed. That part was all normal and expected. The part that I didn’t expect was next. I still remember the words..."
"When the baptised person uses the artefact, they become a magical beacon to all nearby Masters of the baptised Mastery. The Masters shall learn their name and location so that they may guide them in the future."
Knowledge Mastery: Holder of Knowledge Level 6 gained. 2 Mastery Points awarded.
Sam stared at the new information. He gained a level in Holder of Knowledge? He didn’t even know what it did. He chastised himself for being such a fool. He had delayed reading up on his Masteries for far too long. As soon as he got back to his room, he would go through all of his Masteries.
Jeremy's story made him realise how close to death he had come. Sam shivered from the fear and hopelessness that had welled up inside of him. He had felt so powerless and weak. It was a sensation he didn’t want to feel again.
Jeremy spoke softly.
"I know I am burdening you with a lot of bad news but the truth is important. It is not always pleasant either and I believe you deserve to know so that you can protect yourself. When I found out what the completed baptism did, I looked for more information. After finding the first piece of information, I knew what to look for and started finding more information.”
Jeremy paused and chuckled.
“I spent so much time in the library that Pa thought I had a Talent for the Scholar Mastery. It took quite a lot of convincing to get him to stop encouraging me to read more.”
Jeremy’s smile faded as he continued with his story.
“Whenever a baptism happened in the Haventown area, within two months, the person disappeared. Families would start looking for them but they were almost never found. Sometimes they would show up years later as an almost completely different person who had obviously been trained. Most of the time the person would never been seen again. It was this information that helped me make the decision to not use this."
As Jeremy’s gestured to the claw resting in his hand, it then slowly disappeared into his palm. After a second, it looked like it had never been there to begin with.
Jeremy tightened his fist and then looked at Sam.
“We should probably head back to the house so we can eat. Thank you for listening to me Sam. It felt good to tell someone about this burden. “
He stood up and Sam did the same. Sam’s mind was swirling with thoughts on what Jeremy had told him. Fear was the most prevailing thought. Fear of the werewolf, fear of death and fear of the unknown powerful Masters that could be coming for him.
Sam frowned at the thought of the powerful ‘Masters’ and a question came to mind.
“Jeremy, do you know how powerful the Masters are? Did the library have any information on that?”
Jeremy shook his head.
“I also had the same question but I couldn’t find any information on what Mastery Tier the Masters were. Whenever I have heard someone mention a Master, they have always spoken about someone who is very powerful and can easily kill normal folk like you and I.”
Sam doubted that Jeremy’s muscle mass could be considered ‘normal’ but he got the point. He would be no match for the Masters.
Sam had a few other questions, especially around the Beast form, but he didn’t want to prolong his time in the barn. He wanted to be in bed, warm and relatively safe.
“Any other questions? I know I gave you lots to think about.”
“I do have some questions but we can talk about them another time. I just want to get some food and sleep.”
"I can definitely agree with that but before we go. Please don't mention my baptism to anyone.”
Jeremy looked at Sam with sad eyes that showed the weight of the burden he carried; a burden that was now shared.
Sam nodded and spoke.
“I won’t tell anyone. It is your life and your secret to tell.”
Happy with Sam’s response, Jeremy led Sam back to the house.