Master Pacore the Deathless Point of View:
"You would think a man of my age would be able to handle anything, but we're only two days into the march, and I'm already bored," I complain out loud.
The gentle rocking of my private carriage makes me want to fall asleep. This is the only part of my job I hate; if I could simply teleport from one battlefield to another, my life would be complete.
“Is there anything I can get you, Master Pacore the Deathless?” A female attendant asks from just outside the carriage.
I give the girl a side-long glance and see she’s keeping pace with us while keeping her head bowed. It’s always annoying when the attendants assigned to me refuse to look me in the eyes.
“The only thing I want is to reach Drey faster,” I grumble.
“I’ll inform the commander immediately.”
"Wait! No!" I try to call the girl back, but she's already off in the distance heading towards the front of our procession.
"Kids these days; taking everything I say too literally," I stroke my beard. "Do you have the same problem?" I ask my guest sitting across from me.
All I get in return from my question is a look that could kill a lesser man.
“Need anything; a cup of water perhaps? I wouldn’t want people saying I’m a bad host,” I offer with a smile.
“I’ll take a sword or maybe a knife if you're offering; anything with a sharp edge will do." General Pitz grits through her teeth in frustration.
"And what would you do if I gave you a weapon? You can barely move your limbs, let alone pick up a knife and thrust it hard enough to scratch my skin. I don't think you could gouge out my eye even if held still until we reach Drey." I poke fun at the woman. I rarely get to converse with someone I've beaten in battle and longer since I've had a decent conversation during a campaign march.
"Give me a blade, and we'll find out." Lady Pitz bares her teeth at me like a wild animal, which pushes me over the edge.
I can't help but bust out laughing at her empty threats.
The general has twenty of our finest sealing bands placed all over her body. Four bands on each of her arms and legs and another four around her torso ensure her Stamina and Magic pools never rise above 10%. They also have the effect of restricting physical stats by 50%. An average person would be in a coma if they were subjected to such restrictions, and only people like general Pitz and myself could remain awake after being sealed to that extent.
“Why are you dragging me along with you? What happened to my men?” I can see she wishes to move and grab me, but the general knows she would merely fall to the floor of my carriage if she tried to move.
"Did you think I would leave someone like you unsupervised?" I raise an eyebrow at the general. "As for your men, they're safe back in Teeburn."
“If any of them should come to harm, I’ll rip you limb from limb!”
“I’m honestly surprised you still have so much fight left in you… I see where your subordinate got it from.” I give the helpless general a large smile.
General Pitz visibly winces when I mention her steward. “Are you talking about Christopher? Did he survive your taking of the fort?”
It was a wise decision to keep the general separated from her men. She only woke up recently, and I'm the only one she can turn to for information, forcing her to keep our conversations going longer. "You would've been proud of him," I tell my traveling companion. "He was one of the few people that could meet my gaze. He refused to answer any of my questions until I told him you were alive."
"That fool." Though the general hangs her head in apparent shame, I catch the hint of a smile on her lips.
A brief silence falls between us as I wait for the general to start the conversation this time. I'm sure she has many questions, and she would be a fool if she didn't try to get information out of me.
Finally, she decides to speak, and she doesn't hold back, "why are you doing this?"
"Is my strategy that complicated? I take Drey and the following cities while the bulk of my men prepare Teeburn to hold off your reinforcements. I thought a woman such as yourself would've already noticed based on the size of my forces."
The general doesn’t take my bait and only gives me a cold glare.
Apparently, she’s not as easy to rile up as I thought. “Oh!” I feign realization. “You mean why we’re attacking Olebert in general. That’s top-secret information, very need to know.”
“Are you going to tell me or not!?” General Pitz interrupts my grandstanding.
I want to look offended by her actions, but I'm having too much fun to remove the smile from my face. "I'll consider telling you… if you answer some of my questions first."
“Like what?” Lady Pitz asks me with no small amount of suspicion. “I won’t betray my liege or house.”
“And I would never ask you to,” I reassure her. “Call me curious, but where did you get that final arrow from? I was under the impression you used all your dwarven arrows repelling our earlier advances. I was quite surprised when you managed to strike me in the end. Did you get it from a local blacksmith?”
She must have been preparing herself for a difficult question because Lady Pitz's facial features give nothing away. Her mask doesn’t so much as crack as she answers my question. “I wish I could say we had talent like that out here, but I'll have to disappoint you. That final arrow I used was a sample product from the capital. In the end, it couldn't withstand my skills; otherwise, our positions would be quite different right now."
The general and I lock eyes. I might not have taken the time to level my noble skills enough to detect lies but the general needs another 50 years before she can deceive me. If she had that arrow earlier, she would've used it. She must've gotten it right before my forces arrived, meaning the blacksmith has to be local.
I file that bit of information away for later and decide to move the conversation along. "That's disappointing. What about your hobbies? I hear Lady Pitz is quite the hunter."
“And?” She gives me a challenging look.
"I'm merely interested, is all," I tell her. "My specialty is more towards fighting human opponents, and I'm curious how the experience differs.”
“Then you should go find a monster to see for yourself,” she snaps back.
“Oh, come on, you must have some great stories to help pass the time,” I push the subject. “What about that time you managed to kill a mountain hydra?”
Instead of barking an insult at me, Lady Pitz looks at me, surprised. "How did you hear about that?"
“People talk,” I ambiguously inform her. “When I was informed you were defending the fort, I went over every scrap of information we had on you. It’s rare, but some people call you a dragon slayer.”
I didn't know it was possible, but the lady sitting across from me actually looks angrier than she did when she first woke up in my carriage. "Only young fools call me that, and only once before I beat the snot out of them. Like they understand the true monsters of this world." General Pitz huffs in displeasure and looks away from me.
“Come now,” I draw her attention back towards me. “Hydras are of the dragon bloodline. You should feel proud for slaying one.” I try to butter her up so she’ll talk more.
"I slew the beast, did I?" The general scoffs at me. "I used a tier 4 water attribute poison on all my arrows to whittle away the beast’s health over a span of 12 days. Do you think I deserve the title of dragon slayer?” Her eyes challenge me to disagree with her.
"Maybe not dragon slayer, but I think you deserve credit for your kill. You found the beat's weakness and used it against him. There is no such thing as underhanded in a fight, and it's the same whether your opponent is a monster or another warrior." I take a swig of my nearby waterskin that's filled with wine. After a few gulps, I offer it to the general. She looks between me and the offered alcohol a few times before she slowly raises her hand like she's frail and takes the offered drink.
“Don’t think this means I’m telling you anything," she snaps, noticing my smile. Lady Pitz proceeds to sip my wine and coughs as soon as it touches her lips. "What is this!?" She stutters.
"My own personal wine," I inform her. "It's hard for me to get drunk with my ridiculous physical stats, so you can imagine how strong I need my drink to be."
“It’s practically poison!” Lady Pitz holds out the waterskin towards me.
“I guess you could call it that.” I take my wine back and quickly gulp down another mouthful before setting it aside. “Feeling better?” I ask my grumpy companion.
"Yeah, I'm magically better," she sarcastically answers. Lady Pitz's cheeks are slightly red after what I guess could only have been half a mouthful of wine. She might not have the same stats as me, but her body is strong enough to survive a few sips of my wine even suppressed.
I notice Lady Pitz looking solemnly out the carriage window. "What's wrong? We may be marching, but I can get you anything you might need."
General Pitz looks back at me with the red gone from her cheeks. "I don't understand, and it's frustrating me. You kept me alive, and you've split your forces. You may hold Teeburn and make your way over to Yleles, but there is no way you can conquer any further into Olebert. Tell me now, what is the reason for this invasion?!"
I rub my beard and think over the general's question.
Taking a deep breath, I let out a sigh. “Lady Pitz, are you aware of the geography of our kingdom?”
She furrows her eyebrows in deep thought. “The kingdom of Scholl is known for its rocky landscape that protects it from invaders and the large lakes that your settlements are built around. That’s all I know.”
“Yes, that is how outsiders see our lands. We are viewed as an aggressive kingdom because of our view on levels and stats, but that is only a small part of our culture. You see, most of our lands are completely barren, and only the strongest can safely traverse the terrain. The six great pools are the only reliable sources of water and farmland, meaning the six great pools support 90% of our people."
"That's interesting to hear, but why are you telling me this?"
“To give you perspective of what’s happening in my homeland," I tell her. "Our greatest lake is known as the Heart of Scholl, and it single-handily produces 30% of our crops."
“And something happened to the lake, didn’t it?” Lady Pitz quickly sees where I’m going with my explanation.
I nod my head somberly.
"Did it dry up?" My coach-mate asks.
"No, that is impossible. Underneath our kingdom is an extensive network of tunnels that connect all the great pools together. The tunnels stretch from the farthest pool all the way to the coast. That's how the beast made it to the Heart of Scholl." I grit my teeth in frustration. “The beast turned the Heart of Scholl into its lair and kills anything that steps within a mile of the pool."
General Pitz looks at me in bewilderment. At least she has the decency not to ask why our army hasn’t slain the beast yet. She silently waits for me to continue.
"We tried to drive off the beast, but nothing worked. Even the greatest of us banding together could only hold it back for an hour. I'm sure you have an idea of what plagues us," I meet Lady Pitz's eyes.
“A dragon,” she says with a twinge of fear in her voice.
I ball up my fists in my lap, trying to hold back the rage I feel for the creature of legend. "Indeed, a pure-blooded sea dragon. Our people estimate it's above level 400, and that isn't the worst part."
General Pitz's eyes widen. "No, it can't be."
"Sadly, yes. The dragon is building a nest. Dragons can linger in a spot for years, but they only build a nest for one reason…”
"…To lay an egg." Lady Pitz finishes my sentence. "Oh, gods!"
"Dragons will viciously guard their nest until their egg hatches. We can't get anywhere near the creature's nest, so we have no idea when that might happen. If an egg is already laid, it could take up to 15 years for it to hatch, and if the dragon hasn't laid yet… it could be half a century before it leaves."
"That's why you invaded!" Lady Pitz growls. "You came to take our farmland. What is wrong with you people?! Did the idea of asking us for help or paying for crops never enter your king's mind?!"
“Silence!” I roar. “You will not disrespect my king in front of me,” I demand with fire in my eyes.
Lady Pitz doesn’t turn away from me and holds eye contact. I can immediately tell she’s prepared to die and that she won’t bow her head to me no matter how I threaten her.
She remains silent, and I slowly reel in my intimidation skills I subconsciously activated.
“Master Pacore the Deathless, is everything all right?” I hear the female attendant I sent off earlier ask from outside my carriage.
"No, leave us until I call," I order the young girl away in frustration.
“As you wish.” I hear her footsteps as she moves away from the coach.
I look back at my traveling companion now that I've regained my composure. "My king did not decide to invade Olebert on a whim," I stress. "There were many debates on how we could obtain the food we need for our people. We diverted more hands to our two port towns, hoping to catch more fish and sea plants, but we have yet to see any results."
"It was estimated we could purchase the extra goods from our neighbors, but our kingdom has never been considered rich. Our coffers would be depleted long before the dragon ever left. In the end, it came down to two options; we could slay the mythical beast or take the best farmland we could from one of our neighbors."
“I see,” Lady Pitz says with a neutral expression.
“We’ll take Drey, Blaiton, and Yleles, and that’s where you and your men will come in,” I tell the captive general before taking another drink of my wine. “We’ll trade your lives and the lives of any other nobles we capture in exchange for the land we’re occupying.”
“And you think everything will happen that smoothly?” Lady Pitz looks at me like I’m a rookie commander in over his head. “Olebert won’t stand still and let you take lands that rightfully belong to us!”
I grin like a starving animal. “I sure hope so. It was disappointing how easy it was to take Teeburn. The spies I had mixed in with the people fleeing teeburn reported Drey has no chance or resistance. But I hope Olebert lives up to your expectations, or this will be the most boring campaign I've ever participated in."
My excitement must have displeased the general because she turns her head away from me and doesn’t look like she wants to continue talking anymore.
I can understand her frustration; I myself feel silly knowing my country had to go to war over crops. Even our ancestors that went to war for any reason possible had never cited food as the reason. And then there's the difficulty of the fighting ahead. I relish a good battle, but every person we kill is one less hand to work the land.
Depending on how the local lords try to repel us, it could set our plans back even further if we kill too many conscripts. I have until the new year to secure our position before the refugees from the Heart of Scholl will arrive to help with the farming.
I have to take three cities and a lord's residence, all while killing as few of their soldiers as possible.
Even if I enjoy a good challenge, this is too much even for me.
But I can't stop now. The dragon has tormented our lands for a year already, and the food shortage is starting to be felt by everybody.
I will not disappoint my king!
I'm the undying shield of Scholl, and I will not fail!
I sit back into my seat and close my eyes, feeling the rocking of the carriage. Every second that passes, we grow closer to Drey, closer to saving our people.
Aaliyah’s Point of View:
"Damn it, damn it, damn it!" I shout as I run down the forest path.
How am I supposed to enjoy my run when I’ve confirmed I was somehow screwed over in my contract?
I pull up my status page for the third time today, hoping somehow it will have magically change since the last time I saw it.
LV: 72 Experience: 880,183/ 911,219
Status Points: 0
Meditation (LV78), Running (LV76), Blacksmithing (LV69), Hammer Skills (LV57), Axe Skills (LV55), Cleaning (LV51), Chanting (LV50), Mining (LV48), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV45), Cooking (LV39), Dagger Skills (LV31), Wood Carving (LV31), Acting (LV32), Sword Skills (LV31), Sewing (LV24), Pugilist Skills (LV4), Spear Skills (LV2), Alchemy (LV2)
Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV61), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV46), Hammer Arts (LV41), Axe Arts (LV36), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Increase Price (LV21), Lower Price (LV20), Steady Hands (LV16), Dagger Arts (LV12), Sword Arts (LV14), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV3),
Expel Mana (LV62), Mana Manipulation (LV60), Precise Strike (LV40), Double Strike (LV40), Weighted Strike (LV37), Flash Step (LV21), Contract (LV7)
Mental Resistance (LV53), Mana Skin (LV53), Inject Mana (LV52), Extract Mana (LV31), Magic Blacksmithing (LV25), Empowered Spell (LV9), Air Walk (LV1)
Sense Soul (LV38), Soul Manipulation (LV6)
Soul Devourer (LV2)
Increased Skill Levels
Trading (LV43-45) 6,600exp
Acting (LV32) 1,600exp
Increase Price (LV18-21) 7,800exp
Contract (LV6-7) 1,950exp
Skill Experience: 17,950exp
Crafting Experience: 1,843exp
Fighting Experience: 0exp
Total-experience Gained: 19,793exp
Seeing exactly where I gain my experience has been a big boon for me ever since I could better organize the information from my soul.
I can easily see which of my skills have leveled and how much experience I've gained from crafting activities, including negotiating.
Looking at the results of my meeting with Mr. Grey makes me feel the need to punch a tree with all my strength as I can over my status page again.
Both Trading and Increase Price saw huge gains after my discussion with Mr. Grey, but one skill did not. Contract, the skill I was expecting to soar through the roof after I signed with Mr. Grey only gained two levels, and it was only at level 5 to begin with.
If that wasn't a good enough indicator that I was bamboozled, I only gained 1,843 experience after agreeing to such an important contract. I've gained more experience trading with Kervin.
I would have to be an idiot if I didn't see the writing on the wall. However, I've been going over the contract in my head for hours, and I can't find anything that screams 'gotcha.' Did Mr. grey write something in invisible ink? No, I was watching every move he made; there was nothing hidden in that contract. In fact, the contract seemed relatively short and to the point.
I almost trip over nothing as I suddenly realize what's wrong with the contract; it's missing too many details!
Back on Earth, you would be lucky to find a contract shorter than three pages. Hell, every time you updated an app, you would have to agree to ten pages of who knows what.
I still don't know what Mr. grey left out of the contract, but I'm sure Mother will have an idea once she sees it.
I'm disappointed in myself for not noticing sooner. If I didn't have the skill to counter contracts, I would be in big trouble right now rather than complaining about how I didn't level my skills as much as I wanted to.
I wonder if this is a sign, I'm getting overconfident with my abilities? I thought the contract business was beneath me like it didn't matter, and I allowed myself to be duped. Just because I'm stronger than most people doesn't mean I'm invincible.
I'll need to be more careful in the future, especially now that I know Mr. Grey has some sort of plan for me.
While I alternate between berating myself for my slipup and complaining about my missed skill levels, I finally spot what I’m looking for just up ahead.
I spot Sandra's search spell, meaning I'm closing in on them. Deactivating my mana obscuring amulet, I chose to approach them without scaring them this time.
As I round the bend in the trees, I spot Sandra and Brother, who both look happy to see me despite how I left them last time.
“You’re back already!” Brother shouts in disbelief as I approach their slow-moving cart.
I choose to shrug like it’s no big deal. “I told you I’m fast.”
"Did you have any trouble in the city?" Sandra asks, concerned like an older sister.
I don't feel the need to lie to them, so I answer truthfully. "There were some small hiccups. The city is in worse shape than I thought. Everyone is trying to leave Drey, and the guards are taking advantage of that. After seeing Drey for myself, I'm all, but sure it won't hold once Scholl arrives."
I walk up next to their cart and go into detail about my experience in the city. Sandra makes fun of me for forgetting my pad at home while my Brother awkwardly tries to tune me out for that part of the conversation. I even tell them how I visited Silver herd and arranged for numerous materials to be delivered to the village before Scholl arrives.
"You signed a contract," Sandra looks at me concerned after I finish recanting my short tale. "You have to take contracts seriously, I had to sign one before I started practicing under my master, and even now, it affects me."
“What does your contract entail?” I curiously ask.
"It was a basic mage apprenticeship contract. It was really long, so I'll sum it up. Basically, I can't teach anyone anything I learned from my master until I buy out his magic rights."
“What are magic rights?” I scooch a little closer to the cart.
"Purchasing magic rights from a master means you bought the right to teach others," Sandra tells me.
“That sounds stupid,” I scoff at the idea of charging someone twice for the same knowledge. “Why is that even a thing?”
"It's how mages ensure unfaithful or disgruntled students don't pass around their spells. Think about it, what would happen if one mage paid for their apprentice to study under another mage and have him relay everything back to the master? If you wish to teach others, you have to compensate the master for their knowledge."
“Wait! Does that mean we can’t swap magic ideas?” I ask in astonishment.
Sandra gives me an awkward smile telling me everything I need to know. “We can talk about magic; I just can’t teach you any of the spells I learned.”
“I guess that isn’t all bad,” I reluctantly say, kicking a pebble into the nearby bushes in disappointment. I was somewhat hoping my spell repertoire was going to grow when Sandra came back.
"And don't think I didn't notice how you changed the conversation," Sandra gives me a knowing look. "What exactly did you agree to in your contract?" And like that, Sandra went from a cool older sister to mom in under a minute.
Lying doesn't feel right, but I don't feel like divulging my screw up. I look up to Sandra, who's sitting next to my Brother, driving the cart. "It's a little personal, but believe me, I have it covered," I reassure her.
Sandra must see my resolve because she lets out a reluctant sigh. "Ok, if you say so. But if you need anything, make sure you ask."
“I will,” I nod in agreement.
Walking next to the cart, I’m reminded how much Sandra and Brother support me. I psych myself and tell them what I should’ve said as soon as I saw them.
"Hey, Richard, Sandra, I want to say I'm sorry for how I acted two days ago. Both of you were just caring about me, and I overreacted. I'm really sorry," I anxiously glance up at the two and hope that they'll forgive me.
Brother and Sandra share a quick look before both turning towards me. “We would also like to apologize to you, Aaliyah,” Sandra says with a soft smile. “We shouldn’t have tried to control you, no matter how much we care about you.”
“Yeah, we're just as sorry as you are, little sis." Brother chimes in. "The two of us should know better than anyone what it's like to have people question your decisions when you're 15." Brothers joke earns a small laugh from Sandra and me.
“Thanks, but that doesn’t excuse the skill I used on the two of you.”
"Yeah, please don't ever do that again," Brother gives me the same look master did after I used Sense Soul on him for the first time.
“I promise,” I quickly agree.
"Speaking of the skill, what was it?" Sandra has all the curiosity of a cat. "I've never experienced a skill like that before, and it lets you view our levels? How does that work?"
I know she won't stop asking until I tell her, so I give her an outline of my skill, not divulging its tier. "You can think of it as an invasive scanning skill. It mostly lets me see a person's level, but it can show me other things too. Like when I scanned you, I noticed something weird in your stomach. Are you…?"
Both Sandra and Richard flail in their seats, stopping me before I can ask my question.
“That’s something personal between your brother and me that we still need to discuss,” Sandra points out while placing her hand on her lower abdomen.
It’s hard to hold back my excitement.
I look at Sandra, who seems to be glowing even more than the last time I saw her, before turning to Richard. "Dad and Camden are going to kick your ass."
“No, they won’t.”
I smirk at my brother. "You're right; Mother and Sarette will get you first for not being officially married yet."
Brother pales at the mention of Mother, and I start laughing. Sandra can’t help herself and giggles along with me at Richard’s expense.
It's great talking to Sandra and messing with Richard, but I can't stay here much longer. "If you promise to be nice to me from now on, I might decide not to tell everyone when I get back to the village."
"You're leaving?" Brother asks, surprised, and Sandra stops laughing. "Why?"
"For the same reason; I'm scared of Mom too," I point out. "I promised her I would be back as soon as possible, and that doesn't mean I can walk next to you guys for the next week. Besides, someone has to let our families know the two of you are safe."
"She has a good point," Sandra agrees with me.
“I know, I know,” Brother mumbles and sets the reins down. The sickly looking bivol doesn’t so much as change direction or pace even though Brother is no longer holding the reins. Was he just pretending to control the beast?
Both Sandra and Brother dismount their cart and move to hug me.
The three of us exchange goodbyes, and I definitely, positively, didn't tear up when we separated from one another.
“Hurry up and make it home,” I call out behind me as I jog away.
“Stay safe!” The two shout back at me before I can no longer see them.
I quickly gain speed and start soaring through the forest. If I push myself a little harder, I can probably make it home in time for dinner, I happily think to myself.
It's incredible what family can do for you. Before I saw Sandra and Richard, I was frustrated and angry, but my day feels brighter somehow after talking to them. I guess you can call it the magic of family…
Ok, that was a little too sweet even for me.
I laugh to myself as I make my way home, optimistic I can overcome any challenges I might face in the future as long as I'm careful and have help from my loved ones.