Turns out that I was utterly wrong.
The rest of Cat’s debut went swimmingly, with even [Lord] Charleon failing to be enough of a pest for me to justify stabbing him. We had left a little before midnight, with the same [Driver] - I double checked - taking the carriage back to House Felius. I was almost considering writing the whole thing off as some kind of bizarre mistake when my [Dangersense] started to tingle.
The street was dark, but the shadows moved. Of course, shadows don’t move by themselves and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that this was an ambush. More fools them, in that case, because Lord Felius’s [Bodyguard] hadn’t been allowed into the palace and was back with us now. Probably. I have never actually seen his [Bodyguard] after all and I was very envious of whatever Skill it was that prevented me from noticing him.
What I did know was that the [Bodyguard] was a last line of defence. Relying as much on stealth and surprise as on strength for victory. Which meant that I would be engaging the ambushers first.
“It looks like we have some unfriendly folk up ahead,” I said as casually as possible to the [Driver]. “I might have to stop to talk to them for a bit, so you just keep driving, yeah?”
He went from relaxed, if tired looking, to wary, to frightened and stiffly nodded back. I started checking my knives and trying to prepare myself. This would be my first real fight since I fought my Kidnapper all those years ago, that bastard. I actually had the oddest feeling that I would see him again soon… If I did, I would be sure to knife him. This world - any world - didn’t need the kind of people who would grab kids off the street.
The fight started with a crossbow bolt from the shadows, aimed at the horse pulling the carriage. I moved, appearing on the horse’s back.
“[Parry],” I used the skill, deflecting the bolt with a knife. The force knocked me off the horse, but I had expected that. I used the fall to disappear behind the horse and ran around the back of the carriage in an attempt to flank the crossbowman.
I could see him reloading now, and I wanted to run up and stab him, but my [Dangersense] was flaring. So I palmed one of my knives and threw it. I knew that it wouldn’t be lethal, but he wouldn’t be using that arm and that meant no more crossbow bolts. My [Dangersense] screamed and I barely dodged one slashed and blocked another before getting punched in the face.
I tried to use [Burst Of Speed] to gain some distance, but the attacker kept up with me! And there was another one as well, also keeping up with me! [Burst Of Speed] and Skills like it were very rare, very powerful, and usually very limited. My Skill synergies helped me offset this, and it might be the same for them, but it was more likely that they were considerably high level. I was only level nine!
I can’t run, so I am going to have to dodge. Left, low, high, left, right; their strikes were a blur and I… Wasn’t fast enough, I was getting cut. Not deeply, but it was happening. They covered each other too well for me to counterattack with just [Burst Of Speed].
“Give it up girl,” one of them spoke, his face hidden shadow - the shadow must be some sort of [Rogue] ability because it seemed like they all had it - “The [Noble]s aren’t worth dying for.”
I chuckled, taking the small break in the fight to examine myself. The wounds were shallow, I had barely been hurt yet. I gave my ambushers a smile, and spoke with confidence.
“I’ll turn that back on you,” I gave them a somewhat feral smile. “Go away and I won’t actually start to try. You have no chance against me.”
“Bluffing? I would say you need to work on that Skill girl, but you won’t be living long enough to do so.” They advanced again and I raised my knives.
Living in a world with a System is rather surreal and confusing, I have to say. Aside from the strangeness of Stats and Classes, Skills in particular were odd. Even a simple Skill like [Expert Cleaning] had a ton of questions that had to be asked about it, but it seemed like the people in this world lacked the context to ask them.
What exactly counts as “cleaning?” Spreading sand around a room to pick out rocks doesn’t sound like cleaning, but would it if it was happening in a sandbox? Removing dirt sounds like cleaning, but would it work in a garden? Or on a potted plant? If there are a bunch of toys on the floor, does kicking them under a bed activate the Skill? How would [Expert Cleaning] apply in such a situation, if it did activate? What about using the Skill on a person?
The System makes the world like a game, but even if most people play by the rules, some will exploit every loophole. Considering my life - this one, anyway - was on the line, I didn’t mind showing these [Rogue]s exactly what a girl can do with a little bit of innovation.
[Expert Cleaning] and [Burst Of Speed], using my shoe to swipe dirt off of the cobblestones - this was the noble quarter, so the streets were paved - gave me the bonus of both Skills making me move several times faster than with [Burst Of Speed] alone and seem to slide along the road. [Improved Styling], [Accurate Strikes], and [Lightning Strikes], cutting into the hood and drawing a line across the man’s forehead, his [Dodge] barely preventing me from cutting out his eyes.
“Agh!” He yelled, stumbling back as his friend moved forward to cover him. “You fucking cunt! I’ll kill you!”
“You will try,” I laughed as I slid backward. The second man followed and tried to cut off my movement by cornering me against a building, but I wasn’t about to let that happen.
[Improved Footwork], [Enhanced Dodge], and [Improved Acrobatics] activated to allow me to run up the wall. I kicked off it in a neat flip above the man’s head, using [Improved Throwing] and [Improved Styling] to throw a knife into the man’s neck. He didn’t die immediately, but stumbled and gasped as blood began to fill his lungs.
I could hear bells ringing, but all of my focus was on the last man, who had recovered enough to charge at me again. More fool him, [Improved Makeup Application], [Improved Styling], [Accurate Strikes] and [Lightning Strikes] put a knife through his eye. It was done. I was breathing heavily, but I wasn’t tired because of [Work Is Never Done]. Nevertheless, the stress had me gasping for air as I became aware of my surroundings again now that the fight was over.
There were bells ringing, and as I looked up, I saw that the buildings were casting shadows from glowing lights behind them. [Improved Footwork] and [Burst Of Speed] allowed me to run up the side of the building, and on the roof I saw that the city was on fire in many places.
“What the hell is going on?” I muttered to myself and then started running back to House Felius, praying that my brother was ok in whatever mess was going on. Mother and Father should be safe in the Felius Manor, but my brother would be on the street.
I sprinted through Vurden as the people woke up and the city became more chaotic. In the distance I could hear the sounds of people shouting and fighting. It almost felt like there was about to be a riot, but if there was I didn’t think it was organic. Someone had planned this.
I turned a corner and stopped dead. House Felius was an inferno. Outside, [Guard]s and [Servant]s were loading carriages directed by the [Baron]. The [Guard]s moved to stop me as I approached, but let me through as soon as they identified me.
“Ann! Are you-? You’re hurt!” Catherine rushed up to me, looking worried about the cuts on my arms. Blood had soaked into my [Maid] outfit, but I didn’t care.
“I’m fine!” I told her, “But what is happening? Where are my parents?”
She hadn’t seen them. I was supposed to stay by her, but I couldn’t abandon my parents, I had to find them! There were [Guard]s here, I felt Cat would be safe and I rushed off to find my parents.
The manor looked like a vision of hell, all fire and smoke. I could barely breathe, and I hoped that my [Poison Resistance] and speed would be able to keep me alive. But it was hot, so unbelievably hot and I could barely see in the smoke, tripping over bodies in the haze. I checked every one, but none of them were my parents, so I could hope that they were still alive.
I could hope until I found them together, dead from the smoke in an upper room. I don’t remember carrying them outside, I just remember Catherine hugging me as I wailed and cried on the grounds of the manor, my parents dead on the grass. I didn’t want to leave them, but Catherine and her [Guard]s pulled me away, bundling me into a carriage with her. She held me as we and the surviving staff of House Felius left the city.
I cried and cried and cried, not even noticing as my Class upgraded. I wouldn’t notice until morning, and I would hardly care for a while yet afterwards.
[You have reached level 10!]
[Congratulations! Your Class has upgraded!]
[You are now a [Ninja Maid]!]
[Your Skill [Burst Of Speed] has evolved into [Instant Movement]!]
[Your Skill [Stealth] has evolved into [Unseen Servant]!]
[You have gained the Ability [Loyalty Unto Death]!]
[You have gained the Skill [Shadow Control]!]
[You have gained the Skill [Shadow Strike]!]
[You have gained the Skill [Parkour]!]
As an adult by the System’s standards, my Menu now looked like this:
Name: Annora, Daughter of Elvid Age: 16
Class: [Ninja Maid] (Very Rare) Level: 10
[First Words] (Incarnator Skill, hidden) [Better First Impression] (Incarnator Skill, hidden)
[A Maid’s Discipline] ([Maid] Skill) [Chemical Intuition] ([Battle Maid] Skill)
[Alchemical Intuition] ([Battle Maid] Skill) [Loyalty Unto Death] ([Ninja Maid] Skill)
[Expert Cleaning] [Elegant Movements] [Improved Styling]
[Improved Makeup Application] [Improved Gardening]
[Work Is Never Done] [Maid’s Sense] [Dangersense]
[Weapon Proficiency: Short Blades] [Menu Camouflage]
[Instant Movement] [Unseen Servant] [Improved Laundry]
[Instinctive Etiquette] [Improved Sewing] [Improved Cooking]
[Improved Gardening] [Enhanced Stamina] [Enhanced Recovery]
[Detect Poison] [Parkour] [Enhanced Dodge]
[Improved Footwork] [Accurate Strikes] [ Lightning Strikes]
[Counterassasin] [Improved Acrobatics]
A very impressive Menu for my age to go along with my good and stable employment that put my family and myself into a fantastic position for commoners in this world. None of this had kept my parents alive and it didn’t help me find out if my brother had survived. In the end, I was not nearly strong enough to withstand the instability around me.
Catherine was as much a friend as a mistress, and comforted me on the road north to the Felius lands. [Baron] Felius did not throw me out of the carriage either, and I am thankful for that. The conversation between the two of them, as well as the [Baron] and his [Knight]s, gave me an idea of what was going on.
The Royalist faction weren’t idiots, and they saw that the Noble faction was ascendant. Instead of letting that happen, they struck. [Assassin]s and [Rogue]s infiltrated Vurden first and while they struck, Noble faction forces moved to attack the city, accusing the Duke of treason to the crown. Except they had not brought nearly enough forces, and the Duke had survived to begin rallying his forces. Since the Duke was a [Prince], he had declared himself the rightful [King] in response and now the country was spiraling towards civil war.
No, it was in a civil war.
Of course, House Felius had been neutral in the struggle between the Royalists and the Noble faction, but it turns out that the Royalists didn’t see it that way. Failing to openly support the Royalists was treason in their eyes, even if the House treated the Noble faction the same way. So they had attacked House Felius as well, and pushed the House firmly into the arms of the Noble faction.
The [Baron] was heading to his territory, the coastal city of Kallay. There he would rally his forces to join the [Prince] and he would go off to battle. Catherine, and therefore myself, would remain in the city. There was a part of me that wanted to rush off to battle for revenge, but I would never really get it, would I?
The men who started the fires either had been killed by someone else, or had escaped and I would likely never find them. The people who had ordered the fires to be set were too far above my station for me to touch in a feudal society. Additionally, while it was true that I had a powerful Class and Skills - especially when I combined my Skills together - there would be career [Soldier]s on the battlefield among the levys and conscripts. I might be able to cut down any number of conscripts or common [Rogue]s, but there were true elites out there. [Knight Champion]s and [Veteran Commander]s and [Farsight Sniper]s, any of which could cut down a [Maid] of any kind in a second.
So after the carriage arrived and Kallay, I remained behind with Catherine. Working as a [Maid] and bodyguard for her, and I have to admit that I was right to do so. [Assassin]s and criminals crawled out of the woodwork to cause trouble. Every week, a [Saboteur] of some kind would try something in the city, which had become an important port for the [Prince]’s forces supply lines.
On the docks, using [Parkour] and [Instant Movement] to run up the side of a ship and jumping onto the deck with knives being thrown before my feet even touched down on the wood. I had run all the way from Castle Felius - not as far as you would think, the castle was just above and overlooking the harbor - when I had seen the torches. Kallay was under curfew and the [Guard]s were given lanterns, torches meant criminals or fools. Later, I am sure I would regret my actions if I killed some fool instead of an actual criminal or spy of some kind, but so far I had only run into [Saboteur]s and [Spy]s.
This was no different; the ship’s deck had been stacked with brush and kindling, I could smell oil as well. By sacrificing a large amount of my stamina, I was able to use [Instant Movement] as a short teleport instead of a speed enhancement, allowing me to catch the torch before it hit the oil soaked deck.
I tossed it overboard, the shadows flickering wildly as the torch spun into the air. The group I had interrupted howled and attacked me and then found those flickering shadows had teeth. [Shadow Control] and [Shadow Strike], until the torch dipped below the deck my shadow fought with me, keeping my foes off their guard.
I struck with cold fury and without mercy. Letting this new feeling of icy hate out on this world, I fought on as the civil war intensified.
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