Third Person POV:
Tens of kilometers away from civilization, deep into the forest and close to the mountains to the west, there was a very particular piece of geography. Thousands of years ago, it would have been a crater lake, where a meteorite slammed into the hills and punctured into the aquifer beneath. However, over thousands of years the water that filled the crater wore down the wall of the crater and now a small stream flowed out from the spring in the crater out through the small valley and into the lowland.
All that remained of the former lake was a small area of swampy, shallow, water surrounded by centuries old trees that had claimed the interior of the crater for the forest. It was spring, and the area was teeming with life. Were it somewhere else, an observer might see squirrels or deer or various amphibians but some places in this world were special.
The mana in this forest was high, which made it the perfect place for monsters to give birth. Even among monsters though, there was predator and prey. Along the edge of the swampy pools a lizard - about the length of a human forearm - was stalking its next meal. It was young, hatched only a week ago, and was months away from growing into the dog sized monster that adventurers were sometimes called to hunt.
Most prey tended to be quiet, but the lizard was following the sound of one prey monster in distress. Approaching one of the pools, the lizard catches sight of its prey, a small toad thrashing around in the shallow water. It was smaller than a closed fist, but a knowledgeable sapient would know it as the hatchling form of one of the species of giant toad monsters, some of which grew large enough to eat humans whole.
The lizard monster, of course, knew nothing of this. It only saw its next meal, and an easy one at that. It had eaten this kind of creature before and knew them as weaker than itself, it was an easy meal without risk. It took a second to prepare itself, and then jumped into the water, charging at the toad and attempting to bite down and end the hunt in one go.
Unlike the other hatchling toad monsters it had eaten, this one didn’t try to run. No, it jumped at the lizard monster! The lizard was surprised, but not worried. Its little lizard brain was far from intelligent, but it had little problems with its food jumping into its mouth. It had no reason to be afraid of something so much weaker tha-
The toad slammed into the lizard’s face and sent it sprawling! The lizard tried to right itself in the water, splashing around as it attempted to get its feet under it. The toad didn’t give it a chance, slamming into the lizard again and hitting the lizard’s head into a small rock that was in the pool.
The first time this happened, the lizard was disoriented. The second time, it was stunned. The third time, everything went dark.
Cadence Lee (as a baby toad monster):
Holy fuck, where the hell did that thing come from!? I had just been cursing out Podi and suddenly a Podi-damned dinosaur came out of nowhere and attacked me! I was so surprised I accidentally jumped into it instead of away from it, and had been shocked to find that despite it being something like six times my size it was shockingly weak!
I had to admit, being attacked like that was probably my own fault. Thrashing around and making noise had probably been a bad idea, but on the other hand, I was a FUCKING TOAD!
On the bright side, I had gotten some interesting notifications from that fight…
“[You have defeated a Lvl. 4 (Hatchling Green Lizard) and earned 10 xp!]
[For killing a higher leveled monster than yourself, you have earned 50% extra experience! You earned 5 xp extra!]
[Congratulations! You have reached Level 1!]
[You have gained +1 Strength, +1 Endurance, and +1 Vitality!]
[You have learned the Skill: Jumping! Jumping is now Level 1!]
[You have learned the Skill: Charge! Charge is now Level 1!]”
Since when was something like “jumping” a Skill, and since when did Skills have levels? I guessed I needed to check my menu, and I found the layout was different than I was used to. It also had new categories.
Name: - Species: Hatchling Boreal Toad Level: 1/5 Experience: 5/20
Class: -locked- Health: 39/39 Mana: 0/0 Stamina: 84/100
Str: 14 End: 13 Vit: 13 Agi: 9 Dex: 5
Per: 15 Acy: 20 Wil: 3 Cha: 12 Mgc: 1
[Breathes through her Skin](racial) [Toxic Skin](racial) [Minor Analysis: Life]
[Minor Analysis: Chemical] [Minor Analysis: Farming - Rotation] [Better First Impression]
[Healthy Thoughts] [First Words] [Killing Blow] [Examine]
Jumping: 1 Charge: 1
Opening the menu confirmed for me a couple of things. First, foremost, and worst: I was a toad. Second, I was both nameless and Classless. Attempting to name myself ended up doing nothing, so I decided to leave that alone for now. The fact that my Class was locked was a lot more worrying to me. In my last two lives the majority of my personal abilities had come from my Class or Classes. Classes were powerful and I would be safer if I had one.
Third, I was able to double check and see that my Skills did in fact have levels, and that they were fairly common things. Moving away from the dead lizard, I decided to do a quick test as I started to swim in a slightly deeper part of the pool. Half a minute later I got a notification:
“[You have learned the Skill: Swimming! Swimming is now Level 1!]”
Huh, it worked. Not only did it work, but I was able to feel the difference between when I had the Skill and when I didn’t. My movements felt easier and I moved faster after I got the Skill, which was certainly an interesting thing. As to what that meant…
Honestly, I wasn’t able to say yet. My thoughts felt like they were moving through mud; except not like moving through mud, because I actually found that when I got out of the pool my toad body was very well suited for travelling in mud. The point was that my thoughts were slow, and while I didn’t feel less intelligent it seemed to take me longer to reach conclusions than before.
Maybe this did make me dumber overall though, because I found myself very easily distracted. My eyesight was rather poor when it came to color and detail, but even the smallest movement stood out to me and grabbed my attention. With my thoughts constantly being grabbed by a moving leaf or a ripple, my thinking was constantly interrupted.
That was probably why it took me so long to realize that I wasn’t just a toad, I was a fucking weak toad. If I subtract the Stats I gained from leveling and my Incarnator bonus, my species apparently had a mere three Strength, two Endurance, and two Vitality! Well, I suppose I was a hatchling, but still…
I wish I had more information… It would be nice if [Examine] worked on the menu…
Well, after I had thought that, I eventually managed to realize that I had never actually tried to use the ability on the menu. So I opened it again and tried to use it on the Class part of the menu, hoping - despite the fact I lacked any Ability that might supplement [Examine] for this - that it would work and give me useful information.
To my surprise, it did work! But before I could read the extra information I was interrupted by another notification!
“[Congratulations you have learned the Skill: Inspect! Inspect is now Level 1!]
[Incarnation Skill overlap detected! Local System Override in progress…]
[Local System Override Complete…]
[All relevant Incarnator Skills and Local System Skills will be merged.]
[Error! Skill removed: Inspect!]
[Error! Abilities removed: Error! Ability names not found!]
[Congratulations you have learned the Skill: Analyze! Analyze is now Level 1!]
[Merge complete. All merged Skills will be reset on Incarnator death.]
[Resuming Local System control…]”
Dafuq!? If this could happen, why the hell didn’t Podi tell me when I asked? Well, if Analyze is better than Inspect and [Examine], then I can’t get too mad. Of course, I have no way to tell if it is or isn’t, because all of the Incarnator Skills I purchased relating to inspection type Skills are gone from my menu. Presumably, based on what I think Podi said, they were merged with Inspect to form Analyze and I will get them back when I die.
So back to my Class then…
[Your Classes are locked. Pure Monsters may not gain Classes.]
[Demihuman Monsters may gain Classes. Classes that have already been acquired remain unlocked during Evolution, however if a Demihuman Monster evolves into a Pure Monster they will be unable to gain new Classes. All species have an inborn limit on the amount of Classes they may acquire.]”
I instinctively knew that the second part - the most informative part - was a product of my new Skill. Admittedly, the extra information just raised more questions. Specifically, what Evolution was. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to Analyze my own Analysis, which was the first thing I tried to do.
The next thing I Analyzed was my Level. It was strange for me to have a Level without a Class, and I was curious as to why it was shown as 1/5.
“[Your Level. You are Level 1. At your Evolution Stage each Level requires 10 xp more than the previous one. At your Evolution Stage you gain 1 xp per day automatically.]
[Reaching Level 5 allows you to Evolve. At your Evolution Stage you will be able to Evolve into a more developed version of your species. Fulfilling certain requirements may unlock the possibility to Evolve into different species.]”
Oh fuck yes, there is a way for me to stop being a toad! I wonder what kind of requirements there are?
First though, I have just noticed that I am hungry. My adrenaline had finally calmed down, and now I have noticed that I was ravenous. Except, what do I eat; what do toads eat? Fuck this though, my last meal was prepared by [Royal Chefs] and now I am considering whether or not I should go back to the lizard I killed and seeing if I can eat it!
I don’t have teeth though, so I don’t think it would work. Unfortunately, as I was thinking in the mud, a beetle of some kind wandered by. The movement caught my attention and… It actually looked really appetizing… Instinct took over and I snapped it up without thinking.
“Oh my Lord Podi,” I thought to myself in horror. “I just ate a bug! And it tasted good!”
At least I was small, so I wouldn’t have to eat much. Hell, apparently the bug wasn’t even worth xp. Which really was just adding insult to injury. I am now eating bugs, and the bugs aren’t worth eating!
What would I even do now? I could hardly see, and I already knew there are giant (to me anyway) lizards wandering around that see me as their next fancy French meal. I am fairly certain that the blurry shapes around the edge of this pool are trees, and I was a bit scared to leave my pool to go check. I guess I need a home; a place I can feel safe.
I looked down at my forelimbs, I can’t build anything with these! Of course, I have no idea how to build anyway so it might not even matter that I couldn’t build with these limbs anyway. Maybe I could hide under a bush?
There was a bush that was growing in the mud by the pool, and I hopped over to it. I guess I felt somewhat better once I was under it? Was I so nervous because of my new body? Probably, it makes sense for baby toads to be a bit apprehensive about the world around them. I wasn’t even feeling completely safe hiding under this bush!
Maybe I should dig a little burrow?
“[You have learned the Skill: Digging! Digging is now Level 1!]”
Yeah, that felt much better. It was the middle of the day, but I was feeling tired, so I ended up falling asleep in my new little home. I woke up at night, and found myself able to see just fine. Maybe I am a nocturnal toad?
The only question is: what should I do tonight? No, that isn’t the only question, I should extend that into: what should I do with this life? I do not want to be a toad living in a muddy hole, and that means I need to evolve. To evolve, I need xp and I can get xp from killing things or from simply waiting.
I would have to spend over two weeks to get to level two if I took the latter option, but if I killed another one of those lizards I could get the xp I needed in one go… Was it worth the risk? Was it even a risk at all? That first lizard had ambushed me and I had smacked it around pretty easily.
I guessed it really wasn’t too much of a risk. Even if I fucked up and got eaten, I still wouldn’t earn a strike for this life. So I snuck out of my bush and into the night.
“[You have learned the Skill: Stealth! Stealth is now Level 1]”
Well, that is useful. I’d like to get the jump on them instead of the other way around, so getting the Stealth Skill was very welcome.
I awkwardly walked away from the pool and once I got closer I was able to see that the shapes around the pool were trees. Giant ones, although that might have been a trick of my new perspective.
I didn’t really have a plan beyond, “walk around and find lizards while eating random insects that I come across.” Thinking was too hard right now, although I was certainly aware that there were more holes in my plan than in a block of swiss cheese. Not the least of which was my poor eyesight.
In fact, my eyesight was poor enough that I apparently walked past one of those lizards without even noticing them, only for them to bite me in the butt! I kicked the fucker off, but that hurt! I even lost nine hp from that!
However, just like before, the lizard was weaker than me. My kick surprised it, and I repeated my tactic of throwing my body into the lizard and smashing it against the nearest solid object. Honestly, this is just too easy! If it wasn’t for my piss poor eyesight I could slaughter these things like bugs!
Except that when this lizard let out a cry, it was answered by two others and two more lizards came by. Suddenly, it was three on one.
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