The problem with Nuave - the country I was apparently located in - was that it was a very new country. This continent, Varrskya, had only been discover a couple centuries ago and powerful, high Level, but politically restricted Sapients and Demihumans had rushed to the continent to break free of old power structures and start their own kingdoms. It had, as anyone could obviously guess, been a bloodbath.
It was also mostly irrelevant, except that these new kingdoms were only resisted by primitive, lesser Demihuman tribes and so expanded far faster and to a far greater area than they could support. While this meant plenty of work for Adventurers who fought the omnipresent monster population, it also meant that kingdoms like Nuave lacked any real infrastructure away from their capital city.
Now I, being a flying creature, heard this and dismissed it. Why should I care if there is a road or not? How would things like waystations and forts help me? I expressed this opinion and was promptly lightly scolded by Ray - who was teaching me about Cartography - for ignoring their usefulness as landmarks.
I think I could take our current hunt for a troublesome goblin tribe as a practical example.
While I had hoped to take part in a fight against turtlezilla - officially known as an Eldritch All-Eater Snapping Turtle - apparently Guild Master Ivano had flown over and roasted it himself. It was really disappointing, but then again, the reason why he was in the town in the first place was to keep the bigger monsters away. Why send over an army of lower rank Adventurers and lose half of them to turtlezilla when Ivano could just as effectively kill the thing by himself?
Lower rank Adventurer’s time was much better spent doing what we were doing now: hunting the lower rank monsters that infest the area.
“I would have thought it would be hard to miss an entire tribe of goblins,” I spoke through [Aerokinesis], allowing Ray to hear me over the sound of the air rushing past my wings as we flew above the forested hills.
“Well aside from Hobgoblins and Redcaps your average goblin is barely larger than a human child,” Ray responded as she scanned the woods below. “They don’t build permanent structures and whether or not they can even use fire is hit and miss. They don’t leave much of a trace.”
“Is there even a point to scouting from the air then? They could even be in a cave or something.”
“Yes, but this way we can prescout the area and get an idea of the lay of the land.”
“I don’t really like the idea of you scouting on the ground anyway…” I could speak through a mix of Air Magic, [Aerokinesis], Singing, and Poetry, but my pronunciation still left a lot to be desired. The only person who could reliably understand me was Ray because she had the advantage of our Bond that gave her an idea of my feelings, desires, and intentions.
So she also probably knew that a small part of why I didn’t want her to scout on the ground was that I wanted to be useful on my first quest with Seeking the Horizon. I was a little worried I would be kicked to the curb if I didn’t pull my weight and my only real contribution to the party was my ability to fly. In a straight fight, even Tamlin was stronger than I was! I mean, I would never take part in a straight fight. I would just poison him and fly away because there really wasn’t anything he could do to stop that. It was an interesting example of how little Stats actually mattered in certain situations.
Even though my motivations were somewhat selfish, Ray didn’t mind. She seemed to be amused by that actually, asking how flying, by itself, wouldn’t be enough to add value worth having in the party. Ray had a point, I could provide the team a lot of maneuverability and do other things like resupply the team while they were in the field. But I felt that would essentially relegate me to a pack animal, and while I wouldn’t have minded that when I was thinking that I would need to pretend and hide my intelligence, it would be a very different thing to be treated like that when they knew how intelligent I was.
Tricking them is different than-
“There,” Ray spoke suddenly, peering down at the hills below. “I see them, I don’t think they are a very large tribe.”
“How do you want to do this?” My heartbeat sped up and I had to focus on the professional calm that came steadily through the Bond.
“I’ll have you drop me off over there and then shadow me from above,” Ray said, pointing at a location I could land nearby. “If something goes wrong while I am scouting, you can dive down and back me up.”
“I understand.” I don’t like it, but I understand. So I fly down and she jumps off, disappearing into the forest like a ghost. I can still feel her location through the Bond, and take off again and raise my altitude, flying higher and higher into the air. It was a good thing that I could fly, because Ray was fast.
Ugh, honestly I was envious. Why couldn’t I have Incarnated into an Elf? I’d have earned so many points! Gaining Vitality as they aged, what kind of bullshit cheat is that!? Admittedly, Elves were not exactly prolific. A single Elf might be born every five or six decades in the entirety of the species, which was probably part of the reason I wasn’t an Elf. Hard to be born as something that isn’t being born when I am Incarnating, I suppose.
I shook those thoughts out of my head and tried to focus on my job. Admittedly, there wasn’t much to focus on. My eyesight was good compared to most everyone, but even though my new team was low B-rank, they still were B-rank. My vision was only slightly better than Tamlin’s, Ray and Karlin seemed to have telescopes for eyes in comparison.
So where Ray saw signs of goblins, I saw trees, and really, once you’ve seen one tree you have pretty much seen them all. So my thoughts would wander away to think thoughts like: it is interesting how such a magnificent view can fail to move me when I see it all the time. After which, my mission anxiety would rise up and I would wrench my mind back on track.
After spending some time with relatively normal people and now that I had over one hundred Willpower again, I was starting to realize that my mind is far more messed up than I had originally thought. I had more Willpower than the average person without a system, and yet I couldn’t even keep myself from thinking about things like that instead of focusing on my mission!
A slight twinge through the Bond pulled my attention to a small clearing and I flew down to pick Ray up.
“Already done?” I asked, a bit surprised that her scouting hadn’t taken longer.
“[Longstride] really makes a difference,” Ray responded and although I couldn’t see her smile while she was on my back I could feel it through the Bond. “It is an incredible ability.”
“Eh, wings are better.” I reply.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice your envy through the Bond,” she took the opportunity to tease me. “Just admit that you miss running.”
Nope. Not happening. I am absolutely not unhappy about how I move when I am on the ground. I have a very intimidating and ferocious way of movement that makes me appear to be stalking prey even when I merely walk, and in no way do I look like a three-legged chicken being electrocuted when I try to run.
“Jokes aside, we will need to get back to Rauvin,” her tone turned serious. “The tribe is a lot larger and better equipped than we thought.”
“Worse, Redcaps.” Again, I couldn’t see Ray’s face but I could feel her grimace through the Bond.
“What are Redcaps? A Hobgoblin Evolution?”
“No. Well, I suppose technically? But Redcaps Evolve from Gremlins; a second-tier Evolved monster.”
Monster categorization was a difficult and contentious field of study. Merely studying monsters was difficult enough. Researchers either had to rely on corpses cut up and butchered by Adventurers or venture into the wilderness themselves and quite possibly end up as a meal for the monster they wished to observe. Add to that the many monsters that were either partially or entirely made of synthetic or inorganic material and the ones made of various kinds of mana and the ones that are undead spirits and more than a few people who dared enter the field have ended up throwing up their hands and quitting.
However, there are a couple of agreed upon classifications. There are the broad species classifications - like Dragonoid or Goblinoid; there are type classifications - like Elemental or Undead; and there is the origin classification - born, mutated, or Evolved.
A “born” monster is a monster that can breed and usually replenishes its numbers through reproduction. There is some overlap between “born” and “mutated” because of the fact that all mutated animals breed true, but a true “born” monster has no natural analogue.
Goblins are born monsters. The vast majority of Goblins that exist were born naturally and an incredibly small minority of them Evolved from other species.
Gremlins, Ray explained, were in the last category: Evolved monsters. Gremlins cannot breed and they only exist when a Goblin Evolves into them. This almost never happens, because it requires a Goblin to have a higher Magic Stat and to learn some magic, without becoming a [Goblin Shaman].
“Redcaps are also Evolved monsters. They are called a second-tier Evolved monster because they only Evolve from Gremlins, who are themselves an Evolved monster.”
“Is that important?” It might be interesting trivia, but does a monster’s specific classification matter much once you’ve established that you can actually kill it?
“Gremlins are basically magic Goblins,” Ray explained. “Minor telekinesis, blink teleportation, slight magical camouflage, and some other tricks. They are more dangerous than Goblins, but that isn’t saying much, your average Gremlin can still be killed by basically anyone who has a pulse.”
“Redcaps on the other hand… They are natural assassins, and often end up gaining the [Assassin] Class. Imagine if a slightly smaller man popped out of nowhere in front of you already swinging a hatchet towards your neck - that is a Redcap.”
How would you even fight that? Short range teleportation - called “blinking” - would be ridiculous to defend against. With how Ray described it, an experienced user could probably start swinging their blade and then blink forward so that the blade edge was just about to slice into their target’s neck!
I flew to our party’s camp and set down, far enough away to not throw embers from the fire because of the air my wings move. Ray slipped down from me and went to make her report to Rauvin.
“Did you find them?” Rauvin walked over to greet her and myself, acknowledging me with a nod of his head.
“Of course,” Ray said with a grin, before becoming more serious. “And I found Redcaps.”
Rauvin scowled at that and spat on the ground, “Redcaps. Well no wonder that Goblin tribe was able to cause so much trouble, how many are we looking at?”
“At least four, although you know how it is with Goblinoids.”
“If you see one, chances are there are a dozen waiting in the bushes behind it, but that hardly applies to Redcaps. If you see four Redcaps in a single small tribe, you have probably seen them all.”
Ray gave Rauvin a rather impressive look. I was going to have to remember that one for when I had a humanoid face again. It really got across the feeling of, “please, stop being an idiot,” so perfectly!
Rauvin raised an eyebrow, but Ray just kept up her look and he eventually gave in with a sigh and admitted defeat. “Yeah, yeah. I won’t make you say that you are going to have ‘Don’t worry, there are only four Redcaps!’ added to my tombstone as an epithet if I die to a hidden number five.”
“Are we still going to attack them?” I asked, although Rauvin lacked Ray’s Bond to me and so he only had my words to go by. For the record, I was well aware that how that question had actually sounded was: “Awwgh weuuh hssseughhh grrrooahhegh ooo ahack ehhmmmh?”
Rauvin looked at Ray in confusion, “I’ll just be honest and admit that I have no idea what Hewka is trying to say here.”
“She wants to know if we are still going to attack the Goblins,” Ray responded easily, reaching out to pat my head. “We are, Hewka. You saw us get beat up by the Thunderbird and that freaky turtle, but against monsters that aren’t city destroying calamities we do pretty well.”
I mean, sure they aren’t scary, nigh-on-mythical monsters, but teleporting [Assassins] sounded pretty damn bad to me. My skepticism must have leaked through, because Ylma scoffed from where she had been sitting and reading a book which she shut with a snap.
“You’ve just gotten to see a single part of how a team like ours handles a quest, Hewka.” She explained with a kind of slightly haughty arrogance that she actually pulled off quite well. “Ray gathers information for us, and then we use that information to prepare. In this case, I think I can prepare a particularly nasty surprise for our Redcap friends.”
Ylma tossed her hair back and smiled wickedly, “after all, even though teleporting without an ability might be hard, messing up someone else’s teleportation is quite easy.”
Chaurl, of course, took this opportunity to take his teammate down a peg and bring up the story of how Ymla learned to interdict weak teleportation. A tale that involved a Blink Dog, Rauvin only wearing only the clothes and armor on the top half of his body, several jugs of alcohol, and a scar that Rauvin still had in a private place. To add insult to injury, the Blink Dog had gotten away and then been adopted by a rich [High Noble] who dabbled as a [Tamer] for a hobby and now lived in luxury that the likes of the party could only dream of.
Thankfully, my poor ability to speak stopped me from making a pun involving the word “hindsight.”
Still, despite Ylma’s magic, the Redcaps would still be strong monsters. Technically, Goblins were Demihumans, but even most pedants generally just called them monsters. The distinction was theoretically important - Goblins could gain Classes after all - but practically Goblins rarely had a Class beyond [Tribesmember], [Cook], or [Scavenger]. Even [Warrior] or [Hunter] were generally beyond them. Although [Chief] and [Shaman] were not rare in larger tribes. Gremlins, likewise, often gained Classes like [Prankster] or, at worst, [Thief].
Hobgoblins, on the other hand, would often have more powerful Classes and older Hobs could have Uncommon or even Rare Classes. Redcaps were like Hobs in that they also had better Classes, but while Hobs would have Classes like [Warrior Chief] or maybe [Berserker], a Redcap might have [Assassin] or [Cutthroat]. So they would be cunning and strong and also supported by the regular Goblins in the tribe.
“So Hewka,” Rauvin spoke to me. “Let me tell you how we kill Goblins.”
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