“Not many wish to join the military, but there are some people willing to join a mercenary company, no contracts and all that. Association is a desperate move from the government to avoid compulsory military conscription.” Jake told me as we drank beer at the local bar. Garry and Warren were with us to ‘celebrate’ my first successful mission. I bet they just needed a reason to go to the bar.
“The government expects big monsters to appear near our nation?” I asked, wanting to gain from Jake as much information as I could, it’s not everyday that you drink beer in a bar with a military officer.
“We are close to the sea, when all the surrounding islands will be evacuated or massacred where do you think those big monsters will head to? The Union’s military was aware of a swarm headed towards that massacred island, yet they still failed to protect it.” Jake took a sip from his glass before he spoke again. “When they do appear on our shores the military will focus most forces on them, it will be mostly Association that will be responsible for inland cities and towns. We are a small democratic nation with only eight million residents, yet we have almost five hundred kilometers of shoreline.” I drank deep from my glass to that. If I would have to choose before sacrificing my life for the greater good or running away I would easily pick the second option.
“And our allies? We are part of the Southern Alliance.” Jake smiled at that, but didn’t respond. It was a fool’s hope that a foreign nation would send any help bigger than a few hundred soldiers and few tanks. I would be enough for them to claim that they tried to help.
“William, we have come here to relax not to worry about the whole world.” Garry slapped my arm with his hand, his other hand was busy holding a bottle of beer. “Drink!” He shouted and all of us took our glasses to our mouths. Garry was right, the nation will take care of itself. How would my worrying help? If the army loses the fight for the shore everyone will start running anyway.
[Meditation] is now level 19. You have gained 1 Path point. Increases mana regeneration by 19% while the skill is active.
It took me only three hours to level [Meditation] three times using small ‘cores’. Every core had twenty mana inside and while meditating it was possible to absorb it into a body, but it turned into dust once it was empty. Was it why those cores were so pricey even though there were so many of them available? The road patrols should loot at least a hundred of these daily. Were there people using their fortunes to buy them all out in order to level faster? I am an idiot, of course there are.
I have seven unused path points, yet I decided to use them on a path that I was sure would grant me a useful skill that I could level. [Detect Presence] was a skill that allowed the user to detect the presence of living beings, self explanatory really. The higher level it was the longer range it had.
[Path of Wisdom 5/25] 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 wait… Something went wrong. Wisdom increased by 1.
Higher wisdom granted a bigger mana pool, but it didn’t increase mana regeneration. What interested me is that Wisdom was the attribute point that increased perception. It was useful to know whenever there was something beneath your bed.
[Meditation] is now level 22. You have gained 1 Path point. Increases mana regeneration by 22% while the skill is active.
[Path of Wisdom 10/25] They might have laughed at Columbus, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. Wisdom increased by 1.
[Leg Muscle Enhancement] is now level 4. You have gained 1 Path point. Actively increases Running Speed by 23%. Uses 2 mana points per second.
[Ranged Weapon Mastery] is now level 15. You have gained 1 Path point. Increases handling of the ranged weapons. Increases Dexterity while using ranged weapons by 15%.
“Today we will go a bit further, since you already were with us for the past three days we can afford to be a bit reckless.” Garry told me. I didn’t like that.
“I don’t like that, I would rather stay closer.” I said.
Warren took it upon himself to respond. “There aren’t bigger monsters where we are going, there are just more dogs. Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen.” I didn’t like those words even more, but I wasn’t the one in charge of the team to change their minds. If something bad happens I will just outrun them, none of them maxed [Running] or even finished [Path of Endurance].
It was three hours later that we found ourselves in the forest that Garry and Warren spoke about. We walked through an abandoned village on our way here, it had a few broken windows and some destroyed fences, the buildings themselves were fine.
“No speaking inside.” Warren spoke to which I nodded. I was too nervous to speak anyway.
We found our first target, two dogs eating something dead, most likely some slow animal. “Garry, take the left one, me and William the right one.” A sound choice given that Garry had [Bow Mastery] making him the best shot. All three of our arrows hit, so we closed in to claim our rewards.
[Ranged Weapon Mastery] is now level 16. You have gained 1 Path point. Increases handling of the ranged weapons. Increases Dexterity while using ranged weapons by 16%.
I froze once I recognized what those dogs were eating. A human, her hand was torn away, stomach split open with guts spread all around her. I puked a few seconds later onto some bush.
“She was one of us.” Warren said as he closed in, noticing the same bow as ours a few meters away and her military outfit. Garry stayed away not wanting to come closer. “Catarina Smith.” Warren read from her ID card that was on her neck before, he had to clean it from the woman's blood in order to see what it said.
“What do we do?” Garry asked, not sure what to do. I would ask the same if it wouldn’t be for Garry doing so first.
“We are calling the military, what else? Garry, call them, me and William will keep watch. Blood might bring more dogs.” I gulped and walked a bit away from the body to keep watch. Faster the military came the better. I heard Garry speak through his phone trying to explain our location.
Thankfully no dogs came, and the military patrol showed up twenty minutes later. “At ease.” Said one of the soldiers, when they arrived.
Two different soldiers quickly approached the body and started inspecting it. “She didn’t die to the dogs.” One of them said. “She was strangled and most likely raped before that.” I would rather be killed by dogs myself.
“Pack the body, the doctors at the base will check it out.” The soldier in charge looked at us next. “Do you guys need a ride back to the city?” We agreed. I looked at the black bag beneath our feet for the entire trip back.
“Here.” Warren said, handing me four small cores. I looked at him confused. “We got a bonus for calling in the body. It turns out that the woman was killed by her two teammates, they caught them already.” It had been barely three hours since we came back to the base, the army sure did work quick. “Tomorrow we are staying at base to rest, and today at 9pm we are going to the bar with Jake.” He said and left me alone in my tent.
It was time to grind.
[Meditation] is now level 25. You have gained 1 Path point. Increases mana regeneration by 25% while the skill is active.
[Leg Muscle Enhancement] is now level 5 (max). You have gained 1 Path point. Actively increases Running Speed by 25%. Uses 1 mana points per second.
The decrease in mana cost of [Leg Muscle Enhancement] was something that I was very happy about, it doubled the usefulness of the skill. It was weird though that I got no new path for completing the skill, perhaps I needed to have every ‘muscle enhancement’ skill maxed. Not to mention that I had no mana consuming skill that I could focus on, at least until I got [Detect Presence].
On the other hand it seemed like [Meditation] had a very high level cap. According to some people online there were already people with forty some levels in it. Yet, even with 25 levels in it it boosted my mana regeneration from 2 to 2.5 per hour. It was useful, but not game breaking. Not to mention that everyone that used mana for something used [Meditation] in free time. It was the small cores that gave me most of my mana that I used for training.
[Path of Wisdom 15/25] They might have laughed at Einstein, but they also laughed at you. Wisdom increased by 1.
I looked at my watch, it was almost 9 pm. Time to forget about what happened earlier.
“Are we going to the same forest as before?” I asked Warren as he arrived at our meeting point, Garry was already next to me.
“We are.” Warren said and we started walking. It rained the day before, when we had our free day. The ground was a bit muddy, thankfully most of the walking is done on the road.
We didn’t find a body this time. “They will charge us if we kill the first three.” Warren said as we looked at seven dogs. Usually we encountered one or two, which we could easily dispose of with the first volley.
“How fast are they?” I asked as I looked at the dogs which were digging and gnawing at the roots. They almost always did that, why?
It was Garry that whispered back. “Like the usual thick dog, thirty kilometers per hour at most.” I could outrun that.
“We could shoot another valley when they run, it should still be easy to hit them with them running in a straight line.” Warren whispered.
“Should.” I quoted, both of them noticed my attitude. I would rather not take chances.
“With sixty meters beetween us we should be able to shoot three times.” Warren whispered back. “We vote. Pro.”
“Pro.” Garry quickly added, to which I sighed a bit annoyed. “At my mark.” Warren added. We checked our bows and each of us stuck four arrows in the ground to grab them faster. I breathed hard.
“Garry left, William right.” Warren middle went unsaid. “Ready.” Our arrows nocked and aimed. “Fire.” I didn’t check if my or others arrows hit, I quickly took a second arrow and looked at the hounds while nocking. Garry already shot a second arrow and four dogs were down. Warren and I shot at once. We both hit the same dog. Fuck. They formed a line and the ‘left, right, middle’ tactic was useless now.
[Ranged Weapon Mastery] is now level 17. You have gained 1 Path point. Increases handling of the ranged weapons. Increases Dexterity while using ranged weapons by 17%.
They were almost on us, I stumbled as I tried to pick up a third arrow and by the time I started nocking it Garry killed the third dog. The last one leaped at me and Warren’s arrow missed as the dog jumped. I jumped back, but it didn’t do much.
[12 damage received] [14 damage received]
[Minor Bleeding] debuff activated. Decreases Health over time.
[Pain Resistance] is now level 4. You have gained 1 Path point. Decreases pain by 4%.
I gave it my left hand to gnaw on, but I was too afraid to even think about grabbing a knife with my other hand to stab it, instead I tried to wrestle it off. Warren was quick to stab it’s neck with his own knife ending it’s life in a single strike.
“Fuck me.” I almost shouted through pain as I tried to stop the bleeding with my other arm. I didn’t have much success in doing so. Warren took out a medkit from his bag and kneeled next to me. “Stop. Let me look.”
In panic I worsened my wounds a bit by squeezing at them too hard. Garry forced me to stop squirming and I released my own arm.
Only 5 health lost from bleeding? My panic subsided quite a bit. I looked at my arm, which Warren cut off my sleeve from. There were some nasty holes in it but they weren’t large, they were slowly letting blood out. I felt intense pain again as a liquid which Warren poured connected with those holes.
[Pain Resistance] is now level 5. You have gained 1 Path point. Decreases pain by 5%.
“Fuck!” I screamed somewhat louder this time. Warren was quick to wash it over with water from his canteen. The pain subsidized significantly. He quickly applied bandages to it, which stopped most of the bleeding.
[Minor Bleeding] debuff deactivated.
Well, all of it.
“How is your health?” Garry asked worriedly, though he stopped worrying once I told him my health status. “That’s not even close.” He said, smiling a bit. I could see that it was forced.
“Loot the cores and we are going back. There is a scent of blood on us now.” Warren said as he looked at his own bloodied sleeves, by my own blood.