Chapter 16 - The Night's Knell

Claire shook off her sole pursuer with surprising ease. The rocket-powered raven had kept up with her at first, but smacking it into the water with a kick to the wing drained all its momentum and allowed her to escape. The attack was far from optimal, made only out of convenience. It just so happened that the rogue didn’t quite feel like drawing a weapon while running, dodging, and handling a wooden block stuffed full of knives. The blades were being jostled around with every step she took, and she was worried that they would fall out and stab her in the feet if she didn’t use her free hand to keep them all in place.

Log Entry 564
You have acquired the Unarmed Combat Mastery skill.

She didn’t check the skill’s details right away. The halfbreed was highly skeptical of its usefulness. She had never taken well to the barehanded martial arts, in part because Durham was an awful instructor, and in part because the concept never made sense to her. She knew monks and other similar classes specialized in unarmed combat, but even that bit of knowledge failed to change her opinion. As far she was concerned, a monk equipped with a katar was far more fearsome than an empty handed one. Push daggers were basically just pointy, elongated fists, after all.

With that said, prejudice wasn’t the only reason she had refrained from examining the skill. Her second and more important rationale was that she simply didn’t feel safe. The grassy bog was too open. There was nowhere for her to hide. Anyone with a pair of eyes could easily chase her down unless she got far enough away to become indistinguishable from every other speck on the horizon.

The conscious reminder of a potential pursuit prompted the halfbreed to activate her own Tracking skill. She focused it on none other than the hostile dogman whose home she raided, revealing that he was still more or less exactly where she left him. She didn’t know if he had managed to recover in the few minutes after her departure, but she doubted it. All of her Durham-derived experience informed her that the blow had undoubtedly left him in a state too sad and sorry for him to consider chasing her down in the near future.

Claire’s pace finally slowed to a walk after about ten minutes of running full sprint, or at least as close to full sprint as she could get while wading through a marsh. She could no longer make out the man’s house, so she figured that, while she wasn’t exactly safe, given the nature of the environment she found herself in, she was at least in a lesser amount of danger. To that end, the rogue decided that it was time to take a bit of a break.

She heaved a sigh of relief, found a nearby patch of grass whose roots were situated above water level, and sat down. Planting her butt into the uncomfortably moist soil, the halfbreed crammed the knife block into her newly acquired shoulder bag. It was difficult, given that it was already nearly filled to the brim, but shuffling a pair of pants into the much smaller bag hanging off her waist remedied the issue. Once that was done, she stretched her shoulders and popped open her log. But she didn’t get to read through her newest skill’s description. Raising her eyes to meet the text had led her gaze to something much more attention grabbing than an out of place blue box. The sky.

The bright blue abyss had, without her knowledge, turned a shade of yellow. That, in and of itself, wasn’t too concerning, at least not at first. She assumed, given the colour of the sky, that she would have more than enough time to make it back to the spiralling corridor before it set. An assumption that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The daylight faded rapidly before her very eyes. It turned from yellow to orange in less than a minute and orange to black shortly after.

A bell began to toll right as the last vestige of colour vanished from the firmament. Its deep, reverberant chimes were, simply put, jarring. It wasn’t loud, but it almost seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. She couldn’t understand it. It seemed to stem from the trees, the grass, the swamp, and even the inside of her own head, all at once. The constant ringing was like an attack on her mind. Every single obnoxious tintinnabulation served to assault her brain, scorching it black with an overload of information. Each subsequent magical echo grew louder, distorted her senses further, and sent her deeper into an abyss of confusion. By the fifth, she found even her proprioception affected; she couldn’t tell where her feet were, only what they were touching. She folded her ears down against her head and even used her hands to push them closer, but to no avail. No matter how hard she smooshed the fuzzy triangular appendages into her skull, she was unable to cut off the distinct ringing of brass. Closing her eyes only made it even worse. Surrendering her vision led her to lose her balance and fall. But not into the swamp.

Her cloak was scraped by a deluge of branches as she tumbled through the canopy of a large oak. After making it through a whirling dervish of sticks and leaves, she found herself with her back slammed against the tree’s rock hard root. The unexpected pain caused her to loose a winded cry of pain, an eep that went unheard, drowned out by the rhythmic ringing of bells. She didn’t know how many times it had tolled, but each individual ring had been long and painful enough to feel like an eternity.

Only when it finally went silent did she manage to reorient herself. She took several deep breaths, opened her eyes, and found herself on the forest floor. Though her mind was still screaming in agony, she was able to deduce that the world had somehow been flipped on its head.

She tore a piece off her cloak and doused it in cold stale water to turn it into a compress and resolve her migraine issue. But much to her annoyance, it didn’t help. In fact, using Llystletein Authority had only made her headache worse by way of a new notification. She wasn’t exactly in the mood to sift through her log, but she decided to pop it open anyway just to get rid of her latest mental irritant.

Log Entry 565
You have heeded the Whisper of Mirewood Meadow. The Lord of the Holt awaits those who dare to challenge it.

That was NOT a whisper!

A reasonably annoyed Claire punched the nearest tree. To nobody’s surprise, it was an action she immediately began to regret. The thick trunk was much tougher than her fingers.

Log Entry 566
Llystletein Authority has reached level 3.

You have unlocked a new action.

At least there’s good news.

With one hand still pressing the makeshift compress to her head, she pushed herself off the ground and repositioned such that her back was against the tree she had just assaulted. Rubbing her temples with the cold moist towel helped immensely; she was able to slowly but surely work the migraine out of her system. As soon as the throbbing vanished, she found herself presented with yet another letter in her inbox. She directed her eyes to her log once again, but not before scanning her surroundings and making sure that she was alone. She would’ve tried using her ears as well, but they were still too irritated for her to bother.

Log Entry 567
You have acquired the Detect Force Magic skill.

Force magic?

Having listened to bards from far and wide, Claire was relatively well educated on the different schools of magic, but the self proclaimed head librarian was the only person that she had ever heard refer to force-based witchcraft. Not even the bards had mentioned it before, in passing or otherwise. She was rather curious as to the magic’s effects, and her newfound skill was the only source of information she had, so she promptly began reading through its details in earnest.

Detect Force Magic - Level 1
Force magic is an ancient school of magic often employed by celestials and their betters. Your prolonged exposure to and surprising but still pitiful affinity for this strain of the mystic arts has allowed you develop the subconscious ability to detect and resist it. Perhaps there is hope for you yet. I look forward to the day you stop struggling with simple tasks.

Is it just me, or is the box being meaner than usual today?

- Increases your sensitivity to force magic and its derivatives.
- You are capable of actively and passively resisting force magic.

The halfbreed spent a few moments thinking about the skill before dismissing it outright. Though she had been exposed to force magic twice in the past two days, she felt it unlikely for her to encounter anyone or anything capable of employing it outside of this particular dungeon. Moreover, any hostile encounter with a celestial was likely to outright kill her regardless of all else. She simply wasn’t able to take on an immortal. Not even her father was, no matter how many men he had. The final nail in the skill’s metaphorical coffin was that she didn’t need it to detect a force spell. As far as she could tell, their effects were too far from subtle for such an ability to be necessary in the first place.

Unarmed Combat Mastery - Level 1
While many masters of the barehanded martial arts have fists as hard as steel, you are not one of them. You should not be punching trees, even if this skill does make it easier for you to fight without a weapon.

Shut up Box. That was an accident.

- Unlocks unarmed combat skills.
- Improves all techniques that do not strictly require weapons.
- You are now capable of deflecting some projectiles with your bare hands.
- Increases damage dealt by 11% (10% + 1% per level) when attacking without a weapon.
- When unarmed, your strength is improved by 60% (50% + 10% per level) of your dexterity.

I’m not really sure how useful this is going to be.

The projectile deflection aspect sounded somewhat intriguing, but she still doubted its viability. There was no reason for her to use her fingers to divert an incoming attack when she could just as easily do the same with a dagger.

Claire sighed as she activated Llystletein Authority. The subpar nature of both her new skills had led her to suspect that the new action she acquired would be just as useless.

Llystletein Authority
- Establish Safe Zone (Cooldown: 6 days)
- *NEW* Expunge Waste As Mana (200MP)

Spawnable Drinks
- Cosmogoblitan (50MP)
- Mimicosa☆ (500MP)
- *NEW* Raven Rocket Fuel (100MP)
- Stale Water (25MP)

Spawnable Food
- Fried Frog Wings (100MP)
- Grilled Veaber Tail (200MP)
- Hellhog Bolognese (500MP)
- Pulled Orc (150MP)
- Stale Bread (25MP)

Like everything but stale water, the newest addition was another beverage she had never heard of. She was planning to try them all eventually, but not now, and not on herself. A taste tester would be needed to confirm their effects. With that said, Claire tossed the raven-related acquisition into a corner of her mind and focused on the other entry, the acquisition that came to her like a stunning revelation, an ability she hadn’t known she needed.

The ability to magically use the bathroom was literally life-changing. Never again would she have to suffer while she played the role of a party’s host, just because several groups of important guests decided they wanted to converse with her. Never again would she have to spend thirty minutes removing a fancy dress and loosening its accompanying corset just to use the bathroom in comfort. And never again would she have to strip naked in the middle of a cave just to deal with an unfortunate case of moss-induced indigestion. Now more than ever, Claire was free. Or least that was what she thought until she realized that the first two scenarios were no longer applicable. She wasn’t even sure of the relevance of the third, as she had no idea if the action could serve as a remedy for an upset stomach. The halfbreed was almost tempted to put that particular aspect of the ability to the test. Almost.

Though she managed to steer herself away from that particular experiment, she was still interested in giving the action itself a whirl. But much to her dismay, she couldn’t. Using the huskar’s bathroom had left her with no waste to expunge. Knowing that it was a conscious decision left her mad at herself. But it also didn’t. She knew that it had been the best choice at the time, as there was no telling when she would be able to locate another similarly functional facility.

Upon realizing that neither choice would have been able to satisfy her, the miffed half reptilian set her hindsight goggles aside and moved on. There would always be another chance to avoid relieving herself the way nature intended.

Claire got up, brushed the dirt off her cloak, and directed her eyes up through the canopy. She quickly concluded that gazing at the swamp hanging overhead would be unproductive. It was already impossible for her to see into its murky depths during the day, and the night had only made it worse. The water reflected most of the light that touched it, but none of the scenery. All she could really make out was that it was there.

Though the change in perspective made it difficult for her to know where she was, Claire wasn’t lost, nor did she think she would have a difficult time navigating the woodland. The starlight made it surprisingly easy for her to see everything in the forest, and her ability to track the dogman only made it easier for her to reorient and guesstimate her position.

Log Entry 568
Tracking has reached level 3.

Claire looked at the bag slung over her shoulders as she contemplated her options. Considering the victim’s circumstances did leave her with a momentary wince, but she wrote returning his goods off her list of options nonetheless. She had no intention of going back. It simply wasn’t worth the risk. There was no telling how he would react, regardless of her approach. And frankly, she needed his clothes more than he did.

It had gotten too dark to explore, but she decided to continue working on her previous objective, returning to her safe zone. She wringed out the tiny piece of cloth she had used as a compress, put it back inside of her waist pouch, and headed off in the direction of her origin.

A note from Spicy Space Squid

Here's a shoutout to Alaqi, who has been nice enough to go around on the forums offering people free reviews and criticisms. He's also doing a LitRPG, albeit one that's at a much faster pace, if you're sick of how slow things are on this side of the world. It's called Maker of Power.

Also, to address a few points of feedback.
- The main character's identity is planned to be slowly unveiled and explored in more detail, along with her personality and motivations as we go along. You should be catching glimpses, within the next five or so chapters, of why this has been something that has been actively avoided.
- I agree that the fiction is really wordy and I could use some improvements on the style. I'll try to see what I can do about this. It's a little difficult without any other characters for Claire to interact with directly. The first won't be showing up for a little longer...
- I'm always open to more feedback, so feel free to throw things at me in the comments/reviews/pms/etc.

About the author

Spicy Space Squid

Bio: Surprisingly tangy and delicious.

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