Chapter 23 - Pests and Poisons IV
Claire crawled through the canopy at a pace slow enough to put a snail to shame. Reducing her speed was paramount to navigating the area around the heavily guarded wooden fortress. Though she had two skills that aided in concealing her, neither were truly capable of keeping her out of sight. Moving around too much and standing in plain sight would both get her spotted.
Circling the fence’s perimeter led the blue blooded rogue to conclude that the naked squirrel rats were unintelligent. Her reason? A lack of doors. She couldn’t find anything even remotely resembling a gate no matter how hard she looked. The only way to access the settlement was to squirm through one of the many small holes that decorated its outer wall, and that was not something she was willing to do. The biggest contributor to her hesitation was a lack of vision. There was no way for her to determine if there were any squirrel-goblins standing guard on the other side of an entryway, nor was there any way for her to retreat if she was spotted. Escaping a wood mage in a forest was impossible.
Still, it wasn’t as if infiltrating the enemy stronghold was entirely out of the question. If no existing entrance was safe, then all she had to do was create a new one. Surprisingly, she found that particular idea just as easily done as it was said. It was rare for her to go any more than a few minutes without her ears picking up a patrol, but she was able to locate a suitable entrance nonetheless. One of the larger patched up holes she found was in the perfect position. A large tree blocked it from view and guaranteed that she would remain undetected while she made her way inside.
The hole’s plug was haphazard at best, made up of nothing but a stack of sticks. The tiny branches weren’t cleverly engineered to stay where they were, nor were they cleverly strewn together with a locking mechanism. They were simply packed so tightly that their sheer volume kept them in place. Taking the primitive solution apart proved simple. The only inconvenience Claire experienced was gravity. Every single stick in the pile was attracted to the forest’s floor. That made lifting them incredibly easy, but she felt like she had to actively hold them down if she didn’t want the unprocessed wood to suddenly boost itself into the forest floor above. The halfbreed soon learned, purely through happenstance, that the sticks at the bottom of the pile were the least weighed down and easiest to remove. But much to her annoyance, her understanding didn’t make handling the wood any less intuitive.
A lack of intuition wasn’t the only problem she had to face either. She began to hear a faint metallic chirping about a quarter of the way through the stick removal process. The rogue froze the moment she caught it, as she had thought that the noise had come from a raven, but its source was the wall’s interior. Continuing to dig eventually led a small orb of iron to drop down from the stick pile. Her first thought was that it was most likely something made by an artificer. The heartbeat-like blue pulse it emitted from time to time was all but indicative of a forge-based origin. She had been tempted to take it along with her at first, as it seemed capable of serving as a hefty projectile if nothing else, but stopped short as soon as she recalled a certain dog-faced annoyance.
This is probably his, isn’t it? I should break it. It’s his fault I’m lost.
Something about the idea of carelessly disassembling his property warmed her heart, so she set it down next to her and kicked it as hard as she could.
The orb flew off into the forest, landing somewhere out of sight. Her foot was in pain, for reasons, but she decided to write the sequence of events off as a win nonetheless. While she was certainly missing a few points of health, the metallic orb had probably also suffered in the process. Probably.
Log Entry 640
Sneaking has reached level 7.
Claire began examining the hole as she nursed her foot. The rogue had already caught a good few glimpses of the fence’s interior, but opening up a massive cavity provided the best view yet. Studying the scene, she finally came to understand why she had never been able to make out anything of note from afar. There simply wasn’t anything to be seen. The fortified settlement was much emptier than the forest that contained it. Not a single tree stood within its border. Every last one had been chopped down and harvested for use in construction.
Opposite fence aside, there was nothing to see but the occasional tower. Each wooden high-rise was distinctly malformed, courtesy of the redskins’ primitive construction skills, but their overall designs appeared to be the same. They were all windowless rectangular edifices that bridged the gap between the two parallel worlds.
And that was it.
There was nothing else.
The ample light that filtered its way through the less-than-perfect fence allowed her to confirm that the ground was barren, both above and below. Most of the vegetation had been outright removed if not wilted and trampled. Everything, everything was covered in a layer of putrid ooze. Everywhere she looked, she saw nothing but muck, grime, and manure. The complete and utter lack of hygiene reaffirmed the suspicion that the redskins were just mutant goblins. Most green tongues used the pitiful bit of intelligence they possessed to worship the plague gods, and as a result, lived their lives wallowing in their own filth. They were so unsanitary that even flies and mosquitoes shied away from their camps.
Contrary to her expectations, the interior was nearly deserted. There were only a few small groups roaming around the compound, none of which were guards. Even the spires were empty, if her ears were to be believed. The rodent population seemed oddly skewed. It was like there were more guards than there were civilians.
What are they? Ants?
The insect analogy only started to make more sense as she continued to observe. Most of the individuals navigating the nest were doing so with purpose. They appeared to be workers, as they were all either moving towards a very specific central building or navigating towards an exit. The groups that were headed inwards did so with various objects in hand. Of the fifty-odd load-bearing monsters, over half were carrying something particularly eye-catching. Fruit. Claire had no idea where they were getting the oversized crimson berries; she hadn’t seen anything of the sort throughout the course of her exploration. As someone recently deprived of anything that actually tasted like food, the halfbreed found herself charmed by the thought of pilfering a few for herself. Not that she was a thief. Or in possession of any stolen goods whatsoever.
Clothes? Knives? What are those? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Fruit aside, the squirrels weren’t carrying too much of interest. They had frogs, deer, and many other critters, alongside buckets of swamp water, but that was it. Nothing else quite caught Claire’s eye. Not that it mattered. Her course of action had long been carved in stone. Seeing the large ripe berries had long led her to choose a life of larceny. Even though she had never quite liked fruit to begin with.
Her next objective decided, the halfbreed shook her head free of the distraction, redirected her focus, and sought out her target.
She crawled through her makeshift entrance and dropped down to the floor with a splat. Making noise was unavoidable. The ground was muddy with swamp water, among other things, and there was nothing for her to grab onto to stop or even slow her descent. Fortunately, she was able to remain undetected. Her Sneaking skill aided her in dampening the wet squelch.
The rogue closed her eyes and centered her attention on the mark in her mind. The skill wasn’t able to pinpoint the red-tailed beast’s precise location, but it did at least assist her in identifying the building that the rodent had fled to. It wasn’t too far. Only a few hundred meters remained between them.
Along the way, she found herself struck by the sudden urge to contemplate the nature of her target. It didn’t seem as weak as any of the other monsters she had encountered in the marsh forest. The heavy blow she had landed barely phased it, even though weaker attacks had easily ended frogs and ravens alike. And that was without taking the assassination bonus into account.
The redskin’s durability was not exactly a call for concern in and of itself, as different monsters had different traits and specialties. What was concerning, however, was that the squirrel-goblin had not been a defensive specialist. It was clearly faster than Claire was, even when injured, and its attack power wasn’t all that subdued either. It wasn’t capable of dishing out extreme amounts of damage, but its hits were far from lackluster, especially for something capable of inflicting damage through both might and magic.
Claire was starting to suspect that she was biting off more than she could chew. The naked tree rats were likely a much higher level than her, either that, or they were a part of an innately powerful race. The only other possibility she had in mind was that they were ascendants, but that was unlikely. Entire races didn’t simply ascend together. Whatever the case, the rodent’s stats were likely higher than hers.
Envenom didn’t really do anything, did it?
She frowned as she reflected on the skill’s lack of an effect. Whatever it did to the redskin was lackluster at best. The wart-covered freak hadn’t seemed even the slightest bit bothered by the poison, nor did it appear to suffer from the sudden onset lethargy that had plagued her when she had consumed it. Not that she knew how fast it was supposed to have been to begin with.
I guess I’m not using that worthless skill anymore.
Upon arriving at the spire, Claire suddenly became cognizant of a fact that left her incredibly annoyed. The building was just like the fence. It didn’t have a door, nor did it have any stairs. The only way to access the closest entrance, which was roughly three Claires off the ground, was to climb.
Suppressing a groan, the halfbreed started to reach for the tower. There were many places for her to grab. Like the fence, it was made of untrimmed wood with many a branch still attached. But though she managed to reach it, she never tightened her grip on the protrusion that she had set her eyes on. A life changing realization, a bolt from the blue, had frozen her in place. The sticks near the tower’s base were the easiest to manipulate. Despite how they appeared, they weren’t being held down by those on top of them. Breaking and entering was as easy as removing one thick branch and squeezing through the resulting gap.
Her initial impression of the interior was that it was dull, lacking, and surprisingly well lit. Not even two layers of wooden filters could stop the light from seeping through and illuminating her surroundings. The only furnishings she could find were upside down beds made out of branches and leaves. There was nothing else. No desks, no drawers, no tables, no nightstands, no dressers, nothing. Poking her head out through the room’s sole exit led her to discover that all the other chambers were the same, and that more importantly, the concept of a hallway was one the redskins failed to understand. The rooms were connected only to one another.
Finding her target within the poorly thought out building proved incredibly simple. It was on the same elevation as her, so all it took for her to reach it was a little bit of sneaking around. Not that any of the sneaking was even remotely necessary. All of the rooms she passed through had been empty and devoid of life.
Looking through the doorway, Claire realized that the red-skinned squirrel goblin wasn’t exactly as unscathed as it had previously appeared. Unlike her, it had yet to regenerate all the health it lost during their encounter. In fact, its wounds hadn’t even begun to heal. Both gashes were still leaking a sickly dark yellow fluid. As were all its orifices. Its eyes, nose, mouth, and ears all bled profusely, soaking the ceiling in its vital fluids.
Though it was near the room’s entrance, it failed to notice her advent. It didn’t twitch or react in any way as she drew closer and closer. Not even positioning herself directly underneath it was enough to merit a response. It was too preoccupied with coughing to care that it was within reach of her arms. The dying squirrel lacked the strength to move. It could do nothing but hack and wheeze as it slowly choked on its own blood.
Log Entry 641
You have slain a level 7 Llystletein caveveaber.
Log Entry 642
This feat has earned you the following bonus rewards:
- 1 point of agility
- 3 points of dexterity
- 2 points of spirit
- 1 point of strength
- 1 point of vitality
- 2 points of wisdom
Log Entry 643
One of your spawnable food items has been upgraded.
Log Entry 644
Envenom has reached level 2.
Log Entry 645
Tracking has reached level 6.
Log Entry 646
You have leveled up. Your health and mana have been restored and all harmful status effects have been cleansed.
Your racial class, Halfbreed, has reached level 17.
Your primary class, Llystletein Rogue, has reached level 22.
You have gained 8 ability points.
I’m so confused.
It took a moment for her to settle down and process all the information she had been presented with. The first and most frustrating realization to hit her was that she had just wasted the better part of her evening. Her mark had succumbed to her poison without any additional interference. She could have easily earned the exact same reward without investing any additional effort had she simply turned tail and left. The worst part of it all was that there had been no way for her to learn of the monster’s impending death. She would have wound up regretting her decision regardless of which she made. All thanks to Envenom.
I’m sorry, Envenom. I shouldn’t have called you worthless. I still hate you though.
One tired groan later, Claire shifted gears and began contemplating a more pressing issue: the monster’s species. Her log appeared to tell her that it was a Llystletein Caveveaber, but believing it was difficult at best. The dead squirrel-goblin didn’t even come close to resembling any of the other caveveabers she had encountered. Its tail was longer and more suited to an arboreal lifestyle, and its feet lacked the webbing that its supposed relative’s toes featured. The little bit of fur that it did have was a completely different colour, and its placement almost seemed like the exact opposite of the veabers’. Their tails had been their only hairless body parts, not their only hairy ones. Incisors aside, there were no notable similarities whatsoever.
The halfbreed was so confused by the development that she even bashed the supposed veaber over the head with her mace, just to make sure that it was the death her log had informed her of.
Log Entry 647
You have slain a level 1 altered raven.
Huh? What? How? There’s no way that was a raven!
The supposed raven’s level was yet another point of contention. Level one was supposed to be reserved for newborns. Most creatures outgrew it in their first few weeks. Some would even skip the first level altogether. And while Claire had no idea if the squirrel-goblin was anything that even remotely resembled an infant, she was at least fairly certain that it was capable of keeping itself alive. Unless some crazy reptile girl stabbed it in the back, of course.
Thinking about it, Claire decided that the first log entry was most likely the one that corresponded to the rodent’s death, as it was much closer to a caveveaber than it was a mechanical bird. Even though it didn’t look like a beaver. Or live in a cave.
But then where did the other kill come from?
One frustrated groan later, a less than content halfbreed decided to blame everything, including the apparent death of a random raven, on the veaber’s Llystletein tag. And she felt more than justified in doing so. The modifier was already throwing her for yet another loop. She knew that it was a bonus of sorts and that it was only natural for the veaber possessing it to be stronger than any of the others she had fought before, but the rodent’s level simply hadn’t made any sense. Every other caveveaber she had encountered had been in the double digits, with most hovering somewhere in the range of 20. Her most recent kill, on the other hand, was only level seven.
That particular topic was one that the halfbreed didn’t dwell on for long. It did confuse her, but she had no intention of chasing down an answer. The study of levels and experience was a science in and of itself, and she had absolutely no interest in any of the sciences. As far as she was concerned, only one thing mattered, and that was that the veaber had provided her with an incredible set of bonuses on death.
Llysltetein monsters seem like they’re really good experience. If only there was somewhere I could go hunt them.
Wait a second...
After a brief delay, the halfbreed recalled that there was a legion of monsters just like it awaiting her, just outside the spire. Each was just as ripe and ready to be picked as the first. All she had to do was figure out how she was supposed to go about the harvest.
She already knew that taking them out one by one wasn’t an option. The rodents preferred moving in groups. Locating a far off straggler had taken an entire afternoon, and Claire had already started to suspect that it was nothing but a one time stroke of luck. It wasn’t happening again. Likewise, attacking even a group was completely out of the question. She was much more likely to die than she was to succeed.
Is there any other way?
The first alternative to come to mind was ritual magic, but Claire was no longer a ritual mage, not that being one would have helped. The only death-inducing rite she was aware of was one that would only activate upon the caster’s demise.
She needed a less direct approach, a method of killing the monsters that didn’t involve combat or self-harm. And it just so happened that she had one such method in mind.
All she had to do was follow in her father’s footsteps. By poisoning their water source.