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Chapter 24 - Pests and Poisons V

There were two ways to go about polluting the veabers’ water supply. The typical approach was to corrupt the source directly. But in Claire’s particular situation, the more common solution was also the less applicable one. The arboreal cave dwellers were unlike the sentient and awakened in that they didn’t get their water from wells or springs. They were just grabbing whatever happened to be available, which in their case was the murky brown-green liquid that filled the swamp. And as there was far too much of that to poison, she had no choice but to seek an alternative.

Her second idea involved sneaking into the central tower where the redskins were taking their buckets. At a glance, plan B looked like the more favourable of the two answers, but a more careful analysis revealed that it was just as suspect, albeit for a completely different set of reasons. The first and foremost was that the innermost tower was well guarded. That wasn’t to say that the veabers were actively guarding it. There weren’t any patrols or obvious guards within the walls. The security came instead as a function of traffic. While the camp itself was rather depopulated, the building at its center was swarming with squirrel people. Just about every single veaber was either moving directly to or from it.

Though the community’s main storehouse was far from lavish, it did at least appear larger than the others in its cohort. That, however, wasn’t to say that it was any taller, longer, or wider. What it had, that the other towers didn’t, was a countless number of extensions built into its trunk. The extrusions were large upside-down platforms held in place by scaffolding. They weren’t exactly balconies, but they appeared to serve the same purpose. Squirrels of all different widths could be seen lounging on top of them.

Unlike the veabers in charge of transporting goods, the ones on the platforms were dressed. They wore robes made of dried leaves and adorned their naked heads with flowers. Some wore floral rings, while others fastened individual large blossoms to their foreheads. The natural accessories did serve to make the filthy creatures slightly less ugly, but Claire still found them far from appealing.

The divide between the two populations was a phenomenon she could only label as bizarre. It was like there was a ruling class. Again, the insect analogy reared its head. Everything seemed to line up and simply make sense if she thought of them as being similar to ants or bees, even though the supposed caveveabers looked nothing like bugs. Or beavers, for that matter.

Continuing to observe the central spire, Claire decided that sneaking inside was outright impossible. She was going to need a distraction. The first thing that came to mind was to transform one of the large wooden towers into a pyre, but the blue-eyed rogue had no idea how she was supposed to go about the process. She had never been interested in nor good at fire magic, and the use of Dorr’s divine spark was a pipe dream at best. Lacking in passion and ambition, she was as far from being one of his chosen as could possibly be. Not discouraged by her lack of knowledge, the halfbreed did at least give the idea a try, but nothing came out of it. She rubbed a pair of sticks together as quickly as she could, and she even managed to get them to make a loud crackle, but that was only because she had accidentally squeezed them a little too hard. Repeating the experiment didn’t provide any results either. She was never able to produce even the slightest bit of fire or smoke.

Fortunately, Claire had a much more viable backup plan in mind. If there was one thing she learned from the life she spent in high society, it was that those in power always got what they wanted, no matter how ridiculous their demands were, or how little anyone else cared. That was to say that causing a fuss required nothing more than agitating a member of the ruling class. And climbing halfway up the tower she was in provided her with the precise conditions she required to do just that.

She tried to gauge the distance as she peeked out from one of the holes in the building’s side. Coming up with a concrete number proved impossible, but that wasn’t a problem. She didn’t need one. Her Dagger Mastery and Throwing skills confirmed that the fattest squirrel was within range. The angle she had on it wasn’t perfect, as she needed to stick half her body out of the spire to establish a line of sight, but it was good enough. Raising a metal knife, she adjusted her aim, took a deep breath, and launched the weapon with a whip of the arm.

At first, the blade looked like it would land on target. It flew in a straight line, whistling through the air with unexpected force. But despite all initial appearances, the kitchen tool-turned-projectile never reached its target. It veered off course about halfway through its flight and planted itself in the dirt behind the building. An unfortunate result, but not an unanticipated one. Claire had never thrown a knife before, and while she was somewhat hopeful, she didn’t think that she would be able to nail her target on her first try. Her skills certainly could aid her in bolstering her accuracy and technique, but they were far from almighty and could not strictly determine the outcome of an attack. One or two misses was well within the expected margin of error. There was an argument to be made about wasting the few refined weapons she had, but she didn’t find herself even the slightest bit bothered. Poisoning the water supply would provide an entire population’s worth of experience. The knives were well worth the investment, not to mention there was a fair chance she would be able to retrieve them once all the veabers were dead.

Both her second and third attempts went equally as poorly. Knife number two was thrown with too much force and wound up embedding itself too high up the tower while its successor went wide. Neither attack was more accurate or precise than the first; they were just as far from the target. Claire was starting to feel nervous, but she kept up her assault nonetheless. All she needed was for one of them to hit.

But none of them did. She started grumbling after the fourth miss, ground her teeth after the fifth, and threw a small fit after the sixth. When even the seventh failed to find its mark, the rogue decided that enough was enough. Her patience was exhausted and her annoyance was at an all time high, so she thoughtlessly grabbed the remaining three knives and hurled them all at once.

Her target, the widest squirrel-beaver, remained completely unharmed, but the slightly smaller individual next to him did not. One of the thicker blades embedded itself in the red-skin’s skull.

Log Entry 648
Throwing has reached level 2.

Yes!

Her joy was short-lived. While the veaber she managed to hit did stand up and look around in confusion, it soon dismissed the attack as nothing but a coincidence. It stretched, flopped back onto the balcony, and returned to lazing around without a care in the world. Evidently, it didn’t think that the knife was worth its time. The creature didn’t bother pulling it out. The only thing it did to acknowledge the weapon’s presence was occasionally scratch at the area around it. Even though it was bleeding.

Claire was stunned. It took her a good few moments to process the veaber’s complete and utter lack of concern. Getting over the initial shock, however, filled her with annoyance. There was no denying that a part of her vexation was self-directed. Forgoing Envenom, getting impatient, and blindly relying on the confidence inspired in her by skills had all contributed to the failure. With that said, she still felt that most of the blame lay with the veaber.

What kind of monster just decides to go back to sleep with a knife in its head!?

The halfbreed nearly screamed the words at the top of her lungs. Its behaviour was downright unreasonable, an obvious affront to life itself. Huffing and puffing with pure rage, the rogue picked up the empty knife block, cast Envenom on it and selected bee venom just to be petty. She knew that its effects were far from fatal, but it was sure to hurt much more than the ravens’ poison.

She was no more successful with the wooden slab than she was with any of her knives. It wound up falling short and hitting some random other veaber instead. Still, she was satisfied. The pained yowls that followed the impact were like music to her ears. Knowing that a veaber was suffering did something magical to put her heart at ease.

Shouldersnake would be proud.

Her mood recovered, the halfbreed sat down and contemplated her next steps. She still needed a distraction and evidently, a long ranged attack wasn’t going to cut it. Even the red-skin injured by the knife block had already returned to its duties, albeit while continuing to intermittently yelp in pain. Somehow, no one seemed to care that the camp was under attack. Neither the veabers she’d struck nor any of their fellows had batted an eye at the sudden assault.

Maybe they’re like cappysseans.

The river folk were known for being incredibly laid back and spent much of their time doing only the bare minimum. It was not uncommon for them to nap wherever and whenever they saw fit. Fuzzy and gentle, they got along with just about everything. Even monsters that typically attacked on sight could occasionally be found relaxing by a cappyssean’s side. That wasn’t to say that the fleecy giants would fail to respond when subjected to harm, but they were more prone to staying still than they were retaliating. Knowing of the river folk’s behaviour was the only reason Claire was able to rationalize the veaber’s complete and utter lack of concern.

But then why was the first one I attacked so jumpy? Is it because it knew it was going to die?

Whatever the case, Claire felt that her direction was clear. Just like how the river folk would react when their waterways were dammed, the veabers were sure to rise from their lethargy once they lost something of value. In other words, the problem was scale. She needed to cause a commotion that was disproportionately dramatic and attention-grabbing, an earth shaking event that would cause every squirrel-goblin in the area to freeze.

She needed to take down a tower.

It was the only option she could think of. Many long hours had clearly gone into constructing the looming edifices. Gathering the wood alone would have taken an eternity and every single one of the dozen or so buildings contained hundreds, if not thousands of trees’ worth of lumber. A collapse was sure to produce the result she was looking for. The only question was how she was supposed to go about causing one.

Leveling a tower was no easy task. It wasn’t as if she could simply dislodge the base and be done with it—a conclusion she reached only after an initial attempt. Even with her strength stat, which was now far in excess of that of the average mage, she found it impossible to relocate or destroy the spires. Though the walls that made up the top floor appeared as haphazardly put together as all the others, they were tough, unyielding, and most likely enhanced with wood magic. She wasn’t able to leave so much as a scratch, regardless of how she attacked them. That, however, was not to say that the halfbreed was out of options. Seeing some of the root-based materials in the building’s foundation had reminded her of a perfectly viable alternative. Digging.

The ceiling was within Claire’s reach, albeit barely. Her ability to touch it, however, didn’t come with the ability to bore a hole of any notable depth. There wasn’t anything for her to stand on, so she was only able to scrape away at the top layer of soil. Her original plan, using the dirt she excavated to craft a foothold, ended in total failure, as all of it would wind up magnetted back to the forest floor whenever it was dislodged. Climbing up into the hole she made didn’t work either, as the soil was too loose and crumbly. She couldn’t hoist herself up high enough to secure a raised position. Starting in the only corner of the room whose wood was smooth and difficult to grip hadn’t exactly helped either, but Claire continued to pretend that it was a non-factor even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Left with no other choice, Claire began to look for a footstool. Locating something appropriate was surprisingly difficult. The only pieces of furniture around, the upside down beds, were literally just piles of sticks. Grabbing them only caused them to fall apart. The halfbreed didn’t have anything suitable on hand either. Neither of her bags provided much in the way of height and the knife block had already bid its final farewell.

Returning to a lower floor and retrieving one of the thicker trunks used in the building’s exterior was sure to solve her problem, but lugging a large chunk of wood around seemed like a tiresome miserable chore. She really didn’t want to do it, but in the end, she found herself dropping down nonetheless, mostly because moving to another corner seemed closer to admitting defeat than seeking something to stand on. Both choices would have led to frustration, so she chose the one that left her feeling less annoyed.

She ran into several decent looking pieces as she moved throughout the tower, but as most of the walls near the base were reinforced, she found it too difficult to retrieve them. The first she managed to tear out was a literal stump located roughly halfway down the spire. Its top was relatively flat, with a few indents here and there courtesy of the veabers’ teeth, while its bottom was more or less made up of a bundle of dried roots. For something that was roughly her width and only half her height, the stump was surprisingly heavy. It was so heavy, in fact, that it would slowly drift towards the ceiling even while she sat on it.

At first, she thought her discovery to be a bust, but spitefully keeping herself perched on top brought about an eye-opening realization. The floating bundle of roots and wood was even more suited to her purposes than a traditional footstool. It rose at a very slow but steady rate and she was able to keep it from ascending more than she wanted it to by placing her hand on the ceiling and lightly pushing against it. Thanks to that particular property, transporting it proved much easier than anticipated, but that wasn’t to say that the process wasn’t without its fair share of difficulties.

The biggest problem was its propensity to flip. Claire was usually able to stay balanced while she dragged the dead tree across the ceiling; keeping her legs tucked into its root system helped her lock it in place. But she wasn’t exactly consistent. Every once in a while, she would catch herself leaning in a random direction. Resisting the urge to shift her weight around was difficult. She couldn’t help but want to entertain herself by watching the dried up plant react as she swayed to and fro. Each time she leaned too far, the entire stump would turn itself upside down and fly into the ceiling as she plummeted into the woodwork. Getting it moving again wasn’t hard, but turning it so that the flattest side pointed upwards was rarely painless. There were some other minor issues as well, such as how it would get stuck in the holes between the various floors and how its tendrils would occasionally get caught on the walls that they passed, but none had bothered her as much as its tendency to capsize for reasons totally outside the realm of her control.

It took a long time for Claire to make it back to the dig site. She was mentally exhausted by the obnoxious exercise, but not one to admit defeat, she stretched her shoulders and got right to work.

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Spicy Space Squid

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