Against his plans, Prof decided the next day to collect firewood — the amount the elves had prepared in was running out, and Prof thought it would have been rude to leave the stock gone if somehow Shinead returned early and they needed to leave urgently.
Being rude to folks who were known to kick out teeth of everyone who was not an elf was a good way to provide dentists with a steady income. Not that he heard about dentists on Arkadia yet. After a brief deliberation, he put on his armour and took his weapons too. After all, he was alone in a completely unknown, deep forest. True, when they ran through the forest with Shinead, they did not encounter any dangerous wildlife - in fact, no wildlife at all - but that meant nothing: every living thing that evolved through natural selection heard them from afar and pissed off.
As it turned out, he made the right decision. He had barely begun collecting firewood when he heard a huge roar from the other end of the hazelnut grove - he was never good with animal sounds (and now his Skills reflected that low skill), but it sounded as a big cat or a bear. Maybe a shark. The roar was followed by a few shouts, then a series of crackles, as if something big was wading through botany.
Prof sighed: so much for the rest. He dropped the collected firewood and set off at full speed in the direction of the sounds, hoping the monster would be manageable.
On the other side of the hazelnut grove, a breathtaking sight unfolded before his eyes: a woman dressed in fur jumped, bounced, somersaulted around, over, and next to a huge bear, trying to abuse her opponent with her – not easily recognizable – blades. Calling the bear “huge” was even downplaying the size: even when standing on four legs, it was a good head taller than Prof, who wasn’t a short man himself, and when it stood up it could have been at least twice as high. Prof didn't even dare to guess its weight, but he wouldn't have been surprised if a grown-up lower-middle-class car would have been lighter.
One blow or bite, and the bouncing woman would have been done for. Taking a closer look, Prof realized that the woman was not dressed in fur (there was specifically little textile on her), but was wearing her own fur – that is, she was not even approximately Human. This impression was reinforced by her tail, strange legs, and animal features.
Prof did not hesitate, he threw himself into the fight. Maybe the woman (assuming she was one, Prof became less and less sure of that) wasn't nearly human, but at least she was an intelligent creature what couldn't be said about the über-bear. Besides, it was at least a real bear, not a cute face-hugger raccoon…
Getting nearer, he somehow knew, he met a Dire Bear – probably one of his not-so-high Skills informed him. From his own Earth-knowledge he would have guessed a Cave Bear, and was curious if Dire Bears and Earth-Cave Bears were the same or two different species here on Arkadia. He had already met a Dire Wolf and probably a Dire Rat in the dungeon and now a Dire Bear, and was wondering when he would have to deal with a Dire Rabbit or a Dire Weasel.
Were Dire Wyverns a thing?
Done with scientific deliberations, he assaulted the bear with a loud shout. The moment Prof caught the bear's attention, the other fighter jumped back a few meters, began to murmur something in some unfamiliar language, made intricate hand gestures, and finally tossed a withered piece of root toward the moving bedspread. Prof assumed he saw a spell, not an average driver from South and/or East of the Alps, and hoped something useful or even awesome would happen.
Well, nothing happened.
The mage shouted something in a foreign language, which could have been interpreted as a curse, and began to murmur and gesture again. This time, the spell was probably successful as tendrils burst out of the ground and entangled the bear’s legs. Prof had already learned that it was much easier to beat the heads of stationary opponents in, but his smile quickly faded as the bear tore the roots without too much effort.
In the absence of any other option, he set out to attack the bear's eyes - a blind opponent was probably as easy to insult as an immobile one. Although he managed to take out the bear's left eye relatively fast, but it managed to get a hit in too, causing Prof to fly in a ballistic arc into the hazel bushes. Prof wasn't at full HP to begin with, and he lost another sixty right away from that one hit! With the remaining twenty HP it would have been suicide to experiment further, so he had to sacrifice one of his potions. Which, as he realized, remained in the camp, along with most of his other stuff.
As he staggered back to the battlefield, he noticed the woman jumping around the bear again. Prof tried something:
"I need some potions to continue!" He shouted at her.
“Among the bushes! Bag!” She shouted back, not interrupting the circus attraction. Based on the voice, she could really have been a woman, and at least she spoke Bergian. On the other hand, given that they were in a forest and on the edge of a grove of hazelnut bushes, the place where the bag could be found was somewhat generously defined.
Prof quickly looked around some of the bushes and could almost imagine the rolling of dices in the background — and with great luck he just sensed the sharp yellow messenger bag and a few other packs under one of the bushes. Opening the pack he found a lot of vials and potions, but most of them didn't have the classic red colour of Health Potions. Prof took two thirty and one ten HP potions, downed the first two, pocketed the third, and threw himself back into the fight again.
The woman backed out of the melee again and tried to cast a spell again - the result was a hail of thorns. Prof doubted the thorns would deal too much damage through the bear's thick fur, but each HP counted against something that had the word "Dire" in its species description.
Unfortunately, there were indications that the bear's skull was, if not armoured, at least protected by thick bone, at least a good portion of Prof's blows simply bounced off. Prof tried to stay in the dead spot on the left side of the Dire Bear, so he couldn't attack its right eye. The bear, of course, tried to keep an eye on Prof, so the result was that the fighters rotated around each other, while the woman tried to deal damage with totally ineffective spells, roughly half of which were not even cast properly and did nothing.
How an incredible help is the HP-bar above your enemy’s head in games! With it, you just know how far you have to go! In contrast in reality, no one has an idea how much longer you have to pummel an angry bear for it to leave for the eternal hunting grounds!
“Fifty more HP!” She shouted. Ok, not a health bar, but it was helpful if someone had the [Observe] Skill on a high enough level. Did everyone train it up?! With the information, Prof could at least roughly estimate how long he still had to thresh the overgrown teddy bear's head. The info, on the other hand, did not save Prof from flying into the botany again.
Prof lost fifty-five HP this time. He drank his last potion, and with his pathetic thirty-five HP, he threw himself into the fight again. The woman, too, stopped her useless quackery and returned to manual bear slicing.
“I'll take the front!” Cried Prof, and began raining hits on the bear's head like a whirlwind. Despite all his efforts, he couldn't avoid the bear's third hit, luckily the damage wasn't too high, he only lost twenty HP, yet he staggered back. If the bear would have thrown itself on him at that moment, Prof's adventures would have surely ended - but the hairy mountain of muscles didn't move after him, but turned against the woman chopping at its hind legs.
This gave Prof just enough time to find his balance put everything on one card and storm the Dire Bear’s head. The simultaneous blow of the two axes was enough for the bear to finally collapse.
From the other side of the mountain of hair, muscle, and flesh, the woman watched Prof in combat readiness, apparently not knowing if the fight was over or just the first act finished. Prof finally had the opportunity to take a close look: the woman was one head lower than Prof - but still taller than Shinead – with the pointed ears of an Elf, hairless face, but pointed jaws, with surprisingly small canines in them.
The whole face looked like a wolf, but it still had something decidedly human- (or elf) like. Prof already had problems to guess an Elf’s age, now, with a part-wolf, he was totally lost, but had the distinct feeling, the woman was of middle age. What Prof thought first as fur, was in reality only party that, and partly a pelt, the woman's upper body was covered with a short-sleeved, body-fitting wolf-hair sweater, wearing similar shorts on her legs.
Her forearms and lower legs, however, were really covered in fur. The few pieces of textile he had previously thought of as her only clothing (a chest-wrap and a token loincloth) were actually just trimmings on the sweater and shorts. She wore no footwear, instead walking on her toes like a dog or cat. Her hair, or rather her mane, reached the middle of her back. As gear, there were a few leather bags attached to the belt holding the loincloth, and she carried interesting weapons: three roughly fifteen-centimeter long, razor-sharp, curved blades attached to her wrists and hands.
“Ma'am, my name is Ferenc Hegyesi, but everyone calls me Prof. Who you may be?” Prof bowed, sliding his axes back into their holders.
“My name is Foxy Delahaye, an adept at the High King's Academy. Thank you for the help, I owe you.” Foxy bowed, too. Like Shinead, she spoke Bergian with a strong accent, but unlike the elf's melodious one, she was almost barking. Prof was half expecting complicated hand gestures and the long sentences in Elvish, but was spared both. Foxy began to take the blades off her hands and headed for her bags.
“I'm surprised to meet a Human here in Red Territory, and you're not even trying to hide, but even helped a stranger in trouble!”
“Of course I will help all sapient beings in trouble!” "Prof didn't really understand why he wouldn't have helped.
“I see, and what about compensation?”
“What do you mean? I took three potions from you, if you want I can give you three in exchange at the camp. True, they only cure forty HP in total. The loot, we split in the middle, I think.”
“I mean, how much do I have to pay you for the help!” the wolf creature apparently did not have the same conversation as Prof.