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I tucked Anna into the wagon next to Lydia after she finally fell into a troubled sleep. I watched both girls curl into each other and then shut the wagon cover to keep the night wind from disturbing them. I was too physically and mentally charged to sleep, and someone had to keep watch, so I focused on my own inadequacies during the battle. I needed to do better, and the only way to do so was to evaluate my own performance. There was only one conclusion I could come up with:

I was ill suited to medieval warfare.

I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on a shooting range, but I never fired an arrow until tonight. My «Attributes» and «Aspects» carried me hard, and unless I was willing to only rely on the semi-automatic function of «Select Fire» to guarantee hits, I would have to master new forms of ranged combat.

After reviewing the results, the full-auto function of my «Skill» was gamebreaking. I've never heard of anyone firing 30 arrows in under three seconds. The problem was that it drained almost all of my Mana in under two seconds. If I wanted to use it extensively, I would need to somehow increase my «MP».

I picked up a partially filled quiver from one of the corpses and salvaged what arrows I could manage from the two I shot up, bringing me to a grand total of 68 arrows.

Then came the grind. I identified my most obvious weakness and it was time to correct my deficiencies.

Because I didn't need to sleep as much nor could I let the girls take a watch shift while they were mentally recovered, I opted to practice archery. I stripped one body of its clothing and pinned it to the trunk of a nearby tree. I made sure not to drift too far away from camp and kept both girls on the «Map».

«Marksmanship» provided me an instinctive understanding of the proper shooting form and it even gave me some physical guidance, but it was more like watching a recording of someone shooting and trying to mimic their movements. While it was possible, there was no replacement for true practice.

I trained all night. The rhythmic thump of an arrow piercing through clothing and wood filled the camp. For the first few hours, my shots rarely landed on target. But I gradually became more aware and aware of my flaws and mistakes. Each subsequent shot improved in both precision and accuracy. By the fifth hour, I was consistently landing 3 inch margin groups into my target's chest area at 250 meters, the maximum distance this longbow could handle.

So, all the «Attributes» contribute to a person's combat standard. «Strength» helps me draw my bow. «Dexterity» affects my fine motor skills for aiming. «Constitution» boosts my stamina and overall endurance. «Wisdom» improves my perception and kinetic vision. «Intelligence» makes me learn and adapt faster.

Lydia was wrong; I needed all of my «Attributes» to be an effective combatant.

I can see why starting off with at least 12 in every stat qualifies as a divine blessing. If a normal person only ever earned seven «Attribute Points», then they would inevitably have to hyper-specialize, which leads to the misconception that dumping all your points into one «Attribute» would be the best way to progress.

I mulled over how the second attacker managed to defend against my superior stat block for as long as he did. Though I still sleeved him full of arrows, he lasted longer than any opponent I came across thus far.

If leveling up could only be achieved through combat and «Quests» and «Attribute Points» were sparse, then my opponent must have improved in some other way.

That left «Skills» and «Aspects».

I knew «Skill Upgrades» existed and those could be gained by leveling, but I had no idea if constantly using a «Skill» also allowed you to upgrade it at some point. My «Map» was always active, so I would find out at some point.

That left «Aspects». All of mine were E-rank and based on any common sense letter system, it meant they were at their lowest.

I can improve them.

This had to be why that bandit was able to keep up with me. He had a high-ranked «Aspect». It was probably related to spears or general combat. I needed to keep grinding, I couldn't just rely on my levels. Strengthening my character sheet required a comprehensive approach. So I continued shooting. Even after Lydia and Anna awoke, I never stopped.

Sleep? Food? Water? Rest? They were unnecessary.

My «Constitution» was grotesquely high and so was my «Intelligence». It was time I abused the system like a true min-maxer. If elbow-grease was what I needed in order to improve my «Aspects» and «Skills», then I was overdue for a training montage. The only thing I lacked was epic background music.

"Levin, you have been practicing since morning," Lydia finally approached after I finished my latest set of arrows and had to pull all 68 of them out of the tree. At this point, the clothing I used as a target was torn to shreds.

“You missed breakfast and lunch.” She pressed, her tone sounded hurt and concerned.

"I haven't even broken a sweat, don't worry about it."

"There will be many more encounters for us to harden our hearts. Don't force yourself to protect us."

"I have 16 «Constitution» and 16 «Intelligence»."

Lydia's jaw dropped.

"Give me about a week, Princess. I have to make up for lost time."

"You're going to condense a lifetime of archery training in a single week?"

"I'm going to fucking try, yeah."

"Let me train with you."

I really wasn't in the mood to slow down for anything, but denying her desire for self-improvement was not a positive response to give, especially after last night.

"How? I don't think you have any comparable «Aspects» or «Skills»."

"I have a «Skill» that lets me change the flames of any «Spell» I cast into dragonfire. But I have a hard time controlling it. With practice, I can reduce how much Mana it drains. You need not stop or even help me. I would just like to share your atmosphere."

"That sounds good to me." She just wanted some company while she practiced. I had no idea how to help her train and she had nothing to offer, either. Emotional support was all we could provide for each other.

Lydia was able to sustain her magical training for about one hour before she slumped her back against a tree trunk and slid to the forest floor. Beads of sweat covered her whole body, so I took a cloth and wiped her face and neck. She gave me a strained smile and craned her neck so I could go lower. I stopped just short of her cleavage and stepped back before anything inappropriate happened.

Lydia seemed to notice I wasn’t going to continue and slowly pulled herself off the ground.

"I can't keep up." She sounded dejected.

"You're just limited by your Mana consumption. How is Anna?"

"I think she's getting better." Her tone didn't inspire confidence.

"You should go speak to her, Lydia. There's not much I can do."

"Yes, of course. Anna’s wellbeing is my responsibility. Thank you for letting me join you, Levin." She stood up and left me to my training.

Over the course of the next three days, I honed my «Marksmanship». Not only did I limit my idle time to the bare minimum, I felt my proficiency improve daily thanks to my high «Intelligence». Every hour I spent training was amplified in effectiveness several times over. Any flaw in my archery was identified and rectified instantly. This prevented me from developing bad habits and potentially shaved off years of corrective training.

I knew my time was well spent once I could consistently split arrow shafts. My «Menu» flashed for the first time in days and I eagerly opened it.

Your Marksmanship has reached D-Rank.


You may choose one Marksmanship Skill Upgrade, gain a new Skill, or Synthesize a Skill.


I lowered my bow and set it aside. This was the moment I was waiting for. I returned to the camp and stared at the fire. Lydia and Anna didn’t disturb me. They must have grown accustomed to the distant look I had when I was focusing on my «Menu».

«Synthesizing a Skill» seemed to generate a result that was based on two or more chosen «Aspects». Judging by only other hybrid «Skill», the output wouldn’t necessarily be weak. However I couldn’t plan around randomness, so I ignored that option.

There were quite a few «Skill Upgrades» for «Select Fire» that sounded appealing. The primary one I wanted was the ability to choose different ammunition types. But that would just force me to ration my «MP». Until I figured out how to greatly increase my Mana, I would have to pick those sorts of abilities sparsely. I was lucky the «Movement and Tracking System» only required Mana to activate but didn’t take any to maintain.

So that left me with choosing a new «Marksmanship Skill». There were three for me to select:


«Combined Arms»
«Designated Marksman»
«Grenadier»

I almost chose «Grenadier» out of sheer reflex. Focusing on ranged combat was fine, but what I really lacked was an AoE option. «Combined Arms» probably required a «Squad» or a «Party» to properly utilize. I wasn’t willing to drag Lydia or Anna into another battle anytime soon, so that was a hard-pass. Unfortunately, only the title of each «Skill» was provided. That left «Designated Marksman». Based on my experience, that meant my engagement range would double. There were key differences between snipers and designated marksmen, and I assumed the reason why it wasn’t listed solely under «Marksmanship» was because snipers were also trained in fieldcraft. If the «Skill» existed, I would probably have to «Synthesize Survival and Marksmanship» to get it. But I wasn’t willing to take that gamble.

«Grenadier» or «Designated Marksman»? Damnit. If I had more «MP», I would pick «Grenadier» in a heartbeat. I have no idea how much Mana it’ll cost to fire a single grenade.

In the end, I chose «Designated Marksman».

Skills

Designated Marksman

Ranged attack distance is doubled.
Source: Marksmanship


As I expected, it doubled my shooting range. Well, it’s not a bad thing and it doesn’t look like it costs any Mana. The main problem is obtaining positive target identification at that distance is difficult. I need a riflescope-themed upgrade sooner rather than later.

I tested my new «Skill» and whistled when I watched my arrow fly straight and true for literally double the previous distance without any other input from me. It even applied to the three-round burst option on «Select Fire», which proved my «Skills» could stack their effects.

This means I can engage targets at 500 meters with my longbow and 600 meters with my rifle. Damnit, I need a way to manufacture 5.56.

“Levin? Are you still practicing?”

Anna asked as she came up to me with a bowl of stew. Over the past few days, she had realized I wasn’t going to eat unless she forced food down my throat, so she took it upon herself to do so.

“Yes, why?”

“Where is your target?”

“Oh, I got a new «Skill» and my range doubled, so it’s past the treeline. You can see it if you squint hard enough.”

“I-I can’t see anything.” She tried looking in the direction I was shooting at.

“It’s probably because my perception is higher than yours. It’s fine. I’m not shooting at anything dangerous, I promise.”

“Well, I made some fresh stew, so eat your fill. Or do I have to spoon-feed you?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I surrendered and shared a meal with her.

“You’re amazing, Levin, truly. I’ve never heard of anyone ranking up an «Aspect» this quickly.”

“I have a feeling the other Heroic «Classes» abuse their stat blocks in similar ways. It’s why they are even called Heroes, right?”

“Yes. Yes, you are right. L-Levin, what are your plans after Her Royal Highness reclaims her throne?”

“Kill demons in her name. I am her champion, right? I don’t really have a choice. Unless you want her to lose Renalis twice.”

“No, I meant your long term plans. Do you have anything in mind?”

Was she trying to hit on me?

“I plan on going back home. To Rebecca.”

Anna’s eyes widened like saucers and she put her free hand to her mouth as if to stifle something back.

“Is there something wrong?” Her reaction was unsettling.

“N-no. Of course, you wish to see your daughter once more. Forgive me, I overstepped. Good day, Levin.”

Anna retreated and I watched her long, brown hair fall after her like a waterfall.

“Was it something I said?”

I shook my head and continued with my archery training, but it wasn’t long before I reached a plateau, so I added knife throwing. I looted three daggers from the bandits. Although they weren't balanced for throwing, I persisted for the sake of practice. Once I became proficient enough with those, I moved onto tossing my spear.

On the seventh day of grinding, my «Menu» flashed a second time.

Your Marksmanship has reached C-Rank.


You may choose one Marksmanship Skill Upgrade, gain a new Skill, or Synthesize a Skill.

Well, I’m pigeonholed into my next «Skill Upgrade». I might as well just accept it and move on.


Skills

Designated Marksman

Ranged attack distance is doubled.
The user can magnify their vision up to a number equal to their Wisdom.
Source: Marksmanship



So that means I can see from 1-16x. It’s even better than seeing through a scope because it doesn’t compromise my situational awareness.

I tested it and noted it only took 1 «MP» to use. I could even choose to only magnify one eye. That allowed me to quickly switch between long and short distance engagements. Despite my initial misgivings, this «Skill Upgrade» was a marked improvement to my overall quality of life. There was plenty I could do with at-will 16x magnification that didn’t involve shooting someone.

While I trained, I kept my interactions with Lydia and Anna to a minimum. But we inevitably had to confront each other and once I felt my grinding slow to a pointless crawl, I couldn't avoid it.

"We all need to talk."

The two looked relieved. I think they also knew this was a long time coming.

"What happened last week was just the tip of the iceberg. If Lydia really wants to reclaim her throne, we'll have to step over a mountain of corpses."

"I am resolved." Came Lydia's resolute reply.

"I know. Anna, what about you?"

"I shall do whatever it takes to support Her Royal Highness."

"Listen, Anna, it's been rough on all of us. I have years of training and experience as a soldier and Lydia has an «Aspect» tailor-made to endure severe mental strain."

"So you're saying I am unfit to serve."

"No, I'm saying you are unfit to kill. That's not an insult."

"Then how can I make myself useful?!" She shouted. I saw fresh tears well up in the corner of her eyes.

I looked to Lydia for support but from her torn expression, she didn't know how to respond.

"You'll drive the wagon."

"Please, I can do more-"

"No, in my world, driving a vehicle into a battlefield is among the most important and dangerous jobs there is."

"W-hat?"

Even Lydia looked intrigued. “Explain, Levin.”

Boy, she’s really eager to foist all the baggage onto me, huh? Fine.

"There is only one way into Renalis, and that is through the front gate. For this to succeed, we need symbolic victory, not a military one. Lydia needs to return confident and triumphant to win over her detractors. Sneaking back into the castle like rats will do more harm than good."

"Pray tell, what does that have to do with the wagon?"

"It means every archer stationed along the castle walls will shoot you first, Anna."

I saw her recoil.

"Do you trust me?"

"T-that is an unfair-"

"I will protect you. I promise."

Anna nodded after a few seconds.

"I will deal with the castle gate." Lydia interjected, her expression remained stern.

"How?"

"My «Skill» can alter the flames of my «Spells» into dragonfire, remember? I’ve been training too, Levin.”

It seemed these two were really willing to bet their lives. I honestly wanted to stop them, but I knew they would try even if I weren't around. Lydia already planned to reclaim her throne even before she met me. This conflict was inevitable.

"All right. If we're doing this, then I'm changing back into my uniform."

"Why?" Lydia asked. "Is there some kind of enchantment on your clothing?"

"Yes: it improves my mental strength."

As if foreseeing this, Anna rummaged through our luggage and retrieved my military fatigues.

"You fixed it?" I took it from her and searched all along the uniform for the old bloodstains and bullet holes but found none. It was as pristine as ever. Hell, it looked brand new.

"My one and only «Skill» is «Mending»."

"What's your «Aspect»?"

Anna shook her head. I wasn't sure if she was angry because I was still asking her very personal questions about her «Status». "Only for you, Levin. It's «Tailoring»."

"Anna is the best tailor in the realm. It's why my father brought her into the castle staff." Lydia smiled and held Anna's hand.

I was very excited, so I put on the uniform immediately. Lydia turned away but I noticed the glances she stole while I changed. Anna just sighed. I wasn't sure if she was annoyed or attracted. I bet money it was a mix of both.

"This feels much better, thanks Anna."

To be perfectly honest, medieval clothes itched like hell.

With a crisp uniform, I felt my morale soar. After our meeting, I used my multitool to trim the beard I grew over the last week into a neat stubble and washed my face. I neglected even the most basic of personal hygiene in order to grind non-stop. I must have smelt horrific. I felt terrible for Anna and Lydia.

"Levin."

Speak of the Devil and he shall come.

"What’s up, Anna?" I turned from the river to face her. Like when we first met, she was now dressed in her own uniform. But it was no longer marred by violent escape. In her arms was the wool blanket she slept on.

"We won't have much time left alone."

"No, I guess not." It took about three days to get to the capital, and I planned to spend each moment of it grinding.

"Last week, you rejected me. Now, I understand why. But this time, I want you to take me."

My eyes disappeared into my hairline. I knew Anna was direct, but this was next level. We’d slept together before, but that was a more transactional sexual encounter. This sounded far more emotionally charged.

"What about Lydia?"

"I've already spoken to her. She gave us the night to ourselves."

I stood up and leaned into her lips.

"Sorry if I'm a bit rough. It's been a long week. I can still hear arrows slamming into that tree." There was no way in hell I was going to deny her this time.

Anna wrapped her arms around my neck and the glow in her eyes made me swoon.

"Then you can listen to my moans, instead. Make me your woman, Levin."

And for the first night since Seras resurrected me, I truly felt blessed by the Gods.

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Tyonis

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