1.5 Haste Makes Waste

Level: 17
Endurance: 5
Strength: 2
Dexterity: 4
Magic: 0
Spirit: 5
Most used abilities: Dark Bond
Most used weapon skills: Dagger Throw, Spear Throw, Lunge, Sneak Attack, Throat Slash

When I awoke, I didn’t want to get up. I was just lying there, eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of my cloak. Last night I didn’t find anything to eat, but at least I chanced upon a neat little crook in the base of a large rock. I didn’t want to open my eyes, because if I did, I’d have to get up and deal with reality. And reality was something I was still tired of, no matter how much I had slept.

So, I was lying still, trying to fall back to sleep, listening to my own breathing… and to an other, softer one. My eyes flew open and tried to get up quickly, but I hit my head on the rock. It hurt even more than it normally would, because of the abuse it took the day before. With a painful groan I fell back, but my eyes were already seeking out the source of the other sound.

On my chest, there was a fluffy red furball. The damn wildcat had somehow managed to track me down and decided I was the perfect spot for taking a nap. Did it follow me by scent? Maybe it wasn’t feline, but canine after all. Ah, why am I trying to guess? This was a whole new world, the creature could easily be something between a dog and a cat… and a dragon. That fire spitting had been really impressive, considering the size of its body.

Cautiously, I lifted the cat with two hands and put it down next to me. Its fur was really warm, almost hot to the touch. Almost like fire. The hair wasn’t exactly long but it wasn’t short either, and I couldn’t resist running my hand through it a few times. The animal woke up from its sleep and began purring. Quickly pulling my hand back, I crawled out and got ready to move. The feline seemed friendly enough at the moment, but that didn’t mean that it would remain so. I couldn’t possibly know how to handle this kind of animal, and the last thing I needed were incinerated clothes.

I grabbed the piece of wood that served as my crutch, and limped down to the river to quench my thirst and fill up my flask. I also checked my leg wound, and with it came all the memories from the previous day. I squeezed my eyes shut and for a few minutes I just stood there in one place. I was hoping that if I didn’t think too hard about it, it would eventually feel like only a bad dream. Suddenly, I heard some movement and I snapped my head to the left. It was the wildcat, coming to drink as well. Did it decide to follow me around, or is this just coincidence?

As it turned out, it was quite deliberate. When I began limping away, the cat followed. It wasn’t tailing me very closely, but if I looked back, here and there I could always catch a glimpse of red fur. It was a good guess that this forest wasn’t its original home: with those colors, it was difficult for the animal to blend in.

“Shoo,” I waved my hands towards the wildcat, making a half-hearted effort to chase it away. The feline was just watching me with curious eyes, not getting my hints. However, I didn’t plan on playing nice and let it follow me. Last night right before going to sleep, I had an idea: I could be travelling faster if I used Dark Bond to teleport forward every 20 seconds. I wouldn’t spend all my mana on travelling – in case I need some in an emergency – but I still had enough for plenty of jumps. Now that I was about to use the Ability during the whole afternoon, I was planning to examine my mana usage and regeneration.

Previously, I had experimented with the teleport part. It turned out that there were quite a lot of things that the description didn’t mention. For example, I couldn’t teleport to the weapon, if something – in my test case, a big rock – was occupying the handle. Similarly, if I had something else in my hands, I couldn’t shift the dagger to me. It was also interesting that at both types of teleporting, the one being shifted lost all of their initial momentum. This meant that if I threw the dagger but called it back to my hand, it wasn’t difficult to keep my hold on it. I had also climbed a tree and jumped off, teleporting before I touched the ground and arriving safely to my weapon. I had landed on all fours though, because one of my hands had to be touching the hilt.

It was a bit tricky to continuously travel by teleporting, especially with an injured leg. I had to time the jumps in a way that I could stay upright. It meant that Stabby had to be more or less at chest level when I shifted myself. Plus, since I was using Stabby, I had to take extra care not to hit the trees with it. Though the weapon probably wouldn’t get damaged that easily, I didn’t want to risk it with Dark Bond active.

Arriving too close to the ground was bad, but arriving too high in the air was worse. It took me a few false starts to get the hang of it. Even while teleporting perfectly in the right time, I had to take care of my footing. The ground was often uneven and it was easy to trip right after arriving to the destination.

The wildcat was following me still. I wasn’t sure if I had been hoping for it to get confused and lose me, or to keep up the pace. It even seemed to be enjoying the chase. I estimated that the animal could be a young one, barely older than a kitten. That could have been why it was seemingly so playful.

When I recovered enough mana to start my second teleporting session, the feline grew bolder and decided to be a little more active. The creature was quite intelligent: it realized that my strange way to travel had something to do with throwing the dagger. Upon seeing me throwing the weapon, it sprinted forward, like a dog playing fetch. With surprising amount of energy to costantly run around, the feline was extremely quick and nimble. It would become a fearsome predator one day, even if its fur didn’t help to blend in to the surroundings.

I didn’t think the cat was trying to catch the dagger, it just wanted to be close when I arrived. As if taunting me by saying ‘You can’t escape from me’. During the third round of teleporting, I arrived to the denser part of the forest. This meant that I was about halfway to the other end of the Western Woods. This also meant more animals to eat, and more animals to be afraid of. Plants as well. There was supposed to be here a special kind of predatory plant that looked like innocent hanging vines until you got too close.

Last but not least, I also had the bugs as company. There were awfully many of them and they were incredibly irritating. I could only hope that none of them spread any disease. I also briefly wondered that if I cannot find any food, maybe I could just walk with my mouth open, and fill my stomach by eating bugs. Luckily I didn’t have to put this theory into practice, because soon a different opportunity presented itself.

I crouched down as I saw a big, peacock-like bird through the branches of a thorny bush. In the next moment, my head was almost planted to the ground as my flame-red companion landed on the top of it. I grabbed the cat on the back of its neck and put it down next to me. I managed to refrain from shouting angrily at the animal, if only because I didn’t want to scare the peacock away.

I couldn’t throw my dagger at the peacock directly from this position, and if I tried to get around the bush, it would probably hear me. Maybe I could throw the dagger above the bush and teleport right above my prospective lunch. It would look pretty cool the catch the bird like that, but it would also be painful. Since there was no one else around to appreciate my coolness, I discarded the idea.

While I was thinking about what to do, my companion decided to take matters into its own paws. Skirting the bush, it pounced incredibly swiftly on the bird. Still, the peacock managed to take flight in the last second, the wildcat’s teeth finding only empty air. However, the feline wasn’t done yet. After a brief gurgling sound from deep within its throat, the cat spat at the bird. Most of the burning liquid missed, but some managed to ignite the tail feathers. I took my time aiming at the panicked bird, then with a well-timed Dagger Throw I flung the weapon. Stabby slammed into one of the wings, and the bird dropped from the sky, flailing wildly. The little arsonist wildcat was on it within moments, biting into its neck.

I sighed. Finally, I had something to eat. Now I just had to put out the fire that the cat had caused, before the whole forest got burnt to ashes. Luckily, the undergrowth wasn’t really dry around this area, so the fire couldn’t really catch. I was just hoping that the feline wouldn’t eat all of the bird while I was cleaning up its mess.

I felt full. It was such a wonderful feeling. It saddened me that I hadn’t been appreciating it enough on Earth.

I was sitting next to my small fire on the riverbank. It took me a lot of time to prepare and cook the meat, so it was already dark. The cat was sitting beside me, gnawing at the remains of the bird. There was no way I would be sleeping so soon again, but I didn’t want to risk travelling during the night. The moon didn’t shine through the foliage here, and carrying a torch could attract all kinds of nasty things. Besides, I didn’t even have any torch.

I spread out my cloak and laid down on my stomach, holding my book in a way that I could read it in the light of the fire. This immediately got the cat’s attention, and it came closer to examine what I was holding.

“What’s up, Nosy? Want me to read it out loud for you?” I asked the feline. In the next moment, my collar let out a soft chime. What? Did I complete a hidden quest or something? Just by talking to an animal?

I quickly sat up and opened my menu. This of course intrigued the cat even more, and it was soon trying to claw at the floating images. At first glance, I couldn’t find what was new. The quest log hadn’t changed. My Skills had two new entries which I hadn’t read in detail, which I did now.

Sneak Attack, level 1
With great precision, strike at a vital point of an enemy. Works only if the target is unaware of the incoming attack.

Mana cost: 10
Cool down: 10 seconds
Modifiers: dexterity
Progress: 40.2%

Throat Slash, level 2
Slice at an enemy’s throat with one quick, fluid motion. Works only on humanoid targets, and only while holding a dagger.

Mana cost: 20
Cool down: 30 seconds
Modifiers: dexterity
Progress: 5.5%

In addition, Dagger Throw was now level 4. I didn’t know yet what that signified, as I didn’t feel any difference. Dark Bond was level 2 now and I saw that the cool down on teleport had gone down to 19 seconds.

My Map showed me all the areas that I had previously explored. I had been travelling constantly eastward, but in the last few days the river (and me with it) had turned slightly towards South. While studying the map was interesting – I suddenly had the urge to climb the highest tree just to see if the Map updates itself if I look around – this still didn’t explain the chime I heard earlier.

Then I realized that I had a Companions tab as well. And I had a cat-like creature constantly following me. I almost facepalmed myself at the realization, but spent my time more productively instead, by opening up the Companions menu.

Nosy, flame toleco
An uncommon beast from the Southern Deserts. When specific conditions are met, male tolecos may attune to any of the four elements, transforming themselves permanently. While the transformation gives the attuned animal great potential, it also leaves them unable to procreate. Because of this, very few of these beasts choose to follow this path.
Companion bonus: +10% Dexterity, +5% Magic

Well, I didn’t mean to name the wildcat Nosy, but the collar decided to go with it. Still, it wasn’t a bad name. The description could have been more precise, though. Apart from Nosy’s gender and his origin, it didn’t say much. The term ‘great potential’ was especially vague. This revelation had actually left me with only more questions, and more responsibility. How will I take care of the cat? No, it wasn’t even a cat, more like a young panther. Could those animals be kept as pets at all? Could I train him, or would he do whatever he pleases?

I watched Nosy thoughtfully as he climbed to my shoulder. He began waving one of his paws between me and the projection. He either figured out that the image was coming from my direction, or he was just trying to mimic me navigating the menus. However, his legs were too short for this exercise, so he couldn’t quite reach the screen, nor could he block the light coming from my collar.

I liked that Nosy was actually living up to his name. As I amused myself with my newfound companion, a smile crept to my face.

I wasn’t alone anymore.

I spent the next few days with a lot of walking during the day, studying my book in the night, and trying to train Nosy in-between. Although the toleco was intelligent, I wasn’t quite sure if he would be willing to listen to me at all. It was quite difficult to explain anything to him, and it didn’t help that I had no experience in training pets. Still, I was determined.

There was one trick that I really wanted to teach Nosy. In theory it was brilliant, but in reality it hadn’t worked out very well… yet. The plan was to put my dagger – enchanted with Dark Bond – into Nosy’s mouth. He would bite down on the handle, then run forward. There was no range limitation on the teleport spell, so he could run much farther than I was able to throw the weapon. Meanwhile, I would be constantly trying to teleport to it. I wouldn’t succeed, of course: while something else was occupying the hilt, I couldn’t teleport there. But if Nosy arrived to the destination (in this case, as far away as possible before I ran out of mana) and put down the dagger, I would appear there in an instant. I could upgrade my human walking speed to the speed of a running wildcat!

The only thing left was to somehow make Nosy understand my plan…

Long story short, the training was still in progress. But we were doing much more than this single exercise! Finding animals to hunt was actually quite easy with Nosy. I quickly learned to recognize the signs when he smelled something and was focused on his prey. In these last few days, we had hunted down several peacocks, two fat, three-legged birds that couldn’t even fly, and even a stray tibbar. It was more meat than we could eat, so I stored up some extra.

The only dangerous situation I encountered was when a predator plant had caught my legs. The vines began to creep up pretty quick, and there was more and more of them every second. Although I could probably teleport out from its grasp, Nosy came to my rescue immediately and incinerated the offending plant. But not before my leg wound had reopened, unfortunately. Still, despite the constant abuse, my leg was healing steadily and I needed to use my clutch less and less.

I tried to discourage Nosy from using his fire-spit all the time. It would have been great if I could somehow make him understand the dangers of using fire in a forest, but the task was beyond me. It would have looked like hypocrisy to him anyways, considering that I was reading by a fire every night.

One other thing that made me worry was the footprints, which I found two more occasions on the riverbank. This giant was going in the same direction, and I couldn’t do anything about it, as the river was the only landmark I could use to find my destination. I knew it was risky, but I had to try my luck. I didn’t want to wander around in this forest forever.

I eventually lost my count on the days spent since I had left Tobias and the others. On that note, I wasn’t even trying to look for signs of their passing anymore. We have been separated for too long, so finding them in the middle of the forest was statistically more and more unlikely.

Therefore, when I found Dana’s spear wedged between two rocks in the river, I could hardly believe my eyes. I desperately wanted to find some clue that it wasn’t that spear, but a closer inspection left no doubt. It was my first weapon after all, I knew how it looked like. Even if it was broken in half.

I looked around but couldn’t see any other clue about what had happened there, so I left the broken spear where I found it and continued down alongside the river. I tried to pay extra attention to remains of campfire or footprints (big or small), but I didn’t find anything.

On the next morning, however, Nosy found something better than clues: people. At first I thought he found an other bird when he suddenly began stalking forward. However, soon I could hear the voices too. Relief flooded me as I was able make out Imaya’s voice, though there were two other voices that I didn’t recognize.

When we got near them, Nosy hid behind a large tree and peeked around cautiously, but I strode towards their camp. There were two tents next to each other, and an empty pot above the remains of a campfire. I saw Tobias, Imaya, the two Sylven, and three other humans who looked like Players too. They spotted me as well, and one of the three – a red-headed burly man in a plate armor – moved to intercept me.

“Hey there! Can I help ya?” he asked, just at the same time as Imaya shouted my name. The man stopped short and let Imaya overtake him.

“It’s so good to see you again!” she exclaimed, then turned around to face the redhead. “Randel here is the other guy who arrived to this world with us! We parted ways soon after, but I’m glad he changed his mind and came back!” she said this last part while shooting a brilliant smile towards me.

“Eh, I wasn’t really looking for you guys, I just happened to find you” I said. “I mean no offense, it’s nice to see you, but I’m on my way to Bildy.”

“And so we are!” said Imaya. “We are just… making a little detour.”

“Yeah,” said Tobias, “well, it was nice of you to drop by, Randel. You can go now, don’t let us hold you back from your journey to Bildy.” Woah, the guy knew how to hold a grudge. Though with the missing fingers, he probably got reminded quite often to our little incident.

“Hey hey hey, hold on a sec,” the redhead spoke up. “First of all: name is Lukas, nice to meet you Randel,” he said, extending a hand. He squeezed my hand in a firm handshake, then continued. “I’ve offered the same to your friends here, so you will be no exception. Wanna tag along for some monster huntin’?”

“Why would I?” I asked immediately. Did this mean that the others had already accepted? Hadn’t they had enough violence yet?

“Eh? What do you mean? ‘Cause of the rewards o’course,” he said, scratching his beard, “There’s a quest that gives you a shiny new Ability. You just have to kill a slowpoke baddie. Quests like these’re good t’share with other Players, ’cause everyone gets the same reward in the end. No need to divide up the loot!”

“Oh, I see.” What he said made sense. We would have strength in numbers, complete the quest more easily, and everyone leaves happily. It would also be useful to see other Players in action. Maybe they could also give us a few tips about the collar.

“How long have you been in this world?” I asked. I was tempted to join them if they were experienced.

“A year and a half. I know what I’m doing, dontcha worry about that. Once you have more than half a dozen Abilities in your pocket, there is nothing much that could scare you, you’ll see. It’s really-”

“Randel, watch out!” Imaya interrupted Lukas and hurried to ready her bow. I looked behind me to see Nosy creeping in my direction. The feline probably got bored with hiding behind the tree and decided that there wasn’t any immediate danger.

“Imaya, wait!” I shouted, jumping between her and the cat. I tried to put on my best poker face and added, “Let me deal with this beast!”

Imaya’s expression became confused as I turned around and walked towards Nosy. When we were from a few steps away from each other, I adopted an approximation of a fighting stance. I was smiling, however, as I whispered, “Nosy, come!”

The feline lunged toward my chest, and I caught him. He used my arms as a boost to jump up and drape himself around my shoulders. Success! Chances were actually about 50-50 that he would come to me when I asked him to. I was still sometimes confused about how much the cat understood about my commands. Probably the tone and the body language mattered more than the words, because I wasn’t even sure that he recognized the sound of his own name.

“Everyone, meet Nosy,” I said while walking back to them. “He is a flame toleco, which is- ow!” Imaya hit me in the arm.

“I was worried, you jerk!” she said, but she was smiling already, eyeing Nosy. I didn’t like that look in her eyes.

“Ooooh, he looks so cute! Come, come, little kitty, let me pet you!” The last part of her sentence sounded pretty scary and was actually directed to me. I was blocking her reaching hands with mine, and tried to sidestep her.

“Alright, alright, you can torment Nosy later, but for now give him some space,” I said, trying make a compromise. “I don’t know how he reacts to strangers.”

I didn’t think Nosy would be very fond of humans right after one had kept him in a cage, but who knew? I was the living proof that he could make exceptions. While Imaya was pouting, Lukas picked up the conversation where we had left off.

“Ah, I was just ’bout to ask your speciality. Good, good! I haven’t seen a Tamer for a while, but they are always interesting fellows.”

“Tamer?” I asked.

“Eh, just a name I made up. You know, like Warrior, Berserker, Mage… There are different roles that you can take. Even though the collar supposedly gives us random Abilities as rewards, I have noticed that it always gives you something that fits your role.”

“Wow, that’s interesting. So I take your role is something like a Warrior?” I asked, looking at the metal shield on his arm and the mace on his belt. I didn’t envy him: with the heavy plate his gear must have weighted a lot.

“Yeah, I call myself a Paladin. Specialty is holy and protection spells,” he answered, pounding on his chest plate with a fist. “Anyway, a flame toleco, you say? I have to tell you, I haven’t heard of such a creature. Where did you get this little fella, and what can he do?”

“Well, he can spit some kind of fluid which ignites in the air. So basically fire-spitting,” I said, deciding to leave the other question unanswered. “But you will be disappointed if you think I can control him. He has joined me only a few days ago, so I haven’t trained him that much. He mostly just does whatever he wants.”

“Ah, no problem, no problem. Fire spitting you say! That’s actually good news. The octopus-head hates fire!” he said with a hearty laugh.

“Wait, are you saying that the monster you are after is the octopus giant?” I said, taken aback. Didn’t he say that the enemy is pretty weak?

“Yeah. Heard about it? Your friends here already had an encounter with the squidhead. It’s big, sure, but moves really slowly.”

“Oh, was that the reason Dana’s spear was in the river? Where is she, anyways?”

“She went down to the river to wash herself,” said Imaya. “She should be here shortly!”

I could hardly wait for our teary reunion. Well, at least this means that she had survived. I wanted to ask more about the encounter, but the two other Players chose this moment to come forward and introduce themselves. The one with the darker skin tone swaggered forward, one of his hands running through his long black hair while he reached out with the other for a handshake. I could tell at first glance that his whole arm was tattooed, and he had several piercings in his ears, nose and mouth.

“Welcome to our little expedition. Call me Filip, or just simply Savior, since you will be relying on my fire spells against the octopus,” he said, laughing shamelessly. His clothes looked light compared to the heavy-plated Lukas, though the leather armor he wore was still light years ahead of our starting gear. I didn’t see any staff or wand with him, but I guessed that if we wanted to roleplay, he would be the wizard.

“Filip is an old friend of mine. We arrived to Niaz together, isn’t that right!” Lukas patted Filip on the shoulder.

“What weapon do you use for casting those fire spells?” I asked. According to the smuggler who I… that I… well, according to him, Players always relied on a chosen weapon. I believed he had been referring to weapon skills, but maybe attack-type Abilities always needed a weapon as well.

“Just for the record, it is kinda rude to ask other Players about their weapons or Abilities,” Filip replied, “But since I’m such a cool guy, I’ll answer regardless. I’m currently using a dagger, but I have almost gathered enough gold to buy a magic wand. Once I do that, my already devastating fire attacks will be even more unstoppable!”

Well, at least he was confident. I hummed politely, then turned towards the third guy, waiting for his introduction.

“And this one here is a new recruit as well,” Lukas spoke up instead, “He has arrived here a few years ago, but only recently decided to have a taste, what it is to be an adventurer!”

“H-Hello, my name is Vilem,” he said nervously. He certainly didn’t look like he liked the taste of the adventurers’ life. He gave off the impression that he would rather be anywhere but here. It was clear as day that he didn’t join us because he enjoyed the prospect of killing monsters. He had a pretty nice leather armor, though, and a bow slung across his back.

After returning the greeting, the three of them went to do their own business, apparently taking it for a granted that I would be coming with them. Oh well, it’s not like I was in such a hurry to get into Bildy. I could accompany them and still stay at a safe distance when the fight came. Putting the issue aside, I decided to ask Tobias about our last member.

“And where is Pell? Don’t tell me he is down at the river too?”

“The bastard left us, just like you did,” Tobias replied, then turned around and headed towards the tents.

“It is still a sore point for Tobias,” Imaya whispered to me. “When we decided to join Lukas on this monster hunt, Pell said that he had enough. I have never seen him losing his temper before, and I can tell you, it was really scary. He told Tobias that he had been tolerating his stupid leadership up till that point, but he would rather be on his own if we were this suicidal. Then he walked away.”

“I hope he will be okay,” I said. “It’s not easy out there, alone.”

“Oh, he will be alright. His Ability is Stone Skin, after all. Nothing will harm him if he can see it coming! I’m not worried, I’m rather mad at him instead. Firstly, because I though we would all stay together as a team, and secondly, because he took my dagger when he left!”

“Well, I guess he needed something smaller than a spear to eat his dinner with,” I said. I took off Stabby from my belt and handed it to her. “Here, you can have this while we are on this quest.”

“Oh, I already got a few arrows from Vilem, so I won’t be useless but… thanks, it feels good to have a last resort if I run out of ammo,” she told me. “Come now, Captain Stabby, show me how you slay giants!”

Wait, when did I tell her that I named my dagger Stabby?

Tobias probably informed Dana of my presence, because she didn’t looked surprised upon seeing me. She didn’t even acknowledged me, just walked over to Lukas and Filip and joined to their conversation.

While I was waiting for everyone to get ready to go, Imaya brought me up to speed. Apparently octopus giants were hard to spot because they could change their skin to blend into the environment. They also had a magic aura which absorbed any sound around them. Since the monsters wasn’t able to move quickly, they had to lie in an ambush and rely on these two tricks to catch their prey.

There was one problem, though. Well, problem for the monsters, because for us it was a good thing. As my quest description had already stated, the feet of the giants smelled extremely bad, a lot like rotten fish, just worse. Chameleon-skin or no, any creature with a sense of smell could easily spot that something was wrong.

But that’s how the river came into the picture. Though our giant would have difficulties in the too swallow water, by submerging its feet the monster could negate most of the smell. It was also a perfect spot to wait for any animal, since they often went there to drink.

According to Lukas the giant was omnivore, so it didn’t need to hunt all the time. He didn’t say much else on this topic, only that giant octopuses were creatures that could be found far in the North, near the sea. It was a stray one that we were hunting, and it was a wonder how it got so far down South. Several landholders had been complaining about it in the past few months, their crops trampled and their cattle eaten.

Imaya also told me about their encounter with the monster. Apparently, ever since the forest became denser, they had been travelling in the river. Although it had been harder to walk there – the water could be knee-deep at places – they hadn’t needed to worry about something ambushing them from the dense undergrowth. Their strategy had some merit, though I was glad that I hadn’t been a part of it. It was easy for me to say so, but only because of Nosy’s keen senses that always alerted if there was any other animal around.

Luckily, the stray giant hadn’t been really successful in submerging its feet in the water, so Tobias and his team had smelled something fishy ahead of them. The creature had been lying alongside the shore, looking like tree trunks and mud. It had took the team by surprise when it suddenly began to move, but the monster had been a bit too eager. Even while being shocked by the sudden appearance, Tobias and the others had managed to evade most of the tentacles. They fled into the forest, and two days later they found Lukas and his companions.

“Imaya, I forgot to ask,” I said when finally everyone got moving, “Are you okay with this? To go and fight the giant?”

“Yep, you can say so. Of course I don’t wanna get too close to the creature, but I think we will be safe with these guys.”

“Alright. And what about Teva’ryn and Devi’lynn?”

“Hmm? Oh, these new guys couldn’t communicate with them either,” she said while fidgeting with her shoulder-length hair, “So we didn’t explain them the situation. They are just following us at the moment.”

I shot her a disapproving look, but she was conspicuously avoiding my gaze. I didn’t like it that they took this thing so lightly. If they couldn’t explain the Sylven their plan, they should have sent them with Pell. Letting them follow us into dangerous situations seemed… wrong. But luckily I was there, ready to test the usefulness of my dictionary.

“I’ll see what I can do about it,” I said, then left her to find the Sylven at the end of our procession. I really hoped that the last few days of study wasn’t in vain. If the Sylven had multiple languages (which was likely) and neither Teva’ryn nor Devi’lynn knew this one in particular… or even if they did, my pronunciation might be so bad that they wouldn’t understand me.

Good morning Teva’ryn, good morning Devi’lynn!” I said as I fell in step with them. Their heads snapped towards me, eyes wide with surprise. I grinned. I wasn’t learning in vain, after all.

You — our — language?” It wasn’t everything that Teva’ryn said, but these were the only words I could understand.

Please use small words. Easy words. I still learn,” I tried to explain. Teva’ryn’s expression was amused now, while Devi’lynn was covering her mouth, trying to hide a smile behind her hand. I had probably said something with a double-meaning. Or was it my accent that was so funny? Nevertheless, it was the first time that I saw Devi’lynn smile… kind of, since technically I still couldn’t see it.

I understand,” said Teva’ryn, slowly. “You — much — to learn,” he added, with a slight curve of his lips. I nodded.

Please then help learn,” I said. After that, I showed them my book and attempted to explain where I had got it from and how it worked. Then, as practice, I tried to explain them a few things about what happened with me. They could probably guess a lot of things after meeting with Nosy or seeing the cloak around my shoulders, so it was easier for them to guess what I was saying. I had to stop a few times and page through the dictionary for new words, but I was quite proud of myself. I was basically just stringing words together, but Teva’ryn could still understand the gist of what I was trying to say. Devi’lynn looked really amused by our conversation, but didn’t join in.

After I finished questioning Teva’ryn about their journey (I didn’t understand much from what he said), I decided to bring up the matter of the octopus giant. It took me a few tries, but I managed to explain them what we were doing and the reason why Pell had left. Their collar pinged as they received the quest, hopefully showing them the correct information about the hunt.

I come,” said Teva’ryn, then added, “Devi’lynn — she — watch.

Why no fight?” I asked. I had been curious for a long time about the reason he hadn’t let her hold a weapon.

In our — women — ,” at this point he said something lengthy, but I didn’t get any of it. I rubbed my temples.

I don’t understand what you say. Continue talk later,” I excused myself. Damn, this was tiring. I had never attempted to learn language this way before, and it was quite frustrating. The lack of proper dictionaries and teachers made this extremely difficult. I had heard about people who learned speaking on other tongues just by listening the natives’ talk, but now that seemed a quite impossible feat in my eyes.

I would have to ask the Sylven to point things out and teach me how to say them. Plus, if they could correct my sentences and tell me how to properly form each and every one that I attempt… well, I would like that, but I had a feeling that their patience would run out.

“Heads up guys, I smell something,” Lukas called out from the front. We had been going uprivers, almost backtracking my steps, but only on the other side of the water. After his announcement Lukas turned and led us away from the water. I didn’t know whether he was using some kind of Ability to locate the giant, or he was just using good old tracing skills, but he seemed to know where he was going. I didn’t smell anything yet, but when I glanced at Nosy, he looked a little uneasy.

Soon, we were climbing upwards. It turned out that the forest wasn’t entirely on flat ground, which came as a surprise. When I was travelling on my own, the ground was more or less flat all the time, though of course the foliage made it impossible to see what was further ahead. There was a large protrusion of rocks on our right side, and behind those I could make out the ground rising even more. The forest was too dense for me to judge the big picture, but I guessed that we were going around a hill at the moment.

I even saw a few caves. I was a bit wary of passing too close in front of them, because a few looked really deep, and I couldn’t see whether there was anything lurking in them. Luckily, the giant was probably too large to fit into one, so at least that possibility was out. There was a smell now, and it was getting stronger. As I looked around to take in all the funny faces the others were making, my eyes landed on Vilem. The poor guy was visibly pale now.

“Hey, are you okay?” I asked. I decided to have a chat with him.

“W-who, me?” he asked back. “Yes, I’m fine. I-It’s just the stress…”

“Yes, I see. You aren’t here for the Ability, are you? You came for the bounty.”

“Y-You know about the bounty?” he asked as if it wasn’t obvious.

“Yeah, 15 gold, if I remember correctly? Don’t worry, I’m not going to claim it.”

“10 gold, actually,” he said.

“So?” I asked. It looked like he wanted to say something, so I waited patiently.

“Y-You see, I have been working in a kitchen in Bildy f-for the last two years. But the place was e-eventually closed, and now I need to find an other job, b-but it’s not easy for me.”

“But you have this fancy collar, wouldn’t it be easier to find a job with it? A normal job, not a monster-slaying one.”

“Ah, I see y-you are really new to this world,” Vilem said, thumbing his bowstring and looking downwards. “S-Sooner or later you have to do some monster slaying, if you don’t want to receive any S-Special Quest.”

“Special Quest?”

“Y-yes, one that is obligatory to complete.” I wanted to ask what he meant by that but he continued speaking. “And it is… generally… even harder to find normal work as a Player. W-when you get to Bildy you will see. The common folk doesn’t like Players much. T-they say P-Players are arrogant, and often irrational. B-but absurdly strong…” he trailed off.

“It’s complicated,” he added finally.

“I know what you mean,” I said with a sigh. “It’s not good news.”

“No, it isn’t, erm, I mean, yes, it isn’t.”

“Alright, and what about the other people who arrived to this world the same time as you did? Do you still have contact with any of them?” I inquired.

“Ah, n-no, I’m afraid not. Th-they are all dead.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I apologized, but after a bit of hesitation, I added, “Can I ask what happened to them?”

“W-well, some of them died on the first day. You know about the Kyntark? They are these half-rhino, half-human alien race,” he explained. Well, that was new. The Shrissten had only mentioned their name in passing. How did being half rhino look like? Did they have fingers or hooves?

“S-so,” Vilem continued, “Our starting group consisted of eight humans, and the Kyntark. W-we couldn’t understand what he was saying, of course. S-some of the, erm, temperamental members of our group began to blame him. Said t-that it was probably his fault that we were there, an-and demanded to let them go home. A f-fight broke out, and the Kyntark managed to k-kill three of us before we killed him.”

Wow. I didn’t know what else I expected, considering the question I had asked, but… somehow the brutality of the story shocked me. They killed each other off right at the beginning? It sounded terrifying, yet I could picture the scene easily. The first challenge wasn’t about surviving in the wilderness, or about killing baby-faced monsters. It was about being able to work together.

“When you first woke up, were you surrounded by gnomes as well?” I asked.

“Gnomes? N-no, but before the sun went down, w-we were attacked by raobs with lightning horns. T-that was when two others had-”

“I’m sorry to interrupt this tragic tale,” said Tobias over his shoulder, “but we are getting close. It’d be better if shut up and concentrate instead.”

I hated that he was right. It wasn’t exactly the time to have a chat. The smell was becoming unbearable, and poor Nosy looked really agitated. I briefly considered taking him up to my arms, but it wouldn’t have solved anything. It was just some kind of weird human urge, I guessed. All of us clustered together in anticipation as we rounded a large upturned tree trunk. What I saw was much worse than I expected.

In front of us, there was a large clearing. It wasn’t a natural phenomenon, though. It seemed like the trees had been ripped out of the ground and scattered all around. The giants responsible for this were still working on pulling out more and more trees. There wasn’t only one octopus giant! Suddenly the reason I saw footprints on several occasions made more sense. There were more than a dozen monsters, and they all had been heading towards this place to… work on something?

The squidheads weren’t camouflaged at the moment, so I could easily inspect their physique. They came in different sizes. The biggest was as tall as the trees, but even the shortest one was about twice my height. Their lower body looked surprisingly humanoid, except for the feet. They probably didn’t have clothes in their size, because none of them wore any pants. It was a disturbing sight, but not as disturbing as their upper body. My overall impression about them was immediately that some kind of huge, tentacled parasites had latched themselves into the heads of the giants. It seemed like they had completely consumed the head, and were now chomping them at around chest-level. I could still make out stubby arms beneath the sea of tentacles, but the creatures weren’t using those. Their tentacles were quite long, and from the looks of it, strong enough to pull out trees.

What added to their eeriness was the sound absorbing aura. They were completely silent. We couldn’t even hear the sound of trees being ripped out from the soil. All in all, it was a horrifying sight, but it somehow fascinated me as well. I could make out eight eyes on their heads, and their mouth was probably beneath those tentacles, but… how did they breathe? Didn’t they need water for that, or did they have human (well, giant) lungs?

“What the fuck, man,” whispered Filip, “There was supposed to be only one squidhead!”

He wasn’t speaking loudly, but apparently in the silence, it was loud enough. The nearest two giants stopped and slowly turned towards our direction.

“Uhh,” said Tobias, “I suggest a tactical retreat.”

“Good idea,” replied Lukas, and began to back away. In the next moment, however, one of the giants threw the tree trunk it had been holding. The wood flied through the air with frightening accuracy, and although it wasn’t exactly a large tree, it would have been still enough to crush several of us. In the last second before the impact, Lukas raised his shield, and a large, semi-transparent light-green dome had appeared around us.

The tree had crashed into the dome, then bounded off right behind us, the force upturning one more tree and blocking the way from which we came. Meanwhile, more and more giants were looking in our direction, and the two nearest ones were already closing in from the sides.

We were being surrounded.


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