Only after the encounter with the earth squirrels did it occur to Kaltyr that…her clothes were pretty damn cool—possibly overpowered. Not only did her clothing refuse to burn away under the stress of being on fire and being struck by lightning, even the mana bolts she’d suffered to couldn’t damage them. Yes, they damaged her, but the clothing still hadn’t fallen apart despite not being reinforced by mana during the battle. And yet…simple physical attacks cut right through them.
“Not that I’m complaining. I would have lost them early on if they didn’t have their special anti-fire, anti-lightning, and anti-magic properties.”
Kaltyr trudged through dense foliage, stealthed, doing her best to minimize how much sound she produced as she pushed tree branches and bushes out of her way. She was failing. Several times already since leaving the earth squirrel territory in Stealth Mode was she discovered by clever beasts who knew exactly what was going on. Most of them outed her by wildly spraying the area with mana bolts, and when one hit her, she had no choice but to unstealth and prepare for combat lest let her meridians suffer. Thankfully, the beasts that found her were all of the lone variety, and she had no trouble picking them off.
Suddenly, as Kaltyr stepped over a fallen log, her feet halted, and her brows furrowed.
“Wait a minute…”
Her eyes were no longer scanning the environment, instead looking down at herself.
“My bra and shorts…they’re perfectly fine.”
Kaltyr didn’t need to peek under her shirt and cargo pants to understand that something was amiss about her undergarments. She needed only remember back to when she attempted to repair her damaged clothing with beast skins. At that time, she hadn’t even considered checking for if her undergarments also required repairs, so didn’t realize that some articles of clothing were damaged while others were not.
The girl was only confused for a moment before she shook her head and continued walking. Like The… Like The System would say, she didn’t need to worry about it. It was likely the case that the more…vital pieces of her outfit were designed to mend themselves. For that, she was grateful.
“Just a few more days.”
Kaltyr sighed with longing for the future as she momentarily left her spear and makeshift beaver-skin bags at the base of a tree, reinforced her body, and began climbing. In a lot of places the forest was too dense to see the horizon through its foliage, so she needed to periodically climb above the canopy to make sure she was heading in the right direction.
When she finally managed to precariously balance herself at the tippy top of the tall tree, she groaned in exasperation. She was at the base of a large hill and could not see over it. She would need to climb a tree at the top of that hill to get a clear view of the area… No, that was incorrect. The hill only blocked so much of the horizon, so if she couldn’t see her destination, that meant her destination was on the other side of the hill. She was heading in the right direction after all.
Then, just as she began lowering herself, through the corner of her eye, Kaltyr caught the glimmer of water shining under the skylight. Immediately, she turned to look at it, a smile on her face. She had emptied her flask of its water contents the day before and hadn’t found a body of water where she could refill it. She’d long since parted from the river near where she spawned because it didn’t flow in the direction she was heading.
After locating the water source somewhere to her right—it was a little ways off her path, but water was necessary to live—she dropped down to the ground, grabbed her stuff, and departed toward it.
It was a…strange, pond. Kaltyr approached the water’s edge and inspected it. For the most part, the place seemed normal. Insects whizzed by, lily pads floated atop the surface, and even some fish could be spotted gliding within it. Yet…wasn’t the pond unnaturally blue? Kaltyr couldn’t be sure of whether her observation was accurate, but the water seemed a bit too dark in color.
Curious, the girl stabbed her spear into the water, expecting its tip to sink into the pond’s yet unseen floor and kick up a cloud of dirt…
Her spear struck nothing, even after she crouched next to the edge and lowered her weapon its entire length.
Gulping, Kaltyr rose and backed away from the pool. Her skin tingled with goosebumps as though a pair of eyes had locked onto her with malicious intent. Just as she began circulating her mana in preparation for combat she sensed an aura…gathering itself? Unlike with the auras of every other creature she’d ever sensed, this one didn’t feel as though it originated from a specific source.
It soon became obvious why.
Kaltyr put distance between herself and the water as the pond’s flora began moving. Not all of it, however. Lily pads here and there, a few stalks of pondweeds, some cattails, and many more types of plants glided across the water’s surface toward the pond’s center, where they conglomerated. The mass of plants quickly climbed over each other with wet squelches until they formed a vaguely humanoid shape, similar to what The System had done, but a lot bigger.
Kaltyr stared at the three-meter-tall plant abomination that stood atop the water as though it were solid earth, her spear at the ready and a fully formed Bubble Pain Splash in front of her face. She warily watched as the plant monster stared back at her—though it lacked facial features, she was sure it was staring back. Her instincts told her to strike first and ask questions later, but the monster reminded her of The System, and it would be rude to attack before she was even sure if the creature was aggressive. It didn’t seem to be a beast, after all. Beasts were juiced-up magical animals, while the thing in front of her was clearly…not that. Could it be some type of spirit, like she first assumed The System was?
The girl’s hesitation proved careless, however, when the Life Level 10 pond monster attacked. Its speed caught Kaltyr off guard, and she only barely blocked its equivalent of a fist with her spear’s haft. The monster’s movements sent water droplets everywhere, and even into Kaltyr’s eyes, forcing her to blink furiously to clear her vision. The heavy blow didn’t manage to knock her back even a centimeter, which seemed strange to the girl until she tried to pull back. Her spear had sunk into the monster’s fist, its plant flesh now gripping her weapon tightly.
Without other options, Kaltyr released her bubble spell, which thankfully had an effect on the creature and stunned it long enough for her to retreat a few steps. With her remaining time she cast Dirt Coating, and the ground beneath her rose to envelop her body. Just in time, because her foe soon overcame her stun and lashed out at her with her own spear, which was still stuck in its plant flesh. She ducked beneath the butt of her weapon, which whistled past her nose, dodging it by a millimeter before getting dangerously close to the monster and sending her fist into its side with all the strength she could muster. As she expected, her arm sank into the squishy plant mass up to the elbow. Unwilling to be trapped by her opponent, she relinquished control over the dirt encasing her arm, then pulled herself free. The dirt, now loose, was easily absorbed into the plant monster, where it became mud and stuck to its side.
To Kaltyr’s surprise, the monster swung its mighty arm horizontally—splashing her with more water—and backpedaled. It clearly had the opportunity to press its attack but played defensively and retreated instead. Why? The answer soon became clear when the creature moved back onto the pond, where it stood still for a second as it seemed to drink water from its stocky legs before expelling the liquid from its side, carrying the dirt Kaltyr had left there with it.
Oh? Does having the dirt as part of it cause damage, or something? It doesn’t want it on itself…
While the pond monster expelled the “impurities” from its body, Kaltyr renewed Dirt Coating and prepared another bubble. Still without her spear, she lacked very many ways to fight the creature that was apparently capable of shrugging off physical attacks. She also lacked the time to start a fire for Fire Skin. What could be done in this situation? She hypothesized that if she tossed enough dirt on the monster it would be overwhelmed with mud, but how could she do that? Just like with Fire Skin, she hadn’t the time to take control over the ground. Would she have to continuously lose her Dirt Coating to her foe? But how would she keep the thing from returning back to the pond to remove the dirt?
As it turned out, Kaltyr didn’t have to worry too much about it because her enemy solved her problem for her. Instead of using its physical superiority to continue pressuring the girl, the monster remained on the pond’s surface, seemingly wary of her ability to cover herself in earth. It launched a volley of mana projectiles at Kaltyr from a safe distance, no longer on the offense, giving her the opportunity to withdraw back into the forest’s depths.
Okay, problem solved. That’s nice of it to do. It would definitely win if it had just pummeled me.
The edges of Kaltyr’s lips curled into a wicked smirk.
But it’s scared, and gave me what I needed the most: time.
Kaltyr sat cross-legged at the base of a tree some hundred meters from the pond, no longer within the creature’s sightline. In truth, she thought her new mysterious opponent as possibly too powerful, and she didn’t have many reasons to fight it. Sure, it had her spear, but she could still fight pretty well without it. During her retreat she’d taken her beaver-skin bags with her, so she wasn’t missing those valuable resources. What reason could she have for putting her life on the line when she didn’t need to, she asked herself.
The answer? Because I want to.
No longer was Kaltyr a weakling who feared the night. She didn’t need to push herself to grow stronger, at least until she reached her destination… But she wanted to. She wanted to grow stronger, she wanted her spear back, and she wanted whatever goodies the monster she faced would drop.
To accomplish those goals, Kaltyr lit a bush on fire, then channeled her mana down through her feet into the ground.