“No…” Kaltyr whimpered as her eyes laid on the furry beast rising out of the river.
The beast trudged out of the water and shook its fur—a useless action when it was raining heavily.
“It can’t be…” Her nose began to burn.
The fat furball slapped its flat tail against the ground and began using its long buckteeth to comb its fur.
“Really…?” Though her eyes grew red and began itching, she forced herself to look between the aquatic mammal and the top of the wooden structure behind the hill on the other side of the river.
The environment suddenly made a lot more sense to the girl. The trees weren’t cut down by tools, but be teeth, and only their stumps remained because the beavers had no reason to remove them.
“Damn it all…”
Kaltyr’s hands balled into fists, her arms flexed, and she turned toward a tree, intent on punching it.
She held strong and lowered her hands.
“There aren’t any people.”
She looked out over the landscape, over the countless tree stumps sticking out of the ground, over the beaver preening itself by the water, and over the river.
“Which means my only competition here is some dumb animals.”
Jaw clenching and teeth grinding against each other, Kaltyr converted her distress into wrath. Into killing intent.
Unafraid, the girl walked out from behind the trees, the storm thundering in the distance, the rain perfectly setting the mood. She approached the unsuspecting beast with a cold expression, a spear already in hand. She lifted her weapon, eyes locked on the thing’s little skull. She could kill it so easily…
Kaltyr lowered her arm with a mental sigh. Killing the beaver was an option, but not a smart one. There were questions in need of answers, and undoing her Stealth Mode was an easy way to make the acquiring of those answers much more difficult.
As the girl’s spear lowered, the beaver lifted its head and turned toward her, its beady little eyes scanning its surroundings, ears twitching, before it slowly trudged back to the river and dove beneath the surface.
Huffing with impatience, Kaltyr followed the river upstream for a little longer, noting the many beavers submerged in the water that she’d missed before, and confirming the truth. When she saw the beaver exit the water most hope was lost, but not all of it due to the fact that the river’s water level hadn’t lowered, and in fact increased with the rain. If the beavers had really settled in it and built themselves a dam, the evidence of such a thing would be very evident downstream…but nothing changed. Either the beavers didn’t build a dam, or it was built elsewhere.
The girl gulped as she walked a few more hundred meters upriver, and three things became clear to her.
One: there were a lot more beavers than she first expected to find.
Two: the reason she didn’t see a dip in water level was that the “river” she followed until then was only an offshoot of an even larger river—she currently stood to the right of a “Y” intersection, where the stream she just knew as “the river” branched off of the larger river.
Three: between the two branches of the “Y” intersection sat the hill, and the top of the wooden structure she saw over the crest of the hill turned out to be…a huge, f***-off beaver lodge. Additionally, a huge, f***-off beaver dam some ways behind it, elevating the water level. That was why the river branch she fished at was fine.
In an instant, Kaltyr’s throat grew dry. From where she stood, on the bank near the point where the branches broke off the main river, she counted at least thirty beavers, with some regularly entering and exiting the lodge seemingly to drop off food they foraged. A notification also blinked in the corner of her vision, which she was almost too afraid to open, but did so anyway.
She couldn’t believe her eyes. This was categorized as a SMALL Dungeon?!
The girl mentally panicked for a bit while wiping the rain off of her face in case it was distorting her vision…
It was not.
The apparent “Small” Dungeon did not seem so to Kaltyr. When she described it as “f***-off huge”, she meant it. From what she could see, the structure had a massive base built up from the riverbed—which she couldn’t see the bottom of—that spanned at least twice the length her clearing was. Not only that, because the building supported by that huge base towered over the nearby trees, built from the stacked remains of their felled relatives. It was built like a fortress! She shivered at the thought of what a “Large” Dungeon must have been like…
Faced with the sight of a fortress and small army of powerful beavers—those of which revealed their aura were around her Life Level—Kaltyr trembled…with both fear and exhilaration.
“This is exactly what I need!” She thought. “My progress has stagnated because I killed everything around my territory and few other creatures are at my level…”
A little beaver lazily swam along the bank where the girl stood, seemingly picking at the plants growing beneath it. Then, it spotted a fish some ways ahead of it, and its speed jumped significantly as it gave chase. The fish didn’t stand a chance, instantly becoming beaver chow.
I thought they were herbivores…? Well, so are deer and those other critters I saw hunting each other. Guess everything’s a carnivore here. More importantly…
Kaltyr stared intently at the beaver near her, which had revealed its aura when it attacked the fish—the cute little mammal was Life Level 4. If the average level of the entire beaver population was 3 or more… The thought brought shivers to her spine, but she would level up a lot from slaughtering them, which was what she wanted.
The beaver suddenly tensed and turned to look in Kaltyr’s direction for a moment before returning to its meal. The girl assumed that she was walking around too blatantly, and because of that, the beasts were picking up on her presence a little despite the difference in their Stealth skills’ levels.
She sighed once more before turning around, making her way back to the forest’s edge. She didn’t like what needed to be done, but she was going to carry out her mission, regardless. Obeying The System by doing interesting things and becoming stronger might very well be the only way to find the answers she sought, to learn who she was and why she was there.
It was too bad. Those beavers were cute.
Having filled her stomach with what rations she had and burying the stuff she didn’t need to carry while she fought, Kaltyr walked along the riverbank, stealthed with two of the three spears she brought in hand—Fish Scales and Alligator Eyes were probably going to be useful abilities in the upcoming fights.
Hmmm. Two at Life Level 5.
The girl approached a pair of beavers, each nearly as strong as her, that were playing together on the river shore. They wrestled, climbing on top of and pushing each other, seemingly with the goal of dunking the other in the water. The display was heart-wrenchingly adorable, and Kaltyr wanted nothing more than to give in to her urges to pet the two animals…but life was not fair, and increasing her own Life Level took top priority in those dangerous wilds.
She took position over the pair of magical beasts, took a moment to confirm where she’d strike…then drove her spears down. They shrieked as the spears pierced their bodies entirely through, releasing a mix of garbled grumbles and barks, trying to circulate their mana in a panic.
Kaltyr grunted, pulling her weapons out of the animals with difficulty before turning to bolt, a trail of blood following closely. From all around she could hear more shrieks, barks, and warped howls as the beavers were alerted to the presence of an enemy by the screams of their fallen brethren. The girl purposefully didn’t cycle any mana the entire time, refusing to release an aura and reveal her Life Level. Her plan was to appear as though a regular animal to her enemies, to embolden them so they would feel no hesitation before attacking, because it would be too late for them to turn back by the time they realized her strength.
And it worked.
When Kaltyr extended her magical perception backwards, her mind was overwhelmed by the sheer number of auras and amount of killing intent directed her way. It seemed like almost every beaver outside of their fortress had given chase, and almost half of them were casting spells! However, she entered the tree line before most of them finished casting, and no attacks landed.
Under the dense canopy of the forest the rain wasn’t nearly as thick, but there was still definitely enough to obscure vision—something Alligator Eyes was going to help with. What sounded like a tsunami crashed into the trees as the wet beavers quickly gained on Kaltyr, their furry bodies soaked with water, slapping the ground and trees as they ran, louder than the storm’s howls. Soon, there was barely a meter between the girl and the leading beaver, which had its teeth bared in preparation of biting its prey…
Until that prey exploded with a Life Level 6 aura, and her spear released a soft scream as it cut through the air before destroying that beaver’s skull. The surrounding flora was dyed a grotesque crimson as the corpse hit the ground and was trampled over by even more beavers, which soon followed their fallen comrade. Kaltyr fully concentrated her attention on becoming a reaper whose scythe reaped souls with every swing, plunging into, piercing, and crushing beavers left and right.
Between slicing and dicing, the girl had just enough mental resources available to think, “These guys are total noobs! They’re high-level, but it’s like they don’t have any fighting experience.”
Despite the fact that the horde of murderous beavers had an average Life Level of about 5, they showed no ability to work as a team and barely any skill in combat. While most just charged into her dual spears as though they wanted to be chopped up, the rest haphazardly shot their water and earth spells without consideration of their own side. Kaltyr had yet to be struck by a single projectile because they were all either absorbed by an unlucky beaver, poorly aimed, or easily dodged.
But that wasn’t to say that the battle was easy. No, in fact, Kaltyr would probably already have met her end had she not been fortunate enough to be up against completely inexperienced beasts, because she underestimated just how much power they had as a collective. Her legs, torso, and arms were covered in thin scratches from what seemed to be Internal Mana Manipulation techniques that magically extended the range of their claw strikes by a few centimeters. It was a difficult skill to grow accustomed to fighting, since her vision was no longer perfectly reliable to gauge how far one enemy’s swipe might reach.
Yet the girl persisted, and amidst the violent thunderstorm, she became a painter whose brush could stain any surface with a crimson red.
The sky was green. Kaltyr sat in a tree, stealthed, using her finger to trace a long gash that spanned half of her face from her nose to her ear. She’d suffered that particular attack near the end of the battle, and it nearly tipped the scales in favor of the beavers due to how the girl’s own blood splashed into her eyes. Thankfully, she managed to force her eyes to remain open long enough to put the last few gigantic rodents out of their misery.
Unfortunately, her large stockpile of healing pills—which she’d brought and hidden within the deerskin bag that she buried underground before the battle—was nearly completely useless. After the slaughter of maybe forty beasts, she was now Life Level 7. Forget the pocketful of level 0 pills she still had with her, and even the level 1 pills she mass-produced for when she reached level 6, because Kaltyr was forced to take half of the level 2 elixirs she concocted for emergencies!
“At least it doesn’t hurt that much, anymore.”
Sitting atop a large branch over ten meters above the ground, the girl experimentally stretched her limbs, testing whether they were fully functional. They were, thanks to the Good-quality level 2 pills she consumed and circulated the medicinal effects of. It was just too bad that those level 1 pills would suffer the same fate as the level 0 batch…
“And I really had no choice but to fight them all like that.”
She wanted to sneakily assassinate all the beavers one by one to ensure her safety as much as possible, but clearing the Dungeon took higher priority. If she were to go about it with the assassination method, as soon as her aura was revealed or she was seen killing too many beavers too easily, the rest would be wise to her superiority and might retreat into the lodge fortress. If that were to happen, she’d be fighting the beasts in their own territory, where there were possibly individuals rivaling her in strength… In the end, she needed to kill all those “minion” beavers in one fell swoop, even if it cost half her stock of pills.
“Well, I assume that those were just minions. After all, they were so strong without any actual fighting skills. How anticlimactic would it be if they were all th—”
Suddenly, Kaltyr jumped to her feet, a hand over her eyebrows to shield her eyes from the sunlight’s glare as she looked down upon the Beaver Lodge Dungeon in the distance. There was finally movement out on the platform that the wooden fortress was built atop, which was strange because since she began her assault on the Dungeon, the lodge showed no activity. Something seemed to be climbing out from within the building…
Unable to see very well through the countless branches and bundles of leaves blocking her view, Kaltyr climbed higher up the tree, choosing branches carefully as she neared the top and her footholds became thinner. When she broke through the top of the canopy, she felt a noticeable difference in the amount of force the rain and wind hit her with, preventing her from seeing very well and filling her ears with the deep chorus of gales. Rainwater blinded her while the wild winds dried her eyes. She was about to climb back down a few meters when something in the corner of her vision caught her eye.
The girl had climbed one of the tallest trees in the area, so the view from atop it was magnificent—even if it was veiled by the storm slightly, and the air was kind of gray. Rolling hills lushly carpeted by verdant trees as far as the eye could see…with what seemed to be a sore thumb sticking out from the horizon in the distance.
Kaltyr had no idea why her mind described the shape like a “sore thumb” when it much more closely resembled a gigantic mushroom, but the wording probably didn’t matter. What did matter was the shape in the distance that she hadn’t noticed until then. It towered over everything, easily reaching into the sky. Could it have been a REAL building?! No beasts could construct something so large, right?! It was kilometers upon kilometers away yet it was still so massive…
Heartbeat steadily increasing, the girl gave in to the wind’s demands and exited their domain. Returning to the relatively gentle atmosphere provided by the canopy, she held a hand to her chest and steadied her breathing.
“That better be an actual building, this time…” Kaltyr was already engraving the memory of the structure into her brain so that she could find it again. “But that will have to wait. I have a Dungeon to crawl.”
Wondering what she meant by “crawl”, she turned her attention back to the Beaver Lodge, which now had a few lifeforms moving about on top of it. From the branch she sat on, she could make out one big beaver—possibly as big as her—and several normal beavers. However, what struck her as odd about the big beaver, besides it being a few sizes larger than its peers, was its color. Its fur, like the feathers of the crow that shot lightning at her, was covered in white zigzagging lines that spread down from its head…
“Was it struck by lightning?!”
Kaltyr’s mind blanked as she imagined lightning bolts striking the crow and beaver, but instead of sustaining serious injuries or dying, the beasts mutated, gaining affinities for the element that hit them.
“That…can’t be right. Yet that beaver has, and the crow had, those lines…”
She shook her head.
“I’m wasting time by thinking about it because I’m gonna find out first hand, regardless.”
The girl reinforced her body, speedily climbed down the tree, pulled out a box of matches, and evilly smiled.
“Although I was too dumb to remember I had Fire Skin for the last fight, I think I can still find a use for it…”