Chapter 2: Little Bush

“Go ahead,” I said.

Even though we had already roughly guessed the Skills she had managed to unlock with her Rogue Class. The second one had been, without a doubt, the Shade blade; but we did not exactly know what the first one was.

I guessed that it had to be related to some weak points gauging, like mine. It was easier guessing it because as we trained with the mountain’s river’s crabs, she had shown an especially easier time against them as she unlocked it, at level 5.

I was confident it wasn’t as powerful as my weak points gauging Skill, because even taking into consideration her luck, she was not hitting them perfectly each time, nor did she report any form of direct alteration, visual, tactile, or of any other kind. Anyway, I had to wait for a second and see.

The display was rather shocking, though.

Nova Nightfold

Class

Rogue Lv. 8

Agi + 2, Foc +1

Sub-Class

Mender Lv. 26

Con + 1, Foc + 1, Will + 1

Attributes

Stats

Natural

Augments

Agility

11 + 2

Shoddy boots (+1)

Constitution

12 + 4

Shoddy clothes (+1)

Strength

6

Focus

12 + 2

Perception

7

Willpower

16 + 1

Fortune

☆ ☆ ☆

Rogue Skills

Name

Major

Minor

Passive

Hidden Blade – Focus

★ Summon a weak Shade blade

Lucky Strike – Fortune

★,☆ It’s a bit easier to hit weak points

Mender Skills

Name

Major

Minor

Passive

Breathing Pattern – Constitution

(Eligible for Promotion)

☆ Breathing Flow speeds up your regeneration

★ Your stamina recovers faster in Shade

Constitution + 3

Share your Pain – Focus

★, ☆ Partially absorb target’s wounds

Flow Shield – Willpower

☆ Summon a weak Shield of Flow

☆ Flow defends you from weak attacks

Yep, she did put my Constitution to shame now. It was hard increasing Constitution normally; I had no idea how to do it if not with the help of Skills and Attribute points.

Actually, I had no idea how I was even still alive, considering that I was forced to increase my Strength instead of my Constitution to hunt. And, really, I wanted to spare as many points for Perception and Agility, my Class needed them; I couldn’t simply spend the single point I got when Hunter leveled up for Constitution; if anything, Strength was always the better choice.

Nova calling me up brought me out of my reverie.

“…oke? Are you still there?”

“Yes. Let’s go; the Crystal is running out,” I turned once again toward her. I had forgotten something important. “Congratulations, sis. But we need to grind those couple easy levels still and get you another Skill.”

She grinned at me, reading through my weird ways. “You’re jelly! I know you’re jelly when you act like that!”

“It’s not that I’m jelly, but why didn’t you say you reached level 25, then 26 in Mender?” I asked.

Her new Minor Perk in Breathing Pattern that she didn’t even notice probably had been unlocked, reaching 25.

She turned her face the other way, “It wasn’t a joyful situation when I did… and after that, it slipped my mind. Anyway, it’s not like I have to tell you everything, you know?”

She’s lying, I noticed. She had understood what her new Skill Perk meant.

I shook my head, “Stupid. Do you think I’d push you harder in healing Gramps and the others if I knew you recover Stamina faster at night?” I almost shouted at her.

“I…” she started, but I wouldn’t let her finish.

“You are not going to save them, Nova. Nobody is; they are going to die, and that’s it. The only thing you can do is lengthen their torture a little. Do you think anyone would be asking you something like that if we were not immune?”

She was silent until the torch’s light finally gave out, “…why are you yelling?” She finally said, “It echoes in here. You’re going to make me deaf other than stupid,” she added, chuckling.

I snorted, “Come on, airhead. Let’s see if momma Jane’s alright.”

***

We got out from the Monolith immersed in Shade, then we hurried toward our destination, and we ran; we really wanted to outpace the setting sun.

When we stopped for a drink, I asked her, “Did you already decide the route for your Sub-Class?”

When evolving Classes and Sub-Classes, we were given a choice based on the next highest Attribute, or at least so we had been told, personally I had never evolved a Class.

”You’ve got Constitution and Focus as your next highest stats,” I continued.

“I still don’t know, actually. I think I’ll wait and see what fortune brings,” she said, drying her mouth on the dusty, leather shirt.

We were dressed in the same manner, leather shirt and boots, they were old, probably passed down for generations. Until we became proper adults, there was no need to make our clothes, or so the elders had decided. I didn’t really care about it, but each girl in the village cried for new clothes for some reason. In my mind, it would only make them better targets for the slave traders.

“You know you’ve only got so many levels to decide, right?”

“I know. But I like it more this way.”

“Oh, yeah? What if you end up with an animal breeding Sub-Class? With that high Constitution of yours, it’s highly probable that you might end up receiving a hybrid Class. You said you disliked doing farming jobs, little-monkey. But I guess you’ve changed your mind,” I said, giving her the tongue.

The Mender Sub-Class could branch in many classes when evolving, but it was known that it could easily join the Farmer Sub-Class if one did not pay attention to their stats. Not that there was anything wrong with it, but Nova did not wish to do that when she grew up.

Nova had unlocked her Sub-Class when she was eight, trained by a nun of the Church of the Sun, Vinny; Sun bless her soul. The nun had been one of the first ones to die from the Shade-Plague.

However, ever since Vinny died, Nova gave herself to heal Gramps. No wonder she was not even thirteen and would evolve her Sub-Class in 4 Levels already.

She wanted nothing to do with farming too, she wanted to become a Medic at first, a Healer even, but not some Hybrid of Mender/Farmer.

Gramps had been growing worse by the week, and in the last month, she had given her all to heal him as much as she could, but he was by no means the only patient she had got. The rest of the villagers needed care too.

The Plague was slow but implacable, and the villagers had been staying out of the worst of it in these past few years, but only thanks to Nova.

And yet their conditions couldn’t help but worsen with time, Nova could not heal them, only absorb their coldness; they would slowly become terminal, many of the villagers had already died like that, too many. And in the last period, a lot of them were finally losing all their energies, the Plague had lasted for too long; so Nova’s treatments had intensified. No wonder she had leveled up twice in a couple of months.

“You are the monkey!” She retorted, “I’m a lion!”

“Judging from the way you climb the steel ruins, you might really be the daughter of a monkey!” I added, mimicking a Pattern-monkey typical way of climbing the trees.

She threw her water satchel at me. I grabbed it in mid-air and drank from it, “Sequestered!” I said, fastening it to my belt. Then I ran ahead of her, and she chased after me.

She might have been getting faster, but I was still taller, stronger and my Agility much higher than hers; she could not catch me. But Ronda put both of us to shame, obviously.

***

After delving a good half an hour in the forest, momma Jane’s house was finally close by.

However, I stopped abruptly when we reached close enough to see the treehouse in the distance; something was wrong.

I put my hand on top of Nova’s mouth. Someone was there, more than one, and these someones were not momma Jane.

I mimicked Ronda to circle around the house. Then I closed my left eye to better focus on her Perception. She picked up three smells she had never before felt.

Three males. I could guess a human… although it smelled like many nasty things, but yeah, it was a human, no, two. And something else, it was probably a Kobold from its swamp feel, or at least from what I could gauge by feeling Ronda’s senses.

I raised three fingers to signal Nova. She knew she would have to act only as a support, at least until there remained only one.

Why did I take it for granted that they had no good intentions? Ronda could smell blood on all three of them, and on the one, she couldn’t recognize properly, it was now clear that what lingered on his body was the smell of sex, too much smell of sex.

What were three males doing waiting in silence outside a lone female’s house? They were slave traders, end of the story. I had no intentions of having them slip away.

They would die today.

However, we had to be cautious; they were adults, probably with more levels and Skills under their belt than us, so we had to play the part. Still, it was feasible; we had already faced Advanced Classes before.

What was our advantage would be clear right away. Having a true Mender by my side. Menders with specialized skills such as Nova were not as rare as mages, but they were very rare.

I signed her to enact our plot; I placed my index and medium finger with their fingertips on top of my left clock-arm palm, then I moved them as if I mimicked a walking person, but at the same time, I opened and closed the fingers of the clock-arm. It was not the first time we had used it.

Three people in waiting, with probably a trapper or a sniper hiding somewhere, were not easy to take down, but we would not leave momma Jane in danger or even worse leave and let them trace us back to the village, so killing them all was our only hope, but then I saw something, perched on the tree. An Eagle-rock.

I smiled; everything would turn out fine.

“Do you think momma Jane’s home?” I asked Nova. “It looks deserted.”

“I think she’s still sleeping like a log!” she said, acting a little bit over the top, but again, she was twelve. I had seen my fair share of troubles more than she did.

After we were too close to run away from them, two of the uninvited silently placed themselves behind us.

“Kids around these parts? What are you doing so far away from the city? Eh?” Said one of the two men, the one who didn’t smell of sex. He looked like the pathfinder and he was studying me, that much was clear, like me, he was a Shade-cursed.

The other man, a regular with brown hair and eyes, the one who smelled of nastiness, joined swiftly, whispering something in the man’s ear.

I couldn’t hear it, even with my Perception, not from that distance, but from the way the pathfinder’s eyes shifted to look at Nova, I knew what he had heard.

The other man was bigger, a fighter of some sort, the grip of a blade came out from behind his back. However, he had next to no heavy armor, only light armor covering his sensible parts, probably leather.

It was clear now, these were minions; nobody important had come with them.

Ronda had traced the Kobold on a close-by three; he was a Hunter too. He would be dangerous; I dimly closed an eye to better feel what she was understanding from her smell; the Kobold was young, but young or not, Hunters were dangerous. I was living proof of that.

We might have avoided traps by drawing them in, but I had to start my plan right away.

“Who are you?” I asked, alarmed, preparing my bow with highly trained trembling hands.

“Relax, kiddo. We are here to see that nice lady over there; she owes us something, you know. Do you know her?” The pathfinder said with an over the top performance.

“Momma Jane? Yes, why are you looking for her? I need to know!” I said, with my weapon trembling even more.

The other man’s eyes went to my clock-arm. I was not that useful as a slave; I needed care with a clock-arm; it needed Crystals to work. Nobody would buy me. That was probably what the taller men whispered to the pathfinder’s ear. He shamelessly nodded.

“Listen, we really mean no harm. You see, don’t you? I’m like you, cursed by the Shade. There’s no need to be so alarmed,” he said, but his head went to the distant tree, where the archer was nestled upon. It was his signal. And I took that chance.

I bolted forward, then braked to the right, and the first arrow missed me by a long shot.

From up in the forest canopy came the Eagle-rock’s cry and a guttural scream from what couldn’t be else but a Kobold.

The two men were surprised. Realizing we meant trouble, the bigger man swiftly prepared to fight, while the pathfinder understood that something had not gone exactly as he wanted.

He took out his Flow-gun. That meant forfeiting momma Jane’s silent capture, but he was a smart one; the moment the Kobold screamed, he had understood that we had backup.

Ronda attacked the bigger man’s ankle then; she was unexpected. But as I readied my shot, the pathfinder shot me first.

The sound was deafening in the middle of the forest, but what surprised them was the shield made of Flow that stopped the projectile; it still lingered there, in mid-air, immobile at the center of golden wisps of pure Flow. The man was dead meat the next moment.

My arrow took him in the eye, the Shade projectile followed it, perforating his mouth.

Constitution or not, he was dead.

I felt more than heard Ronda’s cry then.

When I pivoted my head, I could see her bleed on the ground; her right ear had been entirely bisected. She would bleed to death. I knew it then, and my emotions almost took me over at that moment. I still lacked a Skill for healing my creatures, and healing such a wound might kill Nova; there was no way I would let her do it.

I had to focus, the bigger man was ready to attack me, and he took that moment when my emotions broke my stance to do so. It was instantaneous. He was dangerous.

The Flow Shield still hovering around me was enough to stop one of his slashes, but I could hear Nova’s gasp; it would not sustain the next one.

As a matter of fact, the shield came apart after blocking the second slash, Nova fell to the ground gasping for air. I backed away. I should have taken down the warrior first.

I kept moving away, without a chance to nock an arrow, but the warrior kept coming drawing on me, repeating his fast attacks. Probably an Agility Skill.

What saved me at that moment was momma Jane.

She jumped out of her treehouse. She looked mad, she always was, but since her only foster-daughter had been taken away, she had become even more so.

Momma Jane literally roared at the man, who came to a halt; there was fear in his eyes when they met her; he could not fight all three of us. He turned tail.

My eyes went to Ronda, bleeding to death on the ground, “He’s going nowhere,” I decided.

I marked him with my Tracking ability; I knew he could feel it as he stumbled in his escape to look back at me. I would be able to track him everywhere he went in a radius of roughly three kilometers. Until he didn’t leave my knowledge of the territory.

Yes, it gave me a rough feeling of his direction and location, not perfect knowledge, but that still meant that he was going to be mine.

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I did not turn to look at momma Jane, but I asked her something I feared doing myself; I knew she would get mad, “Please, end her suffering.”

Momma Jane snorted, “If you don’t come back by tomorrow morning, we’ll know we have to move somewhere else,” she said, without answering my plea.

I nodded, then I started running toward the man. He would not leave this forest alive.

***

It was night, proper night; I had borrowed a Crystal from momma Jane, one of the big ones she had stored. Placing it in my bag so that it would not emanate light and give out my position, but at the same time, it was said the very presence of Crystals helped at night to keep Shadeling from forming nearby. I didn’t really believe it worked, but I’d gladly accept all the help that was given to me.

The chase went on for more than three hours; the warrior was packed full of Stamina; he had a Skill for it, I could guess it with the help of Return to Nature’s Passive Skill perk. I had marked him, so he was my prey now. I could even feel that he was about to burp what he had eaten during the evening before the assault.

He was not used to such a prolonged march at such speed. But that was the last of his worries.

The man was a warrior; most of them had a Flow-based build, I still could not guess his Sub-Class, but it didn’t matter; his main Class was built to work better in a Flow environment, and now it was night, it was my time.

I was the Hunter, and he was my prey.

Creatures getting in the way did not stop me; I killed a couple of Howling-bats, their soundwaves were not enough to give me dizziness, so I ended them with an arrow for each. I was growing thin on those, but I couldn’t stop my chase.

Although my Stamina was running low as well, I knew this forest, I knew the terrain, and I knew beforehand what road he would take. The knowledge of the territory helped me in tracking the man; I could clearly guess where he would go.

Using my guesses to my advantage, I managed to cut in front of him before he noticed and perched on top of a tree in waiting for his passage. If I had not known the forest as well as I did, his higher levels and Skills would have made him escape my wrath.

***

I waited on top of a tree’s branch when he entered my vision. Judging from his conditions, he had just quarreled with a Nightcub; he was hurt too.

I smirked, then let my rage get the better of me, I had to let it fuel me, or I might have dropped for how tired I was.

It wasn’t the first time I killed a man, not even close. I had been hunting for three years, for my village; two of those I passed in solitude and the last one with Nova’s sporadic support.

I had met my fair share of trouble, both related to creatures and sentients. And each time I got out alive and a little less human, but definitely stronger.

The man stumbled in my range; he was slightly limping, his side was hurt, but I could see he was not seriously hurt. He could still kill me if I got in his range, but that would not happen. I had the high ground; he was a dead man walking.

My pupils transformed, he was entirely yellow, courtesy of his ending stamina, a hit would not be fatal, but it would cripple him, the hurt side was red and so were his eyes and mouth, but I would not take any chances, I only had seven arrows left.

It aimed my shot to his thigh; if I failed, there was still a chance the following Shade projectile would hit him between the knee and the calf.

I did not miss.

The scream echoed through the forest, arousing creatures that were better left asleep.

He had fallen to the ground when his eyes reached my position; I smiled wickedly.

“This is for Ronda.”

The second arrow and the Trick Shot that followed hit him both in the neck.

I stayed there. I wanted to see him draw his death throes. Although as I waited, I heard the whispers of the world tell me of a level up, but my attention went to what followed the kill.

A scene I would have preferred not to watch.

A Vortex of Terror, one of the nasties creatures around, reached the man’s body. It was a creature, matte black, with six arms thick as tree trunks, and a mouth positioned at the center of its body; it had a spiral of sharp teeth in its mouth that circled around, grinding everything unlucky enough to come upon it to shreds. I turned my head away and tried to make myself as small as I could. I was confident the creature could snap my tree like a dead branch.

Thankfully, it did not notice me and left soon after. But I would have to stay here for the night. The middle of the night was way too dangerous, especially for someones as exhausted as I was.

I could not go to sleep, so to keep myself busy, I focused on the voice of the world; it would not go away until I had placed my point.

Class Hunter has leveled up to 25. You have gained 1 Attribute point. Where will you invest it?

It waited for me to answer. I was torn between Constitution and Strength. Constitution would help me grow bigger, taller, wider. There were still a few more years to gain a more powerful body, not to count my durability, defense, and ability to survive; however, Strength was directly a boost to my power output.

But that wasn’t all, Agility and Constitution accounted for Stamina, just like Agility and Strength made for one’s speed. And Constitution and Strength directly increased Health.

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There were other things that had to be taken into consideration but those were things for mages, I was no mage, nor was anyone I knew, so nobody really cared about that.

I had already put a few points of it into boosting my arrows’ power. I could pull the string of my bow stronger, shoot arrows that would suffer less from the air resistance, but more importantly, I needed Strength to be my next highest Parameters; when I classed up, I needed a truly powerful Skill under my belt if I wanted to survive this world. And usually gaining Skills followed one’s highest Attributes. It wasn’t always like this, but that was the word in the village.

On the other hand, there were still ten levels to go before my Class evolved, and that meant that I could still fix my Strength even if I put a few more points into Constitution.

In the end, I sighed. I was indeed jealous like Nova had said. So I gave in and wished for my newly gained point to be placed into Constitution, bringing it to eight.

You have gained a Skill Perk.

The voice said nothing more.

I had just hit level 25; of course, I gained one; the next one would be at level 30, and then I would have to evolve my Class. I still did not know what route I’d take, but what intrigued me was the new Perk.

I still couldn’t tell what it was.

Maybe tomorrow, I could simply pass by the clearing and find out without wrecking my head about it.

The only thing I needed to do now was waiting for the night to pass. It would be a long night, a night in which I wouldn’t dare close my eyes.


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