Chapter 24: Creeping Crawlers

As I walked through the edge of the forest, I began to ponder what the ‘affinity’ attribute was that was mentioned in the charm. As far as I knew, there weren’t any abilities that directly altered the minds of others, as that was considered the realm of gods. Maybe it was more akin to a badge of honor?

Regardless, I equipped it because there was no real reason not to. Along the way, I also noticed that the corrupted dryads seemed to be a rare encounter, or perhaps they didn’t often wander this close to the road. Aside from the first one, it took me more than an hour before I encountered the second. This time, I wanted to test my raw abilities against it, without simply shooting its head off.

When I encountered the corrupted dryad, I found it sitting atop a large branch, its black eyes scouting the nearby area. I had been practicing my skills, so it was likely on alert for me, though I thankfully had gotten into the habit of immediately reapplying my Stealth after each skill.

My hand twitched towards my inventory to grab my bow, but I ultimately stopped myself. My Arcane Arrow and Assassinate combo was arguably too powerful for my current abilities, so I wouldn’t be able to properly train myself if I kept relying on it for every battle.

Instead, I decided to rely on my sword and shield. Slowly, I crept up towards the dryad, keeping my movements as quiet as I could while maintaining stealth. Once I reached directly below the dryad’s branch, I took a deep breath. First, I summoned my animated shadow and instructed it to activate all of its own buffs before firing roaring at the dryad to get its attention.

The dryad, seeing the little shadow monster, furrowed its brow. It extended one hand towards the shadow, and I immediately ordered it to jump to the side, just in time to dodge a wooden spike rising from the ground. The dryad was clearly annoyed that the pest had avoided its attack, and extended its other hand. I ordered it to jump again, but this time it was using a different skill.

Nearby vines came to life, quickly ensnaring the body of the animated shadow. Despite me ordering it to break free, it appeared that the strength that the shadow possessed was not enough to break the vines. The dryad simply held it there, taking a deep breath and breathing out a yellow mist. My eyes widened, and I immediately held my breath. I didn’t know if the animated shadow could be poisoned or not, but this seemed like the time to find out.

My main regret at the moment was that the dryad appeared to be a purely ranged combatant. I had been hoping to lure it down from the branch to attack it, but that didn’t seem like an option. Grunting, I put strength into my legs, jumping up towards the branch and slashing out with Assassinate. My target was not the dryad itself, but the branch that it stood on.

The dryad’s eyes widened when its branch was suddenly severed, its body beginning to fall. There was a brief moment when it passed by me on the way down, its body turning nimbly to kick at me. I brought my shield up to defend, and ended up being kicked against the tree, bouncing off of it. At the moment of impact, its leg seemed to have an almost metallic glint.

At this point, it had used all four of its skills, though I couldn’t be sure how heavy the mana burden on each one was, so I had to act fast. My scimitar was wrapped in darkness as I kicked off the tree, lunging down towards the falling dryad.

Its eyes widened slightly, before clapping its hands together and spreading its arms wide. With its fingers fully extended, it swept its arms towards me. I could see the ground shifting below, and quickly brought my shield in front of me again.

This time, ten thick spears broke out from the ground, surrounding the dryad’s body as they pierced towards me. Most of them struck my shield, denting it and sending me back into the air again. While ascending, I dismissed the shadow and summoned another, ordering it to enter stealth while it empowered itself.

Once the dryad landed, it rolled back and out of the makeshift cage of root spears, its eyes still focused on my figure. With a mental command, the shadow jumped at the dryad’s back, slashing out with a Shadow Slash. The dryad let out a hiss of pain as the technique carved into its back, though did not appear to do lethal damage.

Immediately, it turned its focus to the shadow, lashing out with another kick. I wasn’t able to respond in time to issue an evasion order, so the shadow’s body seemed to explode under the force of the kick. However, it did buy me enough time to aim my hand towards its body and activate the enchantment that Ella left on my ring.

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Right away, a flaming serpent as thick as my thigh emerged from my hand, speeding down along the roots. The dryad’s eyes went wide in alarm, jumping back, but the serpent followed it persistently. To my surprise, it did not ignite the ground or trees it passed, lunging at the dryad until it caught up to it and wrapped around its body. Only then did it begin to burn.

The dryad let out a cry of pain, and I rushed towards it as soon as I landed on the ground, brandishing my scimitar. The serpent had wrapped around its neck, so I was left to just slash at its chest. Given the light from the fire serpent, I couldn’t use Shadow Slash, and could only rely on my normal strength. Like this, it took me three slashes to deal a fatal strike while the dryad writhed in agony.

As its corpse fell, I dismissed the fire snake, looking at the dryad’s body. This battle had given me a much-needed lesson. If I were to rely on my normal skills, I wouldn’t be able to kill a monster of this level. Even in melee combat where it was weakest, it had been able to easily knock me away.

I’ll need to get more Martial skills in Decashear. I thought to myself, reaching down to collect the loot. To my surprise, another accessory dropped. This time, it was a necklace, the same jewel that was visible in the dryad’s chest tied on a green, vine-like string.

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Dryad’s Heart – 5s

Durability: 100%

Enchantments: 0/1

Innate: Slightly increases Magic while in a party.

My brow twitched when I saw the details of the item. Now I knew why Ella had given me the ring instead of the necklace, knowing that I often acted alone; If charms increased affinity with creatures, and necklaces increased stats while in a party, the rings were a symbol of cooperation between two friends.

Honestly, I’d rather get another ring. I thought to myself. I wanted to get one to mail to Ella, as a token of appreciation. However, I would need to decide what skill to gift her before that.

As I stood, I wondered just how common they made these accessories, as I had gotten two in a row. Were they so common that it was natural, or had I gotten lucky? It was hard to say. Regardless, I decided to rest for now, activating my Stealth and moving to sit next to a tree. If I wanted to train my skills on the road again, it would be best if I did so at night.

Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to relax, slowly drifting to sleep. It had been a while since I slept outside, and it was admittedly uncomfortable to do so in my full armor, but it was arguably better than letting whatever monster may find me get a free hit in before I woke up and equipped myself.

When I did wake up again, I felt that my body was stiff, and heard faint clicking sounds against my armor. Did it start raining? No… that didn’t sound right. Slowly, I opened my eyes, met with the giant figure of an arachnid crawling along my armor. My already stiff body went completely still, the spider soon crawling off of me.

Looking at the creature, I hesitantly activated my Observe skill on it, discovering that it was a level thirty Dark Forest Spider. Aside from being able to drop spider silk, it didn’t have any noteworthy attributes. It was even considerably weaker than the dryads from earlier. The problem was their number. There wasn’t just one of these creatures near me… I could see five moving around without even moving my head.

Slowly, I moved to stand, keeping one hand on the tree behind me for support. I was not confident fighting these monsters, nor was I eager to try. I summoned my animated shadow, having it immediately enter stealth and run off to the side. Once in position, it let out a loud roar, running off into the distance.

The moment its voice echoed out, the forest seemed to come along. Faint hissing echoed in the air all around me, and I could both hear and see movement everywhere in the darkness. Nope. Nope nope nope. NOPE! I shook my head, immediately moving to flee in the other direction from where I had sent the shadow. Thankfully, I had enough awareness of my surroundings to direct it deeper into the forest, giving me enough leeway to leave. There is not enough gold in Athua to convince me to fight that horde. I don’t care how valuable their silk is.

Thankfully, once I got out onto the road, things were a lot clearer. Though, just to be safe, I moved more than a hundred meters to the other side of the road from the forest, just to make sure that none of them noticed my training. The creatures at night in this area appeared largely passive, so I fired off my skills into the darkness while walking along casually.

Any time I came across curious-looking herbs in the ground, I cast my Mass Appraisal on them, disregarding the experience cost. I had saved up more than enough to use for things like this, after all. None of these herbs were actually worth picking up, but the skill training was what I was after.

I walked throughout the night, soon seeing the next village in the distance. Before I arrived, my Wisdom skill evolved, becoming the Sage skill. As with other status enhancement skills, all it did was remove the ‘slightly’ from its skill description.

Seeing the village nearby, and its guards manning the gates, I didn’t try to get inside. Rather, I simply walked around the western wall of the village, continuing to appraise absolutely anything that I saw. I only had two levels to go for that skill, so I wanted to grind it out. Especially once my Perception hit level twenty, and I received the notification that it was ready to evolve.

Once I had circled around the village, I simply continued walking, not bothering to stop. There was nothing in particular that I wanted from this village. Shortly after I passed the village, there was a small forest that the road cut through.

Gritting my teeth, I temporarily stopped my skill training to walk through the forest. As expected, this one was similarly infested with spider monsters, which I had to narrowly avoid. I had never been more thankful for a skill than I was to have Stealth at that moment. 

This stretch of forest lasted for just a few kilometers, but my careful pace meant that it took more than two hours before I exited, reaching the other side. Beyond the forest was a rushing river, a stone bridge built to help travelers cross. Thankfully, it seemed that the monsters did not journey to the other side of the bridge, so I hastily made my way across. If I still had my ruby scimitar, I would have surely sent several flaming slashes into the forest after exiting it.

Once across the bridge, I released the pent-up shudder that had been threatening to overtake me throughout the entire forest. I was over halfway to Decashear now, so I focused on the path ahead.

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