Chapter 34: Return

Of the skills that I was required to train in the forest, the first to reach the goal was none other than Light Step, as I was constantly using it both in and out of combat. Next was Reduced Earth, for very similar reasons. The ability to briefly amplify my movement speed didn’t sound too impressive at first, until I had the ability to appreciate it. Aside from that, the speed enhancement only grew with the skill’s level, so it took some getting used to every time the level increase.

On the other hand, skills like Ki Arrow or Farsight lagged a little behind, because I had to be careful with my limited arrows. Still… they leveled much more quickly than the melee combat skills. After the first two days, I had met the goal with five of my skills. All that was left was Provoke, Intimidate, Parry Stance, Disarming Strike, and Ki Palm, as all of these skills relied primarily on fighting in close combat.

While the first half of the skills only took two days, the second half took more than a week longer. During this week, I was able to get a better understanding of Confuse as well, and the status effects it was able to inflict. As I had suspected, the first one that I saw was Berserk, in which case the target is constantly burning their mana while they are sent into a frenzied rage, attacking anything in between them and their target.

If the Fear effect is inflicted, the target will immediately turn to run, as if they had seen a horrible predator. Seeing an ogre running like that was… refreshing, to say the least. Stun, as it implies, causes their mind to go blank for several seconds, depending on the difference in status between the two parties.

The last effect, Charm, I was originally uncertain about. The reason for this uncertainty was that I knew that there was no such thing as mind control magic within this world. Such magic had been researched long ago, but there had never been any results. I thought that this might have been a way to replicate that lost power.

Instead, the Charm effect simply robs the control of the physical body, forcing them to attack their allies. There is no control over the target’s mind, which is evident in their expressions and speech. Still, even without controlling the target’s mind, it is an incredibly useful ability.

Over the course of this more than a week, I had only managed to get about three silver coins in loot, as well as a great pile of trash that I didn’t even consider worth keeping in my inventory. In my last fight, when I was against a single ogre unarmed, I almost didn’t notice the system prompt that appeared in front of me.

Activating Parry Stance, I stood with my hands calmly at my sides, walking towards the ogre. It let out a furious roar, charging towards me and swinging its club. When I saw the attack heading towards me, the skill I had prepared seemed to activate on its own. The club was swung from left to right, and taking it head-on would result in at least a broken arm.

My body bent back, turning to accept the strike along my torso, while my hands came up and pushed at the club. I used Ki Palm and Sturdy Hands to increase my hand strength, allowing me to push the club upwards before it was able to strike me. Then, maintaining the momentum of my turn, I did a full rotation, slamming my fist into the ogre’s stomach.

The ogre staggered back, dropping the club and clutching its stomach. It didn’t seem to notice me appearing right in front of it, my hand crashing into its forehead.

When the ogre fell, I reached down to claim the loot, disappointed that I only got a bit of meat. My luck in this forest really was the worst. Closing the loot window, I paused, noticing the display informing me that Parry Stance had reached level twenty. It took me a moment to process this, and I began counting in my head, confirming that there were no other skills that I was needing to train.

Although Confuse had only gone to level twelve, it was not on the list of what Kelly asked me to improve. Ecstatic, I rushed back towards the town, repeatedly activating Reduced Earth as I flashed through the forest like a phantom. I had long ago learned where the city was in relation to me, so it only took me a few minutes to navigate through the trees. Honestly, I felt even faster than when I had my Fast Runner skill active.

I saw the guards standing at the gates of the city, and they looked at me suspiciously when I emerged. I had been camping in the wild for over a week, so I probably looked no different from a mutated goblin to them, despite my size. They stepped forward, and I raised my hands. “My name is Drake.” I introduced myself, adjusting my hair to reveal the fallen brand.

The guards paused briefly, before nodding their heads and letting me through. There were plenty of places that I needed to go, and a lot of things that I needed to do. Diane had let me know just a few days prior that my new equipment was completed. When I told her that I was doing some special training in the forest, she told me to let her know when I was done.

I thought about letting her know immediately, but decided it would be better to do so after I had reported to Kelly and gone to get washed up. Starvation might not kill me, but living a week in a forest can certainly kill the senses of anyone around me.

I ran towards the martial arts training ground, finding the courtyard empty. Moving into the main building, I found Kelly… laying down on the floor, asleep. My brow twitched when I saw this. I had discretely investigated the camp that she had said she set up for herself at one point, acting as if I was lost while running around and hunting goblins. However, I hadn’t seen Kelly there at the time. 

I assumed that she must have been stealthily following me, so I refrained from activating any of my forbidden skills. Rushing back, I knew she could have gotten here first, so I expected her to act as if she had known that I was coming all along. Instead, from the gentle rise and fall of her chest, she appeared to be deep asleep in the middle of the day.

“Kelly.” I called out in a flat tone, and she slowly awoke, wiping at her eyes.

“Huh?” She sat up, looking at me. “Drake, you’re a mess… you finally done training?”

“That’s right.” I nodded my head. “I just got the last of the skills to level twenty, so I came back to report. Do you have any suggestions for skill fusions, or should I just directly evolve everything?”

Kelly simply yawned, taking a few seconds before she could answer. “What skills have the potential to fuse?”

Checking the interface again, I reported. “Bow Proficiency and Ki Arrow, Ki Arrow and Ki Palm, Ki Palm and Power Attack, Reduced Earth and Light Step, Provoke and Intimidate, and Parry Stance and Power Attack.”

Kelly nodded her head at that, lightly stretching as she stood. “I already told you that Ki Palm and Power Attack have a good fusion, so I’d suggest that one. Provoke and Intimidate also have a nice fusion, especially if you are going solo. As for the others… a straight evolution should be fine. Light Step will only show its best combination when you fuse it into the Stealth line. Oh, you should fuse Bow Proficiency and Ki Arrow, though. That one will help you a lot.”

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I nodded my head, performing the three fusions. Ki Palm and Power Attack turned into Ki Projection, with the description stating that I could create ki projections that would increase in strength and distance as my level increased.

Provoke and Intimidate… I expected them to fuse into Confuse, which would simply enhance the skill that I already had. Instead, it gave me Killing Stare. This skill judged the difference between my mental stats and those of my opponent, and could inflict Mana Burn or other mental injuries on them.

Finally, there was Ki Arrow and Bow Proficiency, which turned into Empty Bow Expertise. This skill allowed me to freely create arrows of ki, and enhanced my accuracy based on level. The strange part was that this was a proficiency skill, so it naturally had no mana burden. So… anyone who trains these two skills will no longer need to worry about arrows.

I was glad that I wouldn’t have to rely on just my Arcane Arrow skill anymore, but I wasn’t certain on the power of the ki arrows yet. “Can I ask something important, before I evolve the rest of these?” I asked, and Kelly looked over at me while rolling her shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“Will it be possible to get Bow Proficiency again? For instance, say I wanted to evolve it and fuse it with Assassinate to create a sniper arrow-style skill. Would I be able to do that now that I have fused the skill into Empty Bow Expertise?”

Hearing my question, Kelly paused. “Not normally, no. The only way to get the lower level skill again would be to buy the skill book, or take an associated skill quest. If you do either of those, you can get the basic skill, but you’ll still need to train it from scratch again, and the effects of the skills don’t overlap. So having a lower level Bow Proficiency won’t give you any bonus if you have the higher level Bow Expertise.”

I nodded my head, satisfied with this answer. I didn’t particularly plan to do something like this, but rather just wanted to know if it was even possible. Returning to my work, I evolved Light Step into Empty Body, which had similar effects, but simply enhanced. Reduced Earth became Flicker Step, which left an afterimage behind when I used it.

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Parry Stance became Counter Attack, which added the ability to increase damage after use. Disarming Strike became Sunder, which could deal increased damage to weapons and armor. Farsight turned into Scout, further increasing my perception range, while also increasing my hearing. And finally, Detect Weakness evolved into Greater Detect Weakness. I was… less impressed by this one, which just seemed a direct upgrade, even with the name.

Once she saw that I was done evolving all of my skills, Kelly grinned. “Alright, now for a bit of a workout. You can activate those enhancement skills again. You’ve got ten minutes to adjust to your new skills, and then we’re going to fight.”

“…The fact that you said fight, not spar, worries me.” I muttered, but immediately activated the skills that I had kept sealed for more than a week.

“You’re not losing anything but a walk of shame.” Kelly chuckled. “Besides, if I kill you, you get a fresh body, and I don’t have to deal with this odor anymore.”

I couldn’t help but grimace at this alternative to a relaxing bath. Who would choose death over washing themselves? That was not a convenience of being able to respawn!

Still, knowing that she wouldn’t take no for an answer, I moved out to the courtyard, and began moving around. When I combined Fast Runner with Flicker Step, I had to be careful not to put too much strength into my movement, or I could easily slam into a wall.

Similarly, my Ki Projection could appear either as a single limb, or my entire body, and was incredibly solid. It was amazing how much these skills had enhanced my abilities.

“Liking what you see?” Kelly asked in a knowing tone. “Don’t get used to such sharp increases. These are the best basic skills that you can get with your traits. From now on, if you get a new skill, it will either supplement one of these abilities, or be an advanced skill that you won’t have the chance to evolve to the peak. Or, it’ll be magic. With your durability now, you should be able to withstand magic a bit more easily.”

As she said that, she watched me acclimate myself to my enhanced abilities. It finally dawned on me that I had been fighting monsters with stats significantly higher than myself, relying only on these new skills. I was curious to see what I could do in a real battle now. And… going by Kelly’s battle-manic grin, I was about to find out.

— New chapter is coming soon —
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