After my previous excursion to the world below, and my look at my status sheet, it was pretty obvious that people were already hitting the level cap. A quick check with the system confirmed that, and I was even able to get a chart. According to the computer, roughly thirty percent of people that lived longer than forty years managed to hit level one hundred. For people over fifty, the number improved to fifty percent.
As such, it was time to raise the cap again. I was considering doubling it to two hundred, but that would probably be a bit much for all at once. Instead, I simply increased it by another fifty. Maybe in the future, when the levels are higher, a one hundred level increase wouldn’t be so major.
Next, I went ahead and checked the maps, seeing how much territory each race had covered thus far. Most of them, like the humans, elves, and dwarves, had expanded to explore roughly five percent of their total continent. Beastkin were a bit better at ten percent, while centaurs had stayed mainly in one large plains. From what I could tell, they had never even really tried to move beyond it very far.
As for the halflings, they had explored over half of their continent. Not only that, but according to the map they were working on crossing the thin strip of land to the centaur continent. I was curious to see how their interaction would work, so I set an alarm for my next fast forward. This time, it would stop if the halflings and centaurs ever met in the living world.
Giving everything one final check, I looked to see if there was anything that I was missing. This was a significant step, the first meeting between two living species. I was excited to see how it would play out, even though I knew that there were only a few possibilities. Deep down, I was hoping that they would be able to get along, but I knew that the odds of that were low. Especially given the level of advancement in the world, and the fact that the centaurs just got done with a civil war of their own.
Either way, I wrote a message to everyone to tell them that I was about to fast forward, and that the halflings and the centaurs would come into contact soon. After that, I went ahead and chose to fast forward by one hundred years. Surely, within that time the halflings would be able to cross through the forest to meet them.
The news of a new land to the south spread quickly through the Rests of the halflings. Over half of the population in the southern area had begun to grow bored, no new lands left to see. But, with this information, it was as if their prayers had been answered. Any that could immediately began to pack up their belongings and set out.
Within six months, there was already a steady influx of halflings passing through the mountains between the seas. Some chose to scale the mountains, while others chose to go around them. However, the end result was the same, as more and more arrived in the land beyond. What awaited them was a vast forest, crawling with new monsters and beasts that they hadn’t seen before.
Within a year, there was a Rest built as a forward camp at the edge of the forest, which would guide arriving halflings on where to go for adventure. Creatures small and large, flying and walking alike would often be seen running in and out of the Rest. These creatures were messengers sent by the Hunters and the Monster Tamers, sending back news of new creatures, new lands, or even a new fruit.
The halflings were eager to explore this new area, and within two years they had discovered yet another new area beyond. A land of vast fields, rolling hills of grass. Naturally, they sent news of this discovery to the Rest as well, but they didn’t stop there.
Five years after the discovery of the land to the south, one group of halflings made a startling discovery that would change history. As they were walking through the plains, they saw a distant group of strange creatures. Their upper bodies were that of a giant person, while their lower bodies resembled creatures often used as mounts in the north.
The leader of the family group, a wizened old halfling named Sjorn Tanglefoot, saw these strange creatures and immediately knelt down. He had pulled a fresh piece of leather, and drew a rough image of them. Then, he handed the leather to his eldest son, who passed it to a large, eight-legged insect that they had befriended in the forest. Since their encounter with it, the insect had become their default messenger due to its quick running speed. More importantly, few creatures in the forest seemed eager to attack it, making it their safest means of communication with the Rest.
After sending the messenger off, the group decided to approach these creatures. Having a body similar to theirs, but larger, meant that they should be able to see reason. Furthermore, Sjorn could make out leather satchels hung over their shoulders, similar to the packs the halflings themselves wore.
Intent on starting a peaceful dialogue, Sjorn himself went forward. If, by some chance, these creatures were not intelligent, then they could at least befriend them as they did with many other monsters and beasts. “Greetings, friends!” He called out in a high pitched voice, drawing the attention of the creatures to himself. “I am Sjorn of the far lands! I have traveled many suns to find this place.”
When the creatures saw him, he thought that he saw a look of surprise on their face. Due to his Hunter levels, he was able to clearly hear them making strange noises to one another, as if they had gone mad. One of them pulled an item familiar to Sjorn from his back, a bow similar to what he himself used. However, the one wielded by this creature was several times larger than his own.
The bow-wielding creature came forth with large strides. Pulling an arrow from the satchel on its back, it nocked it on the bow and called out loudly with that strange tongue. Sjorn could only frown, unable to understand the creature. Thinking it might be a matter of not being close enough, he hurriedly walked forward, much to the surprise of the party he was addressing.
“I’m sorry, can you repea-” His words were cut off when an arrow pierced through the wind, and into his skull. This drew a gasp from the five halflings behind him. Very rarely would a halfling ever harm another halfling intentionally, and these five had never seen such an event. The idea of an intelligent creature willingly killing another was unheard of to them!
There was one, however, who was not caught unaware. Sjorn’s own companion, a feralic named Caborn, roared in anger. It stood back on its two hind legs, four thick arms raised up in hatred. Its body was covered in a golden fur, making it stand out among the growing grass.
When Caborn fell back down to its hind legs, it began charging towards the creatures that had murdered its friend. This caused them to all pull out bows similar to the first one, all nocking arrows that flew towards the feralic. Yet, it continued its mad charge. Even when one of the arrows flew into its eye, it did not stop. Blood calls for blood, and so it arrived in front of the first enemy.
Just as it was swiping one of its forearms out to slash its long claws at its enemy, the creature nimbly stepped back. It pulled out a leather scroll from its satchel and ripped it in half, causing a spear to appear in its place. Only when the spear had struck directly into the feralic’s remaining eye did it fall.
By now, the first of the halflings were starting to snap out of their daze. One of them pulled a small leather scrap from their pack and ran, hoping to get far enough away to send a warning to the Rest. A warning to stay away, one which was never delivered.
The hostile creatures easily caught sight of the fleeing halfling, their faces twisted in scorn. Before the scared halfling could escape to the next hill, a dozen arrows rained down upon his body. Unlike Caborn, this halfling did not possess the vitality of a feralic. The red line of his health almost entirely vanished in a single moment, and he fell to the ground.
From the distance, the creatures could not see that final sliver of red that was slowly fading away, so they turned their attention to the remaining halflings. Seeing as they had started to recover, they likewise began fleeing, running in different directions. This caused their opponents to laugh, suddenly treating this like a hunt.
Meanwhile, while his friends and family were being hunted down, Salvin, the one who tried to send the warning, slowly opened his eyes. He could feel his breath weakening, and knew that he had no time left. With his last breaths, he drew the symbol for danger on the leather scrap, and grasped it in his bloody hand. “M-Makin…” He called in a weak voice, causing the thin shirt on his chest to rustle. A furred creature, almost two feet long with four paws and a long bushy tail, crawled its way out of his outfit. This was Makin, Salvin’s lifelong companion, who had been hiding itself inside of his shirt when the arrows struck his back. Makin looked up at him with watery eyes, knowing that his friend was dying.
“Makin… please… send this.” He held the leather scrap out to Makin. “Send it to the Rest. Please…” With that, the light in his eyes faded, his body finally going limp. The small, furred creature let out a sorrowful cry as it pried the scrap of leather from his dead hands. On it, the symbol for danger had been all but erased. All that remained on it now was a single, bloody handprint.
Still, Salvin had asked him to deliver it with his dying breath. And he was going to do just that. Unbeknownst to the creatures hunting the rest of the halflings and their larger companions, a small figure fled away within the grass, quickly disappearing from their field of view. All that was left was the laughter of the ‘hunting party’.
As part of their regular pattern, Elter Greymane was leading his herd to hunt near the tall woods. Traveling beyond the woods was forbidden, as that meant leaving the domain of their god. Yet, being this close often proved to be a suitable hunting ground, large creatures sometimes leaving the tall woods to be hunted by them.
Yet, this particular hunt had an unexpected outcome. While they were seeking out new game to bring back for the rest of the herd, they heard a shrill noise that caught their attention. One of the youngest, a buck with black hair, turned to the Greymane and respectfully asked. “Greymane, what are those things?”
As for Elter, he turned to look at what the young buck had pointed out. Immediately, his eyes widened in surprise. What he saw was only half a man, barely half a child. While the upper body was that of a centaur, its lower body had been replaced by two small legs. “Is that a new type of cursed?”
“Greymane, apologies, but that name has been forbidden.” The young buck advised, glancing to the herd. With the reign of the first king, Ashur, the variants were no longer allowed to be called the cursed. Instead, they were given their proper names, the ‘unicorns’, ‘pegasus’, and even the rare ‘qilin’. However, Elter was from an older time, and had grown up with the old names.
Even though the king had passed into Tryval’s embrace, the laws left behind remained. “You’re right, old habits. Still, what are they? They carry none of Tryval’s grace, and if their path is true, they come from the tall woods. Do they not fear His wrath?”
After asking that, Elter pulled his bow out, as well as one arrow. “Leave this place!” He shouted back to the tiny thing, slowly walking closer. “Remove your blight from His land, or be cast in blood!” As he spoke, he nocked his arrow, ready to fire if the thing did not heed his warning. While it did not have Tryval’s grace, it had the head of a man, so it should speak as one.
Yet, what surprised Elter most was that this thing did not heed his warning at all. Rather, he ran forward, shouting some shrill cry. Thinking it a charge, Elter naturally fired his arrow. He had trained for many years, and had broken past the old limits of power. With his strongest Powers being those of the Archer and the Warrior, his aim was true. The arrow pierced through the thing’s skull before it could finish its cry.
However, still more surprises came. It was only at this point that Elter noticed a small horde of beasts gathered a distance behind where the tiny one came. Among it were five other tiny ones, seeming even smaller than the one he had just killed. Yet, a roar caught their attention, a six-legged golden bear charging towards them.
“Kill it!” Elter said, no longer able to see this as anything other than an attack from outsiders. He pulled more arrows from his satchel, each one striking true on the bear. One even managed to claim its right eye, yet it refused to fall.
When the bear approached, Elter wasted no time in hurrying backwards. Discarding his bow, he grabbed one of the promise scrolls in his satchel, tearing it to retrieve his spear. Calling on his Power of the Warrior, Elter pierced his spear into the bear’s remaining eye as it stretched its large paw out towards him. Thankfully, the spear’s reach was longer than the paw of the bear, allowing the Greymane to stay out of its range.
When he looked up, he saw one of the tiny ones running back towards the tall woods. “Shoot the running one! He will call for aid!” After he spoke, he bent his knees to reach down and retrieve his bow. He could hear twang of the bowstrings as arrows were fired one after another. Like the first, this small creature also fell. “Now the rest, let none escape! For the glory of Tryval!”
“For Tryval!” The hunting party gave a cheer, splitting off to chase the rest of the small ones as they ran in different directions. They would paint the grass in their blood, and remove them from His land.