The air was cool and fresh. Birds tweeted in the trees. The scent of wet earth wafted from the ground, mixing with sap and leaves. All was still.
Suddenly, there was a whoosh of displaced air as something powerful sped through the thick forest. It darted and weaved. It pushed itself hard, revealing in the freedom to stretch and breathe.
Not breaking stride, it leapt onto a tall rock and let out a wild howl of triumph.
The being was made of living wood and thorns. Four powerful legs carried a body that would be described as wolf-like, assuming that wolves looked like they’d been crafted from loosely made wicker.
A coat of living grass hung from its back.
A mane of forest flowers crowed its neck.
The being shifted.
Wood became flesh. Grass became hair. The being stood up on two legs. Clothes appeared. Such as there were of them.
Where the wolf had been now stood a young nymph, taking a long breath of free air she thought she might never breathe again.
Wildflower flexed her arms and legs again, arching her back, and reaching for the sky. She leapt from the rock, caught the hanging branch of a nearby tree, spun around the trunk, and landed with a roll on the ground. Just like that, she was off and running again.
For days, the clumsy goblins chased her, far outside their clan’s territory. For days she had played and fled, giggling, laughing, confident in her speed and grace. Then in the last hour, everything had changed. The goblins acquired a power she had never seen before, and the chase had become a hunt.
Not long ago, she’d watched in helpless fury as the goblins who caught her, sold her to the merchants to be taken far away.
A being, once enslaved, had little chance of being freed — a young nymph like herself, even less so.
How incredible her luck, that barely any time after the goblins packed up and left for their home clan, and the elf traders signalled for buyers, that he should arrive.
Wildflower landed gracefully next to a stream and dipped a hand into the crystal-clear water to drink. She wasn’t sure what to make of the human male who had bought her. Bought her and then freed her. As a nymph, she could feel the virility radiating off of him.
If it had been any other human, she’d have expected to be dragged back to their homeland. To be put to work and pleasure. But Max was a Master Builder — a traveller from another world. Here, in Isolation, he had no homeland. Only what he would make. And conquer.
Wildflower took off from the stream and continued ahead at speed, following a path through the trees she’d used before.
And Max needed allies.
Wildflower was no fool. For a nymph, to take up the banner of a Master Builder was to accept a life of adventure and selfless loyalty, of one kind or another. The adventure, she craved — far more so than others of her kind. The loyalty... well, that was where her sisters had always considered her weird.
She also knew that the chance of any one Master Builder actually winning the Trial was slim. The best most could hope for was to serve the one who won.
Honestly, if she’d been asked only a few days ago, how likely she’d live to see a Master Builder, let alone be offered the chance to fight by his side, like in stories of old, she’d have laughed it off as impossible. Now that it was real...
Reaching an outcrop, Wildflower decided she’d gone far enough and started to circle round to make a pass around the Master Builder’s path. The forest was empty and quiet, free of monsters or goblin hunting parties. She hadn’t expected to find any, but when Max had brought up scouting, she’d leapt at the chance to stretch her legs.
And that had given her time to think.
The Trial by Conquest was a legend spoken of through stories and song. She remembered tales of magical artefacts that could shape the land, Master Builders holding back the rivers, villages housing more beings than a tree had leaves, and every race known in Isolation coming together to reach for the stars.
If even a fraction of the legends were true, there might be things she’d like to try.
The real question was, was this Master Builder the sort of Master who would let her?
“Oh, gods! I feel sick again.”
“Master Builder, the only god this world has ever known left right after he finished creating it,” Thorax said in his usual rumbling voice.
“I hope you did that over the side this time.”
“I swear you’re doing this on purpose.” Despite the rocking body of the giant spider as they made their way through the forest, Max did feel a little better now. He really needed to start eating real food. The Keg of Wonders was nearly full now. He wondered just how long it would be before he had enough people with him to make a serious dent in its daily beer production. That was if he didn’t find a better uncommon liquid to pour into it first.
There was now the option of the various food items he’d bought from the traders, but most of that needed to be cooked before it could be eaten. Apparently that required building a fireplace, and Max was too keen to get a move on.
Suddenly, from nowhere, a wolf-like monster leapt into the clearing. Max yelled in alarm, but a second look suggested non-aggression. A third look suggested a suspiciously feminine nature. A fourth look found him watching the wicker-wolf transforming into Wildflower.
Max’s jaw dropped.
Almost without thinking now, he used analyse.
— Whoosh —
Relationship Status: Curious
Race type: Uncommon
Forest Nymphs are one of the more unusual avatars of nature in Isolation. Mostly choosing to live separate from the petty politics of the rest of the world, they cloister themselves in the Northern Forests of the Emerald Plateau. On those rare occasions they do venture out, however, they make incredible scouts for Master Builders fortunate enough to win their service.
Group Spirit: +0
Free to Run Wild: Can meld into the terrain, even while moving, greatly enhancing stealth.
Nature’s Virgin: Maintains a certain magical potency while a virgin. On losing virginity, this power changes to Nature’s Bride.
Briar Wolf: Can transform into a Briar Wolf, increasing strength, constitution, and run speed.
Call of the Pack: Can summon nearby pack hunters to aid in combat
Be Aware: As this being was formerly your slave with her entire character screen open to you, certain characteristics are still available for you to see using analyse.
Max’s gaze switched between the character screen and Wildflower in astonishment. He thought he’d remembered she’d had a power called Briar Wolf, but he hadn’t been sure. He hadn’t been expecting all this extra information. The girl was a powerhouse.
When she’d confidently said not to worry as she ran off to go scouting, Max hadn’t known she could do any of this!
What he didn’t understand were the stats. He vaguely recalled computer games having stats like this to define player characteristics, but what did it mean that Wildflower’s all read zero? The girl was clearly brave and dexterous. Her lithe form suggested she wasn’t weak either.
Wildflower just stood there, gazing at him with that small smirk on her face. “Are you done being amazed at me?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Max said. “Just give me a few more moments.”
“Haha.” Her gaze turned inquisitive. “Are you doing some kind of Master Builder thing?”
Max let the window close. “A bit, but it’s not important. How goes the scouting?”
Thorax started moving forward again, and Wildflower, understandably not wanting to be left behind, swung herself up onto his back with Max. “It’s clear all the way to the third stream. I don’t think there will be any more goblin hunting parties around.” Her voice turned bitter. “I think they caught enough to last for weeks.”
“There... there weren’t other people with you, were there?” Max asked.
Wildflower sighed. “No, not other people. Just a group of wolves who happened to be nearby. I was desperate. They’re all dead now.”
“You think we’re going to have to deal with the goblins once we’ve founded our village?”
Wildflower slowly got her smirk back. “You mean, once you’ve founded your village, Master Builder. I still haven’t decided if I want to join you yet.”
Max held up his hands. “Hey, can’t blame a guy for trying.” His face turned serious. As much as he enjoyed a bit of flirtatious banter, Max knew his position wasn’t great. “Wildflower,” he said. “I need help in this trial. I know almost nothing about this world or how to survive in it. You’ve lived here all your life. Anything that it is in my power to give you, I will... within reason. Is there anything I can say to persuade you? I don’t know what being a commander means, but we could learn. Together.”
Wildflower gave him a long look.
Finally she spoke. “I have been a traveller all my life. I could never join someone who does not share that spirit. To show me that you do share it, lead me into the dungeon by the river and find a gift that demonstrates how much you want me to join you. If I judge the gift impressive enough, I will join you.”
— Dong! —
You have been offered a quest.
Those who Dungeon Together, Conquer Together.
Wildflower has tasked you to lead her into the dungeon by the river to find a suitably impressive gift. Preferably one that demonstrates you share her spirit for adventure.
Reward: Wildflower agreeing to become a commander.
Penalty for failure or refusal: Wildflower leaving your party.
Do you accept this quest?
[Yes] or [No]
Max grinned from ear to ear.