Level 6 Birthplace of Monsters
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*[Paragon] Triggered*

Rydr laughed aloud at the feat and [Paragon] notice, for which he automatically accepted the bonuses. His Strength score jumped from twenty-five to forty in one go. The same test Rydr just finished suddenly became almost forty percent easier compared to before. 

So you can get them for things like this? His breath quickened a little when a niggling thought hit him. Getting caught up in the leveling race...might be the wrong thing to do. Rydr needed to do some more testing before he proved his theory. He looked around again and saw that his audience wasn't the only one. 

Some divers continued their challenges after Rydr finished his. The Endurance Challenge, where everyone was welcome to throw stones at you until the diver collapsed, roared in approval as their contestant pull through again. The Agility Challenge challenger blurred across the agility course, trying to get back and forth as obstacles change without getting hit with paint pellets. 

Certain divers around the plaza recorded the performances and streamed them online. All over the internet, in the game and out, netizens tuned in and started to compare the videos released from the starting towns. Rydr's stunt and the ongoing feats of the other challengers drew more and more views. Elsewhere in the Kingdom of Aard, several other beginner villages experienced the same phenomenon. Dozens of videos started to upload from those villages.

Even with literally, millions of videos streamed or uploaded, those from the Kingdom of Aard started to stand out. Deep in the comments section of those comparison videos, someone commented:

 [Isn't Grotto in the Kingdom of Aard? It's tiny on the continent, but these divers are OP! Why couldn't I have landed there?!?! Birthplace of Freaking MONSTERS!!!!]

Beneath that person's comment, hundreds of replies said:

 [F for the Weakling]

Despite the hazing, that nickname stuck around in the future. A future where Aard was always called the "Birthplace of Monsters." 

Rydr felt envy as he watched their competitions ramp up in difficulty. The forlorn feeling in Rydr's chest was wistful. He wished the challenge was harder and didn't break on him. When he turned his head to look back toward the multicolored rope Rydr, found the miller coming to him. 

While tall and imposing to the average diver, Rydr stood head-shoulders-and-chest over the grizzled veteran. Shane, to his chagrin, forced himself to look up to meet Rydr's gaze, something he seldom did with another human.

"Well?" Shane grumped, "Do ye' hav' nuthin ter say fer ye'self?" Shane's voice shocked Rydr and everyone present. His was the first pronounced dialect they came across. Such speech was rare to hear in the twenty-second century. 

Rydr shook himself to dispel the culture shock and said, "I apologize for breaking the test. When the rope suddenly stopped moving, I should have figured it out." Rydr reached up to scratch the back of his head, using the familiar movement to calm himself. 

Despite his seclusion, in reality, Ryan was a fantastic public speaker. Skills engrained into him according to family tradition, horrible as it was, proved handy to save face. 

Shane scowled at him for a moment longer before he guffawed and slapped Rydr's arm. "O, I'mma jus' pullin' ye' lehg, boy!" He turned and gestured broadly with his arm, "Now, I ken stick it ter tha' smarmy elf abou' his weak designs!" Shane's belly shook as he roared with laughter. 

I can't help but notice that his insults are perfectly said. Rydr chuckled to appease the bald, boisterous old-timer. Shane slapped Rydr's on the back a few times, nearly making him fly forward before he settled down. 

Ryan tried to start, "Sir, my quest says-"

Shane waved his hand to stop Rydr, "Blah, blah, blah; speak plain', boy!" 

Rydr stared at Shane's scowl and chuckled for real, "What do I get for breaking your weak test, old man?" Inside, Rydr's stomach did somersaults after he spoke so rudely to someone in public. Shane threw his head back and laughed uproariously. 

"I like it! Erry' man's gotta know how ter brag, boy!" Shane stuck out his meaty paw, "Name's Shane, son. Whatsyu call ye'self?" 

Shane. Shame he isn't bigger. Rydr snickered to himself before he said, "Rydr, an intrepid adventurer."

"Well, here ye be, Rydr." From a sack at his side, the old miller withdrew two items. Slightly hidden from view, Rydr didn't see what they were. The system chime in his head warned him that the quest updated. 

Excited, Rydr extended his hands to accept the quest rewards. Shane first handed Rydr a coin sack. Unsure how much was in there, Rydr tucked it away in the system backpack without looking so as not to be rude. 

The second item placed in his hands was a set of heavy stone vambraces. On his part, Shane stepped back and beamed at Rydr, certain his gift would please him. 

The gauntlets bore a simple Celtic knot design carved into the stone. At the front and back, near the vambraces' wrist and elbow, was a raised edge of the stone, which looked like they could catch the edges of bladed weapons. The armor gave off a faint green glow, which tickled Rydr's eyes the way he was learning meant mana was present. For now, they were too small to fit on Rydr's forearms, but they would resize themselves the moment he equipped them. 

[Uncommon Stone-Guard Vambraces Level 5]

-These vambraces were once part of a full set. The natural weight and durability of the stone is enchanted by Nature Runes hidden in the stone carving. They are too heavy to wear and use a weapon without high Strength.-

Requirements:

~Strength 30

Bonuses:

+50 Defense

+5 Strength

+5 Constitution

Weight: 9kg. (each)

Durability: 220/250

Stone-Guard Set Bonuses:

(1p) Passive Skill: [Training]

(2p) +20 Constitution

(3p) +20 Strength

(4p) Hidden Skill: [Unstoppable Charge]

~Charge forward dealing 250% Strength Score

~20m Charge. End at will

~2 Minute Cool-Down

*Completed! Old Warrior's Challenge*

+400 EXP

+5 Silver Coins

The influx of money and experience painted a brilliant smile on Rydr's face. The armor is just icing on the cake. He was giddy over the armor since it buffed all the stats he cared about. After Rydr read the set bonuses, he snapped his eyes to Shane, who grinned broadly at him.

"For' ye ask, I dinnot have de otha pieces." Shane cut him off before Rydr could ask his question, which caused the giant's face to drop in disappointment. 

Divers listened to their conversation shamelessly and ate themselves with envy. The giant received part of a set for breaking the test! If they knew that Rydr also achieved a feat, they would attempt to beat him then and there. What they did know is that Rydr just earned the first Uncommon piece of equipment in Grotto. The item's green glow was self-evident.

"Show us the stats!"

"Don't be greedy! Give it to your uncle, Big Stick, for breaking the challenge." 

Many of the divers around Rydr started to get rowdy as their shouting egged each other on. Netizens that tuned in to the live-stream of a nearby diver clamored to see the stats in the comments section. 

"Do you know what the first passive is supposed to do?" Rydr asked ruefully, ignoring the other divers' shouts.

"They are heavy, ya? Use ye head, boy." Shane was about to dismiss Rydr when he had a thought. "Do me a fava an' ask tat pointy-eared bastard ter come fix 'is weak coils." Shane then waved toward the smithy Rydr located before trying the strength test. 

Rydr was sad when no quest appeared.

Since he'd said everything he meant to, Shane turned to the rest of the crowd, "De test 'ill be down fer a bit 'til is fixed. Clear out 'til then!" Shane growled at the crowd, not maliciously. Shane had little time for weak people but would spare a moment for anyone on the path to strength.

With the old warrior's clear dismissal, Rydr turned to leave but found himself surrounded by agitated divers. 

Before anyone could react, one of them stepped forward. The man had black hair and roguish good looks to go with his generic adventuring gear and a placating smile on his face. 

"My friend, please wait for a moment," the man steeped in front of Rydr, not cowed by their difference in height, "Let me start by saying I understand how unreasonable our request is. No one should have to show their gears' stats unless they want to show off."

Rydr stared at him evenly. He wasn't upset yet, but Rydr was frustrated that he couldn't walk over with the smithy so close at hand. The frontman for the crowd took that as interest and smiled wider. 

"My name is Little John. I stream a small-time gaming channel called 'BlackHeartMMO's.' Normally, I would never be this rude, but we are only a few hours into the game." Little John spread his hands, sheepishly like his hands were tied. 

Little John sighed like he really wasn't willing, "If you could PM me the armor stats, I can post them in my stream without anyone trying to steal them from you. What you did was amazing and clearly demonstrates that quests aren't straightforward in this game. I just want to show everyone how going above-and-beyond pays off."

Once Little John finished speaking, he waved his hands a couple of times, and a friend request appeared in front of Rydr. 

*Little John sent you a friend request*

Before he accepted the request, Rydr looked around at the gathered divers again. They seemed mostly fine with the resolution but obviously waited around for Rydr's answer before they decided how to respond. 

Rydr sighed. I don't want to be chased out of town by a bunch of PK's...although I still might. Since it was the fastest way to get away to the smithy, Rydr acquiesced and hit YES on the friend request. 

Rydr then summoned the Friends interface and selected Little John's name to private message him. With a thought, he linked the stats for the Stone-Guard Vambraces and sent the message to Little John. 

A few feet away, Little John's eyes tracked back and forth, growing large as he read the information. A moment later, he laughed and posted the linked armor in his stream's chatroom. The divers around them quickly found Little John's streaming channel and exclaimed at the armor. 

[These stats are insane! What kind of scaling is this?!] 

[We've got a week with these challenges, right? Can't we get stuff like this too?!]

After Little John confirmed the explosion in his chatroom, he gave Rydr a thumbs-up. "Thanks, Rydr," he made a point of saying Rydr's name for the stream, "that should light a fire under everyone's ass!" Then Little John pinged Rydr on the forums and sent him five-thousand credits. 

The credits funneled into Rydr's personal accounts instantly, but he was too stunned to react. It never occurred to Rydr that he could make money in the game. In one go, he earned double his regular paycheck. 

The revelation, something that Rydr knew but hadn't considered seriously, meant that he could quit his job someday soon. The possibility of having more time for school and [Frontier Online] totally distracted him from the idea of getting wealthy this way. Rydr wasn't concerned with wealth because his needs weren't extravagant. 

Plus, the one thing he truly wanted was out of reach. The treatment for his spine was so expensive he never entertained getting it without his family's resources- which Rydr didn't have access to.

Rydr shook his head to dispel the helpless thoughts and equipped the vambraces. They vanished into motes of light that shifted to his forearms and dissipated to reveal the armor again. Both stretched to fit Rydr's forearms, which were noticeably larger after his feat and [Paragon] trigger. 

Rydr turned his arms this way and admired the crafted stone, the weight of the vambraces settling comfortably. Several divers who had yet to leave noticed the armor appear on the giant and stopped, gobsmacked.

Everyone in the audience read the stat requirements and decided against taking them from Rydr. According to modern VR strategy, where Strength-based warriors would use a 3-1-1 method for stat allocation, the user needed to reach level ten before they could hope to use them. Common gaming sense dictated the diver split the remaining two points between Constitution and Dexterity.

A more aggressive but frowned upon method was a 4-1 allotment, where the last stat point bounced between the other physical stats every other level. 

To their thinking, any gear under Epic would usually be out-moded by anything five levels over it. The Stone-Guard Vambraces had potential, but the divers deemed them functionally useless. 

So when Rydr equipped the "defunct" armor right in front of them, right after he received them, it caused their brains to stutter. 

Little John stood rooted to the spot. Even though he never considered taking the vambraces, he assumed they were useless like everyone else. 

Rydr didn't notice anything amiss with the milling divers and walked over to the smithy. Little John and the others stared at Rydr's back while John's chatroom went berserk. No one tried to stop the giant a second time.

*****

When Rydr entered the smithy's shop, he directly avoided speaking to the shopkeeper first. That was too much socializing just to look at big metal sticks, and he felt that he'd done enough just now. He planned to mention the coils when he asked about smithing lessons.

With a plan in mind, Rydr peered through the murky interior of the shop. Windows covered the walls, probably to back-light the weapons and armor, but the overgrown-foliage covered most of the building. Light barely filtered through.

Despite the gloom, Rydr quickly found what he was after. A collection of "great" weapons sat on the far right side of the shop, hanging from racks on the wall. Rydr weaved through crates of armor and weapons, bending to avoid racks until he stood before them.

Great-swords, hammers, axes, and even rudimentary clubs leaned against the wall and racks. Rydr was like a kid in a dangerous candy store. All thought of buying new clothes fled his mind as he picked up one weapon after another.

Finally, it occurred to him to look at the prices and stats.

[Uncommon Great-Sword Level 5]

Requirements:

~Strength 25

Bonuses:

+50 Damage

+5 Strength

~Deals 5% Strength as Damage

Weight: 7kg.

Durability: 150/150

Underneath the sword's rack was a placard that priced the item at fifteen silver. The written symbol for silver looked like an S with a line through it horizontally. 

Everything else he looked at was mighty, but the Great-sword was the cheapest one! Rydr couldn't afford any of the large weapons with the 4 silver he owned. Rydr still remembered that he owed Amos two silver. Is he running a racket? Give people money and demand it back even though it wasn't enough? It never occurred to Rydr that his taste was just too expensive. He never even looked at the starter weapons on his way through the brightly lit shop.

It wasn't because Rydr turned his nose up at them. They were too small for Rydr to use, so he bypassed them. The fact that the weapons adjusted size, just like the armor, slipped his mind.

However, just because Rydr couldn't buy the weapons didn't mean he couldn't admire them. The rhythmic hammering of metal echoed from the back of the shop, a sound that tickled Rydr's ears and imagination. Soon the hammering stopped, and someone came out to attend the storefront.  

Rydr prevaricated for a few seconds before he worked up his resolve. He approached the store counter.

 Behind it stood, of all things, an elf. Shane warned me, but still. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and impossible cheekbones with the classic pointed ears made it pretty obvious. The blacksmith's ensemble of a cream sleeveless shirt and brown work-apron warped the image. Rydr glanced at the elf's bulging forearms. A buff elf. Way to break down stereotypes, my guy.

Rydr stepped up to the wooden counter and asked, "May I ask where I could learn how to smith metal? I've just gotten to town and would prefer to make my weapons over buying them." Please, please, please believe me. I'm too broke!

The elf eyed Rydr up and down; a reaction Rydr started to get used to, before he said, "You can learn how to smith right here, but I don't like competitors, so I don't want to teach you." Rydr was shut down instantly. The elf wiped his hand on the brown apron he was wearing and turned to leave.

Rydr panicked and nearly reached out to grab the elf, "Isn't there anything I could do to make it worth your time? I really would love to work with metal. I believe I have the strength for it." Rydr desperately didn't want to fork over so much money if he could make it himself. Years of laying low in his family and not touching their resources made Rydr extremely frugal. Miserly even. He would do nearly anything this elf asked him to.

"The strength for it? I doubt that very much, but if you're determined to work with metal, I can make you a deal. Provide your own material, and I'll teach you how to turn it into something you can stab, smash, or protect yourself with. The fee for my lessons is 1 silver, but I'll lend you a pickax to harvest the ores." He reached behind him without looking and snatched a pickax off the wall.

The elf slammed it onto the counter and held out his hand. His blue eyes pierced Rydr, daring him to balk.

That's everything Amos gave me! Mind reading? What crap is this rip-off? Even when he thought those kinds of things to himself, Rydr still painfully handed over the 1 silver Amos lent him. He choked back tears as he resigned himself to the life of a true pauper.

Because of his luck with Shane's generosity, Rydr had no concept of how valuable a silver coin was. The standard reward for the newbie tests was five copper coins, and Rydr earned five silver. 

Once he accepted the coin, the elf reached out his hand to shake, "Lynn. I'm Grotto's smith."

A quest notice appeared in front of him.

[Common Quest Accepted! Earn Your Lessons]

-You accepted money Lynn’s deal to receive smithing lessons, but Lynn will not make it easy! Provide your own materials for your lessons or take a hike! Do that and you might find ore!-

Received: 1 Common Pickax Level 1

Success:

~Harvest 10 Iron Ores. Bonus experience for Extra Ore

~Smithing Lessons!

Failure:

~No lessons if you give up

~Lose your investment

Rydr extended his own hand and clasped wrists, "Rydr. An intrepid adventurer." He gave the same introduction he'd given Shane. Speaking of Shane...

Hesitantly, Rydr said, "By the way, Shane, the miller from next door, said he needed your help to repair the springs on his test?" Rydr's tone became more tepid with every word. 

Lynn's face instantly bloomed beet-red, and he shouted, "That bald bastard!" The elf slammed his fist into the wooden counter and split the struck board in half. Without a word, he started to march around the counter before he spun back, his finger pointed at Rydr's chest. 

"He called my designs weak, didn't he?" Lynn said it with such force that Rydr doubted it was a question.

The young man felt cowed in front of the elf's fury and nodded mutely. Lynn's face instantly turned purple, and the bulky elf started to swear profusely. For the moment, he stopped paying attention to Rydr to rant about a "fat, old, can't-talk-right, loud"- 

He's gone for a minute. Rydr gulped because he couldn't help feeling guilty, but he was determined to let Shane explain how the test broke.

Now Rydr was in debt to the guard, Amos, and had to look for his own ore outside of town with one piece of armor and no true weapons. Plus, Rydr was afraid Lynn might resent him when the elf learned that Rydr broke his designs. A headache formed behind his eyes as he inspected the pickax on the counter.

Common Pickax Level 1

Simple mining implement. It is more effective against stone.

·       Bonuses:

o   +5 Damage

o   Double Damage to Lifeless Stone

·       Weight: 2kg.

·       Durability: 100/100

It would actually serve Rydr as a half-decent weapon. Better than my bare hands. He paused before he left and asked, "Any advice on where I should look for ore around here?" Lynn gradually wound down from his tirade enough to answer Rydr.

Lynn grunted, "The Iron Goblin clan to the East drops iron and copper ores. You can also mine them inside the caves, but you're too weak to handle that independently. There are some deposits scattered around the cave foothills, but you'll have to look for them and still defend yourself." With that, he showed Rydr to the door, hurried the giant out, and locked the door behind him.

Then the elf took off at a dead sprint toward the mill, arms pumping and his blonde ponytail trailing behind him.

This guy doesn't act like an elf at all. Are they all like this? I can see all the haughty elf players crying blood. Rydr silently giggled to himself as he walked away from the smith's shop. With a backward glance at the tailor's shop next door, Rydr made his way to the East of town to see if they had a gatehouse there too. It's not like my clothes have caused a problem so far. 

Rydr didn't fancy a trek through the forest just to start heading East from the Southern gatehouse. As he wound his way through the streets, he saw a huge stone tower, taller than anything else he saw in Grotto so far. Its height failed to save the tower from the encroaching plants, which covered the sides. 

He made it to East Main, according to a helpful street sign, and found the tower prominently placed on the street. Each side of Grotto had its own Main Street, named after the cardinal directions.

Curious, Rydr ogled the stone tower while he walked past it, about halfway down East Main. The physicist in him started to calculate the stones' tensile strength to support the massive bulk of the tower. Without knowing the measurements of the stones and the comp-

Rydr absentmindedly ambled past the tower door when it exploded off its hinges and flew over Rydr's head as he quickly ducked to avoid being decapitated by the hardwood. The door lodged itself in the stone wall behind him, but Rydr was too busy clutching his head and hyperventilating to notice. The door quivered where it stuck from the stone wall, having cut into it like butter.

Rydr was too afraid to move when hands seized his own, and he was pulled violently to his knees. Rydr's hands were released, only for his shoulders to be painfully grabbed in a vice grip.

"Would you like to join the Mage's College? Actually, please join the Mage's College!" Half screaming at Rydr was a wild-eyed, middle-aged man in a dirty blue bathrobe. Rydr focused his eyes and corrected himself. Not middle-aged, but the bags under his eyes are SO big...

"I can guarantee that with your potential, you would definitely get in! It would be a crying shame not to take this chance. Come inside and let me show you the wonders of magiiiic!" The man started to shake Rydr as he shouted at him. Rydr tried to free himself, but whatever hell-strength fueled the spindly mage kept his hands firmly on Rydr's shoulders.

Without a by-your-leave, the mage clutched Rydr's arm and, with impossible strength, hauled him into the tower at a ludicrous speed.

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Happy New Year!

Here's a bonus chapter to celebrate the new year! As always, if you see a typo, let me know, and I will get it fixed ASAP.

I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter~

The P.A.T.R.E.O.N. is up and running officially, as well as the Discor.d Channel! Zelthias_FW if you're interested in a faster release rate. Otherwise, there will always be a free Weekly Release!

I still don't want to lock already-released chapters behind a pay-wall!

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