Stahlia, Ten Years Old, Eleventh Month of 947
I crawled forward stealthily; my target was just a few tens of feet ahead of me. For various reasons, my methods of ranged attack had been sealed away. I had also lost my weapons, leaving me unarmed. Thankfully, my [Unarmed Combat] Talent was at level four. My [Stealth] was of a similar rank, else I would not be able to close the distance.
I froze, my target had become wary, I didn’t know how they had realized I was closing in, but something had tipped them off. I held as still as possible, trusting in my concealment and [Stealth] talent to hide me from detection. Turn around, I’m not here, you’re perfectly safe. Thankfully, my prey soon lost that inkling of being hunted and returned to what they had been doing.
I inched slowly forward until I was merely a handful of feet away. In one motion, I jumped to my feet, dropped into a ready stance, and pounced! Rosin let out an excited shout and dodged backward, trying to escape. But he was far too inexperienced to escape from me! I caught him by his armpits and lifted him up into the air, spinning us around such that the centrifugal force carried his feet off the ground.
After a few moments of spinning, I set my giggling brother on the ground. Over the past few months, I had been doing my best to bond with him while waiting for the snow to grow a bit thicker and making plans and counter-strategies. For the first few weeks, I had been receiving a crash course in demonology, and now knew a fair bit about demons as well. Enough to realize exactly how fucked I had been, and how absolutely conceited and moronic trying to go with just me, a Hawri, and an assassin slash battle maid was.
Demons got stronger the older they were, infinitely accruing experience. Original sins had been alive since the first demon war. That meant that, at a minimum, Sitri was over twenty thousand years old. At least according to the priest. I had been able to come up with plans for dealing with the lower ranks of demons, and even a few of the ranks of the demon nobility, but my only plan for an Original Sin was to run like hell. I simply wasn’t strong enough.
Which brought me to why I had been waiting for the snow to get thicker. I needed to level up. Of course, I was under no delusions that a scant few months would be enough time for me to close such a huge gap. But unlocking at least the next couple of skill slots for my custom class should be possible. From there, I could look for a solution to my fiancée problem, and potentially find a skill combo that would let me deal with an Original Sin. Though the latter was a big if, I had a feeling it was a question I would be better off finding an answer to.
As for why I wanted more snow before going on a hunting excursion, I would paradoxically be able to cover more ground in heavy snow than not. At least, I should be able to. It was a method of transportation I had not tested yet. I had tested the individual components, but I had never put everything together. If everything worked, I should be able to achieve near automobile speeds. Possibly even faster, though I was a bit leery of that, given the lack of a seatbelt my method would entail.
Suddenly a weight impacted me, drawing me from my thoughts. While I had been hunting Rosin, a tiger had apparently been hunting me. Seriously, her Stealth talent is somehow higher than mine, and she copied mine! Racial bonuses are bullshit. Still, I knew better than to ruin the fun by complaining. I dutifully allowed myself to be knocked forwards, rolling onto my back as I fell. Felicity landed on my stomach, so I clenched my abs a bit to avoid suffering a mortal wound.
“I got you, Stahlia Nee-San!” Rosin didn’t want to be left out, and quickly climbed up behind Felicity, “Yea! We got you!” A lay still for a moment, before fake struggling. It would be easy to break free, but that wouldn’t be as fun. Felicity rewarded my efforts with an excited shriek and moved to pin my arms down. Rosin caught on and shifted up so he was sitting on my stomach in Felicity’s place.
I was “thoroughly pinned”. After “straining” against Felicity’s hold on my arms for a few moments, I let them go limp, “Alright, you win, I yield!”
Dutifully, Felicity let go and Rosin slid off of me so that I could stand up. As I did, I happened to catch Stil’s eyes. He snorted at me, or at least I think he did; air rushing through a beak doesn’t really have a sound like it does when you blow it out your nose. Either way, his entire demeanor seemed to be saying “What the hell stupid game are you doing with those two chicks? This is the woman I call my master, for fucks sake.” It was very expressive body language.
Taking advantage of the lull, I broached a topic I was expecting would lead to tears, “Felicity, Rosin. Do you remember a few weeks ago, when I mentioned I would be going away for a little bit?”
Felicity had a look of comprehension flash across her face, and though she grimaced, she didn’t actually protest, and just nodded. Rosin was more forgetful, or at least he didn’t put two and two together, because he cocked his head.
“I’m planning to leave in a couple of days, and I’ll be gone for at least a week, possibly as long as two or three weeks.” Rosin set his jaw. Surprisingly, even he didn’t seem like he would cry. Neither of them was begging me to stay either. Felicity, I could understand; she had Claire’s guidance. But Rosin was a normal three-year-old.
“Rosin, will… will you be ok?” I didn’t feel bad about leaving him. Despite my nightly efforts, I still hadn’t been able to get through that last bit of my guilt. At this point, I was nigh certain that I was missing something in how Cold Hearted worked that was preventing me from being able to move past my self-torment. Regardless, I still had my love and my empathy, and both of those made me feel Rosin’s hurt at me leaving, even if I couldn’t feel my own.
After a moment, he shook his head. And then, in a statement that was oddly mature for his age, but at the same time touching, he said, “Bigger sister is going away, but big sister will be here!” I realized he was talking about Felicity and my hand flew up to cover my mouth as I let out an involuntary “Aaawwwww!” Felicity for her part looked away bashfully.
The Rosin showed his age by immediately moving on and ruining the moment. His hand darted out and gave felicity’s tail a quick tug, “Tag! You’re it!” and he was off. Felicity gave a slightly pained and angry yowl and dashed off after him, leaving me to wonder what I had even been worried about telling them I was going to be leaving for.
A couple of days later I was standing with Stil, facing the edge of the forest. It was only me and him. Of course that was risky, but there was no way Jacqueline would be able to keep up with how I planned to travel. Stil would technically be slowing me down, but going completely alone would be asinine. I did have Jacqueline’s gear with me, particularly her enchanted daggers and grave oil would serve as a substantial fallback in case shit hit the fan, but that was all.
I was about to “spread my wings” for the first time as it were. I had been relying on Jacqueline as a safety net basically since I popped out of my mother. Now, I was finally going to try and do something on my own. My parents had been resistant to the thought of me going into the forest at all, however, I argued that I needed to get stronger and confront my lingering fears after my battle against “the demon”. In the end, my father recognized my resolve and gave his permission, but made me promise to come running back the moment something even felt wrong.
My mother had acquiesced to my father’s decision with a grim expression. She was clearly not pleased, but she wouldn’t go against him. I checked my pack. It contained a week’s worth of preserved food for me. Stil would get his food primarily from hunting. In addition to the food, I also had a small pot and cup, a collection of medical supplies, an insulated bedroll, and some monster repellent. I would be getting water by using magic to melt snow. Having confirmed the contents of my pack, I checked my feet.
Attached to each foot, was a short shaved flat wooden board. In a word, skis. I had had the carpenter make them according to descriptions and diagrams I drew based on my memories of going skiing once in my previous life. Drakas had no ski culture, so it was a process of trial and error until he got them into a useable state. I also had a pair of sticks to assist me with balance, but that wasn’t how I was planning to propel myself.
After confirming that my skis were securely attached, I began to chant, “Oh Ice, gather the snow in a wind around me. Follow my sight and move with force. [Weak Snow Storm]”
It was a very short spell, but it represented a milestone; it was the first spell I had composed the chant for entirely on my own. It was massively inefficient, costing nearly quintuple the amount of mana I thought it should. But thanks to some clever use of the First Law, as well as the properties of the Seventh Law of Magic, I was able to get away with it.
In execution, the spell collected snow from the surroundings; initially, I had it creating snow, but I was only able to maintain that version of the spell for a scant few seconds. The gathered snow would then surround me as the caster in a miniature whirlwind. Finally, this whirlwind would then follow my line of sight, effectively carrying me towards where I was looking. By attaching myself to a pair of skis, I was able to reduce my friction a great deal, and thus reach some really nice speeds.
For safety reasons, I had replaced my usual flashbang with a chant-held “cushion spell”. This one was a Yellow Magic school spell belonging to the element of wind. It would wrap its caster in a cushion of air to blunt impact for a few seconds. Basically, I had a keyword-activated airbag on hand at all times. Thanks to the Seventh Law, the weak blizzard spell had extremely effective upkeep efficiency in the middle of winter, so I was able to keep the spell running for a good six hours after paying the initial activation cost.
Of course, in order to be prepared to potentially defend myself, I was restricting myself to only three hours of skiing at a time, so as to give my mana a chance to replenish. If I didn’t chant-hold my airbag, the efficiency was so high I would actually be able to ski indefinitely; my natural mana recovery outpaced the upkeep cost of the weak snowstorm. But that would be fucking retarded. As a final touch, as a side effect of [Blessing of Winter], I was perfectly fine being in the middle of my mini blizzard for extended periods.
My spell activated, and I took off at speed, gliding smoothly between the trees. After about a kilometer, I had learned a few things. I was able to control my speed a bit by shifting my gaze closer or further away from myself; the snowstorm’s only instruction was to get to where I was looking, so it seemed like whatever unknown laws governed the actual effects of chants had decided that it would always take the same amount of time to reach that spot. Thus, by looking further away, the snowstorm would, by necessity, travel faster.
I also learned that maintaining my balance was easier the faster I was going. This was a similar principle to a bike or motorcycle, where inertia and center of gravity would naturally right you once you got some speed. Lastly, turning was very slow, unless I slowed way down. I almost hit a tree a few times before I figured that one out.
Stil had natural snowshoes, and his high dexterity meant he had an easy time keeping up with me, as long as I didn’t get going too quickly. In fact, he was so effective that, had my ski plan failed, my backup plan was a dog sled. Luckily for Stil, that wasn’t necessary.
After my three hours of speed skiing, I had made it to roughly where I had camped with Jacqueline on the first night of our first excursion. Stil was visibly fatigued, given that he had had to run at near his max speed to keep up. I released the spell and slid to a stop. Also releasing my chant-held spell, I let the pack fall off my shoulders. Now, the question is, should I camp here? Or try and go a bit further once my mana has regenerated?
I had set a hard limit on my solo operation of three weeks, so I had time. But I would like to go deeper and hunt something juicier than goblins… Indeed, if all I hunted were goblins, I would need to track down seventy-four of the little fuckers to get even one level. Even with good luck, that would take me a few days. I had done a bit of research in the months leading up to my hunting trip and had a decent idea of what all I was likely to run into in the mountains during winter.
Ideally, I would find a pack of Wargs. About halfway in size between a wolf and a Dire Wolf, Wargs were canine monsters that traveled in packs. Individually they held a D rank but could go up to B or even A based on the size of the pack. Right, well whatever I decide to do, I should make sure my immediate surroundings are clear for now.
“Stil, can you check the vicinity for any threats before you rest? I’ll have water ready for you when you get back.” My companion flared his feathers and darted off to accomplish his assigned task. I dug around in my bag and produced the small pot, which I filled with snow then set over a small fire to begin melting. While the fire was melting the snow I checked over my weapons and otherwise waited for Stil to return.
A moment later, I received a feeling over our mental link. Danger huh? So he found something. I quickly used a Wind Spell to extinguish the fire and grabbed my dagger. I stood up, just as Stil returned to me. I nodded at him and he turned and went back the way he had come, only now with me following him.
We went probably a kilometer before I heard the danger Stil had found. It was a bunch of chittering nasally voices. Goblins huh… and there’s a lot of them based on the sound. I slowed my pace and quickly verified that I had [Shadow Blade Style] set as my fighting stance, I would benefit greatly from the bonus to stealth. Turning my [Sneak] Talent up to the max, I slipped from tree to tee, rapidly closing the distance to the source of the cacophony.
Stil likewise melted into the background. In his case, the silvery sheen his feathers had acquired upon evolving into a Hawri was proving quite useful; it blended in decently well with the white blanket of snow. Cresting a small hill, I found myself overlooking an artificial clearing with an extremely large quantity of goblins milling about in small groups.
Oh fuck… A bunch of incidental information popped up in my memory, snippets of conversation I had heard in the town. Hunters struggling to find prey, damage to the fields, deaths among the adventurer population. On their own, it wasn’t anything big, but put all together… A horde formed.
Technically, a horde was the wrong term. According to monsterology, a large group of goblins pursuant to a single goal was called a rape. The question now though, is whether or not any higher-tiered goblins have shown up. From where I was hiding, I could not see any special variants. But based on the noise levels, I also couldn’t see all of them, and they were at least organized enough to have begun cutting down trees and expanding their clearing.
In order to not risk being seen, I retreated back the way I had come and moved back to my previous clearing. This definitely constituted “something going wrong” that I had promised my father I would return immediately. I’m not even going to pretend like I can take on that many by myself. But where the hell did they all come from? I’ve been gone only a few months.
It was a fact that the vermin bred quickly, but as intimately familiar with the Goblin population as I was, I couldn’t see any way for this many to have shown up over the length of time I had been gone. Ris’ ambient population of the creatures was simply too low for a boom of this magnitude. So they had to have come from outside this area. There was no word of them within the kingdom’s borders, which means they came down from the mountains.
Still has pacing around the edge of our clearing, keeping a nose out for approaching threats. Whatever the case, I need to go back to Ris. No way am I spending the night out here with that many goblins. I checked the sun and found that it was about 1:00 PM. Given that I took three hours to get here, if I left now, it would be four by the time I get back… That was only if I left now though. The horde was a day’s march from Ris, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going to happen next.
I should at least try to get a rough estimate of their numbers and see if I can find any special variants. Even if I go home and report this, they’re too close, any scouting party that gets sent out wouldn’t be able to move as I can, and I doubt a horde that size has much food. Indeed, especially during winter, I wasn’t able to think of any way the Horde could be feeding itself.
Even before winter started, the village was already noticing their presence, and yet nobody actually noticed them… My father certainly wouldn’t have let me go out if he had known about the horde and just been keeping it secret from the people to prevent a panic. And Jacqueline didn’t say anything either, she was told in advance about the Mountain Ogre.
Frankly, this whole thing seemed like something that should be absolutely impossible. That settles it. Before I go back, I need to gather at least some information. “Still, skirt the edges, see if you can find any satellite groups.” Stil glanced back over his shoulder and flattened his feathers; it was as if he was chiding me for not going straight back to the village. I know, but I can’t go back empty-handed. Not when I can’t figure out why they haven’t attacked yet.
Stil dashed off after a moment and I was left alone. I busied myself by getting all of my things ready for departure, then hiding my pack and skis up a tree. That way, even if a break-off group or scouting party came through this clearing, they would be less likely to find my things while I was away. After about half an hour, Stil returned and used his feathers to signal me to follow him.
He lead me wide, and due North of the main horde, we were heading along a course that lay tangent with the straight-line path to Ris which made me think this was probably a scouting party he had found. After about two kilometers, Stil dropped low to the ground. We were close. Adopting a low stance myself, I drew my dagger and took some distance from Stil.
Moving in the direction he was indicating, I soon spotted the presumed scouting party. It was twelve goblins strong. I eyed Stil a distance away from me. Was this the smallest group he could find…? It wasn’t like twelve would be a problem, indeed, with Stil’s assistance and the benefit of surprise, the whole fight should take less than fifteen seconds.
But twelve was a lot to be moving independently like this. A checked over my soon-to-be victims, paying special attention to their statures and weapons. Three of them were armed with bows as opposed to the normal crude or improvised weapons favored by Goblins. Of the remaining nine, two of them were substantially taller than the rest. A normal goblin stood around one hundred centimeters. These two “giants” were about a hundred and thirty. Some variety of advanced goblin. So the horde is decently far along. The next question is whether or not it has a lord or a king.
In a perfect world, the horde would have neither and would be led by one of the normal variants, like a Shaman or Warrior. But given the surreal irregular circumstances, I was willing to be it would be led by at least a Goblin Lord, and very likely a Goblin King.
I signaled to Stil with a gesture, and he moved around so that we could attack from opposite sides. One of the taller Goblins seemed to sense something and raised its hand. At the signal, the other eleven all froze and then began to fan out. Those are actual tactics on display. From goblins.
If they were going to react like that, then it would be better to move now instead of waiting for Stil to finish his encircling action. That way they would still be close enough for me to take down two or three of them before they recovered from the surprise. That would also put all of their focus on me, and allow Stil to get in a second surprise attack from their backs.
Having made up my mind, I charged out of cover with a full enhancement applied to my legs. Low to the ground, I swept up on the one who was closest to me. Fortunately, it happened to be one of the variants equipped with a bow. Springing up, I felt the familiar sensation of blade rending flesh.
One of the two giant goblins gave a shout, and the ten remaining goblins fumbled with their weapons. Not one to let opponents have a fair fight, I landed into a roll and kicked the ground. This killed my forward momentum and launched me to the left, straight at one of the ordinary goblins. One quick stabbing motion later, and my second victim fell gurgling to the ground.
At this point, the goblins had managed to draw their weapons and were moving to encircle me. Tch! They’re responding faster too, that tall one probably has a leadership skill or talent. I backed away while keeping an eye on the two remaining archers. Both had notched an arrow and were aiming at me, but they had not fully drawn their bows. Waiting for me to get careless or distracted.
I wasn’t backing away without reason though, I was taking advantage of the encirclement action to shepherd the goblins past Stil, who had smartly not yet revealed himself. If I could get them just a little bit further, then Stil would be able to get at the big one who had been giving orders.
Just a little further… Good. “Stil! Leader!” I called out a quick command of my own.
Stil picked up on what I was asking for and rocket out from his hiding place, moving at a speed where I could barely follow him. I enhanced my eyes, gaining improved kinetic vision, just in time to see Stil kick up clumps of snow as he launched off the ground with his powerful hind legs. Sailing through the air, he Dug his beak into the collar of the larger goblin, then folded in the middle to bring his large hind talons to bear on the poor creature’s sides. Sliced open at the waist, the goblin’s intestines spilled out and the snow quickly began taking on the green hue of goblin blood.
I nodded in satisfaction; the remaining nine goblins seemed to grow sluggish at the death of their leader. Definitely was a skill of some sort. Thankfully, it seemed the other large goblin did not have a similar skill. Instead, he seemed to be some kind of brawler given how he was now brandishing fists at Stil. I left Stil to deal with it on his own and closed the distance towards one of the archers.
Moving fast enough to kick up a small cloud of snow, I rapidly approached the leftmost archer. It screeched in panic and loosed its arrow at me, however with my improved kinetic vision I was able to adjust myself a bit to avoid getting hit; a feat made even easier by how the arrow had not been properly aimed.
Arriving in front of it, I made a swift horizontal slash, then stepped around its side so as to avoid the blood spray. I would be in trouble if goblins ever invent Gorget Plates. Eight… no Seven, good job Stil. Seven left. While I had been distracted, Stil had eviscerated the other Goblin Archer. The Goblin Pugilist had one of its arms shredded and had backed off but was still alive.
I turned my attention to the fodder goblins. Now that the variants were dead or severely injured, it wouldn’t even be a fight. Closing the distance with Stil at my side, we did our very best Beyblade impersonation as we moved from opponent to opponent in a fluid motion.
Finally, all that remained was the pugilist. Still pounced on it, knocking it down and pinning it to the ground. I approached and quickly knelt, slitting its throat. I glanced at my status and saw that the fight had granted me a whopping two thousand eight hundred experience. According to the log, the “Goblin Archers” had been two hundred each, the “Hobgoblin Monk” was worth five hundred, and the “Hobgoblin Lieutenant” was worth a full thousand. It wasn’t enough to level me up, but it was a start.
I got to work removing the magic stones while I contemplated what I had gained intelligence-wise. So they have sub-leaders able to control and buff up to at least eleven others. The horde has also been around long enough for Hobgoblins to evolve. Equipment-wise, at least this group still seemed to be using normal goblin gear, nothing fancy. But adventurers have died, so at least some of them should be equipped with scavenged gear.
I checked the progress of the sun; it was right around 3:00 PM. Let’s have Stil find one or two more groups. I won’t engage them, but if I check their compositions, I should have a large enough sample size to do some very rough statistical analysis and come up with a rough estimate of the horde’s force composition. Then I need to go back to the village so we can prep defenses.
I finished collecting the last magic stone and signaled Stil, I gave him the order and put my back against a tree to wait for his return.