Death Cap – Eighteen – Growth Isn’t Measured Only in Personal Power. Strength Comes in Numbers.
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Death Cap - Eighteen - Growth Isn't Measured Only in Personal Power. Strength Comes in Numbers.

Dregs and I split off from each other a couple of blocks down. “Thanks,” I said.

“For what?” the hobgoblin asked.

I shrugged and gestured in the vague direction of Dogbeater’s place. “The help. That would have been impossible without you.”

He looked at me, eyes narrowing. “No. It wouldn’t have,” he said. “Invite me along next time too. This was fun.”

I watched him trundle off without a care in the world, then I turned on a heel and continued on my way home. It was still early afternoon. The sun was hidden by the buildings rising around me, but the light was still strong.

It felt as if it should have been later. Assassinations were things of the dark. Midnight events. They weren’t supposed to happen while the sun was still up.

“What do you think about all of this?” I asked my new companion as I raised its cage.

The creature within looked at me with dark, beady eyes that still felt intelligent. The badger was probably young. I didn’t have a frame of reference for badger ages, but this one had out-sized paws, like a puppy or kitten might have, and its head was big enough that... yeah, I just assumed it was relatively young.

It was still rather large. The cage was as long as my forearm and the badger, from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail was longer than that. It had to curl itself around to fit. Black fur with white streaks, and a yellow tuft of hair atop its head, ears, and right over its sternum.

It was kind of cute. Or would have been if it wasn’t so mangey.

[Druid Sight] was a skill that I’d mostly used on mushrooms and fungi so far, but it wasn’t made just for that. It worked perfectly fine on animals too.

[Panbadger] - Uncommon
A magical species of plain-dwelling badger known for its ferocity and aggression. Frequently seen hunting down predators much larger than itself. Omnivorous, the panbadger will eat meats as well as nuts, truffles, mushrooms and insects, some of which it will hunt and bring back to its bond-partners. A panbadger can form a bond with anyone it cares for, including members of other species. Bonds are for life, and for that reason they are often trained as exotic guard animals for the scions of nobles and magnates.

Did I grab the badger because I wanted to try bonding with it?

Yes.

Did I also take it because it was kind of cute and I didn’t want it to die in that house?

Also yes.

The badger watched me carefully as I grabbed the scarf Dregs had returned to me and wrapped it around its cage. It would be less suspicious that way. It was possible that a few people knew that Dogbeater had this little guy (girl?) with him. I didn’t need them tracing it back to me.

If things worked out, I’d have a new pet. Better than a guard dog, even.

I hummed to myself as I returned to the farm, taking a circuitous route that allowed me to work off some of my nervous energy.

I had, of course, just murdered someone. I think I was supposed to be wracked by guilt about it. In the movies there was always vomiting and crying and all that kind of nonsense. I never really understood that. You didn’t cry when you smacked down a mosquito, why would you feel any different about a person that you didn’t care about.

We arrived at the farm and I unlocked the door, flicked on the light, then set the badger down onto my workbench. “Hey, uh, I realise now that I don’t actually know how to handle having a pet. So... yeah, sorry. Here, you might like the taste of this?”

After rooting around the farm for a bit, I returned with a few different sorts of edible mushrooms, then I poked them through the cage under the watchful eye of the badger.

Once I backed away, the badger approached and sniffed at the mushrooms.

It ate the magic-filled one first, which I took as a good sign if the creature was meant to be magical in one way or another.

“So... if I let you out of the cage, will you jump on my face and rip me apart?” I asked.

The badger chewed through a mushroom while eyeing me suspiciously.

“Right,” I said. This would be more complicated than I initially expected it to be. I’d just have to be careful. Maybe I could make a spot for the badger. Dogbeater had a yard. I bet that was where he trained his dogs.

I imagined my new buddy would appreciate being able to stretch their legs.

Also, I needed a larger cage. I... had a bit of money. I could afford that. I rubbed at my temples. “God, I am stupid,” I muttered.

For a moment I froze as a warmth shifted through the room and settled across my shoulders. I swallowed. Right, the farm was blessed by Feronie. It wasn’t impossible that mentioning gods of any sort would attract her attention to the place.

Also, did the warmth mean she agreed with me? Because that was kind of a dick move.

Shaking my head, I checked on the badger again and saw that it was looking at me in a new way. Confused instead of suspicious. Had it sensed that? It wasn’t implausible. It was an animal, Feronie was a nature goddess. There was something of a link there.

I didn’t think I could pray for better animal handling skills though, so I just poked another magical mushroom through the cage. “If I can’t make you like me through magical means, I’ll do it the old fashioned way,” I said. “By feeding you until you’re fit to burst.”

A problem for another time. I settled my scarf over the cage, turning it into a bit more of a darkened cave for the badger. Did badgers live in caves? I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend some of my limited money on a book about their habitats, but it was an option, if that kind of book even existed.

I could ask around for an animal handling specialist, but I had the impression the locals would point me to Dogbeater or someone like him.

“Right, right,” I muttered as I checked my farm. It was still cool enough that little was growing. At a guess, it was only barely above freezing at night. I couldn’t prepare much then.

Going to the dungeon again was stupid. I wasn’t ready for it. Not yet. Once I had a few better mushrooms I’d maybe try a second time. The last time had netted me a couple of handy shrooms and a harsh lesson.

Next time would go better, now that I knew what to expect.

Which left me with... not much to do but practice. [Blight] had gone up a level today. I think using it on the door was a creative enough use of the skill that it gave me more experience than normal practice, which was neat.

I placed a few old logs onto the ground in a tin box and then stood at the far end of the room. I raised a hand towards it, then paused. I had an audience today.

“So, the idea here is that I can turn my mana into... I guess it’s [Blight] mana? I’m not sure. It might be that the mana is necrotic mana and that it’s being used to cast [Blight]. There’s a lot more I don’t know than I do,” I told the badger who was still looking. “Now, I can’t push my mana out that far. It’s... sticky? I don’t know how to describe it, but I can’t control it that way. [Aura of Growth] on the other hand, does let me push my mana out much further, though I think just sustaining that part of the skill does use up some mana. So if I combine the two...”

I focused, then used my aura to send my mana across the room as a long tendril. I couldn’t see it, but I... more or less felt where it was. It was like a very poor proprioperception. I’d thought of using it as a sort of radar, but that would take a much larger manapool and a lot of focus to achieve even minimal results with.

Once the aura reached the log, I shifted my mana to cast [Blight].

It wasn’t just [Blight] though. The normal aura stayed on too.

The wood rotted on one side, parts of it blackening and turning soggy. At the same time, the mould already clinging to the wood started to grow much faster.

Soon, a chunk of the wood’s side peeled off while a thick coat of mossy tendrils grew outwards to cover almost the entire log.

I stopped, panting hard and ignoring the start of a headache. My mana was getting low. “How long do you think that was?” I asked the badger?

It just stared at me.

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said with a swipe at my brow. “Way too slow to kill anything.”

***

 

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