Liam released the bowstring, firing the arrow.
The arrow pierced the target thirty yards away; four others had already hit and five were stuck in the ground around it.
‘Well, at least I hit half this time.’
It wasn’t great, but it was significantly better than where he had been two weeks ago; back then, he hadn’t even been able to hit the closest target, which was only ten yards away.
Liam followed Keith’s training regimen to the letter. In the morning, he trained his body, and in the afternoon, he worked on his archery skills. It would have been easier to do the opposite, practice archery in the morning, and exercise in the afternoon. But Keith told him, ‘It doesn’t matter if you can hit the target when you’re at your best because you’ll never be at your best in a fight.’ It was a bit of a cryptic message, but Liam understood what he meant.
In a real battle, he would be exhausted or even injured. By forcing himself to practice after tiring out his body, he could replicate at least one of the conditions he would be under in a fight. His archery would be rough around the edges, but that was a given seeing how little time he had to prepare. What mattered now was being ready for a fight, not mastering archery. He was already behind the Earthlings because of his fitness level; if he wanted to catch up, he needed to push himself.
Liam couldn’t count the number of times he wanted to quit, but he persevered, and it was paying off. His status reflected his hard work.
Name: Liam Harvell
Class: Ranger (Rank 1)
Strength: E+ (was E)
Agility: D (was E+)
Endurance: E- (was F)
Magic Power: C+
Distrusting – Does not trust others.
Cold – Hard to approach, unfriendly.
Loner – Prefers to be alone.
Levelheaded – Maintains calm.
Fast Learner – Improves quickly.
All of his stats except for Magic Power had risen slightly, and even though most were still below average, Liam was content with his progress. If he continued exercising in the mornings, then in less than a month, all of them would be average, a massive improvement.
However, after that, it would be much harder to raise his stats. According to what Keith had told him, stats above C grade were rare, much rarer than what Liam had originally thought. It could take years to improve from C to B, and even more from B to A. This was probably the reason why Scott recommended Liam to focus on other things such as gaining skills and mastering weapons; it was a more efficient use of time.
Closing his status, Liam looked around the training facility, taking it all in one last time. Today was his last day, tomorrow he would start taking missions. All the other Earthlings had stopped showing up after the first week for the same reason – lack of money.
Liam was no different; he was broke. There was only one nickel and nine copper remaining in the coin purse. Even though he had eaten only two meals a day, his expenses were still one nickel and four copper every day, and after he paid for dinner tonight and his inn, he’d only have seven copper left. If he hadn’t met Ryan and gotten a recommendation to the old man’s weapon shop, he would’ve left last week too.
As Liam finished putting the bow, wrist guards, and quiver away, he heard someone’s footsteps. From the distinct sound of a wooden peg leg, Liam could tell who it was without looking.
“So, you’re finally leaving today, right?”
The way Keith phrased his question made it sound as if he was excited to see Liam go, but Liam knew that wasn’t true. Over the last two weeks, Keith had paid particular attention to Liam, giving him one-on-one training and useful information about surviving Orbis. While Liam personally, wouldn’t call them close, they were more than acquaintances at this point.
Liam took Keith’s outstretched hand and shook it.
“Yeah, thanks for everything. I appreciate it.”
“Hahaha, I should be thanking you for being a good student. I don’t get those very often these days…”
When Liam tried to leave, Keith’s grip on his hand tightened.
Keith’s expression turned serious, far more than Liam had ever seen before.
“…You should be careful of the Association.”
“Yeah, I know that already. They’re a bunch of lazy assholes.”
“Well… you’re not wrong, but that’s not what I mean…”
Keith’s expression became dark as his sentence trailed off. It was an expression Liam knew well, one of someone who remembered a part of their past they’d rather forget.
Keith sighed, “Let me explain… When I arrived in Orbis, like everyone else, I was nervous about how I would survive. But unlike them, I had high stats, three B’s and one A grade stats. That made me special in the eyes of the Association. They referred to me as a talent that came around once in a decade, and I trusted them. I had no reason not to at the time. So naturally, when they offered to let me join the Elites, I accepted…”
Keith paused after seeing the confusion on Liam’s face.
“Ah… Do you not know about the Association Elites?”
“No, I’ve never heard of them.”
“I see… The Elites are a unique group of Earthlings handpicked by the Association, who all have either two stats above B grade or are a Mage. The Association provides personal training, quality equipment, lavish meals, and luxurious housing. In short, they treat you like a King. In exchange, the Elites are sent to the South after leaving Kelm, where they are recruited to work for Nobles and other powerful figures. It’s not a bad deal, especially compared to the other Earthlings who are sent North and left to fend for themselves...
…I’ll go back to what I was talking about before. After joining the Elites, I lived a more luxurious life than I did on Earth, and since I didn’t want to lose it, I trained hard and pushed myself to live up to their expectations. Everything was fine until my eighth month in Orbis…
…It was my team’s last mission before we left Kelm and headed South. We were tasked to exterminate a tribe of Orcs that had settled in the mountains around Kelm. At the time, we were all rank two, so a group of Orcs wasn’t a threat to us…
…In hindsight… I can say we were overconfident…
...When we arrived, we quickly eliminated over half the Orcs. There were more of them than the scout’s report, but it didn’t make a difference to us, and we finished off the remaining half. That was when the leader showed up…”
Suddenly, Keith’s face twisted in rage as he kicked the ground with his bad leg, sending dust flying.
“Damnit! I still remember that bastard’s ugly face! If only the scout didn’t fuck up his report, then…!”
Keith stopped himself and let out a sigh, calming himself down.
“Anyways, the leader was a mutant. They often get nicknames base on their unique features, so some people call them Name Monsters, too. This one had four arms and was twice the size of a normal Orc. His strength was equal to a rank three or four Earthling Warrior, but that wasn’t what was dangerous about him – it was his intelligence. Counting only his raw strength, he wasn’t much of a challenge for my team, in a head-to-head fight, nine out of ten times we would win…
…But it wasn’t a head-to-head fight. As I said, that bastard was smart. Before we even knew of his existence, he launched a surprise attack on our Cleric and crushed her skull. Without a healer, it was a difficult battle, but in the end, we defeated him. It was impressive. We managed to win with only one death and the loss of my leg considering our initial disadvantage…
… I wasn’t too distraught over my leg. I was just glad we were alive. We all believed that the Association would take care of us, but we were naïve. As soon as the Association learned that I had lost my leg and the ability to fight, they abandoned me without a second thought. I got kicked out. All my equipment and money were confiscated as payment for all the kindness they had shown me up to that point.
...If it weren’t for my teammates, I probably would’ve died. They negotiated with the Association and cut a deal that allowed me to live in town as a resident and not an Earthling, which let me avoid the Earthling tax and work as an instructor here…
…In exchange, they were sent by sea to the other side of the continent where Earthlings are sent sometimes, often not by choice. From what I’ve heard, there’s a Kingdom over there that’s in desperate need of talented fighters, Earthling or not.”
Keith paused after finishing his story before saying one last thing.
“I’m telling you this in case you’re ever given an opportunity to join the Elites or any other organization, especially ones made by Orbis natives, be careful and don’t trust anything they say, don’t make the same mistake I did.”
Liam nodded; he had a lot to think about.
“Thanks for the warning.”
Liam was about to leave when Keith stopped him again.
“Before you go, I want you to have this. It’s my backup knife from my days as a Warrior. I have no use for it anymore, so rather than letting it sit around, collecting dust, you should take it. It’s always good to have a backup weapon.”
Keith handed Liam a knife with a six-inch blade and an engraved wood handle. From its sharpness alone, Liam could tell it was a high-quality item.
After taking the knife, Liam thanked Keith again and left the training facility, heading for the old man’s weapon shop. It was one of two stops he had to make before the end of the day.
Liam entered the shop and immediately noticed that it was empty, less the old man in the back.
‘Does he ever get customers?’
Over the past two weeks, Liam had been here a few other times to familiarize himself with the different kinds of weapons and armors available, yet the store was always empty. Walking through the store, Liam called out to the shopkeeper.
“Hey, wake up. You have a customer.”
Grumbling to himself, the old shopkeeper opened his eyes and glared at Liam, displeased that he had been woken from his afternoon nap.
“What do you want…”
“I’m here for the equipment. You still have it, right?”
The shopkeeper grunted as he pushed himself up and began moving around the store, gathering items from the shelves.
Before long the same equipment from two weeks ago was piled on the counter. Liam picked up and meticulously inspected each item. Compared to his last visit, he had a much better understanding of what he needed as a Ranger.
Watching this, the shopkeeper frowned.
“Hey, do you think I’m trying to scam you or something?”
Liam paused for a moment, glancing up.
He immediately resumed inspecting the items, leaving the shopkeeper wearing a sour expression. Once Liam finished, he spoke.
“I’ll take them.”
Nodding, the shopkeeper grabbed a ledger and began to scribble something.
“Okay, kid. I’ll put 120 nickel on your tab.”
The shopkeeper’s pen stopped moving, and his head snapped up.
He ground his teeth while thinking,
‘This brat! Has he ever heard of the word gratitude before!”
If anything, Liam should be thanking him not haggling with him. There wasn’t a single store in Kelm that would offer items on credit to any Earthlings fresh out of the tutorial. Who would, when there was a high chance they would die or not pay?
“Listen, kid, I don’t think you’re in the position to be bargaining, so just take the deal and-”
The shopkeeper stopped talking after noticing that Liam had started walking towards the door.
‘Shit, he’s actually going to walk out over 40 nickel!?’
When Liam was about to reach the door, the shopkeeper yelled.
“W-Wait! 110! 110 nickel, and it’s yours!”
Liam stopped and turned around.
“Tsk. 105 nickel.”
Liam paused and held his chin, thinking for a moment before speaking.
“How about 85 nickel.”
“9…95 nickel! Final offer!”
Liam immediately agreed; his goal from the beginning was to get the price as close to 100 nickel as possible.
As Liam gathered up the equipment and exited the shop, the shopkeeper was left with a pained expression on his face, realizing that he had been out-negotiated.
Liam dropped his equipment off at his inn before heading to his next destination, the Association Earthling Branch. When he entered the building, he made his way through the familiar rowdy crowd, stopping in front of the mission board.
Liam scanned the contents of the missions near the bottom of the board.
‘Five copper, four copper, one nickel, eight copper, three copper, five copper…’
Most of the rewards were too low. The only reasonable ones involved hunting monsters, but Liam didn’t want to take those until he saw the forest at least one time. He wanted to know what kind of terrain he would be fighting in before jumping into battle, anything that he could learn might be useful at some point. Of course, he didn’t need a mission to enter the forest, but if he was going there anyway, he might as well earn some money.
Liam continued to search the board, only to find nothing. He was about to give up when he noticed a mission buried underneath the others.
‘Huh, what’s this one?’
It was a scouting mission. The Association was looking for an Earthling to scout a cave, suspected of being a monster nest, and report back with any information discovered. The type of monster that was inhabiting the cave was called a Viermin, which Liam knew nothing about, but that wasn’t a problem since he could find out about it from the other Earthlings and the Association.
What Liam didn’t understand was…
‘Why hasn't anyone taken this yet?’
The reward was five nickel, significantly more than the other missions.
Thinking there had to be a mistake, Liam looked at the other missions again. Immediately, he realized why no one had taken it.
Most Earthlings worked in groups, so they had to split the reward. In that case, five nickel wasn’t much. It could even be considered a waste of time, compared to monster subjugation missions, which paid per monster killed. For a group of five, it would be easy to earn ten nickel killing monsters, which would give each member two nickel.
Liam reread the contents of the mission.
It was tempting. Liam preferred stealth over direct confrontation, so a scouting mission was a good match for him. There was a chance he could run into monsters, but that was a risk no matter which mission he took. At least with this one, he could avoid fighting by being sneaky.
After reassessing the dangers one last time, Liam made up his mind and tore the mission off the board. This was the best mission for him. There was still information that he needed to learn, but once he did, he was confident about succeeding.