A Learning Experience
Miki woke everyone up in the morning. She had the last watch even though they were safe in the cellar. At the crack of dawn she shook Sue up first to make breakfast. The result was a pleasant aroma and equally lavish breakfast of bread and fried meat with vegetables.
The group set out fully equipped across the snowy plains. Clod had a small sled to get the firewood. Lucy and Miki were cloaked from top to bottom with crossbows and small daggers at their waist. They had moved most of the firewood from those ruins close to the village. Only this place had a few bundles to transfer.
Ming and Chu had a spear and sword between them along with hidden daggers. Just before the village they had to hide such quality weapons and change it into crooked wooden staffs. That way they don’t stand out in the village.
The group separated at the ruined house with the two boys continuing north to the village. Chu reminded them to be careful, although there were no tracks on the snow wild animals may move on a whim.
The two reached the village entrance and walked in dressed in patched cloaks and holding some deformed branches. In the eyes of the guards they were simply kids from the slums seeking a meal from a villager.
Chu passed by his home and seeing everyone in good spirits he left after a quick talk. If he remained it would lead to incessant questioning from his mother. Concern was seen on her face but Chu just brushed it off as a mother’s worry.
During winter the Trading post used their General Store within the town to conduct business. The one on the outside was relegated for collection of animals by the very few hunters who braved the winter season.
The store was empty when the two entered. Only if it was in dire need did people leave their homes. That was the stark difference between the village and the slums just outside it.
The first person Chu met was the clerk named John. He was casually sitting in a laid back manner nodding away on the counter. This time however things were totally different when their eyes locked.
On seeing the young boy enter the man nearly fell of his seat. Jumping up and acting the part of a proper attendant he greeted them respectfully.
“Hello how can I be of help to you young fellows.”
“Hello, we just came to get some small supplies and find out some information.”
“No problem, I can help you. What do you…aaaahhhhh!”
He was courteous to ask what they needed and was about to continue when a large hand swatted him aside as a burly figure rushed up to the counter.
“Brat YOU ALIVE! I was sure you died!”
“And Hello to you to Mr Griz, what would make a person of your caliber so excited?”
Chu could see that this man was agitated beyond measure. For someone like the Master of the Trading post to be in such a state could only mean a serious matter.
“Boy, you have no idea what is going on outside your little cooped up hole huh?”
Chu could only reply with a wry grin, that was one problem he faced. He was to far from real-time information. It was the painful cost of living in isolation.
Griz hustled them to a secluded end of the counter and started his tale.
During the last week a hunter returned raising the alarm of a demon beast sighting.
Worse yet, on description and searching the records this demon was a wolf demon. Bearing the characteristics, such a beast was known to be cunning, aggressive and a lone predator.
The alarm went out and the village was placed on alert. The patrols were doubled and the farms were instructed to send smoke signals or lit a fire during the night for emergency. The garrison commander dispatched a messenger to the northern city of Frost for assistance. Such a beast could not have slipped passed them without detection.
It was only afterwards that the reason behind this was because the demon was already here since last winter. It was bidding its time in the forest surviving by picking off adventuring parties and lone trappers along the forest between villages to avoid suspicion. Now that everyone was in isolation again it simple came out to hunt freely.
If wasn’t for the accidental discovery by the hunter, most disappearances would be associated to the winter season.
“Why didn’t the garrison bait it and kill it?”
“Brat, did you hear what I said?”
Animals and wild beast covered those like cows, wolves and even snow bears. They were simply wild and untamed animals. Some could be domesticated eventually.
Demon beast were a totally different category. They came from the forbidden lands, possessed higher intelligence and even had humanoid shapes. Their abilities were ten to a hundred times more than a normal beast.
The main point of separation between them and normal beast was the fact that they mainly hunted humans. A Snow bear if provoked will level a village but it will not rampage through a village killing everything in sight. It would never waste its time perusing people already running unless starving to death.
A Demon beast however was different. They reveled in the pleasure in killing humans both for food and recreation. A Demon beast would chase someone to the ends of the earth simply to gain trill in their prey’s despair.
“In this week alone the patrols were wiped out. That is half of the garrison of soldiers stationed here. Five farms both to the north and south have been void of life, not a trace to be found. The only idiots wandering around without a care are you guys.”
“So strong! Why is a last boss here in the beginner village.”
“What..what is a last boss?”
“Sorry my mind is just a mess. Why is something so strong here, what is the reason.”
“Simple. We have something it wants.”
Chu looked up to the old man coming over to sit in their corner. Chu was inquisitive like all boys should be, while the other boy simply had a fearful expression on his face. Only Chu knew that was Ming’s way of hiding his sleepiness and boredom. Give a little time and that brat would be snoring.
The old guard continued on.
Demon beast originate from the far north beyond the Northern Chain. During winter as fog covers the gorges and valleys, some escape detection and come through the forest into the Empire.
These demons use humans as nourishment. By feeding on a person’s heart and contents in the head they get stronger. Since only humans provide the best vitality for them to increase in strength it is no wonder they are attacked.
Conversely, humans through their own experiments and studies have found a way to utilize demon beast. The Mage Tower has been around from time immemorial and have used demon beast for strengthening humans.
A demon beast possesses a lifestone within its heart cavity. If this lifestone is used with some of its fresh heart blood on a Mage Tower talisman, a person can become imbued with some ability of the demon.
Similarly, a demon beast body is like a treasure trove. It can be converted into armor, weapons magic talismans and basic ingredients used for alchemy and magic.
“People hunt demons to get stronger, while the demons hunt people for the same.”
“In a way that is exactly it.”
Chu was unconcerned about any dangers like Griz.
‘After all, wasn’t that same demon beast securely frozen on ice in his barn?’
What he was interested in was this talk of becoming stronger using this talisman and lifestone thingy. This was the kind of development he was hoping for on coming to a new world.
Putting on the best concerned face he could muster he switched from the worry, fear and frustrated displays he was previously performing.
“This is too scary. I have to return and get the others to safety. We have a good hiding spot and enough food to last the rest of winter. I need to get more information to protect myself. As a person from the slums I am totally oblivious to this threat. I don’t know what to do…”
As Chu displayed a panicked act, Griz tried to offer some help.
“If you want I can send out a few guards to get you and the others back to the village. Of course it would require a fee.”
Griz offering help and stating a fee was understood, they were merely business acquaintances and he expected that much from the man. It was not as the merchant was digging out his eye. In the face of such dangers having guards willing to risk their lives for a fee was understandable.
Chu however wanted something else.
“I appreciate your concern, but we have a secure place to hole up. What I need is some more information on this kind of subject. I would gladly pay anything for data like that which would save my life…..”
Chu sighed as he looked depressed. He was in fact waiting for Griz to bite the bait.
Griz glanced at the old guard and replied.
“Simon here is very familiar with talismans and he can answer some of your questions for now. There is a book that is usually sold to high level adventurers and mercenaries that give information on demon beast and use of talismans.”
“The talisman parts are used for beginners to understand those concepts but is only in the last few pages of the book. Most of the book gives descriptions of some of the known demon beast and subsequent abilities.”
Chu perked up but his face was full of worry.
“Something like that would be good but I don’t want to know about talismans and such, I just want information on the general characteristics of demon beast and how to avoid them.”
“No, no..wait and talk to Simon here I’ll get the book and be back.”
Chu had a forlorn look as he chatted with Simon about the different kinds of beast and where they usually pop up. He also threw in some questions on the type of talismans and how they worked in between.
By the time Griz returned he had a general idea on how these talismans functioned and how to use them. Simon even showed them his on the promise of secrecy. The old man had a Tower talisman tattooed on his arm. Chu was disappointed since he was hoping for something extraordinary. Instead it was like a small henna tattoo with some fancy patterns.
Simon told them if they looked carefully a faint looking boar might be seen. They didn’t see anything resembling that though. The lifestone was from a low-class wild boar, one of the lowest demon beast. This gave him a boost in strength that was twice that of a normal man. He could only use this ability twice per day though. It was restricted to a certain time limit when activated.
“This is the book I was telling you about. See it only has the last two chapters that deals with talismans. Everything else is on demon beast.”
Griz hauled a huge book larger than an encyclopedia onto the counter.
Chu dusted it off and rummaged through it as if browsing. Reaching the last few pages he asked some questions.
“This is good, it seems to have everything I even saw a picture of the wild boar Simon talked about. I don’t really need these last couple pages though. What are these anyway they look like talismans?”
On some pages at the back were four talismans on a page. He recognized them by the scribbles and lines on each that were the size of a dollar bill. Those patterns were the same or at lest similar to the one imprinted on Simon. The page was serrated for a person to actually tear them out for use.
Chu heart was jumping out of his mouth as he as the question in a offkey manner.
“These four are actually Tower Talismans. Remember I told you that theses books are bought by high level adventurers. They normally use these talismans as reference when doing their enhancements. It can be used but they purchase those talismans separately.”
“Oh. Well I don’t need it anyway. How much is this book?”
Chu nearly spit out blood.
Ming on the other hand couldn’t control himself and sprayed all of them down with saliva.
“You robbing me Griz?”
Chu looked straight at the man locking in his eyes.
“No need to. The reason this book is so expensive is because it caters for certain class of people.”
Chu understood when Griz explained it to him. This book was a gateway to rising a whole new level in the Empire.
Take this village as an example. Only Simon here had a talisman and it was also one of low quality. People with these successful talismans were too few and in high demand. Simon could live a comfortable life as the personal guard of the Trading post Master.
When Griz is transferred or moved to higher levels, he automatically follows. Old as he was, the talismans gives him an edge in social standing.
“I’ll take this book then and I just need some small supplies. I have to hurry back to warn the others.”
Chu paid Griz from his secret money belt Sakura made for him. Together with Ming they put on a hustling facade as they left the post with their purchases.
On collecting their good weapons from the hiding spot they hurried back to the barn.
This was not because of being worried, but because Chu was filled with anticipation. Seeing no warning signal on the barn they trudged to the door with the supplies and his precious book.
Ming had not even fully extended his hands to rap on the door when it was pushed open in a hurry.
Sakura flung herself on Chu grabbing his hands.
Amidst the sobs he could barely make out the words.
“Chu hurry, Lucy….Lucy got injured bad. We can’t do anything!!”