Chapter 43

Paige thrived on routines. Even when she was in disguise, she always liked to have a set routine, something to start her day off right. As a Warrior, she would have been swinging her sword, or at least checking her equipment for any loose straps. But as a Farmer, she followed the same routine her father had, or at least, what she could remember her father doing the few times she woke up before the sun arose. Although she couldn’t remember what he had been doing, she remembered her father’s words clearly. ‘Our farm is much more than land, my sweet Little Paige. Our farm is built upon the sweat of family, hard work, and love.’ How she wished she could remember his face. Paige sighed to herself. There were times that she even forgot how old she was and the names of her family, though her memory was pretty fuzzy on the first few years after leaving home. Was it shock or something else?

Shaking her head ruefully, she checked on her watermelon plants, she noted idly that they needed more water, otherwise there would be a high chance that the fruit would be small. Looking back, she looked over her plots of vegetables and grains and grinned. They may live on a small farm, but she could say with pride that everything they had was top quality and tasty too. Well, maybe not a small farm, she amended to herself slightly. After working out the logistics with everyone early on, they had decided to keep the footprint near the settlement down to a small two acres of land, since they were not likely to stay here in the forest long term.

Not counting the other non-protected plots of farmland she had scattered about the forest, she was quite content at how well she was able to farm. Quickly checking the fields, she noted that a few cows were already out in the fields, and that one was already showing signs of having a calf. Good good, Paige nodded to herself happily. Rearing and training simple farm animals was much easier, and safer, than the other animals she had trained previously. “..Although, if I could have trained that pack of Drakes, finding dragons would have been much easier. Gods above, it took months to successfully track those Elder Dragons, even knowing where they would most likely attack.”

“What to do, what to do.” Taking a glance around the settlement, she slowly started stretching, her overalls tightening as she twisted and turned. Taking out her worn hoe, she took a slight stance and swung it in a light arc, flowing from one move to the next. Taking a step forward, she started to swing in earnest. Overhead chop, followed by a small half step back into a vertical slash.

This was the other part of her morning routine, one that she was hesitant to stop. Attack patterns; defensive maneuvers; grip coordination. Being a Warrior was more than just having Skills and the god’s approvals. It was knowing how to fight, when to attack, and more importantly, when to run away. ‘Let’s see, can I incorporate that sliding move from the northern seas? Was it called ‘Bellowing the Horn’ or ‘Stormy Sea’s’…Probably ‘Stormy Sea’s. Slide, step backward and spin. Her hoe started moving crisper, the bladed end rending the air with a whoosh each time she swung and stopped before she overextended herself. ‘Forward grip into a handshake grip, followed by a windmill grip.’ Sliding her hand across the hoe blade as it swung toward her head, her hoe morphed into a long bladed scythe as it completed it’s forward spin. ‘Bladed Ax to Crescent Slash, Crescent Slash to Whirlwind Strike. Whirlwind Strike to a quick slice.’

“Aun-” She swung her scythe toward the voice, stopping mere inches away from Markus, who was looking at her with awe. Paige frowned and looked at the now unlocked door of the settlement. Did I miss him somehow? “..Markus. Shouldn’t you be asleep at this hour? We’re still at least an hour or two away from true daylight.”

“I, I had a bad dream. What were you doing, Auntie? And why did your hoe become a scythe?”

She frowned at his question. He must have been there longer than she’d thought. Was he watching from the house? “[Craft Modification]. It’s a handy skill for any technical class. Not many battle classes learn this skill since it takes time away from learning actual Battle Skills though. Hm? Want to learn it?”

“I know it already, although I think I can only do farming equipment and bows. I can make a spade with a stick.” Markus said.

“…I see. Good job learning it. Just wondering, Markus, how did you learn it that skill?”

“I watched you and Uncle Nick do it often enough, so I learned how.” 

Paige grimaced internally. That was not normal. Well, not by normal standards anyways. But if you went on the basis as an Apprentice or a Hero instead… “Well, next time let us know when you get a Skill. It is a cause for celebration, you know.” Patting Markus on the head, Paige changed her scythe back to a hoe blade and started leading Markus back to the house.

“Au, aunt. Can you teach me how to do that?” Markus said in a hopeful tone.

“Hm? Why do you want to learn?”

“It looks so cool! You were swinging your hoe with a whoosh, and then it turned into a scythe and it went voom and-!” 

“Haha. It does look pretty cool huh. So tell me, Markus, if you had to choose a weapon, what would it be?”

“A sword!”

“…that is a good choice. What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A Hero! I’m going to save a lot of people and defeat all the bad guys!”

“Spoken like a true hero, my young little Markus! Hrmm….Okay, how about this. We’ve all talked and said you weren’t allowed to have a sword until you are seven. But since Nick is planning on showing you how to shoot a bow…I’ll can teach you some things too. If you want, of course.”

“Sure! Thank you so much, Aunt Paige!”

“Don’t thank me just yet. First we have to practice…”

—-

“Ummm, Paige? What are you doing?”

“I’m teaching of course. What’s up?”

The sight Zenith had awoken to after she left the house was…mind-boggling to say the least. Paige was standing in a weird pose, her upper body arched while she balanced on the ball of her foot, while Markus was attempting poorly to emulate Paige’s stance. “And what, pray tell, does that silly stance do?”

“An, and how come you didn’t make Tyler do these weird stances?”

“It helps increase your sense of balance and sensitivity to your extremities. I won’t teach you any sword styles for now, but I will help increase your foundation. You’ll learn this later, Markus; but every party has to adapt to the needs of the individual members. Lily needed someone to protect her, so Tyler had to pick up the slack. If Tyler wants to learn later, fine, I can teach him later. Not like stretching is something that has to be done at an early age.”

“But, then then why are you making me do it!”

“I’ll teach you some techniques once you pass my test. Otherwise, it’ll be too hard to learn some of the harder techniques. Most of the swordplay I know is based upon being flexible enough to do the forms correctly on the first try. It takes practice and time, but I promise I will train you to the best of my limited abilities.”

“If your abilities are limited, then every Warrior might as well call themselves Apprentices,” Zenith muttered to herself. “Ahem. Sara should be coming around today to learn with Markus on how to shoot in a forest.

“Huh. I didn’t know Nick volunteered to teach too. That’s awfully nice of him. What was the occasion? And don’t tell me he volunteered himself either. We both know he isn’t that nice.”

“…so I may have volunteered him to teach Sara too over dinner at Kate’s house. They’ll both do fine with Nick. I think. Anyways, Paige, I was thinking of reading in the makeshift study you made in the barn, so just let me know if you need anything. I’ll probably head off to watch how Nick trains them as well. Would you mind making dinner tonight for us?”

“Yah, I can do that Zenith. Okay Markus, it’s been a few hours now. You can stop for breakfast and go see Uncle Nick. I’ll go and finish up my planting. Oh, and by the way, I expect to see you up every morning at the same time from now on to do the stretches. You can watch me practice in the meantime if you get up early enough.” Watching as Markus left with Zenith, she wondered for the nth time if hiding Markus’s class from him was a bad idea. Class progression was a tricky thing for a Hero, and she desperately hoped that this deception wouldn’t come back to haunt her. Sighing to herself, she wondered if it was a good idea to train him in swordsmanship. He had killed Tyler and put up a rather good fight in the Mausoleum. Scuffing the ground with her boot, she filed the thought away for another day.

Thinking back, training an apprentice was a rather fun past time. ‘It has been a while since I have trained an apprentice. Although, maybe I should go and look up how they are doing…’

“Hrmm, where is my hoe? Crap, did I forget it after training with Markus? Well, it’s not going to walk away. or anything.” Shrugging as she walked toward her nearest clove patch, she closed her eyes and followed her instincts, not even using a Skill to navigate the terrain, just following her gut feeling. That was the thing about Skills, although it was immensely helpful on occasion, Paige just couldn’t help but feel… unaccomplished. Knowing where you were going was different than walking blindly, which is what she wanted to do on occasion. Thus…she learned of a way to stop her Skills from activating. Risky to do, but it was more fun to travel this way, in Paige’s opinion.

Right up to the point where she stepped face first into a tree. Ruefully glancing at the tree in the path, she stepped around it and kept on walking. “Ouch. Well, at least I know the trick still works. If I use up all my mana, my skills won’t work. Duh. But intentionally keeping myself close to mana exhaustion is harder than I’d thought it’d be with my new core. Why would my mana core be larger if I am a Farmer than a Warrior? I mean, I can understand that Zenith has less mana now as a teacher than as a Wind mage, but as a Farmer, why do I have more mana than when I was a Warrior? Did I have too many skills? Or was it those elemental skills I learned that tied up so much of my mana?”

“Spells are the foundation for elemental skills. That’s the whole reason why most people stick with their natural affinities. Technically, I’m not supposed to be able to use elemental spells with my null affinity, but I used divine mana to gain those skills. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to do that, and the decrease in my mana core was the penalty for learning elemental skills. I thought it was a curse from the Northern Isles, but maybe it’s not. But now I already know how to use the skills. Could that be the reason why I have more mana?”

Paige frowned as she sidestepped around another tree. “Classes. Mana. You can choose your own class now. My mana is higher. So how would I even investigate that? No, Zenith is in a better position to investigate that. I can give her a broader view though, she is still quite young after all, and she likely doesn’t have the experience to know what to look out for… Wait a second, there is a way for me to investigate classes. Boary! Come here, quick!” Paige yelled out into the clearing, looking around for her pseudo training partner.

Her laugh echoed in the clearing and out into the forest. “There might be something that she could personally test afterall.”

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