Chapter 44

“Hehehe. Boooarry! I have something special for you! It’s super special,” Paige called out to the surrounding forest. Boary had to be somewhere in the vicinity. She knew that the boar usually didn’t leave this clover patch if he didn’t have anything else to do, as the environment here was perfect for both growing clovers and for recovering mana, something which the boar used to upgrade his mana core. “Hey! Where are you?” With no boar, how was Paige supposed to test her theories? “Tch. Looks like I have to find him first. Usually he is here, so what is different about today? Hrmm, it isn’t a full moon today and there have been no changes in the ambient mana, so that leaves… an intruder? What could fight a mostly grown Elder Boar? Direwolf Pack? Armored Blackbear? Alligator?”

Looking around the empty clearing and locating a few animal trails Boary had likely used, Paige decided to use the simplest solution she had. “Let’s see where you went off to. [Trail Finder].” In truth, she hardly needed to use her skill,  since she practiced tracking extensively when training Lily and Tyler, but Paige needed to use her mana and it was hardly worth the time to analyze when each path was last used. A nagging sense in her brain informed her that the path leading deeper into the woods was the one that had last been used. Paige frowned at that sight as she confirmed that her skill was indeed right. She knew from her landmarks that the only place of interest that led to was a few plots of evergreen trees. Nothing exceptional that would warrant a trip for the Elder Boar in question, at least.

Letting her skill take the lead on where to go, Paige picked up varying sizes of pebbles and placed it in her overall pockets before hefting up a piece of a fallen tree limb, muttering quietly to herself. “[Craft Modification]. No monster tracks thus far besides Boary, which in itself is odd. Bird monster then? Stone Hawk? No, there shouldn’t be any here, their migrating pattern doesn’t go this far west during the winter… wait, did Zenith say where Nick was planning on teaching today?” Stopping slightly, she thought for a moment and shook her head. “The Ranger standard training, assuming they haven’t changed anything, would put them somewhere in the fringe of the forest, not in the heart. So am I the only one this deep in the woods?”

A sudden chill assaulted her from in front, her skin crawling with goosebumps. Paige looked incredulous at her arms, shaking them lightly. “What was that? It wasn’t a mana wave, so was it a skill? Or was it a monster trait? It… it kinda felt like a Frost Beholder, but in a forest?” Frowning at the path ahead, she took out her ring and took out a few metal bangles and a heavy steel spear, a tingling sensation quickly travelling up her arm as she held the shaft of the weapon. Quickly modifying the spearhead to a simple bladed hoe, the tingling in her arms slowly abated as she walked faster toward the location she felt the sensation originated from.

She could already hear grunting sounds and heavy breathing as the trees swayed back and forth. A deep thump could be heard as she moved faster toward the sound of a pitched battle, a boar’s squeal of anger could clearly be heard now. Stopping slightly before a clearing, she quickly hid behind a tree and peeked out at the battle ahead, taking care not to be noticed.

Breathing deeply, she quickly rotated the mana in her core and whispered quietly to herself. “[Natural Explorer], [Hide in Plain Sight],” taking care to make sure that none of her mana leaked out into the environment. “Now let’s see what Boary has gotten into.”

Walking slowly into the clearing, Paige immediately noticed the two sets of blood. Everywhere. But whereas one was a deep red and smelled of iron, the other was blue and smelled…differently. Almost like how the air smelled when it snowed. Not a precise smell, but distinct enough. And true to her gut feeling, Boary was facing a relatively rare monster, for this side of the world at least. An eye the size of a wooden gate was locked on to the boar as it charged once again, wary of the Elder Boar’s tusks, which was painted in the blood of its enemy.

A Frost Beholder, but a minor one by the looks of it. The main Eye was floating almost six feet above the ground, the mana resisting the pull of gravity through natural instinct alone. The six tentacle arms flailed in an unseen wind, the eyeballs at the end focusing hard on the enemy in front of it.  “It’s not an Elder Beholder, that much is certain. But still, it’s almost a thousand miles to the nearest permafrost, so how could it get here? The thing practically melts if it stays in the sun too long.” Paige stared at the beast confusedly as she watched the fight.

A loud squeal interrupted her thoughts, and she almost whistled aloud as she saw what her training partner was doing. The boar’s tusks were shrouded in hazy light, one that was solidifying quickly. The jagged tusks were now replaced with a glowing tusks, nearly as long as a knight’s jousting lance. ‘…that’s a new one. Spectral, magic, or elemental based? Probably something close to the [Magic Lance] or [Light Lance] if it was a Knight Skill. Still, how come it never did that in our mock fights? I’d still win of course, but it would have been a nice challenge now and then.’ 

Boary charged once again, angling his charge sideways to avoid the Frost Beholder’s frozen gaze. Tactics. Paige nodded as she saw the boars actions. ‘Only took two years to figure that out. Good. At least it learned something from the mock fights.’

The Beholder tracked the boar wearily while scanning the clearing, looking for something. Paige smiled as she noticed it’s actions. ‘Heh. I forgot how mana sensitive Beholder’s are. I’d be a little worried if it was an Elder or Ancient Beholder, but not for this runt.’ She started walking steadily around the clearing in the opposite direction of Boary, distracting the Beholder from the fight on hand. 

The beast knew something was there and sent out probes of blue light across the clearing, shrouding the sun and the surrounding forest. The intensity of the blue beams increased remarkably as the air steadily became colder. A thin layer of frost was starting to gather onto both Boary’s hide as well as Paige’s clothes. 

‘[Frost Aura]. I guess it could technically survive a bit then in the shade. But that still wouldn’t be enough for it to travel this far,’ Paige thought to herself as the frost evaporated slowly from her clothes. Eying the metal bangle on her arm, the inscriptions of the bangle was suddenly alight with power. [[Frost Resistance]]. All this free time had done wonders for Paige’s crafting skills, and Zenith’s incessant begging to learn inscriptions had only worsened once Paige had shown she had known how to work spells into materials as she crafted Lily and Tyler’s armor. Sure, Mage Inscribers and Blacksmiths all had their own trade secrets, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out after watching her friends do it a few dozen times. Not that she had the mana to actually inscribe anything when she was a Warrior, but still. 

‘If it was An Elder Beholder, I’d be tempted to get the core, but a juvenile… I’d rather just have the monster parts. It’s not like I am lacking monster cores after all.’ Another mystery was why the Beholder just didn’t leave. ‘Beholder’s are rather skittish creatures, so why hasn’t it tried to escape yet?’

“Boary! Attack pattern delta!” Paige yelled out as she stopped her mana, appearing slowly in the clearing as her skill slowly fizzled out. The Beholder jerked in suprise but shot beams of light over to Paige. Watching the beams coming closer, Paige simply ducked and threw something at the main eye, attracting the attention of the Beholder and froze the projectile coming closer to it. A pebble. A fast moving pebble that slowly transformed into a large, solid ice sphere.

The Beholder recoiled in horror as the pebble’s forward momentum carried it closer and closer to its body. Moving sideways to avoid the now large projectille, that was the last thing it saw as the boar’s enlarged tusks pierced it’s bottom, the tusk exiting his body diagonally impaling it.

“Good job impaling it and missing the eye. Phew, it’s rare to be able to save the main eye. I can make something out of it at least,” Paige laughed happily. It was always better to have extra materials than not. She stopped though as Boary threw the monster to the side and gazed unfocusedly at her, the enlarged tusks pointing straight at her. 

“I haven’t had something thick and round pointed at me in a long while. Point that at someone else before you regret it.” Paige said with amusement. “Boary. Wake up before I start getting offended.” Releasing her killing intent, she started drawing in the ambient mana forcefully, the air solidifying quickly with unseen force. Boary stopped and focused, his eyes staring confusedly at the Farmer in front of him, one that was unusually scary today. 

Seeing the boar calm down and as a shred of intelligence, Paige reigned in her mana as well. “Good. Hey Boary, care to split the spoils? You can have the core if you want, but I want to process the body. I did do half the work after all” Paige said unreservedly as she pointed at the dead body. “It’s weird, did he not know he was fighting it? I’ve seen monsters fight before, and this one was strange. Is it the environment or the magic formation again? But then how did this monster get here?” she thought to herself as she started cutting away the flesh from the body. Idly extracting the core, she watched Boary’s reaction as he followed it with a burning gaze.

Of course he would want it; what monster with a core wouldn’t want the chance to upgrade itself. That was exactly what Paige wanted to check too. Boar, Elder Boar, Elemental Boar, Ancient Boar. Most simply thought it was a title or a ranking system the Guild Hall used, but the truth ran deeper than that. Perhaps only Monster Trainers knew the true reason they were called that. Monster Classes.

Every living creature had a mana core, but just like how people could consolidate the mana in their core to advance their Class, so could monsters. But while people used monster cores as materials for their equipment, monsters absorbed any core they could in the hopes of advancing. That was why monster hunting was a dangerous prospect; it was hard to tell who was the hunter or the hunted.

“I want to test something Boary. You can have this Frost Beholder core… or a Lava Bear core. Which do you want?” she said with a smile as she pulled out a fist-sized core with care, the orb pulsing with heat. Taking the other core and making sure they were both around the same circumference, she held it out in front of the boar.

The test was a simple one: confirming if Classes gained by monsters still operated under the same rule as before. Sara had said a Flame Elemental creature had killed the rest of her party when they came to this forest before, but in the last four years they had been here, this Frost Beholder and the Wind Sparrow were the only elemental creatures they had seen. Everything else they had hunted were Elder monsters at best, regular at worst. But knowing now that Tyler was able to choose his class, could that mean monsters could choose their class as well? Usually eating an elemental core would, theoretically, instantly upgrade an Elder monster into something. Was Boary staying as an Elder Boar for a reason?

Or did it go much deeper than that? If she could stop from advancing to a Warrior until she hit every Battle class, could a monster do the same? Even the Imperial Family had never successfully created an Ancient monster before, so maybe that was how one reached Ancient. Ancient secret?

“First off Boary. How di-” A crunching sound interrupted her thoughts as she watched blankly as the boar ate both cores at once. 

“Ack! Hey! It took a few days for me to track that bear,” Paige grumbled slightly, waiting for something to happen. It shouldn’t take too long to see a quantitative change in his mana. 

 —

“What a waste of time. At least I got some monster parts but still,” Paige grumbled as she and Boary walked back to the main settlement. She had waited a good six hours for a change, and she had nothing to show besides dirt-stained overalls and dead leaves in her hair. The stupid boar hadn’t even condensed his mana or anything to show for him eating two cores! Two! Looking down at her clothes, she knew she would be in for it later. “Gaah had I known I’d be trapezing through the forest, I would have worn my coarser overalls instead of these cotton ones. Zenith is probably going to kill me for not wearing my linen clothes.”

She stopped as she thought about what Zenith had said before she left. “…was I supposed to make dinner tonight? Shoot, I should still have time to make something edible. Maybe something with a vegetable base. Pumpkin soup or lintel soup?” Hmmm, tapping her cheek idly, Paige stopped short of the houses and scanned the clearing ahead, making sure to check a few key areas, especially on the wooden gate set in the stone wall. It was still closed. “Good, the magic circle hadn’t been broken.” That was one of the few defenses they had surrounding the entire settlement, used only in the case that everyone had left the premise. 

It was a simple formation, one that most people wouldn’t even consider, not unless they were either Assassins or Mages. By creating a stone fence around the entire premise and having only one true exit, it was quite simple for Zenith to create a magic circle with the fence as a fuse. Should anything larger than a bird pass over the stone fence, the gate would unlock and open discreetly. One door of the gate was for how many people passed over, and the other the relative size of the people entering. 

Looking across the settlement for any clues to see if someone had passed by but not entered, she nodded to herself after reconfirming with her skills that nothing had passed by. “Don’t have to do a sweep around the perimeter. Come on Boary, let’s go get some food ready.” Rolling her sleeves up, she led the way to her fields to pick over her fields.

She didn’t notice how Boary’s eyes changed blue to red, before slowly returning back to normal.

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