Otherwordly Reincarnation: The Hag Son
Otherworldly Reincarnation: The Hag Son
Part 1: Anacrusis
"...I'm so gonna get my ass beat for this later."
I groaned internally, as I ran through the Slough, passing tree after familiar tree. I was making my way towards where I'd found that Ferhel earlier today, still fresh and bloodied from its encounter with the Fractured Bog Bear.
The Fracture... it sounded so horrifying a disease. I would have to be careful. Bites and scratches may not have spread it, but until I knew exactly what did, I'd be in constant danger. Every stream I paused by for a sip could be a potential threat. In the Slough of Flatdown, you didn't need to look far to find a threat, either. They were all over the place.
I nearly jumped as I ran, when the screeching of a bird broke my pattern of thought. I stumbled and looked up, hesitantly, to where the sound came from. Up there, in one of the trees, sat a familiar breed of bird. The Clux bird. I couldn't tell how, but in some way, it seemed as though it felt impressed with itself, having managed to startle me.
Could it have been the same bird I tried to kill that time before...?
I wiped that notion away, before bending down to pick up a rock, straightening up, and tossing it towards the bird. With yet another screech, it up and flew off. Good riddance.
I ran on, until I found the spot where I found the Ferhel today. A darker cluster of trees, more intertwined than some others, but overall no different from the sprawling landscape of mud and blood.
It was as stormy a day as ever, with dark clouds looming over up top, threatening to pour rain down upon my head in the instant they felt like it. There was no predicting such clouds. You knew they would bring rain, just never when. When it'd start, nor when it'd stop.
With a sigh, I bent down, inspecting the spot where the Ferhel had settled with its broken, twisted limbs. The muddy indentation was still there. I was practically at the border of Margretka's territory now. Going any further than this would be to invite chaos upon myself. But It's not like I had a choice by this point. I had poisoned Margretka with the paralytic Limbo Leaf.
...technically she poisoned me first, and on many more occasions, but this wasn't exactly the same. When she poisoned me, she never left my side.
I almost paused right then and there, kneeling over the dead thing's final place of rest. Was this the right choice...? I did what I did in earnest, in a rush of a decision. I wasn't thinking clearly, I just... acted. Was it a stupid thing to do...?
I shook that thought off. Margretka would just have to forgive me when I returned. I forgave her plenty. Mainly because if I didn't, she'd likely devour my flesh then and there, but still!
I took a deep, heavy breath, and took my mind off the hag, putting it to other things. I let my eyes trace the lines in the mud, leading from where I found the Ferhel, to deeper into the swampy woodland. The direction it had crawled from, which would eventually lead me to the place where it'd been attacked.
From there, I could track the Bog Bear itself, and find this 'cave' it was hiding in. Just to be sure, I muttered [Identification] whilst staring at the tracks, only to confirm what I already knew.
Well, I'm not sure the first two tidbits were all that helpful, but 'Ferhel tracks' certainly helped.
I thumbed over my arrows, as I straightened myself, bit my lip harshly, and took off, following the trail close, keeping my pace steady enough to maintain level stamina, but careful enough to avoid making too much noise.
Noise was what most things hunted by, in this swamp. It was difficult to hunt by smell, given that everything, even the trees and ground reeked of rot and decay. Mushrooms and fungus grew over most things that were dead, each permeating their own deathly stenches.
The one smell that would stand out in the Slough was that of blood. An open wound was the equivalent of shooting a flare up into the sky - a flare that erupted into the bright, tangled words proclaiming 'here I am, wounded and ripe for the picking!'.
I would have to keep myself a good distance from the Bog Bear when I found it, I thought to myself as I followed the trail quietly, through the blackened trees and moisture, wandering away from everything familiar to me. The moment I let it wound me, scratch me but a little, I'd lose any and all hopes of returning to Margretka alive.
Until I arrived at and witnessed the cave for myself, I wouldn't be able to come up with an accurate battle plan, but hopefully I'd be able to find some way to keep a distance from the beast as I riddled it with arrows.
I tracked on, eyes constantly on the tracks. I heard something flutter behind me. When I turned and knocked an arrow out of instinct, I felt my nerves untangle when I was met with the sight of the Clux bird yet again. It didn't make a sound this time, only watched me. Watched as I strayed, wandered farther and farther from home. Well, no matter... If the thing had an interest in me, then so be it. I wasn't going to waste an arrow on it, only to risk falling out of a tree again to get it back. Something told me that if I came close to death again, Jaga wouldn't be there to pull me out of it this time.
Ah, Jaga... what an odd thing to think about. The first outsider I'd ever met, I thought, as I followed along the trail, ignoring the occasional fluttering of wings that followed me.
She offered Margretka the opportunity to 'teach' me, to help expand on my [Alchemist] skill, but how exactly did Margretka link that to her 'using' me for her 'political games'? I knew too little about politics as it was, to understand. It never interested me back in my old world. Back there, the world I understood was that of games and RPGs, of heroes with powers (often times magical) which would serve to help said heroes save the world.
Honestly, a boy in a mushroomy swamp raised by a single-eyed hag did not by any means sound like the beginnings of a hero. It only made sense, I suppose, considering who brought me to this world in the first place. A measly Class D in my original world, a measly Class D in this one. But that didn't change the fact that my title was [Hero]. A title had a meaning, it had weight. And like any good hero, I needed to win battles to prove myself first, show I deserved that title.
And I for damn sure was gonna prove that I had every right to it.
Maybe another day, I could take Jaga up on her offer myself, 'political games' be damned. But first came this. First came the proving.
After about twenty minutes of tracking, I found that the trail led to a decline - a sharp one, at that. It was as though the mouldy mud ground just collapsed and gave in, to a short ravine of sorts. It was rocky, dirty, yet not too dark. The trail got deeper here, just at the muddy edge of the not-too-deep ravine. Deep, as though the Ferhel had to sink its broken, bleeding legs deep into the mud and stone to try and climb its way up.
Seems I was getting closer.
After having walked for as long as I had, I imagined that the Ferhel would still have had to have had a lot of energy to make its way up this ravine wall. When I found it in Margretka's territory, it was out of energy, well bled-out already. Which could only mean that, from where I stood now, at the edge of the muddy, rocky ravine, the site of the attack must've been close.
However, that also meant that... I would have to jump down into this muddy-ass ravine. There was some running water at the bottom. Not a lot, as of right now, only a tiny stream. Though I imagined it picked up a bit, when it started to rain heavily. This was one of the quieter periods of the Slough of Flatdown, the rare occasions when it didn't rain very much. That must've meant that the Ferhel was down there when there wasn't much rain, and the weather had only been so tame for the past three or so hours. Good, I was making headway.
I shuddered, as I stared down into the murkier parts of the descent, before stepping back and having a look around. This was the farthest I'd ever been from home, in my entire new life. Was that normal, for a five-year-old boy? Maybe in this world. Still, I couldn't knock off that ever-present sense of danger. Out of Margretka's territory meant out of the embrace of safety. I couldn't count on a hundred-foot run back to the hut to safe me. Around here, I could only count on myself.
I took a breath, as I approached the edge once more, and began my descent, carefully placing one foot down, finding a rock that didn't move too much to place my foot on, then another, and yet another. I had mud on my hands, mud on my front, mud on my face, but none of it bothered me by this point. I was reborn in mud. Raised on mud and blood. This was the sort of thing I was born to embrace.
I finally put my last foot down, and like that, I was at the bottom of the short ravine drop, only a few feet from the stream. The descent I had just taken couldn't have been more then five metres. I stepped away from the wall, closer to the stream, bending down to look at it more closely. I almost wanted to drink from it, but... with the threat of the Fracture, I knew better than that. Still, my throat was rather parched after all that walking and climbing. If only my legs weren't so damn short!
I looked around and found the trail quickly enough, more drag marks through the mud, along with dots of red that had already sunk into the ground, for the most part. I had to have been close by now...
I followed along, but it wasn't even ten steps before I noticed shadowed, bulging shapes sticking out of the mud not far ahead. Almost circular shapes, about the size of a Ferhel... my eyes widened somewhat, as I bent down and took the bow off my back, approaching the scene of the attack with quiet, controlled steps.
It was a massacre.
As I approached, I nearly cursed as my nostrils were invaded by the stench of blood. Clux birds were present, circling far, far overhead, while some were already here, sitting atop the corpses of several scattered Ferhel corpses, one even caught in the tiny stream. Good thing I didn't drink from it, then.
I couldn't count exactly how many were dead, given that a couple looked to be torn to literal pieces. But If I had to wager a guess, it'd be... seven, not including the Ferhel that managed to crawl away. Which meant that this little pack of Ferhels originally had eight members in total. So this was the site of the attack... the bottom of this ravine. And it showed.
The tracks in the mud were all over the place, random dismembered limbs, and even a large, torn-out eyeball lay off to the side. A Clux bird sat on that too, plucking at the pale flesh of it. I put a single hand against my mouth, the stench of blood quickly becoming too intense. Oh God. Oh good God.
This was too much. I felt my knees shiver, as bile crawled up the back of my throat, but I quickly swallowed it back down, and took a deep, heavy breath, holding it in. The stench practically made my eyes tear up.
I couldn't stay here. Any other predator merely had to catch a whiff of this, and they'd be running over here faster than I could run away. In fact, I pondered momentarily why the only scavengers here who'd found the corpses within three hours were Clux birds, until I remembered, of course... this was a ravine. The wind blew through it at the moment, not over it. The moment the wind decided to change direction, or something decided to approach the edges of the ravine downwind of this position, then the real feast would begin.
I quickly set my gaze to the floor, looking around at the tracks, muttering to myself among the corpses. I had to be fast. Even if the wind wasn't going to change in moments, these Clux birds were amassing. The more I searched, the more of them flocked around, landing and picking at the corpses of the ravaged Ferhels.
But some didn't eat. Some just sat, and watched, stared at me as I desperately tried to find the Bog Bear's tracks. What were they waiting for...? I knew that Clux birds, when in large flocks, could overpower and kill a small animal easily, but- Oh, Hell.
I was rather small too, wasn't I?
My grip tightened on my bow, as though it could help me in this situation, but as I looked around in hurry, I finally found what I sought. Footprints, unlike the others. Footprints belonging to something large, for sure, seeing as how the paw prints were bigger and seemed to sink much deeper into the mud than the Ferhels tracks. Something that walked on all fours. Four long-ish claws on the front two paws, four shorter claws on the back two...
A Bog Bear, what else could it be? Margretka taught me a lot about the creatures of the Slough. Taught me their behaviours, their appetites, what to look for in their tracks. There's still a lot she has yet to teach me about them, clearly, given that I only just learned about bloody Swamp Dragons. But still! I learned enough for this particular hunt.
Even so, I muttered [Identification] once more.
Bog Bear tracks
Hm. Saturation was higher in this area. Whatever that meant. Wasn't saturation salt, or something of the sort? Curious, that it'd be higher in this place... then again, perhaps that had to do with when it rained harder and this little ravine filled up with water.
Regardless, I was sure now. Bog Bear tracks. I was on the right trail.
Bog Bears were nighttime hunters, and this attack happened very early in the morning. They rarely fought for pleasure, unless it was other Bog Bears and they were fighting for territory, or when they were protecting their young. The males had a tendency to eat their young if the mother wasn't around to stop them. They typically only ever fought for food, to satiate their hunger. After all, they were big creatures, they didn't move too much unless they had to - moving meant burning energy, and they needed a lot of energy to sustain their massive bodies. But this was no ordinary Bog Bear. It was Fractured. Not in its right state of mind.
I was following along the new trail before I knew it - a much easier trail to keep track of. Bog Bears were easy to track, for just about any creature. But there were few creatures out here crazy enough to actually try hunting them. There lied the danger in these beasts. They were tanky. Their flesh was tougher than leather, and they had a lot of it too.
I blinked in surprise, the noise startling the hell out of me. What the Hell was that-?!
Developed [Tracker] skill
[Identification] has gained a level!
Name - Boy (Bram Engels)
Title(s) - [Hero] [Hag Son] [Child of the Hunt] [Yhm'tru]
Age - 5
Sex - Male
Lvl - 4
HP - 68/68
MP - 20/20
Atck - 10
Dex - 51
Def - 19
MRes - 41
Class - Leviathan Alchemist
Blessing - None
Skills - [Hero Skill - Soldier of Fortune LV1], [Identification LV3], [Archery LV2], [Alchemy LV4] [Poison Resistance LV2], [Tracker LV1]
Even tracking served as a skill, in this world?! I would never understand it, I swear. But I suppose this was good, in some ways. I couldn't understand how exactly it helped, but when I looked from the [Status] menu back to the tracks, nothing really seemed all that different. I suppose the tracks seemed a bit clearer? Or was I just telling myself that...?
I shook my head and looked back at the [Status]. Good to see [Identification] slowly levelling up, it would eventually prove invaluable to me in the long run, no doubt. Now... something I hadn't checked before was my new title, [Yhm'tru]. That... that meant absolutely nothing to me. What was up with that?!
I mean, the other titles I could at least figure out somehow! I got [Child of the Hunt] after I first hunted and killed a Ferhel, I got [Hag Son] because rather obviously, I was raised by a hag. The [Hero] title also needed no explanation. But how was I meant to figure this one out!? Unless...
I thought crossed my mind. If I could use [Identification] on anything physical to understand its properties, then could I use it on the [Status] menu as well...?! I couldn't have been impossible!
Eyes dead set on the title of [Yhm'tru], I muttered an [Identification]...
...only for some red text to appear at the very top of the [Status] menu.
'Skill [Identification] must be LV5 to perform this action.'
Well, that was some bullshit. I sighed and closed the menu. Level 5 at least, eh? That could be done! After I finished up with this Bog Bear, I'd commit to overusing the [Identification] skill on every little thing I could, to level it up! The sooner I understood this title, the better I'd feel about having it permanently attached to my [Status].
...that is, if titles could be changed at all. I pondered that for a second, before continuing on the way, following the trail upwind of the ravine. A great advantage, for it wouldn't be able to smell me coming.
And I didn't intend for it to know I'd be there, even as it died by my silent arrow in the dark.
An hour later...
The taste of iron was on the tip of my tongue, permeating from the back of my throat. Tired breath after tired breath, I wandered forward, the trail getting fresher and fresher by the second.
I was gaining on its position now!
The trail had taken me out of the ravine and onto a rockier, steeper trail. Before I knew it, I was approaching a site that Margretka had often spoken to me about, but never said much about it, either out of distaste, or of fear. And fear wasn't easy to imagine in the woman.
It was a rocky site. Quite literally. The more I followed the trail, the more the trees and hollow oaks gave way to massive stones, some in piles, others simply singular and huge. Taller even than Margretka's hut, than my house back in the other world!
A graveyard of stone, you could say. If you wanted to be dramatic about it.
Still, I was in awe. Margretka told me little about this area. What she did tell me was never to go here, and that the story behind it was complicated. She said very little on it. That, thousands of moons past, the world had been inhabited by Golems, of massive proportions which lived close to the nearby range of mountains. Hell, some say they were the mountains.
But that was just the thing... they were a thing of the past. Whether the massive stones I passed by truly were the remains of a once-living, incomprehensibly giant being was beyond me to know, seeing as Margretka was far too cryptic about the whole thing. But she warned full well - 'ancient magic still permeates the place'. Nothing good could come of it.
I slowed down, eyes still on the trail, and went over, off to the side for a moment, to sit on a smaller piece of stone - just the right size for me. I was getting tired. My legs hadn't yet been accustomed to such long treks.
There were still a few trees around - though extremely sparse. If anything, they were greener than other trees, if only by a little. They seemed... less dead, somehow. Some grew alone, others grew over the rocks and stones, roots embedding into them and splitting them apart over the course of time...
Vegetation grew too, familiar plants here and there. The Fatal Smile, the Limbo Leaf, the Red Rain, even the rather ordinary Hollow Ferns. Well, kind of ordinary. They sort of... twitched, and moved every other second despite there being no wind to speak of, but such was their nature.
It was quite a place. Shame I was breathing too hard to enjoy it.
I was beginning to think that this course of action may have been a mistake.
I let myself breath for a few more minutes, moving a thumb over my arrows and counting them, one by one. 13. I had 13 arrows on me at the moment. My bow was still strong, still felt strong despite the ever-present moisture. Although, it was beginning to bend a tiny bit more than it should have, along the middle.
A caw made me jump where I sat, as I looked up towards the source. Clux bird. A single Clux bird, staring at me once more. No way, was it... was it the same Clux bird as before...?! Again?!
No, no no no... it had to have been one of the birds from the attack site, one of them must've followed me! But what reason would a scavenger bird have to follow me, unless it-
...unless it... knew I was going to die.
That's what these birds did. Followed lonely or wounded creatures until they perished. This bird... it must've known the Bog Bear was close.
Well, then, good. It wouldn't be feeding on my corpse, that was for sure! A hero's end couldn't be so redundant. I got up, ready to follow the trail again, but as soon as I looked down the direction where the trail led, I froze...
...a cave. It was... right there. The trail led into a cave... It was as though the massive stones caught against one-another perfectly, making a sort of dark cavern with a stone roof, that almost sunk into the ground.
A cave, just like Margretka said. I made it.
I was here.
I stared at it in disbelief for a couple minutes, a cold sensation gripping me. Well, this was it, then. I had made it to the location of the Bog Bear.
And yet, I only stared, and stared, and then stared some more.
I couldn't take the step forward... but... why was that? This was what I spent half the day tracking, this was what I tired myself out for, travelled farther from home than I'd ever been for!
And yet now, in the presence of my goal, I couldn't move my legs.
Maybe I should've gained more levels first...? Killed some more Ferhels, a few that actually moved?! My [Archery] skill was still only LV2! I couldn't... no, no no no...
In desperation, I looked back towards the Clux bird in a nearby tree... and without thinking, I pulled up the bow, knocked an arrow, took aim in an instant and let loose.
It struck. The Clux bird released a final 'caw' of panic, jumping to spread its wings, but it didn't get a chance to fly away, ending up pinned against the tree.
Okay... I did that. I killed that damn bird, and yet... [Archery] didn't level up yet. I didn't gain a level. Nothing happened. It was just dead, and I was down one arrow. I now had 12.
I lowered the bow in my shaking hand, staring at the dead Clux bird, caught dead because it lowered its guard, underestimated me. Thought If I missed once, that I would miss again. Blood ran down the branch in tiny droplets, bit by bit. It never stood a chance.
And what chance, exactly, did I stand?
I tried to calm my breathing as I approached the tree... maybe it was time to return already, to Margretka. Hang my head in shame and beg for understanding, for forgiveness. Explain that I only wanted to do the right thing, before it was too late...
...only... that would be a lie, wouldn't it? I didn't care about doing the right thing as much as I did about saving the bloody day. I was a hero, and all that, I had the title to prove it.
But look at me now, standing in the cold embrace of the stone graveyard, unable to even move towards that cave. Unable to... to...
I stared at the Clux bird, high up in the tree. No... the plan, was... It was to kill the Bog Bear from a distance... even Margretka told me an arrow could kill it. I couldn't come back to her now, after so long, with nothing to show for it.
I couldn't let what I did to her be meaningless.
I watched the blood drip more and more, as an idea slowly came to me. A simple idea - so simple. But... If I did It all right, then... I might have done the trick.
I nodded to myself slowly, seeing a puzzle piece come together in my head. I was scared. Nothing about that changed, I was practically trembling, but with a steeling of my nerves, I put it all together in my head... and began to climb the tree.
Some time later...
A low growl rumbled from the depths of the cave. A growl that served as an announcement to all outside, in its territory. 'If you hear this, then you're already dead'. Heavy footstep after heavy footstep came, moment after moment, as the huge, dark shape of the Bog Bear lurked out from within the depths of the ancient cavern borne from the corpses of elder things.
It stalked out, taller than any natural bear. Bulkier than the world's strongest man. Fur as dark as the mud under its massive, clawed feet. It pushed itself out of the cave, revealing its scarred features. Only one eyes, the other marked off with a scratch, likely from a past opponent. A past opponent who could not have won, not by any means.
Red cracks broke the fur along its back, along its legs. Red cracks that shined like a pool of blood in the bright light of the moon.
What emerged was no ordinary creature, it was a monster. The type of thing that'd have bounties placed on its life in local Adventurer Guilds, or Bounty Halls.
It emerged because evening had come, and the sun was setting low over the horizon soon.
It emerged because it had slept for too long, mind anxious, scratching, itching to kill.
It emerged because it smelled something.
Smelled something decidedly familiar. Its favourite scent, as a matter of fact.
It caught a trace of movement. Its single working eye, tainted by the red light of the Fracture that ached it, all over its body, centred on the movement. A little shape, dark and familiar, dancing around. A shape that was typically too high up to touch. A Clux bird.
It was twitching, on its feet, at the foot of a rock slathered in its blood. One of its wings was bent out of shape, broken. The smell of blood was an arousing one. The Bog Bear lowered itself, approached at a steady, careful pace. It'd killed not long ago, but it hadn't eaten in a while. And never once had it ever tasted the tantalising roamers of the sky.
The bird was looking away, still shifting around in its blood pool... The Bog Bear leapt and in an instant crunched its jaws fully around the bird. It couldn't even emit a noise before it'd died.
The Bog Bear swallowed its prey, tasty blood oozing down its throat, satiating every fibre of its being.
And yet... it tasted strange. The Bog Bear never feasted on such a thing, so it expected foreign flavours, but to this degree...?
And that was when a funny sensation erupted, spread out across its body... It shifted around, confused, uncertain...
Unknowing of the arrow that was aimed at its head from right up above. I let loose from my position up the tree, never making a sound. It penetrated the creature through the back of its neck, and like that, with a loud groan, it collapsed on the spot.
I took a deep breath, held it for a long moment, and let it go. The thing went down like a sack of stones, unmoving. I put the bow across my back, before slowly making my way down the tree, now making sure to be more careful of my descent, avoiding a swift death-by-falling.
When my feet touched the ground, and I was comfortable again, I stared at the dead thing from several feet off. It looked dead for sure, dead as a door nail. My eyes went down to the pool of blood where I'd left the body of the little Clux bird - now devoured by the beast.
Getting up to the tree to get my arrow back was simple enough -as was collecting the bird's corpse- but what proved to be the more troublesome of the tasks was opening up the bird's corpse with an arrow shaft without breaking its body too much, and stuffing it with the naturally twitching Hollow Fern, and the ever-reliable Limbo Leaf.
...of course, to actually paralyse the Bog Bear, as I predicted, I'd need a lot of Limbo Leaf. More than I could gather. But even the small amount I managed to stuff into the Clux bird was enough to render it confused and numb, it seemed.
It was a bit of a risky gamble, that play. Clux birds weren't meant to be eaten - any sorts of scavengers that ate rotten flesh were bound to give me stomach problems. But for a recently awoken and likely hungry Bog Bear? It was entirely possible.
I smiled to myself lowly, as the shaking started up again. I did it...! I really did it!
Much like a hero in an old Slavic tale I once heard back in my own world - of how a dragon was terrorising farmers and shepherds, until a young boy, a hero, got the idea to stuff a sheep's carcass with intense spices and feeding it to the dragon. The spices were so intense, the dragon flew to a river and drank, drank, drank until it was full, then drank more until it exploded.
Okay, granted, nothing here exploded, and what I actually did was stuff a bird's carcass with herbs, rather than spices, but it worked out in the end. In a way, perhaps I was my own hero.
I inspected the Bog Bear for a long time, finally deciding to mutter [Identification].
Fractured Bog Bear
Lvl - 17
Sex - Male
Species Summary - Bog Bears, also known in the Southern countries as Breachers, are a large population of subspecies of bear that reside in the Slough of Flatdown, and its nearby surrounding forests. Second largest known subspecies of bear, after the presently extinct Haunter Bears. Aside from the distinguishing size and dark pelt, a Bog Bear can be identified by a "dished in" profile of their face with short, rounded ears, whereas every other species of bear has a straight face profile and longer ears. Known to be the most overpowering subspecies, but among the least brutal and bloodthirsty.
What the hell?! An entire new level of [Identification] had been opened up here! I read through the information, excitedly, in near awe. Haunter Bears...? Never heard of them, nor had I even known about these distinguishing features. I suppose this was what levelling up [Identification] would get me... it was a whole lot more useful than I could have imagined!
As I read through it, I carefully reached out to grab my arrow out of the beast's head...
However, as soon as I wrapped my fingers around the shaft, I felt something shift... My eyes shot to the bear in an instant, only to meet its single, open eye, staring right into mine... and at that moment, a thought occurred to me. If this thing was Level 17, why hadn't I heard the 'ding' that told me I levelled up, considering my level was so low by comparison...?
A low growl started up in the belly of the beast, as it began to bare its teeth. It... wasn't dead.
I felt my eyes widen...
As the monster reared up and pounced on me.
To be Continued...