Chapter 6

The Hills Are Alive

        Musette continued through the city, heading towards the wall she could see in the distance. Unlike the western side of the city, the eastern side had a large, stone wall surrounding it. The wall extended over the Eryth River, with large watergates that controlled the entry of boats, but didn’t extend much past the river to the west.
        As she jogged, Musette looked at the threat levels of the people around her. Every PC was threat level 0, like herself. NPCs varied greatly, however, ranging from a threat level of 0 to the highest she saw being a threat level 56. That was an older looking goblin woman who seemed to be sitting on the side of the road acting as a beggar.
        Curious, Musette approached the old woman. No one else seemed to be paying her any attention. She was dressed in brownish rags, and what hair she had was stringy and lustreless. She was shaking a wooden bowl and the pitiful sound of a single coin rattling around could be heard. The old woman looked over as Musette walked up to her, but didn’t say anything.
        “Hi ma’am,” she said, “do you need any help?”
        “Oh, aye,” the goblin responded, her bowl stopped shaking, “even a single coin twould be a great help to this old crone.”
        Suppressing a grimace, Musette took out one of her rapidly decreasing Tin coins and tossed it into the bowl. The old woman gave her a toothless smile, snatching the coin before it hit the bowl and secreting it somewhere in her rags. “You seem like a generous young adventurer. Be careful if you’re heading into Makit territory, especially at night. They run regular patrols near Arkeport, and hassle lone travelers.”
        “That’s good advice,” Musette replied, “thank you.”
        The old goblin nodded, then began shaking her bowl again, the single coin rattling forlornly.
        Shrugging, Musette jogged off, looking for the gates to leave the city. She found them, and saw a guard station where guards were checking everyone entering the city. As she was leaving, no one even glanced at her, and she continued out into the fields outside.
        The area to the southeast of Arkeport was all rolling hills, leading into the mountains that could be seen in the distance. Arkeport was actually located in a valley formed by some of the shorter hills. The hills themselves were mostly dirt rather than rock, and were lightly forested. Musette continued jogging, looking for mobs to kill.
        She was not the only person leaving the city, other players were heading out singly or in small groups, looking for hunting locations. The area was extensive, so it seemed unlikely that they’d have trouble finding their own places to hunt, even on launch day. Normally launch around a starting town in a new MMO would be so crowded it’d be impossible to find anything to hunt, and there’d be rampant kill stealing, but the scale of Chronicles eliminated that issue.
        Jogging up a hill, Musette spotted a group fighting some sort of wild sheep with large horns. They weren’t having that great a time of it, however, since the sheep travelled in a flock, the rams guarding the rest. Musette went wide around them, heading for a copse where the trees were a bit thicker together. There Musette found her first target.
        The creature was a large rodent of some type, like a mouse the size of a housecat, but with no tail. It was chewing on plants growing at the foot of one of the trees, but stopped when Musette got near, eyeing her warily. Musette drew her sword and her shield, but the giant mouse didn’t move, just kept watching her. It was threat level 2, so Musette approached it slowly.
        When she was just a few feet away, it suddenly charged at her. Musette held her shield in front of her, but it ended up being too small, and the mouse bit Musette on the ankle for 43 damage. Wincing, she tried swinging her sword at it, but it swiftly moved to the side avoiding the blade.
        Musette quickly squatted down, making herself a smaller target, but also getting her close to the mouse. It was fast, and it did way more damage than she’d been expecting from a mere threat 2 creature. This time when it charged at her, hissing nastily, Musette was able to respond, not with her shield, but with her sword, dealing a heavy slash along the giant mouse’s side, then she rolled away avoiding its attack.
        The mouse didn’t seem at all phased by her attack, and whipped around to run at her again. This time Musette dodged to the side first, then thrust her sword forward in a piercing attack, at the same time yelling, “Power Strike!” As she thrust her sword towards the mouse, she felt her grip on her sword tighten and her wrist twist slightly as the system took over with the ability activation. It cost her 15 BP, but when the thrust hit the mouse squealed and faltered in its rush. There was a faint tinge of blood on its side as well where her blade had struck.
        Musette continued dodging the giant mouse and attacking it from the side. This was only possible because its attack pattern was rather simple. When she was sure she had a certain shot, she’d used Power Strike to deal additional damage. Even though it had a delay of 1.3 seconds she didn’t have any other abilities she needed to use.
        Including Power Strikes, it took Musette 14 attacks and more than a minute to kill the giant mouse. She was breathing heavily when it finally fell, as her energy had dropped below half. She’d also taken a second attack during the fight, which she’d managed to catch on her shield reducing the damage to 39. She had learned that blocking the mouse’s bite with her shield gave her a chance to get in two attacks, but it wasn’t worth it for the amount of damage she took.
        She had expected the body of the giant mouse to turn to light and disappear or something, but it just lay there. Next to it, a bit of its fur had fallen out. Musette picked up the fur, it was surprisingly soft, and put it in her bag, then checked what was in the bag. The fur was listed as ‘Shillat Fur’, which meant that the giant mouse must be known as a shillat.
        Musette took a quick break, eating some bread to recover her BP. Noticing that some of the shillat’s blood was still on her sword, she wiped it off on the body. After that, she continued to hunt for other things to fight. She fought more shillats, as well as a couple of wild dogs. The wild dogs were only threat level 1, but usually came two to three at a time, so were actually harder to fight. She did spot some other people fighting in the area, but generally avoided them unless they looked like they needed help.
        She did see one player who had climbed a tree, and was using magic to attack a group of wild dogs. That made Musette regret not choosing a ranged weapon. It would certainly be much easier than facing them head on. Of course, as she later found out, shillats could climb with ease, and were actually more dangerous in the trees.
        Musette exited the copse, having collected several bundles of fur and teeth from the shillats, and claws and teeth from the wild dogs. Of course, she’d gotten no money from animals, but these were things she could sell in the city for money. There might also be quests she could complete with them.
        In the areas where the trees were a bit thinner, Musette saw more flocks of the big horned wild sheep, as well as some medium sized deer that travelled in groups of two to four. She avoided them however. Among the wild sheep were rams of threat level 3, while the rest were threat level 1, except the young ones which were threat level 0, like her. They’d be easy to kill, but each flock contained no less than 10 creatures, and often more than twice that. The deer were only threat level 2, but fighting a single threat level 2 enemy was already pretty difficult for Musette.
        As she was walking, looking for enemies to attack, she caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. Instinctively, Musette put her shield up, and something slammed into it, doing 1 physical damage to her. Excited that she may have found an easy enemy, Musette backed up to see what had attacked her.
        What she saw was a small snake, banded in green, brown and gold. It blended into the grass and plants pretty well, and probably used that to launch surprise attacks, like the one she’d just blocked. It was threat level 4.
        Musette frowned as the snake hissed at her angrily. She’d thought it would be a weak creature because it did barely any damage, but if threat level 2 was difficult, threat level 4 was deadly. Musette tried to back away, but unlike the wild sheep and shillats which wouldn’t chase you, the snake zipped right towards her. Crap, it was fast, the only way she’d be able to get away from it would be to turn and run at full speed. She was too scared to turn her back on it though, and then it did something even more frightening. In the middle of moving it paused for a fraction of a second, bunching itself up, then launched itself right at her face like a spring.
        It was moving too fast for Musette to dodge it, and it didn’t seem like she was going to be able to get her shield up in time, so she used the other Ability she had learned. “Sidestep!” she shouted, desperately.
        Musette felt her feet move on their own in a pattern her body unconsciously followed, as her BP, MP and SP all dropped, and she used up a lot of energy. Somehow though, she was able to dodge the snake, and watched as it flew past her face back to the ground. It immediately slithered a circle around her, then launched itself at her again, but this time she was able to block it once again with her shield. In addition, she was able to get an attack in on it when it hit her shield. She wanted to use Power Strike, but she was still on delay from using Sidestep, which had a full 4s delay.
        The snake hissed at her angrily, then slithered away to disappear into the underbrush. Musette frowned, wondering if she should chase after it. Deciding not to, she started to turn around, when she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder, and it began throbbing. The stupid snake had gone around behind her, and bitten her with its sharp fangs for 176 damage! That was almost as much damage as Ryan had done with the haft of his spear.
        Musette turned around quickly, but the snake had disappeared into the underbrush again. The wound on her shoulder was still throbbing, and she was feeling slightly sick. She looked at her BP bar, but there were no indicators next to it as she expected. Still, the sick feeling didn’t go away, and Musette was sure she’d been poisoned by the snake. She really wanted to run away, but didn’t dare let her guard down.
        She once again caught movement out of the corner of her eye, and activated Sidestep again. Sidestep seemed to mostly affect her feet, so Musette tried to see if she could move her arms while it was activated. It ended up almost doubling the energy cost of Sidestep, which was already pretty steep, but she was able to actually hit the snake with her shield, knocking it out of the air. It fell to the ground, appearing slightly stunned.
        Musette dashed forward, stabbing it three times quickly, before it zipped away again. This time she was able to follow it with her eyes, and blocked it when it launched itself at her again. She was off delay, so she hit it with a Power Strike while holding it off with her shield. That ended up being just enough to finish it off.
        ~Papan!~ Due to your high Creativity and experience, your Ability Judgement has evolved.
        Musette was breathing heavily, and her shoulder still throbbed, but her eyes brightened at the system notification. She quickly thought *Ability* and looked over the changes to Judgement.

The Ability to judge the strength of others. While active will display the relative strength of all targets, as well as their level of hostility.

        The change wasn’t large, but it allowed her to also tell if people were hostile to her. That would definitely be useful, as she’d be able to tell which mobs would attack her on sight, and which wouldn’t.
        The snake had also dropped its long fangs, listed as ‘Kingspear Fangs’. Being from such a strong mob, they were probably worth quite a lot, but she was still suffering the effects from fighting the kingspear snake. The fight had ended, and she should be recovering BP, but it was still at 208. She tried eating a round of bread. Her Satiety increased as normal, but her BP still remained the same. Her shoulder also continued to throb. She’d definitely been poisoned by the kingspear snake. Luckily, this wasn’t like poison in most games where your BP steadily counted down, but it did seem to stop normal healing. Her MP and SP were recovering normally, however, so at least it wasn’t too bad.
        Musette decided to continue heading east. She was a couple of hours out from Arkeport, so should be nearing the border with Makit Imperial State. There should be an outpost there.

        Musette travelled for another hour, running into another kingspear snake, as well as some threat 2 goats with long horns called ibex, as the forest area thinned out and the hills got higher. Her BP was down to 186 when she finally spotted a small fort guarding a pass between two particularly large, rocky hills. Well, it could hardly be called a fort, it was more just a stone wall blocking the path. The sun was setting, and there was no one else around.
        As she approached, she saw guards standing in front of the gate in the wall, dressed in bright red and black uniforms. Their threat level was 50, and it was colored yellow, indicating they were aggressive. *Reputation* showed that she was still considered Scum by the Makit, so as she approached she put her sword away, but kept her hand near it, just in case they attacked her.
        “Who are you,” one of the guards sneered as she got closer.
        “I’m an adventurer of Arkeport, looking to pass through,” Musette replied. “I was also wondering if I could sell some of the materials I picked up along the way.”
        “Adventurer, huh? Let’s see your ID.”
        Musette blinked. She hadn’t been given an ID. She checked her inventory, but all she saw was the food she’d bought, her club, and the various items she’d picked up. There was also her journal...which was a magical book. Taking it out she passed it over to the guard, who opened it up to the front page and glanced over it.
        ~Ping~ You have been authorized to enter Makit Imperial State.
        A brief notification went by, and the guard handed the journal back to her with a wide smile. “Okay your identity has been verified. There’s just a small toll of 5T for border crossing.”
        ~Ping~ Your Judgement has allowed you to determine that this statement is a lie.
        Musette frowned, both because she was already running low on money, and because of the notification. After a brief hesitation, she replied, “I thought there was only a charge for entering the country for merchants. I’m clearly an adventurer.”
        The guard glared at her, and Musette kept her expression neutral. She didn’t know if there was a charge for merchants to pass through the border, but it seemed likely. The guard didn’t call her bluff, and just sighed, waving her through.
        Musette didn’t go through quite yet though. “Is there anywhere I can sell materials and restock my supplies nearby?” she asked.
        “Stay on the road and there’s an inn about two miles out,” the other guard replied. He was more soft spoken than the first guard, his voice neutral and disinterested. “They cater to travelers, so they have supplies and they buy materials to resell to merchants that pass through. Now go on, you’re holding up the line.”
        There was no one else visible in the vicinity, but it wasn’t worth arguing with them, so Musette continued through the gate. There were two more guards on the other side, these threat 63 and 65. They glared at her as she passed through, making her skin crawl. She walked away casually, not wanting to draw their attention, and began jogging again as soon as they were out of sight.
        Coming to Makit may have been a bad idea, considering her reputation here. Apparently they didn’t really care for people from Arkeport. She was definitely in unfriendly territory.
        The road was little more than a path well worn by foot and wagon prints, but no one was on it this late but her. Two miles was less than a half hour jog, but the road wound around the hills, so it was very dark by the time she arrived at the Grand Imperial Inn.
        The Grand Imperial Inn was a wide, two story building built of highly polished wood. There was a stable, and several wagons parked nearby. The front door was the type that swung either way, and didn’t have a knob, so Musette pushed it open and headed inside.
        The inside was a wide hall, with a fireplace at one end of it, and tables scattered around. It was still warm, so the fireplace wasn’t lit. At the back there was a counter, with a heavyset human behind it. There were young women walking from a back room out to the tables, bringing food and drink.  In the middle of the room was a small raised platform, on which a young man was sitting, playing a soft melody on a strangely shaped harp.
        This was Musette’s first time in an actual medieval style inn, and it had just the atmosphere she’d been expecting from books and games. She wasn’t sure if she could just take a seat, so she went to the counter in the back.
        “Hello, I’m an adventurer looking to sell material from the local animals and buy some supplies. I was told you could help me.”
        “Yes, yes, that we can help with. We also got plenty of rooms tonight,” the large man smiled.
        “Um, no, just the supplies will do.”
        “Well, at least stay for a meal. Can’t go out adventuring when you’re weak from hunger,” he insisted.
        He was probably right, and Musette felt hungry, but she didn’t see any point in wasting money on food when she couldn’t heal at the moment. “Maybe,” she replied noncommittally, then began taking out all the parts she had collected from her hunting to show the innkeeper.
        Most of it was bought in batches for a single Tin, although the kingspear fangs were a Tin each, and the ibex horn actually fetched 4 Tin. Musette kept one of the kingspear fangs for herself, just in case. After buying a couple of torches and more drinking water, she had made a profit of 17 Tin.
        “Do you have any antidote for sale?”
        “What kind of antidote,” the innkeeper asked.
        “For kingspear venom.”
        “No, sorry, we don’t carry that here. We only carry antidotes for poisonous plants in the area. People are always eating random plants around here when they run out of food. A good meal is worth it’s weight in gold, I always say.”
        “That’s true...but I really need that kingspear antidote. Those things are all over the foothills around here.”
        The innkeeper sighed, and pointed to a table with three men sitting at it, who were smoking pipes and drinking out of large mugs. “You can try asking those men, one of them should have something.”
        Musette thanked the innkeeper, and walked over to the table. She overheard a bit of their conversation as she got closer.
        “I’m telling you, the price of peppers is going to go up soon throughout the entire region, mark my words.”
        “If the rumors are true about you know what, dyes are going to be the top sellers. That’s what I’m putting my money in.”
        “You can’t depend on rumors, you gotta check the information yourself. That’s a good way to lose a lot of money, hoping a rumor pans out.”
        “Um, excuse me,” Musette interrupted. The three men startled, then glanced over at her. Then each of them took a second look at her, and smiled broadly.
        “Well hello lovely lady, why don’t you have a seat,” the youngest of them, a human whose head was shaved completely bald said.
        “Yes, yes, join us for a drink,” said the middle aged man with blond hair.
        The other middle aged man, whose hair was a light brown, just continued to grin at her.
        “I don’t want a drink,” Musette said, taking a seat, “I actually wanted to see if you could help me.”
        “Of course, anything we can help you with sweet lady,” said the bald man.
        Musette wasn’t sure what to do with this level of flattery, so she ignored it. “Um, I was wondering if any of you had an antidote for kingspear venom.”
        “I do,” announced the brunette man, who’d just been grinning and scratching his bearded cheek. “I deal in all sorts of antidotes and medicines. Also herbs and rare plants, if you’re interested.”
        “Oh, well maybe, but for now, how much is the kingspear antivenom?”
        “It’s 3T a dose,” he replied, while the other two men grumbled and puffed on their pipes. “If you buy 10 doses, I can sell them to you for 28T total. It’s a general antivenom, and will work on most poisons given by snakes or lizards.”
        “Oh, okay. What other kinds of antidotes do you have?”
        “I have spider antivenom, insect antivenom, spider antiparalysis, general antidote, mind antidotes and internal antidotes.”
        “Wait,” Musette said, confused, “what are the general antidotes for?”
        “Oh, they’re for the most common type of poison, called anvis. It can be caused by any number of different animals, insects or plants. Even some of the dull carry it. It’s not fatal, but it does slowly drain your energy, leaving you weak and vulnerable. Most people recover from it on their own eventually, but until they do they’re basically inactive.”
        “ much is that, then? And what are internal antidotes for? Also, what are the dull?”
        The three men looked at each other, then looked at Musette. Finally, the brunette answered, “You know, the dull? The near humanoid species like orcs and trolls and the like, that aren’t truly intelligent, but they can build rudimentary structures and use simple tools? Well, I guess they’re not all humanoid; things like pegasi and veltrae fall into that category, too.”
        “Oooooh,” Musette said, as if she knew what he was talking about. Apparently the dull was the category that most basic mobs that weren’t just animals fell into. In most games, goblins and ogres would fall into that category, too, but in this game they were player species. “So what about internal antidotes?”
        “Those are antidotes for poisons you get from eating or drinking poisonous substances. Those poisons are usually the most dangerous, and are often used by assassins and killers. Most people end up with them from eating unidentified plants and fruits, though.”
        Musette thought about it for a bit. The effect of poison was generally the same from game to game, but how nasty it was varied. This game seemed to have a lot of different poisons though, and that was just one of many possible status effects. The kingspear bite she’d taken had already proven to be one of the nastier effects she’d ever come across. It didn’t drain her life constantly, but it completely nullified healing. Magic healing might work, but as a solo player she didn’t have any to depend on.
        “How much are the general antidotes and the spider antiparalysis medicine?”
        “General antidotes are 2T a piece, while spider antiparalysis is only 1T each.”
        Musette pulled out the kingspear fang she’d kept, and passed it over. “What about this, can I trade it for the kingspear antivenom?”
        The man picked up the fang and looked it over. “Wow, did you kill a kingspear? If you’d brought the venom sacs I could trade it for the antivenom directly, but for the fang I can give you 2 T.”
        In the end, Musette decided to buy 3 doses of reptile antivenom, 3 general antidotes and a single dose of spider antiparalysis. This left her with 14T, but she’d be better prepared going forward.
        While the brunette merchant was digging around in a large bag at his feet, the blond man on her left asked, “You’re a traveler right? I see you have a sword there.”
        “Yes,” Musette said, “I’m an adventurer.”
        “I see, I see. Do you have any knowledge of plants?”
        “Not really….”
        “Ah, too bad. Too bad. There’s a legend of a special plant that grows in the mountains southeast of here - “
        “Hah! Legend,” barked the brunette, “more like an old wives tale.”
        The blond snorted, but ignored him, and continued, “It’s called the Harbinger Flower. It’s supposed to be a beautiful crimson orchid, the same color as the Imperial crimson, in fact.”
        “My grandma said her grandma said they used to grow all over the place,” chimed in the bald man, “until the river got polluted.”
        “Like I said,” added the brunette, “old wives tale.”
        “I’m just saying, if you plan to head to the mountains southeast of here, maybe you could find out if the legends are true? If you can bring me some of these Harbinger Flowers, especially healthy ones that can be cultivated, I’d pay you handsomely for them.”
        Musette frowned. “Aren’t the monsters in that area pretty strong?”
        “Oh yeah, suuuuper deadly stuff living in the mountains. Probably griffins and things up there,” said the brunette.
        “Well, I’m not telling her to rush right out and do it now. I’m not saying you have to go get them now, but if you do happen to see one, please, bring it to me. I travel a route between the Imperial capital, Arkeport and the capital of Feylan. You wait in the market area of any of those cities, and I’ll be by eventually. My name is Colin Dainslaw.”
        “Ah, you can call me Musette,” she replied. The other two merchants introduced themselves The smiling brunette was Quinnith Velder, and the young baldy was Keelm Insen.
        Finishing her transaction with Quinnith, Musette turned to Colin. “I can’t promise anything, and I don’t know that much about plants, but if I come across any crimson orchids, I’ll be sure to bring them to you.”
        Colin smiled, and they explained to her how to use her antidotes. The general antidote was a liquid that came in a little vial, and could be drunk. The spider antiparalysis and the reptile antivenom were pastes, and needed to be rubbed on the affected area. It had to be rubbed directly on her skin, so Musette turned around and undid her tunic, then rubbed it into the snakebite on her shoulder. It started working in just a few seconds, and the queasy feeling she’d had for a while disappeared.
        Finally free of the poison, Musette decided to order a meal. A basic stew with bread cost her 5T. It was pretty average, but it filled her satiety to full, and with water even her hydration was filled. She also quickly healed the BP she’d lost.
        She chatted with the merchants while she ate, or mostly listened to them chatter. She learned a bit about the political relations between Arkeport and the four neighboring countries, and also learned that the intelligent species of this world were referred to generally as ‘the enlightened’.
        She learned that classes were considered gifts from the gods, and not just a collection of knowledge passed down. She also learned that travelling merchants in this game actually travelled. That meant that they wouldn’t just sit waiting for her, so she’d either have to learn their travel path, or wait for them along the way.
        Once she finished eating, Musette bid the merchants goodbye. They tried to cajole her to stay, but Musette had been feeling something for awhile she needed to take care of. She left the inn, walking out into the night, but she didn’t walk very far, instead going around to the stable area. For a moment she switched her stream back to in game time, and announced, “Taking a brief break everyone. Shouldn’t be long, then I’ll be back to stream, and we’ll see what comes out in Makit Imperial State at night. I know watching me run around and talk to NPCs is boring, especially sped up, but I’ll post everything I’ve learned on the boards later.”
        After that, Musette quickly logged out. Removing the dreamcuff, Chloe dashed to the bathroom. Once she was done, she grabbed herself a quick snack. She didn’t feel hungry after eating in the game, but as soon as she’d logged out, real hunger had assaulted her. She’d been playing for almost 24 hours, although it was only about 8 hours in reality, already nearing midnight.

        Chloe checked her stream, and found there were 2 people watching it, but they weren’t anyone she knew, and there were very few comments in the chat. She responded to a few of them quickly, then logged back into the game.

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