Chapter 1

Eizel 3

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Aymy Avys—equipped with her stylishly new black Night Wolf cloak and a mask covering her nose and mouth—sprinted across a clearing in the dark forest, dove over her perfectly concealed pit trap, and triggered the first variant of Handspring.

Her Stamina immediately dropped from 54/76 to 49, and her body moved on its own, catching her weight on outstretched hands and arching forward into a twist. She landed and bounced on the balls of her feet, facing the direction she had come.

The not-so-friendly Night Wolf that didn’t understand that no meant no, crashed through the wicker of her trap, clawed madly at the sharp edge, then fell backward. It yelped once and died, simple as that.

Had it not been simple-as-that, she was prepared—mostly—to kick it in the snout. But the lucky stars were on her side tonight. She wouldn’t get icky slobber all over her foot.

Izaak was a terrible businessman. He gave her all of his trap Blueprints for nothing in return. Maybe it was because she had died to all of his traps, and he felt indebted to her.

Or maybe he . . . liked her?

That was an uncomfortable thought. He didn’t even know her real name. But then . . . that made it feel different. He wasn’t after the Oqerton name. He liked—if that was the case, and it probably wasn’t—Aymy Avys.

The last name was something she added later. Just going by a first name would be suspicious. Her philology lessons came in handy, and she only changed the “i” in avis to a “y” because it looked pretty.

It meant bird, chosen because Aymy was free like a bird, while Eizel had a long line of constant worries that would give anyone ulcers. Fortunately, such things didn’t exist in this world.

She looked into the pit where the Night Wolf had fallen onto four spikes. A vertical stack of five blocks hovered over it, the topmost one flashing and turning, counting down the seconds before the wolf would disperse to pixels and drop its loot.

This, of course, could be expedited by skinning the wolf, which presented the only problem with using a pit trap. But it was the most consistent trap, relatively cheap to make, and worked as a defense just as well as an offense.

She dropped into the pit and grabbed the edge before one of the spikes could run her through like last time. That was a memory to forget. . . .

With her free hand, she tapped the wolf, and a dialog screen opened.

Process Resource

How would you like to process Night Wolf?

  • Loot (Do not process)
  • Skin [Skinning · Lvl. 1]
  • Debone [Deboning · Lvl. 1]

She pressed and held her finger to the Skin option. A circle timer appeared, then a growing wedge indicated the time it’d take to complete the process. For a low-level Night Wolf, that was about fifteen seconds.

A burst of translucent rainbow cubes poured out of the wolf, merging with her and granting +60xp to her Skinning skill. And since the Night Wolf was level 4, it granted another +40xp to her Trapper skill.

The wolf dissolved into dark gray pixels, leaving behind a levitating bag.

Loot

  • 1× Night Wolf Pelt
  • 8× Night Wolf Meat
  • 6 chyps

Ooh! That was a great deal more meat than normal. The lucky stars really were on her side tonight, at least for loot.

She swiped the items into her inventory, pulled herself out of the pit, and summoned her game screen. Eizel-mini, wearing her own black cloak, grinned, ready to be of service.

“There’s nothing here,” Eizel said to the helper. After nearly a week—nine days, to be precise—she had continued to fail and fail and fail to find her parents, marking off each section of the Wilds she had searched.

The only settlements she had found belonged to the frog-like monsters called Guntheks. And just to be sure—“Always verify with your own eyes,” her father once told her—she died eight times checking each of their buildings made of dried mud.

Well . . . the outsides were made of dried mud. The insides—lit by glowing green crystals—contained pools of murky water.

One frog-monster, a smaller Gunthek apparently bathing in the mud, turned a saturated red as if blushing from the intrusion of its privacy. It croaked up a storm and flung toxic mud that burned.

This served as an unnecessary reminder that frogs were not friends. They were rude, they stunk, and they had no honor!

Eizel shook her head. She would persevere. This Land was massive. There were plenty of places her parents and all the other missing people could be.

She drew a red line along the black section of map that indicated unexplored territory. There were sixteen matching red sections, all with large Xs drawn through them.

Right. “Where to next?” she asked the Wilds, panning the map.

Eizel-mini pinched her chin in thought, then a blue outline appeared in an unexplored area, two sections away.

That was new. The little helper had never offered suggestions before. Then again, Eizel had never asked, even if this time it was rhetorical.

“What’s over there?” Eizel asked.

Eizel-mini smiled excitedly. She opened her mouth to say something, then shrugged. That was about the best she did. The tiny avatars never said anything, but they did provide text bubbles from time to time.

Well . . . it was as good as any other place.

Right?