Chapter 22: Dark Clouds at the Horizon
Standing in the kitchen of the cottage, Nisha was preparing the meat of the [Forest Panther] she had subdued in the morning to grill it over a fire for dinner, the side dishes had already been cooked and put aside to be heated in time for the meal.
It had been almost three quarters of a turn since she had started living outside of the [Dragon’s Den], and she had learned much more than she ever imagined possible to know.
The day’s lessons included a rigorous lecture about court etiquette and the ways to deal with people of different status by Eldrin. Only Lydia dared to complain about having to study all of the boring subject and nagged on how she would have preferred to learn the swordplay of knights, a group of individuals she strongly admired.
Sadly the elf had never attended sword classes and thus didn’t have the knowledge to lead her down this choice of career.
Nisha admired the complex political mechanisms at work inside the royal court, especially the episodes that had happened between different noble houses like the houses Silverwood, Sheridan, Whitehall and Blackburn, four of the oldest dukedoms in the kingdom, always fighting each other to gain the king’s favour or a trade advantage with faraway nations.
The notion of humans intentionally betraying each other and trying to cheat their kind for material gains was absurd for the dragon girl, who valued family more than anything else, and she had hence begged the elf to tell her more and more about the numerous intrigues that governed in the court, clearly fascinated by the shrewd plans and clever designs made to embarrass opponents, a topic the elf had to deal with for a long time when he was still a court mage.
Annabelle shared her interest in this type of stories, always ready to scheme a plan to manipulate either of her two little sisters into doing something for her.
I have to pay her back one of these days for the week of doubled chores … you just wait, my revenge will be terrible!
Nisha had not been finding much interest in sparring with the two older women ever since she had awoken the first red star of Eldrin’s guild ring, seeing as she was on par with Lydia who held the second rank in aura cultivation even before reaching the first rank herself, and after her level up, Nisha was simply overpowering them, even in a two versus one situation. Those achievements were not thanks to her weapon skill, she was actually throwing around her wooden sticks rather haphazardly, but because of the battle intuition that ten years of living and hunting inside the forest had instilled into her, she had no trouble winning against the sisters.
With the passage of time the blind girl had also came to use her [Spirit Sight] more efficiently, uncovering mysteries about the impressive talent.
At the difference of what she initially felt more natural, that is sensing only things with a strong mana or aura, now even the tiniest amount was included in her field of vision, which covered as well the place even behind her, giving her a complete spatial awareness.
The ability itself seemed to be able to still evolve. After reaching the first mana rank and thinking about strength in either aura or mana as a set of seven stars like the ones on Eldrin’s guild ring, Nisha could roughly estimate the strength of an enemy or ally in her vicinity as a number of stars possessed. By concentrating on someone, a small number of stars were starting to float above them, gauging aura and mana based on Nisha’s perception of the emitted pressure, it was not always a precise measurement, but was sufficiently accurate to get an impression of the other side, to think over her actions, and it helped her a few times when she was about to run into powerful monsters.
Salvaging the hide and sinews from the panther, she was currently slicing up with her favourite kitchen knife, one of the rare-classed treasures of the store rooms filled with the miscellaneous items of the previous owner.
The dragon admired how neatly the knife made specifically for cooking, a black mithril utensil, sliced through the carcass waiting to be processed into various goods and meat.
I prefer the name I gave the knife though: [Mithril Knife of the Night]
Inspired by the elven translation of the material’s name, she happily worked with the ustensil her family had gifted her on the celebration day of her advancement to the first rank in both aura and mana.
The three older inhabitants of the cottage had scoured every corner of the many store rooms to find a present worthy of the occasion, and Anna had finally found the knife lodged between the floorboards of an otherwise empty preparation room, probably lost by its previous owner, as no one would forget such a precious item.
The materials of the [Forest Panther] will make good practice ingredients.
The wish Eldrin had promised the blind girl if she endured Hayze’s visit came to reality after she had advanced to the first mana rank, and gained back a type of sight.
She had expressed her interest into learning sewing to the old elf. The garments she wore for her walks in the woods, a solid leather attire made with small embroideries, stemmed from Eldrin’s needle too.
Thanks to her education, catching up with the limits of her teacher’s knowledge on the topics that she was instructed, the usually busy schedule of the outstanding student had therefore freed up, and she could afford indulging in crafts.
While working in the kitchen, Nisha ended up remembering the things her family had told her about her character a few days ago during a calm evening in the living room together.
Educated in the arts of music and singing, adept at etiquette and handling nobles and commoners alike with due respect and manners, versed in history and arithmetic, a master at hunting and cooking, capable in household chores as well as various other matters she had taken an interest in… all in all the dragon girl had came closer to the standards of a royal princess education-wise. She loved learning with her two sisters and grandfather, and took in most information at an astonishing speed, allowing her to catch up with normal children tutored since birth.
This didn’t mean she had no flaws.
Impatient and hotheaded, a tiny bit prejudiced against humans and their notorious deeds, tomboyish at times, she tended to play pranks on her family members, by sneaking up on them or hiding the things that they were looking for, an habit she had taken after numerous revenges against Lydia and Annabelle.
Damaged in the eyes of society because of her sealed eyes, damaged by the standards of Leandar nobility because of her ruined looks with her scales, wings, and tail, the kingdom was afraid of people resembling dragons and pested disabled like any other country in the world.
Unconcerned about what people thought of her, since only the opinion of her close family and friends mattered to her, Nisha was also rude from time to time, when adventurers or travellers showed up to take a short break from the Wilderness on their journeys.
When they encountered the silent hunter inside the woods, she usually loosed an arrow in front of them first, enjoying the smooth texture of the wood fleeting between her fingers, driving it exactly between the feet of the intruder in question.
Guiding them to the cottage because of her tracks or giving them directions wasn’t worrying her at all, she had yet to encounter any human above the late stages of the third rank in aura, and mages were even rarer in all of the sparse humans. The strongest she had encountered so far, at the peak of the third aura rank might have been able to defeat her, but the forest was her terrain, she had hunted and lived inside it, to the point that she had been feared by most monster communities as the shadow in the night who was stealing preys out of nowhere, unseen and unheard unless she wanted to, in which case another enclave of animals would become a blood-stained empty den, littered with slashes and destruction.
A human from a city would never be able to escape her [Taurith Short Swords] when she was clad in her dark shroud, a skill that she refused to name before exploring all of its depths, always feeling that there was more to it.
Finished with the dismantling, she spun the familiar smooth handle of the knife she had gotten used to in her palm before putting it in her space. The process was fairly simple, to deposit something she only had to touch it and wish it to be hers.
Having the [Soul Space] at her disposal turned out to be very handy, it could store a seemingly endless amount of preys and games, and it allowed Nisha to go out on longer hunting trips without having to worry about her load, be it meat or supplies.
I heard that people with a personal space were treated really well everywhere, but I don’t know what’s so special about mine. I always had it with me this way.
Still lost in thoughts somewhat, she didn’t notice the person walking up to her, although it had appeared in the small girl’s vision field, but she still had slight troubles apprehending the whole of the complete circle around her.
“Are you still sulking about Hayze not visiting again? I thought you did not like him much?”
Annabelle had walked up right besides Nisha and hit her gently on the head to wake her up from the dreamworld the blind girl had drifted into, making sure that everything inside the kitchen was handled properly, and she cuddled her lovely friend close to her chest right afterwards, the aura training having done wonders on her figure, burning the unnecessary fat and shaping her body to be more womanly instead of bulky.
“I’m not sulking, and Mister Hayze can stay away for all I care! It is just suspicious that he always leaves a note when he deposits the cargo in front of the cottage, he should stay an hour at least and not just carry goods and letters.”
Indeed the mysterious cart driver had never shown himself after the first visit, always leaving before anyone could see him, leaving behind the full amount of cargo in neat stacks in front of the cottage, the letters Luthais was sending to his father to inform him of the current situation in Thurgau stabbed into one of the wooden crates with a simple iron dagger.
Missing Mister Hayze twice in a row did indeed vex Nisha, he was not allowed to get away from her perception ability. Even when she had camped outside the cottage, telling stories until late in the night to the elf who was accompanying her before going to bed and to the two sisters who were simply overjoyed to get a chance to snuggle up to the little sister they adored, they had slept together with the dragon girl once their eyelids couldn’t stay open any longer and in the morning they found the stacks of crates and containers next to their camp at the same place as the last time.
I don’t know how, but he cheated.
“Stop talking about that annoying matter, and help me carry the meat to the storage room, we’re going to have a barbeque tonight. I picked out the best parts and put them in the marinade, I’ll make you drool for days at the thought of tonight’s meal!”
A meal baked by Nisha was incredibly enticing, making Anna forget to grumble about the extra work, and promptly carrying the basket in the direction of the cooled chamber next to the kitchen, where Nisha liked to store the meat she had cooked from one of her preys, or the raw parts before getting them to the kitchen.
The room had to be fed mana every week to keep it powered, but having unspoiled chilled ingredients was well worth the task.
“I am actually rather jealous of you, Nisha. A short while ago you were hanging at my lips whenever I was teaching you about something, and you puffed up your cute little cheeks when I wouldn’t cook your favourite dish. And look at us now, I’m slaving myself away for you in the hope that you will grace us with a taste of your cooking.”
The remaining girl had joined the activities, and Nisha was also well aware of her presence, now that her attention was once again focused on her circular perception.
Lydia appeared to be carrying a small basket, remains of the breakfast portion she had made for Eldrin who had taken her out earlier in the day, teaching her about different plants and herbs that naturally grew in the forest.
As a hunter born inside the woods, Nisha was almost as knowledgeable as the old elf in this regard, the Fairy Queen in particular had loved to tell her all about the herbs she was gifting to the [Dragon’s Den] whenever she visited, proud to talk about her personal gardens where she cultivated all kinds of herbs, from the most useless to the rarest, but Lydia enjoyed the walks to learn more about survival ways, something every adventurer needed while staying in the Wilderness.
With a happy smile escaping through her mask, the blind girl tried to tease the newly arrived.
“So I’m allowed to boss you around in exchange for my cooking? That’s great, I was looking for something I could do for my big sister so she would teach me all about fashion in the capital, turns out I can just order her!”
Instead of freeing herself from the bosom she was hugged into, the dragon girl motioned Lydia to come over and join them.
Ever since we decided to approach our emotions and conflicts openly, we have been so close. I wish I’d have talked to them sooner, I love this feeling. Hopefully it stays peaceful like this forever.
Getting spoiled by her indulgent family, Nisha completely focused on fulfilling their wishes and get a well rounded education, even though she did not understand how fashion for example could be important, or why treating someone rude politely was considered as good manners and behaviour.
Nonetheless she excelled at almost everything the other three wanted to impart to her, and she relished any chance to interact with them, learning more about humans and elves.
The water fights inside one of the large bathrooms on the upper floor were exciting her greatly, an apparently common tradition for humans, or so did the siblings assure Nisha when they took her for a bath.
The two women did not mention that they had just made up that tradition to fool around with their adorable little companion, and even if they were to reveal the shocking truth, Nisha likely wouldn’t mind it and just push a bigger splash of water to the two little pranksters and win the skirmish.
One thing Nisha absolutely hated was to fail at something she aspired to do. When she first started the sewing lessons with the elf, she had pricked her fingers more than she could count. Unable to accept her lack of talent at something she had chosen for herself, she had continuously practiced her needle stitches, often going out to hunt more animals to use their hide to exercise, complaining and throwing a small tantrum when a piece of clothing wasn’t turning out as planned. She made sure to progressively eat away the wounds on her fingertips with the dark healing ability she had demonstrated on the two maids when they had been unconscious after arriving at the hunting grounds.
In reality, the blind girl’s inability to see anything else than outlines prevented the manufacture of accurate stitching and designs, yet Nisha refused to acknowledge this excuse.
The newfound sight indeed tempted her into becoming reliant on it, abandoning the other senses she had fought to sharpen.
Eventually she had improved after learning to probe the materials with her touch, and through accumulating experience she gained confidence in her intuition, ending up producing excellent leather clothing.
Another subject the dragon girl had troubles learning was the molding of letters and characters, as Nisha’s sight only provided her with the comprehension of the objects’ frames, and written words on a sheet of paper were invisible to her since they didn’t give off power.
The solution to that issue was discovered by accident, when Lydia and Annabelle had sparred against each other one morning; they were unable to be their younger sister’s opponent and had no choice but train their battle skills among themselves.
“Here is your breakfast, and please don’t overdo it with training. You’re bleeding Lydia, seems like she got you today?”
Carrying a tray with food and a jug of cool water, Nisha was readying herself for another hunt, when she had seen the fighters working hard and had decided to ease them a bit.
Although Lydia is in the middle stage of the second aura rank, she can’t put up a fight against me anymore, and I’m just in the middle stage of the first rank. I wonder why…
“I’m curious, how did you know that anyway? It’s just a small cut, nothing serious, I didn’t get hit that hard anyway. Wait … you can see it? I think I have an idea! Have fun on your hunt!”
Rushing inside the house to find Eldrin, the energetic Anna left behind two confused faces, both unsure on what to make of the sudden development, leaving Nisha to deal with Lydia’s wound.
“She’s a handful, isn’t she? There was this one time when we knocked over a vase while playing inside the master’s mansion, and our parents were furious. Luckily the late miss of the house understood that children would always be children and forgave us… and a day after, Anna was already running through the mansion again, as if nothing had ever happened.
I was pretty sad when the Miss passed away, she was always gentle with the two of us…”
Lydia and Annabelle rarely talked about their past, still hurt by the silent betrayal of their parents, and Nisha appreciated the small confession Lydia had revealed her.
I wonder what the idea Anna was talking about is, though.
Shouldering the prey the huntress had shotten down this day, a small [Sunglow Buck] – an exquisite treat for the inhabitants of the cottage, the supple meat of the monster was praised as a delicacy because of its tender texture and rich taste, thus fetching a high price on the market.
Nisha had discovered the deer when it was wandering in the forest alone, limping slightly from an injured leg. The arrow made a clean hit, taking the deer’s life instantly, though it had been standing outside of the blind girl’s [Spirit Sight] radius. The prey’s location had been sensed via the shifts in the air and the smell of blood trickling from one of the animal’s limbs, scattered throughout the forest.
The mistake of relying too much on her vision had been a lesson that Nisha had learned well, she had trained hard to further improve her senses by deliberately ignoring her sight.
Her sense of smell and touch seemed to be much more practical and stronger than that of the average elf or human, so the dragon girl wanted to make the most out of her physique in case her vision was further impaired.
At first, there had been many arrows disappearing into the forest, when Nisha misjudged the location of a moving mark, but after a moon of training, her condition had rapidly improved to the point where she was able to hit a bird chirping in midair with an ordinary bow.
Entering her home through the front door, the blind girl greeted her family while the last rays of the day were falling from the windows to the ground. The sun was setting earlier each passing day, summer was ending fast and the temperatures were starting to drop during the short autumn.
I think winter will be here soon. In spring I will have lived here for a whole turn.
“Ah, there you are Nisha. Come up in the living room, Lydia prepared something for you!”
Annabelle greeted the returning girl with a smile from atop the stairs, the blind girl was able to hear the grin.
Putting away the carcass of the deer inside the cold room first, she then made her way upstairs where Eldrin and Lydia were already seated, handing over her dirty leather hunting gear to Annabelle as it was her turn to do the laundry.
The old elf was resting in his favourite armchair, near the fire. He was complaining about the cold and pain inside his joints more frequently lately, and was also trying to hide his coughs from the women inside the house, but the wooden stick the elf had to use to support his steps was telling them enough.
“How was your hunt? Had any luck?”
Holding his hands in front of the raging fire inside the hearth, the elf addressed his granddaughter with a hidden humor in his voice, he knew the primary goal of the dragon was not any game or material but the thrill of the hunter, and the pleasure of a good fight.
Nonetheless, he always received her back kindly, and chose this time to avoid commenting her torn clothes.
“You’ll like the dinner, I found a [Sunglow Buck], although it’s a young one. The sunstones on his antlers are not very developed yet.
But tell me more about the inspiration Lydia had.”
It wouldn’t have hurt her to tell me earlier. Why does she have to act mysteriously like this?
Snickering like she had succeeded in playing a particularly funny prank on someone, the oldest of the girls held up a wooden plank that had laid on the table between the chairs so far.
“What do you think this is?”
Wary of being tricked, Nisha closely inspected the board with her [Spirit Sight] as well as her other senses, appraising the item up and down while getting seated on one of the armchairs, going as far as even smelling the scrap of wood.
“I don’t know … it seems like this is just a plank. Tell me, what is it?”
Putting down the board on the table, the dragon girl asked for the solution of the ridiculous riddle with a pouting voice, disappointed in her impotence to solve it on her own.
At the sight of the sulking young girl, the remaining three persons inside the room failed to contain their amusement and broke down in laughter.
“Very funny! You will see how I’m laughing once I’m down with cooking today, I’ll prepare some extra special dishes for you!”
Indignant of the treatment she had received after returning from a very rewarding hunt, Nisha pulled her knees close to her chest and crossed her arms above her legs, coiling her scaly tail around her and wrapping her back in her little wings.
“Aw, come on, don’t be like that. It’s really just a board, it was just funny to see you tilt you head slightly and concentrate completely on the piece of wood as if you wanted to stare right through it’s secrets. Just that there is none!”
Trying to get her amusement under control, Lydia took it on herself to explain what was going on.
“Watch carefully now, and tell me what you see.”
Nisha watched resentfully as Annabelle gathered her mana inside the tip of her index finger, the bright glow illuminating her hand in the blind girl’s [Spirit Sight] betraying her light attribute, and she drew across the surface of the board.
To the blind girl’s astonishment the patterns lingered on top of the wood for a while before slowly fading away, forming a disappearing set of rune-like lines.
What was that? I was able to see it!
Excited by the novelty, Nisha forgot the fact that she was still mad at her family for pulling a trick on her and moved closer to the table.
The little girl didn’t want to depend completely on her sight, but this was the first time someone or something had been able to change itself in her view, exciting her to no end.
“Do it again! It looks pretty!”
Fascinated by the dance of the white rays forming signs, her cheerful voice demanded more of the pretty spectacle, while a mean grin once again sneaked itself on Lydia’s face, who was watching from her own armchair.
“So you can see it. That’s good, I think I’ve figured it out somehow. You should also be able to do it on your own, just gather mana into your finger and then draw anything you like on the board. I can’t see it personally, but we will think of a solution to that eventually.
The important thing is that we can teach you letters now! No more excuses, our little girl is going to learn how to read and write so she can finally be considered as a proper lady.”
The enthusiastic nuance lacing the voice of her older sister frightened Nisha, adding another subject to her schedule would impinge on her precious hunting time. That concern must have showed on her face since Eldrin reached out to rub her head.
“Don’t be upset, I am pretty confident that you will master writing and reading fast. After all you already know the language, and characters are only used to record the words we speak, only writing might cause you some trouble.
Fortunately, all the languages I know use the same alphabet, so once you manage to learn the letters, you will be able to write most of them, as long as you have the vocabulary knowledge.
And if you can master it, I will teach you how to make simple enchantments on the clothings you sew, would you like that?”
Crafting something together with Eldrin? I couldn’t be happier!
“Alright, I will learn them … but the mana trails are fading pretty fast, I think it’s going to be pretty hard.”
The reward truly did entice Nisha, however the perspective of losing her alone time that she had been spending roaming the forest, hunting and fighting wild animals, still brought down her mood somewhat.
“Don’t worry about that, little sister. I will figure out a way to perfect this method soon, I only need you to tell me honestly if the means I think of work or not.
Turning you into a proper lady is my duty, and I won’t stop until you become the flawless example of a noblewoman, rest assured!”
Anna must have some grudge against me … so I’m stuck with this mad woman inside the house until she figures out a technique to submit me further ‘lady’ training as she calls it.
Today truly is a dark day.