The Strong Eat the Weak

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Now that we're back on the grassy plains and searching for more Slimes, things proceed smoothly. We run into plenty of them in no time at all, and Sam gets straight to work. She's waited long enough to cut loose today, and she really needs to blow off some steam. As for me, I'm here to make sure she doesn't get carried away and to continue giving advice.

Aside from just general signs of Sam getting sloppy, the main thing I’m on the lookout for is any sign of overconfidence.

Sam's sudden power growth does not suddenly make her a master of the blade, which is essential for her to remember. I can easily see the girl getting a big head just because she's become stronger, and that's the last thing I want to happen, especially for a natural show-off like Sam.

Unfortunately, my fears are well-founded. There are a few times I catch her acting a little full of herself.

Slimes typically can't pose a threat in a one-on-one scenario, but underestimating any foe is an unhealthy habit to pick up. Whenever Sam gets cocky, her guard lowers, and her movements become just a bit more unfocused. As a result, she almost takes a few hits here and there from a few lucky Slimes. Each time it happens, the rookie adventurer feels ashamed that she screwed up.

I don't let her dwell on it for long, but I also don't let her forget about her mistakes, either. No matter how harsh the criticism, Sam never takes it to heart, and she slips up less and less over the course of two hours. Despite the rocky start, she's killed eighteen total Slimes.

Sam is all sorts of sweaty and exhausted, but she doesn't want to stop questing. Not after how many distractions we had today. I admire Sam's spirit, but I make sure to remind her that pushing past her limits will only make her body turn against her in the long run. We don't have any stamina potions on hand, so we must let her adjust to this new lifestyle the hard way.

Sam begrudgingly accepts the advice but insists she's still in fighting form. After giving her a thorough check-up with my eyes, I conclude that she's not lying just so I'll let her keep adventuring.

Before moving on to round two, though, I make sure Sam takes a light break long enough for us to share a late lunch together from the supplies I packed. It's nothing fancy. Just some dried fruit, uncured sausage, a small chunk of cheese, and the staple food for any adventurer- hardtack.

Delicious.

We don't have the money for better provisions, but Sam's not complaining. Because I'm still curious about the entire situation, I ask a bit more about how the decreased hunger is affecting her. Sam tells me it's not like she's 'full' per se, but she just has a better understanding of when she's had enough and that nothing is stopping her from eating more if she wants to. I'm somewhat relieved to hear that. I'd feel bad if we find out my semen is causing this, and it stops her from thoroughly enjoying a good meal.

Still, what a convenient power for adventuring... especially for budgetary reasons.

Since Sam is coming along a bit faster than I expected, I decide on surprising her with a little something I tucked into my pocket- a second target. In case I started feeling like she wasn't getting anything from fighting Slimes anymore, I brought along one of the quest fliers for another monster I'd consider to be on Sam's level- Living Fungi.

These things are essentially little grubby mushroom people standing no taller than three feet. Culling them is necessary, as they seek out living beings and lull them to sleep with spores launched from their caps. Once their prey has been neutralized, a Living Fungi will bury them alive and begin feeding on them in the traditional mushroom way.

Yeah, it's not pretty.

Luckily, they're not all that strong if you can get past their one means of defense- their spores. At 700G per kill, Living Fungi are only slightly more enticing than the 600G Slimes, but variety in the enemy types she faces will only help Sam develop her skills even further.

When I ask if she's interested, her answer is as obvious as I expected it would be. Sam is hyped that I think she's ready for something a bit tougher. Once we're all done with lunch, we start moving southwest towards the mouth of the Gnarled Woods. We won't actually be going in. That’d be suicide for a lone adventurer of her level- not to mention a defenseless bystander such as myself.

Only evil lies in those woods, and I don't use that word lightly.

When I was six or so, I got into an argument with my grandfather. Nothing too out of the ordinary there... but that time, I ended up running away into the Gnarled Woods. My underdeveloped, childish, idiot brain thought it would teach him a lesson or something if I ran away from home, but the only one who learned a lesson that day was me.

That forest was the scariest thing I'd ever experienced. A thick shroud of mist extends as far as the eye can see. You feel eyes staring at you from every which way. You hear noises coming from over your shoulder that can't be explained. The trees seem to follow you around, just looking for a chance to come to life and grab you... and that's not even getting into the fact that those woods used to be home to the Demon Lord, Thalrad, and that his influence can still be felt to this day.

Grandfather sent Niall, an adventurer of his that I was close to, to rescue me. My britches were already thoroughly soaked by the time he did. Worst of all, neither of those assholes ever let me hear the end of it... at least Miss Hart was there to comfort me.

Now that I'm older, I understand that the Gnarled Woods is a place just like any other, and even as dark and thick with evil magic as those woods are, they can be tamed... just not today.

Luckily, Living Fungi can be found at the mouth of the woods, and we won't actually have to go in.

We find one chasing a fox around uselessly, and as we observe it, the monster ends up giving Sam an excellent demonstration of its powers. The Living Fungi lowers its red and white-spotted cap, wiggles it, and a liberal dosage of its spores sprinkle away toward the unsuspecting vulpine. Not knowing any better, the fox breaths them in instead of dodging. It falls to the grassy ground below roughly twenty seconds later, never to awaken again if it weren't for Sam meddling. Smiling at its prey with an unsettling grin is the mushroom monster, letting out its trademark roar of, "Bup!"

As it scampers off to collect its foxy prize, I turn to Sam. "Still think you can handle it?"

"You betcha," Sam pumps her fist in the air. "I just have to make sure I don't breathe any of that gunk in, right?"

"Right. The important thing here is to respect your enemy and show some patience. With a Slime, you could just step in and slash it. For a Living Fungi, you have to wait for it to show its hand and then strike."

I chose the Living Fungi as Sam’s next enemy for this particular reason. Sam is rash, impatient, and prone to jumping headfirst to solve her problems. It’ll do the girl some good if I can impart just a little bit of restraint on her.

Especially with all that anger in her system...

"I can handle that." Sam takes in a deep breath before slapping herself on the cheeks to fire herself up. Then, she draws her sword and heads out toward the walking mushroom.

Startled, the Living Fungi drops its fox. It wasn't expecting someone to come along and ruin its hunt, and panic shows on its cartoonish face. Since it only has one method of attack, it isn't long before it defaults to it. Lowering its head and shaking its cap at Sam, it blasts spores her way as explosively as it can.

Sam dodges the oncoming breeze of sleep spores to the left, looking much better after a few hours of practice. She advances closer to the monster with a smile, only for it to fire another blast and then a third.

Sam's starting to get irritated the more her time is wasted by the monster, which isn’t good. While Living Fungi are by no means mental giants, they are more intelligent than Slimes. It knows that its spores are annoying Sam, so it keeps launching them faster than Sam can close the distance.

This goes on for a minute straight, the exchange eventually ending when Sam draws back and looks at me with an irritated expression. "What the hell am I supposed to do here, Boss?! I can't get close to that... that... shiitake shithead!"

"Think about it, Sam. You use a huge, heavy weapon. You might be fast, but it'll always slow you down a little bit. Sometimes, you'll need to think creatively in battle and use your intuition to overcome your drawbacks."

"I know that, I know...! But I'm asking you how!"

"Do you want the answer, or do you want to prove you have what it takes to be an adventurer? Better pick one fast because our friend isn't as patient as the Slimes were."

Unlike Slimes, a Living Fungi will not just idly sit there while I teach Sam how to kill it. It starts walking toward both of us, putting additional pressure on the young warrior.

"Shit... shit..." Panic rears its ugly head. Sam has trouble staving it off until she grits her teeth and advances toward the monster, gloves clenched tight around the hilt of her sword.

I can think of four solutions to this problem, and that's just off the top of my head. One of them, there is zero chance Sam will figure out. The others should be pretty obvious after she gets to thinking.

Sam plays the dodging game for another few minutes, luring the Living Fungi further away from me while still trying to brainstorm a safe method to approach her enemy. As much as I want to tell her how to win, I need to play the mentor card right in this situation.

Sam's physical abilities and proficiency with the blade will increase the more adventures she has, but developing the mindset of a proper warrior is something someone as inexperienced as her can't do on her own. I have to hold off until I'm absolutely sure she needs the answer, mainly if one of our lives depends on it.

Then, I know for sure that that situation won't come to pass. Sam suddenly takes a quick glance at the sword in her hands before smirking.

The Living Fungi realizes something is off.

Sam isn't panicked anymore, and the monster doesn't know what to do. Its uncertainty is its undoing, rather than running, it chooses the only other option it has and goes for another spore attack. Instead of dodging, Sam runs straight toward the attack and handles her sword like she were holding a bat.

She swings not at the monster but at the cloud of spores itself.

Thanks to her strength, the slab of iron she calls a sword creates massive wind pressure whenever she swings it. Sam correctly figures out that if she uses the flat side of her blade, it would essentially turn her weapon into a huge fan.

The spores disperse from the massive gust of wind Sam creates, letting her at last advance into striking distance. Her foe is no match for her now. She steps forward and twists her body, allowing the momentum of her titanic sword to carry her into a vastly powerful strike. Slicing it right down the middle, Sam ends the life of this toadstool terror once and for all.

The two halves of the cleaved foe fall to the ground, wet mushroom juices pooling out onto the grass where it now lies.

"Aw, yeah! How bout that, Boss?" She huffs, then puffs out her chest and slings her sword over her shoulder. Sam celebrates her victory with a cool little pose, and it's hard not to feel a little happy on her behalf.

Still, I push down my instinct to praise her so that I keep her ego grounded. "Not too shabby. Never forget that there's always room for improvement, though."

"Right," She nods, loosening up with her showboating.

"Do you see why I didn't help you?"

"Yeah... I gotta think on my feet and all that, right?"

"Right. I'm not always going to be out on a quest with you to give you directions, as much as I'd like to." In a perfect world, a Guild Master could oversee and give advice to his adventurers from afar... but a magic setup like that would be almost impossible, as far as I'm aware. "Therefore, the more you can think creatively for yourself, the greater the chances of your survival."

"I felt like this took me longer than it should've, though..." Sam slumps her shoulders and looks down, doubt corrupting her latest victory.

"This is only your second day on the job. Beginners always overlook simple things. You need to not be so hard on yourself and understand that you did the best that the current 'you' can do."

"Thanks, Boss... can I ask you what you would’ve done if you were in my shoes?"

"Of course,” There’s no harm in telling her the other answers now since it’ll only help expand her options next time around. 

“There were a few other ways you could have solved the distance gap and closed in on the shroom. The simplest would have been to just throw your sword through the spores and impale it." That was what I was betting on Sam doing, actually. It was the easy way out, and I imagined her growing frustrated to the point of trying to attack it from a distance. She surprised me by going the route she did, but it was a pleasant surprise.

"...Huh." Her cheeks turn pink, embarrassed that she missed such an obvious idea. "Yeah, that, uh... that mighta done the trick."

"Then, you could've just waited until the monster ran out of sleep spores."

"I thought about that, but when it got closer to you, I felt I had to do something!" That's for the best. We would have been standing around for close to half an hour before it ran out, which would've been far from ideal.

Sam unknowingly gave me a perfect segue into the last other option, so I take advantage of it. "Speaking of the fungi drawing closer, you also could have used me as bait and attacked it while it was preoccupied."

Right away, her eyes fill up with shock and anger. She's offended that I would even bring that tactic up. "What?! There's no way I could've done that! Boss, are you fuckin' kidding?!"

"Heh." Just like I thought, Sam didn't even remotely consider that possibility.

"...What's so funny?"

"Nothing, Sam. You're just a good girl, is all."

Sam gives me a pouty glare, and I can tell she wants to say something back, but she drops the subject to get on with our business.

Now that the post-battle lecture is complete, I teach Sam the Guild procedure for processing this monster. We need to sever the Living Fungi's left hand as our proof of kill to get paid. Once she does just that, and I deposit the loot into a sack already brimming with Slime cores. We're going to have to cut today's adventures a bit short on account of the trophy bag, but there's still room for a few more Living Fungi hands.

Over the next hour, we come across four more of the buggers, and not a single one of them proves all that difficult for the young warrior. Despite this, since we've been out all day, Sam's starting to wear out. For that matter, I'm getting pretty tired, too. By now, we're ready to get going.

All in all, today's haul comes out to 14,300G. That's not bad, not bad at all. That's enough for a decent amount of groceries or a nice dinner somewhere if we weren't trying to save on gold.

Sam's got a big old tired grin on her face showing just how proud she is of the day's work, and she definitely should be. Personally, I'm not celebrating until we can verify if Abner is going to keep his word. I'm fairly sure the old bastard got the message, but we won't know for certain until the Mailmage visits us tomorrow to take away the quest reports and the proof of kills.

Before we head back for the night, though, I have one last surprise in store for the Princess.

When Sam kills the last Living Fungi and harvests its hand, I pick up one half of the defeated three-foot menace and have Sam help me carry the other half back with us to the Guild.

I tell her we're going to eat this thing.

She's a little surprised at my intentions but warms up to the idea soon enough once I tell her how delicious it would be. Sam did a great job out here today, so I think it's only fair I do my best to provide for my lovely adventurer by preparing a healthy meal using ingredients from the field.

Yes, indeed. Thanks to this ugly little fellow, we'll be eating good tonight.

It's been years since I've had a chance to cook up one of these, and I'm dying to give it a try after so long. We used to have Living Fungi, among other monsters, all the time when I was a child. To save on food costs, Grandfather had a little deal he’d offer adventurers on the side. If they brought back the carcasses of certain edible monsters, he would give them a little extra gold when it was time to pay them.

It was a clever business tactic and a delicious one to boot.

If we didn't have to send in the Slime cores, I could cook those up, too, but alas. And to think they make such lovely desserts...

With bodies thoroughly worn out by a long day of adventure and stomachs beyond tired of our meager field rations, we head back home carrying both loot and dinner alike, chatting away and delighting in each other's company.

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Rise of the Guild Master