Chapter 95 - The Gourmet
The first glimmers of dawn showered the plains. Soran drove the carriage as the trio continued their journey. The road had gotten a lot rougher, and that hindered their travel speed.
Vivian sat upright with crossed legs in front of the long desk inside the carriage. Gloria was combing the little girl’s hair in front of a mirror. As Vivian’s brother, Soran was not well-qualified when it came to tending to her daily needs. Vivian had to take care of herself most of the time, and Soran didn’t have the time nor energy to care even if he wanted to. Gloria’s presence filled the void that Soran had been unable to fill—the role of a mother. Gloria always had a gentle smile, and she was now carefully tying a ponytail for Vivian.
“It’s done,” Gloria said as she tied the ponytail with a pink ribbon. “Our Vivian looks just like a little princess.”
The corners of Vivian’s lips rose as she smiled gleefully. She looked at the mirror and caressed the pink ribbon.
“Thank you big sis Gloria, it’s very beautiful!”
Vivian looked into the mirror again before muttering, “Mhm, I don’t want to be a princess. A dragon will take me away!”
Gloria could not help but inwardly laugh.
Meanwhile, Soran was still in the driver’s seat while chewing on some jerky. He had been listening to the conversation going on behind him, and it made him glad. He turned to investigate the carriage, then continued to focus on his duty as a driver. Perhaps because of what had happened the day before, their relationship was much closer now. Gloria was vastly different from other Northern witches he had encountered, and Soran discovered more and more of her good qualities as they interacted. Gloria was an elegant beauty, and her gentle smile and gaze could brighten up one’s mood. She really was a nice lady.
Perhaps her haughty attitude, in the beginning, had been a disguise. Even Soran himself had acted coldly most of the time to avoid others from reading his emotions. Similarly, Vivian seemed like a clever good girl to most people, but she was in fact somewhat mischievous at times. Even Annalynne, the priestess from Amber City, had not noticed her true nature. It was only in front of Soran and Gloria had Vivian acted in such a manner. Soran thought of it as a good thing. He had always been worried that good girl Vivian would lack the wits to handle abrupt situations, but her mischievous nature proved him wrong. If Vivian really was a Descendant of God, then having a pure mind would be fatal. It would be good for her soul to remain pure, but her mind must be aware of the deceptions and evil of this cruel world.
There were herds of wild goats roaming through the plains. Many beasts and animals lived in the wilderness, and a lot of them lived in groups in order to defend themselves. Normally, there would be a few exceptional beings in each horde. For example, the goat herd leader was stronger than the others and had a Monster Level of 3 to 5. At times, goats might even clash head-on with wolves. In fact, it was similar to the social construct of humans. At least in the sense that the strong defended the weak, albeit a lot more simplified.
The herd leader noticed the carriage and growled. It used its thick horns to urge the other goats towards the center of the plains. While the herd leader could enjoy the best grass, it also had the responsibility of protecting the herd in times of danger. When defending was not possible, it also had to evacuate the herd using the most effective route.
The goats were also protected by the druids. If it was just hunting on a small scale, the druids would not intervene. But if it was a large-scale operation to capture and slaughter the wild goats, the druids would stand out and defend them. Of course, the druids would also kill off the goats when their herd grew too large. After all, the druids operated on the principles of equilibrium and balance. To Soran, both paladins and druids were annoying existences.
Vivian was reading within the carriage. The rate she absorbed knowledge astonished Soran and Gloria; she had already finished a third of the books Gloria had brought along. Those books weren’t just story books, but brick-like books packed with knowledge. Even though Vivian was just merely memorizing the contents for now, at this rate, she would surely become a knowledgeable spellcaster in the future. Knowledge was more important than spell slots in a sense because spellcasters had to understand the principles of spells before they could cast or counter them.
There was a lot more wilderness now compared to before. Many monsters had migrated away from the region, and they would not dare intrude for a considerably long time. However, there were still kobolds and goblins scattered here and there. They were basically weed-like monsters, and the Whiterun guards could not be bothered with annihilating them. No matter how hard they tried, these monsters would still appear again in a year.
At noon, Soran encountered a traveler. He was of a relatively rare and highly praised species in the South: a halfling. He was only around a meter in height, and his clothes were the size of children. Two short swords hung on the halfling’s waist, but they were more like daggers in human standards. He had somewhat thick body hair on the back of his legs and hands. With a thick rope in hand, the forty-pound halfling was controlling two goblins, kicking them at times to urge them forward.
After noticing the approaching carriage, he hopped up excitedly and waved while shouting, “Hey! Hey! Can I get a ride?”
Gloria poked her head out to see what was going on and quickly sat back down. Afterward, it was Vivian’s turn. The little girl chuckled as she whispered into Soran’s ears, “Big brother! Look! It really is a halfling! He’s really only a bit taller than Vivian!”
A short, inconspicuous halfling. If he had hidden in tall grass, it would have been hard to notice him.
“You guys got lucky,” the halfling said while untying the restraints on the goblins. He kicked the two monsters, and they instantly fled. The halfling then stowed the ropes away and murmured, “How dare you steal my food. I won’t let you monsters off the hook next time.”
Soran slowed down the carriage, and the halfling hopped on with ease. He patted the horses and sat down besides Soran.
“Hohoh, thanks. I’ve been walking alone in the wilderness for days now, and I can finally rest.”
Halflings were better at sneaking than Soran given their innate talents. If they were bare-footed, the sounds of their footstep were basically non-existent since they had an innate +20 buff to Sneak.
“Greetings, distinguished Northern witch.
“Greetings, pretty little girl.”
The halfling nodded as he greeted the two in the carriage one by one. He then looked at Soran who was beside him and introduced himself, “Greetings, traveler. I am Aladdin, Aladdin ‘Tobacco’ Derodotus. I’m a rogue and also a gourmet traveling around the world. Glad to meet you all.”
Soran did not reply, but his mouth twitched upon hearing the halfling’s name.
Contrary to Soran’s seemingly uninterested attitude, Vivian was very curious and approached Aladdin. Without asking, she extended her hands and squeezed Aladdin’s cheeks. It may seem rude, but Aladdin simply laughed and allowed Vivian to do as she liked.
“Little girl, is this the first time you met a halfling? Hohoh, that’s the way we are, just around your height.”
Halflings had mild tempers, and their species was a gentle one. They respected the deities, even weak ones who only had governance over small lakes and short streams. As such, they were a species favored by the gods. They were also people who appreciated good food, and many curious halflings had the ambition of trying out all the tasty dishes in the world before setting out for a global journey. It was easy for them to gain affection from others, and even if they encountered bad people, they could easily escape with their skills as first-rate rogues.
Moreover, halflings were blessed by Lady Luck, the goddess of good fortune. They had an innate luck buff, and if they received another blessing from a deity, they would get the ability Heroic Luck, which granted a +1 rating to everything. As such, they were best partners and buddies of the legend’s protagonists. They would lend their aid to people whom they had acknowledged.
Due to their short stature, they had little Strength. Most of the time, they relied on their Dexterity in combat. Over half of all halflings had below 10 Strength; the average halfling only had 8 Strength. Having 12 Strength was already considerably high for their species.
There were not too many halflings in the world, and most of them lived in the Murdoc and Hael regions. Their population numbered around three hundred thousand, and they had not expanded their territory for millennia. Under the protection of Yondalla, an ancient and powerful deity also known as The Halfling Protector, the species had survived for countless years. They were curious beings, but they had no desire for war. If left undisturbed by other species, the halflings were beings who pursued their own interests, such as good cuisine, planting tobacco, and having parties.
Another thing they were good at was boasting. They liked to sit down, take a deep breath of their tobacco, then start boasting about all sorts of things. That’s why Soran knew what Aladdin was up to when he took out his pipe next to Vivian. It was a scene he had seen many, many times before.