Rebirth: Rise of the Slave Master
Chapter Thirty-One: Soldier
Theo studied the girl in front of him with an intense expression. It was finally that time! This moment was long overdue and had all but plagued Theo’s dreams for the last few nights, or at least it would have if he ever wasted time sleeping.
Meatshield was close to maxing out her level 9 experience points, but she wouldn’t be able to advance any further unless she got a class. There were all kinds of classes in the game, and when it came to NPCs, it was very difficult to tell which one they would ultimately receive. Unless they were trained in a very specific way, they would normally default to whatever best suited their personality. Unlike players, they couldn’t just visit a trainer and complete a quest.
It was for this reason that Theo was agonizing over how to make sure Meatshield didn’t end up with something useless. Although all classes had their advantages and disadvantages, a noncombat option would doom her to never fulfill the role for which Theo needed her. Most Slave Masters, if Theo remembered correctly, preferred to enslave only those who already had a class, like Gobthnora being a Shaman.
This was definitely the most reliable option, but Theo preferred to have complete control over the process. When he had originally planned to enslave the [Captured Woman] he assumed she was going to have generic villager abilities. With just a bit of combat training, it would be a certainty that she would class up into something appropriate. The problem was Meatshield ended up far from ordinary, with a background that remained a mystery.
As a princess, she could have any number of strange skills that could skew the results of his training. Without a way to check, it was impossible to fully control the direction of her progression, but Theo desperately wanted to make sure he could keep Meatshield. She was clever, obedient without effort, and had the unique [Blessing of the Stonekin] on top of her exceptional attribute growths. She was top shelf goods!
The only option Theo had come up with was to increase the number of combat skills she possessed. With this thought in mind, he visited the pawn shop in Aleside and bought every type of weapon he could find. Over the last few days, he had trained her in all of them! Swords, Axes, Daggers, Twinblades, Polearms, Staves, Heavy Weapons, Throwing Weapons, Bows, and Slings. Theo made sure she acquired all of these skills. Even if she wasn’t going to raise any of them beyond Beginner Lv. 1, he hoped it would be enough to hedge his bets and influence her fate.
Although Bai complained to Theo every day about the training he was suffering through in order to obtain the Martial Artist class, even he would be appalled at the training regimen Meatshield was forced to undergo. Since she couldn’t kill monsters or risk classing up too soon, every battle was carried out against either Gobthnora or Theo. Having his slaves compete against one another was one of his plans to increase their combat understanding and round out their training. From his perspective, Theo had believed the two women were getting along pretty well, but that perception was shattered after witnessing their first sparring match.
They were really going at it with the intent to kill!
[Fireballs] went crashing into the sandy terrain, leaving the battlefield a crater-pocked no man’s land as Meatshield dove and struggled to evade the oncoming eruptions. Her goal was to close the distance between herself and the Shaman. The princess had little to no experience going up against ranged attacks, and ended up eating an explosion to the face on more than one occasion. If it was anyone else, they would have dropped dead after two or three hits, but the petite woman was nothing if not tenacious. She viciously pushed through the spells and swung a [Battered War Axe] at the other slave.
The Goblin, who had more experience, would usually find a way to escape melee range and counterattack.
If Theo hadn’t been around to referee, Meatshield would have ended up cooked numerous times. The first few matches went to Gobthnora hands down, but the princess found one way after another to improve her approach. Theo gave them both advice on how to fight, but it seemed like Meatshield was ultimately the one learning the most. After nine rounds of sparring, she finally cornered the Goblin by driving her into a pothole made by one of her own errant [Fireballs]. The girl leapt upon her prey like a hungry animal.
If it weren’t for the fact that she only had [Beginner Polearm Mastery], she might have actually dealt some damage. As it was, all of her strikes resulted in a MISS against the level 12 Gobthnora. Theo still called it as Meatshield’s win and scolded the Shaman for her lack of battlefield awareness. The Goblin was the type who learned best from setbacks, so this kind of loss was good for curbing the little creature’s rampant ego.
Of course, Theo had to take measures to make sure Meatshield didn’t get full of herself either, and proceeded to thrash her so thoroughly in the next match that she didn’t even have the opportunity to use her [Block] skill. It was an important lesson, and one which everyone needed to learn. There was always someone better than you! The Monsters only grew more powerful and dangerous the higher your level went, and not even Theo in his War God days was strong enough to take on a Raid Boss by himself.
Apparently, Meatshield was the competitive type, because she started practicing with her weapons during her admittedly scarce free time. The woman would move around the [Goblin Campfire] fighting against an enemy only she could see. Dozens... hundreds... thousands of blows struck empty air, but no matter which weapon she tried to use, it seemed like the girl never once proved victorious against the imaginary foe. Theo didn’t need to think twice about whose shadow she was chasing.
This continued for almost an hour until...
Slave [Princess Anastasia Therasa Bolevolo XVII] has learned a new skill! [Beginner Combat Tactics] has been added to the slave’s list of skills!
“Combat Tactics?” Theo, who was plotting out tomorrow’s training schedule, looked up from where he was seated as he heard a chime that had become all too familiar over the past few days.
[Combat Tactics] was a skill that only NPCs could learn, and was an exceptionally rare one. Out of the thousands of troops the Alabaster Alliance had brought up during the Great War Era of Dream World Online, only a select few received this skill, no matter how much the Guild tried to pry it out of them. It was one of the holy trinity of NPC war skills! With one of these skills, an NPC could be a low-ranking military officer, with two they could promote to a high-ranking military officer, and with all three they could serve as a General!
[Combat Tactics], [Leadership], and [Command]!
Since [Combat Tactics] was a skill that only NPCs could learn, there wasn’t much known about it or the way it functioned. The developers were tight lipped as always, but most players hypothesized that it improved the quality of the NPC’s AI by adding knowledge from historical texts and the ability to predict outcomes based on all acquired information. It was useful in any context, since an improvement in the AI meant an increase in all other aspects as well.
[Command] let NPCs better maneuver large groups, and was the easiest of the three skills to obtain through practice and education. [Leadership] was usually something the NPC had from the moment they were born or created, and provided circumstantial attribute bonuses and increased authority over those in a lesser position. Theo didn’t know if Meatshield had the [Leadership] skill or not, but there was at least a chance of it since she was technically royalty.
“Lucky!” Theo could help but turn his gaze on the young woman who was busy swinging a sword back and forth.
He had planned out a long-term strategy to help the slave eventually gain this skill, hopefully by the time she reached level 60, but could never have imagined she would pick it up by herself! This was what one referred to as a natural talent. Whatever her fate would have been in the game world before her storyline was cut, it didn’t matter with the acquisition of this new ability.
Slave [Princess Anastasia Therasa Bolevolo XVII] has reached the necessary requirements to advance a class. The slave’s class will advance from Novice to Soldier!
Class advancement! Soldier? There’s a class called Soldier?
Theo bolted upright, “Wait! Don’t just go getting a class without any warning!”
Slave [Princess Anastasia Therasa Bolevolo XVII] has learned a new skill! [Adaptability] has been added to the slave’s list of skills!
...[Endurance] has been added to the slave’s list of skills!
...[Training] has been added to the slave’s list of skills!
Slave [Princess Anastasia Therasa Bolevolo XVII] has reached the necessary requirements to advance a skill! The slave’s skill will advance from [Beginner Conditioning] Lv.10 to [Lesser Conditioning] Lv.1!
Meatshield continued swinging her sword as if nothing had happened, but Theo was almost shaking with excitement. Although he wasn’t sure about the exact specifications of the Soldier class, there was no denying from the skills it granted that it was a combat class. Of course, it had been the girl’s signature ability so far, [Conditioning], that finally reached Lesser-rank when she hit level 10.
It was a shame that Theo had never heard of the Soldier class before. The only conclusion he could reach on the matter was that it was a special NPC class, and players couldn’t receive it. That, or the requirements for this class were so obscure that it had never been discovered before. It wasn’t like it was an impossibility, just incredibly unlikely.
Before Theo could properly inspect his slave with the [Appraise Humanoid] skill, he received another system message.
Slave [Soldier Anastasia Therasa Bolevolo XVII] has used [Training]. Strength and Agility increased by 5% for 12 hours.
“This is… a self-buff?” Theo’s mind was racing when he heard the effects of the skill, “Can she just use it at will?”
With a duration that long, it probably had an equally long cooldown. It reminded Theo of a buff that a few of the commander type skills granted, though those bonuses were given to anyone that trained under the holder for a period of time. Could it be that Meatshield was able to use it to gain the benefits for herself? Theo decided to go ahead and check her stats.
[Soldier Anastasia Therasa Bolevolo XVII] Lv. 10 Human Elite
Current Effects: [Training: Strength +5%; Agility +5%; 11:58:16]
It looked like the Soldier’s attribute bonus didn’t increase Constitution, or her HP would have gone up by an extra 100 points when she leveled. That implied a focus on damage dealing over durability. Well, it wasn’t like Meatshield really needed any extra HP in the first place. No player would be able to catch up to her until they hit their second class advancement unless they massively over invested in a single attribute.
“At least one of the points should have gone into her Strength, so where did the other go? Agility?” Theo was staring at the woman with an obsessive gaze.
Not having information about his slave’s new class was driving him absolutely crazy. After agonizing for a few moments longer, he realized that the only way to discover the truth was to put her through field testing. As long as he paid close attention to all of her actions, it would inevitably reveal the details of these new skills.
“Clean up the camp,” Theo stood and made an executive decision, “That’s enough rest, we’re going hunting again.”
Gobthnora’s face glowed with excitement, “Master will round up the puny weak monsters for Gobthnora to burn?” she asked, clearly fond of their activities over the past few days.
Meatshield turned with a blank expression on her face.
“Change of plan, our new Soldier is going to take the lead,” Theo said.
“Soldier?” Gobthnora looked at the princess, “Is dumb humie girl?”
Theo ignored the Goblin’s confusion, unwilling to try explaining player knowledge to the AI, and instead called to Meatshield, “Do you feel like you can do it?”
She nodded. It was impossible to tell what was going through the woman’s head, but she probably felt a multitude of changes in her body. At least compared to her usual self, the princess seemed to be overflowing with energy. After sorting through the pile of weapons that she had been using like toys lately, Meatshield decided on the [Battered War Axe]. It was her favorite, and took advantage of her Lv. 8 [Beginner One-Handed Mastery].
It took a couple of fights to discover the extent of his slave’s changes after obtaining the Soldier class. The result was a series of completely one-sided dominations on Meatshield’s part. Against the level 13 [Rock Wolf], the previous Meatshield would have only been able to win by taking advantage of her superior HP and [Block] skill to stay close and spam high MISS-chance attacks. Her usual strategy was to use her body like a grindstone and slowly wear the prey down.
This strategy now seemed obsolete. After the class change, she hit with almost half of her attacks. No matter how much her Strength or Agility increased from class advancement or [Training], it shouldn’t have been possible to do this without a huge boost to her skill proficiency. [Combat Tactics] could allow for more accurate attacks and a higher chance to score Critical hits, but it was too low level to show such effects. Judging from the names alone, this was mostly likely the result of her [Adaptability] skill.
“Hunters get the [Sniper] skill, which can increase accuracy with ranged weapons, and the Weapon Master archetype can do the same with [Favored Weapon]... but how does [Adaptability] work?” Theo was taking mental notes throughout the entire fight, and had Meatshield swap weapons halfway through.
The result when using a [Bent Spear] was that her accuracy dropped by a significant amount, but her attacks were still more accurate than they had been. This proved to be the case regardless of what type of weapon she used, though the end results varied wildly. While he couldn’t be absolutely certain, Theo had a deep understanding of the way skills worked in Dream World Online, and eventually came to a conclusion regarding the effects of [Adaptability].
If he was correct, it was a synergy-type skill. It was similar to to the augment-type, like the way his own [Appraise Humanoid] skill interacted with [Perception]. The difference between synergy and augmentation was that the latter usually resulted in a linear net positive, whereas the former would have a multiplicative or derivative effect. In this case, Theo surmised that [Adaptability] allowed Meatshield to share a certain amount of proficiency between all weapons depending on their similarity.
In other words, improving the level of her [One-Handed Mastery] would give her a decent bonus to hit with [Daggers], but less so for [Heavy Swords].
“It probably works with ranged weapons too…” Theo considered, “Is this because I taught her too many weapon skills?”
As for [Endurance], this skill didn’t remain a mystery for very long either. To put it simply, it was another passive skill, one that gave her a small chance to gain the benefit of the [Endure] effect any time she was hit. At Lv. 1 it appeared to have about a 2% chance. So, not that likely, but the outcome was still good. An endured hit was the same as a free partial dodge. Meatshield would take some shock damage, but that was it. Another layer had been added to the turtle’s shell, though Theo didn’t know if the skill gave additional bonuses or not.
Her Agility had gone up from the class change as well, confirming Theo’s earlier suspicions.
“A mobile and flexible hit and run type class, with a bit of survivability. It rounds her stats out nicely but doesn’t really take advantage of her strengths. Seems to have a high skill cap too…”
Honestly, Theo would have preferred if Meatshield’s class was designed for defense instead. If she had become a Knight, she could have been pretty much untouchable. Like this, he would have to keep tabs on her growth at all times, just to make sure she didn’t grow into a jack-of-all-trades style build. For the time being, using her as anything other than a tank would still be a waste.
“Stupid humie really is different! Master was right, like always!” Gobthnora observed with a scoff.
The Shaman didn’t enjoy being out of the limelight, but Theo ignored her protestations, “How is your body? Have you adapted to it yet?” he asked the princess.
Even players had a tough time getting used to sudden increases in their attributes, to say nothing of NPCs who generally had inferior comprehensive skills. Meatshield might have shaken her head in response, but looked as if she wanted to continue fighting until she learned how to better control her new power and speed.
An arrow plunged into the dirt less than a meter from where Theo was standing. The slaves reacted immediately and entered the combat formation they had practiced, with Meatshield positioning herself and her shield between Theo and the archer. She did so just in time to intercept another projectile with her shield.
Ever unphased, Theo turned to look towards the direction of the attack, “Mounted archers… bandits?”
A dust cloud was rapidly approaching from the west, a sure sign of horses. From this distance, they would be upon the trio in a minute or so. There was no time to run, and although the walls of Aleside were still visible from their hunting ground, it was too far to reach safely.
“Gobthnora!” Theo called.
Despite her cowardly nature, the Goblin had never shown an ounce of fear when her master was around. She snapped to attention.
“[Fireball]! Aim for the horses in the front!”
“Yes!” Gobthnora turned her beady yellow eyes on the approaching horsemen and began to chant, “Gobthnora hate filthy land hippos!”