The Newt and Demon

Chapter 6: The vast swamp, the shy Marshling

Chapter 6: The vast swamp, the shy Marshling

Theo rose before the sun did, but not of his own choosing. A loud banging roused him from his slumber, repeated fists on his door that cut through the lab and echoed in his bedroom. He stumbled out of bed, flinging the door to the alchemy lab open and glowering at Luras, who stood fresh for the day. Through a hooded gaze, Theo invited him inside.

This world doesnt happen to have coffee, does it? Theo asked.

Youre the alchemist, Luras said. I dont know what coffee is.

Its a drink that helps you wake up, Theo said.

We have something like that. You can make a tea from [Moss Nettle], Luras said.

Funny, thats one ingredient were looking for today, Theo said. Let me figure out how to prepare this giant corn before we go.

The [Zee Kernels]? Here, Ill show you, Luras said.

The Half-Ogre strode to where the crate of Zee rested, hefting one of them up and withdrawing his knife. He cut it into slivers, moving the [Copper Still] out of the way and starting a small fire. Theo watched, sating his thirst from his water skin before refilling it from the barrel of [Purified Water]. The strips of Zee went directly on the fire, sizzling as the flames licked them. Luras seemed proud of his work, producing two charred lengths of the vegetable and handing one to Theo.

Dig in, Luras said. This is the lifes blood of Broken Tusk. The farmers replace the soil on the farm when it gets baked by the sun. Only that muck out in the swamp allows this stuff to grow.

Theo took a bite of his food, surprised at the complexity of the flavors. It was somewhere between an avocado and corn, striking a strange savory-sweet balance through the flesh of the vegetable. He had to put it down before he could finish it. He nearly jumped when a window popped up, informing him that hed discovered an additional effect from the [Zee Kernel].

[Properties Discovery!]

Youve discovered an additional effect from the [Zee Kernel] by eating it.

[Cure Poison] discovered.

Theo dismissed the screen, tapping on the whole kernel to inspect its properties.

[Zee Kernel]

[Alchemy Ingredient] [Food]


Zee is a crop grown in the rich marshlands soil.


[Regenerate Health] [Cure Poison] ????

Wow, Zee is an alchemical ingredient, Theo said, scoffing.

Thats news to me, Luras said. I cant see the properties of ingredients like you can.

Well, good thing I have a ton of the stuff, Theo said. Alright. Time for my plan. Its pretty simple. We make as many potions as we can before those adventurers leave.

So, we need to gather a bunch of stuff, Luras said, shrugging. Easy enough.

Theo retrieved his books and went over the plants theyd be targeting. It was fortunate that Luras knew what a [Manashroom] was, and where they could be found along with the [Moss Nettle]. The mushroom would make a potion that restored mana, if the books could be trusted, while the nettle sorted out stamina. The bulk of the effort would come from collecting the plants, but processing had its own challenges. They set a target of 50 units of each essence in order to produce 50 of each potion.

Theyll have the money, too, Luras said. Groups clear that dungeon and return to the north. The tales the traders tell say they can make up to a gold per attempt.

And you cant really set a value on your life, can you? Theo said, grinning.

The pair settled on lighter topics, waiting for the sun to rise before they set out. Luras warned Theo that there might be people coming to serve apprenticeships in his lab once word really got out. The fear was that someone from afar would come to usurp a spot that the citizens of Broken Tusks saw as their own. It would be seen as an act taking the wealth away from the town, something that Theo wanted to avoid at all costs. He hadnt met everyone in the town, but it was already growing on him. He wanted to embrace this new place as his home and see it prosper. He vowed to keep the wealth of his abilities within the small town.

The sun finally crawled lazily over the eastern horizon, casting the town in shadows of pink and orange. The heat was already on the rise for the day, a layer of sweat accumulating on Theos body the moment he stepped out into the open air. Thinking about it, he didnt even know what time of year it was. Seasonal changes in swamps could be tricky to determine, but it certainly felt like summer to him.

What season are we in? Theo asked.

The Season of Blooms, Luras said.

Theo knit his brow, not sure what he was expecting. They certainly werent going to call it Spring, but he could assume it was spring with the blooms and all. Are we in the season that comes after the cold one?

Thats right. All the seasons are Season of. Season of Blooms, Fire, Death, and Ice, Luras said. Although we dont get any ice here. Or deathnone of the plants die here like they do up north.

Right. We call them Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, Theo said.

I like ours better.

I dont like the one about death, Theo said, grimacing.

Luras shrugged.

The pair trudged north to the town square before departing. Luras assured him that anything interesting that happened in the town started in the square. Nothing interesting was going on. Throk was setting up his shop for the day, and the tavern had a barker outside that was advertising their specials. It was turtle soup, again. Miana burst from her home, narrowing her eyes on Theo and stomping through the mud. She still wore her nightgown, the hem already soaked in mud.

Now that youre settled, I expect you to start paying, Miana said.

Luras cast her a dangerous glare, and she shrunk under his withering gaze. New arrivals get a grace period. Its in the contract.

Miana sputtered for a moment, straightening her nightgown and glowering. Two weeks. Then I expect you to start paying.

She stomped off without another word, slamming the door behind her.

Shes behind on taxes, Luras said, shrugging. We just dont get enough trade here.

Broken Tusk pays taxes to whom, exactly? Theo asked.

The capital in the north. QavellKingdom of Qavell, to be exact, Luras said. We have taxes on the Zee exports, as well as the cores I sell to traders, but its not a lot. Youre the first hope weve had in a long time.

Thats not a lot of pressure, or anything, Theo said.

Hed been in charge of people before. People fighting for their lives against impossible odds, but this was different. This wasnt some dictator who needed to be overthrown discretely. This was the lives of honest people. Theo pictured the kingdom he knew so little of in his mind. If the southlands were so distant that it would take 7 days to arrive from the capital, they were as backwater as you could get. It stood to reason that overland trade was the best way that people could move goods, as he hadnt heard about any ships or other vehicles. Making a name for the town might not be enough to see it prosper. It needed roads, a better infrastructure, and word of mouth.

Theo pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He pressed that sense of responsibility deep down, forcing it away. He wondered if his high [Wisdom] score helped with that, as the feelings vanished immediately. Reorienting himself to the present, he cast his eyes over the road leading into the southern swamp.

Which would you like to collect first? Theo asked.

The [Moss Nettle]. Its going to be the worst to collect, Luras said.

Lead the way.

Luras did exactly that, turning on the spot and marching down the road. Theo looked at his moccasins and grimaced, not looking forward to the sensation of mud squishing underfoot. They passed by the tall Ogre Cypress and deeper into the swamp, avoiding monsters where they could. What monsters attacked were quickly put down by the hunter, his skill with the bow and dagger shining. All Theo could do was stand back and give a thumbs-up when the monsters fell.

Most of the trees were cleared out of the town, but the swamp to the west was littered with trees Theo had never seen. There were more cypresses, but also low-hanging trees that looked like willows, but with far broader leaves. They looked brutish against the ones he remembered from Earth. While they hung low, it wasnt low enough that the pair could snatch the spiny moss from the boughs, and neither was certain of their climbing ability. Luras decided that boosting Theo into the branches was a good enough plan, hoisting the alchemist up by the feet and watching him wobble and shout his objections.

Hold me steady! Theo shouted.

Grab a branch! Luras shouted back.

Theo frantically snatched at the boughs, his inferior [Dexterity] score making the task difficult. If not for Luras incredible strength, he would have plunged into the mud below. Theo finally got his hands around a branch and hoisted himself into the canopy, pushing away smaller twigs and sputtering as a leaf inserted itself into his mouth. It tasted like mud and salt. He spotted the [Moss Nettle], his superior [Wisdom] stat allowing him to recall the general shape of the plant from his book. The branch wobbled ominously as he moved out along the limb, pressing his body against it and holding on with both hands. He reached out a hand and touched the moss, intent on identifying it.

[Drogramath Herbalism Core] receivedexperience (2%).

[Moss Nettle]

[Alchemy Ingredient]


A spiny moss that grows among the boughs of many swamp trees.


[Stamina Recovery] ???? ????

Theo almost lost his grip as he hooted with excitement, his heart skipping a beat as he wrapped both hands around the branch again. Waiting a moment for the drum of his heartbeat to settle down, he reached out and worked his clawed fingers under the moss, where it connected with the bark. He brought the moss to his face and inhaled the earth aroma, somewhere between mud and a lemon.

Look out below! Theo shouted, tossing the clump of moss down to Luras, who caught it deftly.

Keep your balance, Luras shouted back. Dont want to scrape you up from the mud.

Shimmying across the branches was tedious. Theo wasnt about to risk his horrible agility to get the task done sooner and took as much time as he needed. He moved on his belly, never daring to rise to his feet on those shaky limbs, and repeated the process over the course of an hour. Once all the [Moss Nettle] was cleared out of the first tree, the pair sized up another stout tree and did it again. It was easy to see why Luras wanted to get the moss out of the way, and without him, the entire ordeal would have been impossible. Every so often, a monster would come to investigate what the commotion was, instigating combat with the hunter immediately. Without someone to guard his back, Theo would have been dead before he got his first ingredient.

They spent the entire day filling their bags with [Moss Nettle] and fighting monsters. Theos stomach was growling by midday, but he pushed through. Only when he started feeling woozy did they decide that they had done enough and planned to return to Broken Tusk. Before leaving, Theo received his first core level up.

[Drogramath Alchemy Core] has reached level 2!

Luras informed him that nothing happened at such a low level, but as his cores grew stronger, they would gain additional effects and more potency. Gaining a level in his herbalism core was just a bonus for the entire journey.

The alchemists stamina bar was drained, only a sliver remaining. Luras propped him up as they deposited their ingredients at the lab before retreating to the Marsh Wolf Tavern for dinner. True to the barkers word, the tavern was once again serving the turtle soup.

Good to see you again, Xam, Theo said, grinning.

The Half-Ogres soft features were a sight compared to the grueling day out in the swamp. She smiled the way she smiled at everyone, flashing her white tusks. Nice to see youre not dead.

Two of your finest turtle soups, please, Theo said, producing two copper coins from his pocket.

While he was covered in muck, the entire floor of the tavern was more mud than wood. Xam smiled and poured two bowls of the soup before returning from the hearth, sliding them across the counter and chuckling.

You know, were thrilled to have you here, Xam said, taking the coins. People are already talking about how youre going to put us on the map.

Im afraid that I wont be enough to see Broken Tusk prosper, Theo said with a sigh.

Dont pretend like youre alone, Xam said. Miana is a spiky woman, but the rest of us are ready to elevate this swamp town. Youre the kick in the pants we need to make that happen.

Thanks, Theo said, smiling. Im going to go eat before I pass out.

Theo brought the two bowls to a table that Luras found near the back. It was further away from the hearth, and near a window, a fact that he appreciated. The sun hadnt set yet, and the heat was still in full effect, but the breeze was nice. He didnt want to eat the hot soup, making himself hotter and sweatier, but it was delicious. The pair finished their bowls before speaking, reclining back in their chairs and taking in the surrounding conversation. The townsfolks words came as a sea of aspirations, small hopes that would blossom into bigger things. Broken Tusk was filled with those little dreams, all coming together to create a bonfire.

The contentment that Theo felt at that moment was overwhelming. Combined with his low stamina, he found himself just watching. The life that he wanted for so long was right in front of him. He hadnt lived in the town for long, but the scene of destruction and radioactivity seemed like a lifetime ago. The Harbinger was a distant dream that he could cast out of his mind and breath in the fresh air of peace.

Alchemist. Im an adventurer, a small voice came from somewhere near the ground.

Theo turned to see a small Marshling, their wet pink skin catching the light. He couldnt get over how cute the pink protrusions at the side of its head were. They wore a small black cloak that flowed over their fat tail, complete with leather adventurer armor.

Youre not an adventurer, Tresk, Luras growled. If your father hears you say that, hell kick you out.

Is it rude to say that the Marshlings are absolutely adorable? Theo said, letting out a heavy sigh.

Tresk went a deep shade of violet, pressing their webbed fingers against their face and turning away. The Marshling scampered off through the tavern, keeping their face covered the entire way.

You embarrassed her, Luras said, laughing and slapping his knee.

Her? How can you tell? Theo asked.

Now that is rude, Luras said, grinning.

Im still learning, Theo said. Does she have a crush on me or something?

Ah, well Marshlings dont really work like that, Luras said. I think shes looking for work.

Id hire her if I needed an adventurer, Theo said with a shrug.

Well, keep that in mind. She got her hands on some combat cores and insists on being an adventurer, despite Throks protests.

Oh, damn. Shes Throks kid? Theo scoffed.

Shes an adult, but yes, Luras said. We really could have used her for the trees, actually. Shes a [Rogue] and has high [Dexterity].

Yeah, were definitely hiring her, Theo said. How much fallout can I expect from Throk?

Some. He knows that shes going to be an adventurer. Hes just fighting it as long as he can, Luras said. Its really just a matter of protecting his child. He has other kids to take over the business, but parents can be really protective. Especially Marshlings.

The pair sat there for some time as the sun hung low outside. It wasnt even dusk, and Theo was ready to turn in for the night. The moss was the most difficult part of the harvest, though. Luras didnt think that the mushrooms would be much of a problem, and they already knew easy spots to find the thistle. If everything went according to plan, theyd have enough materials to craft by the end of tomorrow.

Luras helped Theo to his feet, and they made their way to the door, only to be waved over by the group of adventurers theyd missed. Jarson was reclining in his chair, a grin hanging on his face as they came over to talk.

I tested your potion, alchemist, Jarson said, his grin widening. Youre a hidden gem.

Thank you, Theo said.

Im not sure how much you know about alchemy, but distillation is an advanced skill. Most alchemists start with very simple concoctions that dont really do the job, Jarson said. Everyone eventually specializes in distillation, but that comes way later.

Theo hadnt even thought about his path in alchemy yet. Essential Alchemy described many processes to create useful things from plants, but he didnt really consider the idea that he was ahead of the curve. It made sense when he thought about it, as the book lingered on those other processes and glossed over distillation.

I wasnt aware of that, actually, Theo said, grinning. Thank you, though.

No problem, Jarson said, waving a dismissive hand. We might even come back, if youre still here.

I have no plans on leaving, Theo said. Now, if youll excuse me, Im going to collapse.

Jarson laughed and waved them away. Theos mind wavered in and out, the journey back to his unnamed alchemy lab was a blur. He climbed into bed with his friends help, kicking off his muddy moccasins and pulling the sheets up. The sun dipped below the horizon, casting the room in shadows as Luras went to leave. The alchemist was asleep before the Half-Ogre left the building.

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