The sound of leaves rustled in the wind, the only noise heard throughout the forest. Ears twitched next to a set of horns, but he paid it no mind as nothing else followed. The mighty beast went about his business, grazing upon the tasty leaves of a nearby bush.
The wind continued to whisper, sweeping across the wooly fur upon his four-legged hide. Once again, he thought he smelled something peculiar. Turning his head to the side, he dared whatever it was to approach him and face the wrath of his pointed charge. He was the pride of his pack, its strongest defender. Nothing would slip past him.
Feeling antsy but confident all the same, he stomped the ground once, sending tremors where he stood. His legs were powerful enough to smash iron. His horns could easily slice through weaponry and skewer his foes. He had nothing to fear from invaders. What little of them that dared to bother his kind would only experience being trampled and left for scavengers to forage.
A chill suddenly ran down his back. His instincts were now foretelling of danger approaching.
Then, a flash of black fluttered at the corner of his vision, a color that he knew was unnatural here. But by then, it was too late. The invader had already slipped past his defenses. A flash of pain erupted from his underside.
He wanted to howl out in response, to warn his pack, but blood choked his throat. Lightheadedness struck him, along with shivers induced by the touch of a hand against his cheek. His eyes widened in surprise. A small female human held a bloodied knife. How could such a meager being stagger him?
The girl was dwarfed by his size, far smaller than even the normal humans who tried to snoop around. However, a cold terror struck him as his gaze fell upon hers. They were the eyes of the experienced, revealing her fair share of battles and determination to act. They spoke volumes of the human before him, and instantly, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to escape death.
Her approach was swift and silent, the only noise masked by the gentle breeze. Even her scent could barely be detected, having approached downwind from where he stood. She had gone straight for the throat, a target requiring great courage and skill but with a high payoff. But in succeeding, she had stopped him from causing a scene, unable to cry out for help before losing consciousness.
There would be no mercy, save for a quick death. In beating him so soundly, she would now be the master of this forest. None of his brethren could hope to match such fearsomeness.
With a whimper, the guardian of these woods toppled over, his life fading to black.
Ludmila heaved a sigh. She had heard that this oxen beast had been problematic for the nearby village. Certainly, the level 50 monster was too much to handle for any warrior out here in the far reaches of the kingdom, but the hunt had been easy, far too easy to tickle the instincts that she had developed growing up.
She recalled having more issues with the bears and wolves in her home world, where she wasn’t blessed by the Gods with Speed. Certainly, the monsters here far outclassed the typical person and their sheer size gave most pause, but that mattered little to a body reinforced by the nature of high stats. The same couldn’t be said though for the hunters approaching from behind, awestruck that a tiny girl in conspicuous, frilly clothing could slay their biggest threat in an instant.
“Color me surprised. You Electi are not to be trifled with!” one man said, holding a machete defensively, like he still expected the beast to rise up and charge at him.
Ludmila immediately held up a finger, shushing him. They were still in the middle of a hunt. The beast’s companions were nearby. The men hunkered down and followed Ludmila as she swiftly darted through the forest toward the next target.
Several more monstrous oxen were in a clearing ahead, grazing upon the foliage. As they approached the edge of the treeline, Ludmila abruptly stopped, using hand signals to direct the archers to encircle the prey.
After seeing the skill that she exhibited in taking down the alpha male of the herd, who had caused several casualties over the years, there was no question as to who to follow. As directed, the bowmen waited patiently for the right opportunity, lining their shots to make the most of their first strike.
The element of surprise ensured that even the underleveled hunters would have a chance at taking down their prey. Watching carefully at the men drawing their bows, Ludmila could see the exact moment when confidence in their aim all aligned.
She brought her hand down, and in the next moment, a flurry of arrows zoomed from the trees and lodged themselves into the broadside of the oxen. The arrowheads sank into the soft flesh between the ribs, piercing the lungs. That was the surefire way to wear a large beast down, if one could not outright kill it.
Several guttural howls echoed as the oxen flailed for a moment. But quickly losing breath, they could do little else but stumble before asphyxiation took over them. Even with fortified bodies, being unable to breathe made them no less vulnerable than any other animal.
Ludmila was glad that her skills from the previous world were no less useful in this one. She was a huntress, born and bred. Even though her past life had ended in tragedy, there was no way she could discard it. The feeling of nature and the excitement of the hunt were embedded in her soul. It was all a part of her, and she would fully embrace it, along with all the new things that she gained in this world.
She was Ludmila Dikiy, the assistant of Chancellor Saki of Sistina. Her actions carried a swiftness of the highest caliber. And as she blipped out of sight and reappeared right next to an oxen, the other hunters saw the beauty of a single slice, cutting the life away from a suffering beast.
The men followed, the ones with spears charging first to stab the wounded beasts, releasing them from their suffering. The extra leverage ensured that they wouldn’t be struck by the flails of a desperate beast. After Ludmila verified that the oxen had all been slain, she bent over and said a quick prayer, drawing imaginary symbols in the air.
That was the way to respect the hunted prey, for they would go on to nourish their bodies and spirits. The principles of her family were as divine as the holy power that she possessed. No dark past could hope to betray her heart any longer.
The hunters bowed to her afterwards, but she simply waved off their gratitude. She had merely been tasked to help these kingdom dwellers with their livelihood. Her objectives were to train these men to better fend for themselves, while getting rid of any potential nuisances.
That would ensure that a stable flow of goods came from this region. In this case, the item in question was beef, or rather, something as close to domesticated cattle in this world. The wild Monstrous Oxen fit that bill, capable of providing several thousand kilograms of meat per beast. The only issue was that they were far stronger than the typical person.
Sending appropriately leveled adventurers to slay the beast drove up the price of the meat to unsustainable numbers. That put a damper on the number of dishes that Claude had in mind. He had laid out plans to imitate many of the casual meals eaten in everyday life back in his home world. Because of that, he tasked the expert huntress to develop a strategy against them, one that even the locals could manage.
She had spent several weeks instructing these hunters on how to track the Monstrous Oxen, along with other native monsters, from a distance. Using natural skills and practiced stealth, the others marveled at how she could teach a typical farm boy to incapacitate and kill a monster ten times his size.
Surely, if a child could do something so grand, then the adults themselves wouldn’t shirk from their role. They practiced on less fearsome prey at first, some leading to chases by angry monsters due to mistakes made. But Ludmila was there to save them, slitting any rampant beast’s throat before they could get too far.
And finally, they had crossed their last hurdle – the Monstrous Oxen herds that were the highest average level of creatures in these forests. Slaying these few oxen would keep them quite busy for days, butchering the parts and preparing them for transport.
Ludmila couldn’t wait for such additions to the menu to become the norm, after having sampled some dishes personally made by Claude. The tender richness of meat and sinew upon her tongue, glazed in marbled fat and sauce – a spot of drool had to be wiped at the thought of it.
Focusing her attention back on the hunters, she wiped the blood off her knife. Her job here was complete. The dense forests in the southwestern corner of Sistina were now firmly in the grasp of this kingdom, adding yet another source of commodities to the growing prosperity of this world.
She smiled at the thought of this progress, driven by the whims of a person who dabbled in the pleasures of the appetite. Yet, such a silly goal was not looked down upon. A straightforward man who was easily read made the most trustworthy of companions.
“Thank you very much for your guidance, Miss Ludmila. We are grateful for all that you have shown us.” One of the hunters approached her, bowing deeply. It would have looked strange normally for a man twice as tall to humble himself before a girl in a frilly black skirt in the middle of the woods, but the other men present felt a similar gratitude.
“Take care of yourselves out here. Don’t become complacent even though you have passed my final test,” Ludmila said, beaming a smile.
A burst of enthusiasm erupted from them. In the course of their training, they had grown to worship the girl. Ludmila was their goddess of the woods, their Diana from another world. It saddened them to see her return to the capital to tend to her other duties.
“Miss Ludmila, you have blood on your clothing. That won’t do. Please have the resident magician clean you up before returning. We can’t send you off blemished.”
Somehow, that had missed her attention. But such a thing never bothered her in the first place. It was completely expected for oneself to be soiled by the blood of a hunt. Expecting anything less was dumb. Yet… that didn’t stop her from wearing the fancy outfits that seemed to tickle Claude’s fancy. Fortunately, the magic of this world made it a cinch to keep them tidy.
After making a quick stop to get herself cleaned up, she went to the gateway built in the nearby town. But rather than going straight to the capital, Ludmila asked the guard to pull up a portal to Fort Valga, before slipping through it.
A set of ruins next to a giant wall no longer resided here. The entire area had opened up into a vast plain with the signs of a town developing where that once stood months ago. No longer was there a physical boundary that marked a long-standing grudge. The rulers of Sistina wanted that to go first. Now, those of Sistina and Purnesia worked together, clearing the debris and building something new.
Hopefully, this act would ease the pain of exile that the Purnesians endured. The rest would be left to the future, the smoldering hatred against Sistina snuffed with passing time.
Ludmila trotted through the area, looking to and fro for someone. After passing by several buildings, she caught the sight of a girl with black hair, mallets strapped to her sides. That was the person she needed to report to, the current Chancellor of Sistina, Saki Himejima.
As Ludmila approached, the other girl took notice and turned to face her. Extending a hand to give a cordial greeting, Saki called out.
“Hey, Ludmila! All done I take it? …Where’s the beef?”