Mia was typically allowed to wander around as she pleased without any servants following her around or meddling in her affairs. She knew that this was largely due to the fact that the servants perceived her as a creepy child, but regardless, it was convenient for her. A servant would begrudgingly assist her if she ever needed it, but she didn't make use of them very often as she could take care of herself already. There was also the fact that she was unused to being waited on hand in foot, having only been a commoner in her past life.
After learning the rudimentary basics of controlling magic, Mia felt that the next step was to begin physical training. In her past life, she had led what could be called a sedentary lifestyle, and while she was slim, she definitely wasn't very athletic. But now that she was born into a world where she knew an apocalyptic event would occur in ten years' time, she felt it was absolutely necessary to prepare beforehand as early as possible.
Mia definitely had the mental fortitude necessary to begin exercising every day. That said, she still only possessed the body of a five-and-a-half-year-old child, and had rather limited stamina. So, she would alternate between magic practice and physical training each day.
While Mia had enough basic knowledge to organize a schedule of simple physical exercises for herself, she felt that the main problem was that she had zero experience with weapons of any kind. Just because a video game character knew how to swing a sword around didn't mean that she would, obviously. And, more importantly than wanting to learn how to use a sword or any other weapon, was the issue of skills.
In the Legend of Eristan, most adventurers and warriors relied on skills rather than magic. After all, magic was a talent that only one percent of the population would possess. Rather than relying on the elemental forces like magic, skills were a different way to channel mana that was characterized as external in nature, compared to the internal nature of magic.
To be honest, Mia didn't have a good understanding of just how skills were supposed to be different from magic. After all, neither magic nor skills existed in her previous world. It was just a common feature of many games, and Mia decided to simply accept it as it was without pondering too deeply about it.
If her magic was considered weak, then she would simply have to grind her physical stats. Well, in the game, skills and stat increases were simply handed out for free whenever a character leveled up, or through certain storyline events, but Mia currently had no way of knowing if that was still the case, as she was unable to even check her own status right now.
Mia began hanging out in the soldiers' barracks stationed right next to Count Hart's mansion. The soldiers were a roughshod bunch that mostly spent their time gambling and drinking with each other when not out and about on "tax collection" business.
It was difficult to get an exact estimate of the number of soldiers in her father's employ as they hardly ever gathered all together at the same time. Her best guess was that there were approximately 50 or so soldiers in total. She used the term "soldiers" loosely, as she never saw them doing anything resembling what she imagined a military force should have been doing: physical training or keeping the peace.
In fact, there were several of them that were pudgier than they were muscular. It was still indisputable that they were better equipped than the villagers: their leather armor and basic swords allowed them to swagger about acting high and mighty as they always went together in small groups, and none of the villagers dared act against them. Mia privately felt that none of these soldiers probably even had the courage to walk outside unaccompanied.
Of course, not all the soldiers were like this. Mia noticed a red-haired boy among them who was always going out by himself to the deserted practice grounds in order to train in sword swings by himself. After observing him continue at this for a few days, Mia finally decided to approach him out of curiosity.
Privately, she also wondered if his red hair meant that he would fit the stereotype in her previous world that he would be a fiery, passionate, and hot-blooded youth, but she also knew deep down that she shouldn't judge simply by appearances.
Mia got the impression that he was most likely ten or so years older than her, aged about 15 or 16. He was a little below average height for his age group, yet had a sturdy muscular build that showed he worked out regularly. When she called out to him for the first time this morning, there was surprise in his golden yellow eyes as he turned around.
"What's a little girl like you doing here? Are you lost? What's your name? Do your parents know where you are?" He even reached out to pat her on the head.
Mia frowned, as she wasn't used to being treated like a little child, when she inwardly viewed herself as an adult. However, this helped her to come to terms with her own situation as she thought about it – perhaps her status as a loli could even be useful in certain situations when dealing with certain types of "gentlemen."
After Mia recovered from her surprise and introduced herself as Mia Hart, along with showing him her family crest as proof, it was the boy's turn to be shocked.
"Whoa there, aren't you Count Hart's daughter, Mia? What's Milady doing out here by herself?"
"Please, dispense with the formalities. Just Mia is fine."
"That won't do, Milady. I'm here to serve you, after all. What could have possibly brought you out here?"
Mia inwardly sighed as she supposed there was no convincing him to not be so formal during just their first meeting. She figured she might as well answer his question with one of her own.
"As you presumed, I'm Mia Hart, daughter to Count Hart. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I was wondering what you were doing out here."
"Ah, forgive me for not introducing myself. I'm Colson Azure, from Dorn village. I was just training from the practice regimen I set for myself: 500 sword swings every morning. Things seem quite relaxed around here even though I joined the army just a few days ago, so I was giving myself something to do."
'Ahh, so he's fresh meat that just joined. He doesn't seem to have been corrupted by the environment here just yet. This could be useful.'
"Colson, what is an army to you? For what purpose did you join the army?"
The boy seemed rather taken aback by Mia's flurry of questions. He probably didn't expect such a young child like her to ask philosophical-sounding questions like these. However, he was able to quickly recover and answer her immediately, evidence that he must have strong beliefs about this matter.
"Of course, it's to defend our homes and protect the people! That's only the natural thing to do! As for me personally, it was also because I'm the second son, so I wanted to set out and find a job of my own, haha..."
Mia understood it that he was the naive idealist type who hadn't had his hopes and dreams dashed yet. As for the second half of his comment, that was because Hoplia was a feudal society in which only the eldest male child would inherit everything, a common system even in her original world in medieval times. Older female children could only inherit if there were no younger males in the line of succession, so it was patriarchal as well. Luckily for Mia, she was the main successor so far, a fact that would end up greatly benefiting her as well as pushing many responsibilities onto her before she had expected.
"You're from Dorn village, you said? I recall that it takes three days to walk here. I doubt you'd be able to afford hiring a horse carriage to take you here, after all. Have you heard anything about how the army here works while you were still in Dorn village?"
Although Mia had never visited Dorn village before, she knew from her geography lessons that Dorn village was on the farthest outskirts of the Hart domain. This caused her to privately wonder if that meant the village would be shielded from the worst of the plundering from the Hart soldiers.
While there were indeed a few old horses stabled here, it definitely wasn't to the degree where each and every one of the soldiers would have their own mount. In fact, Mia had only seen three or four horses in total, and none of them seemed all that energetic anymore as they were beyond their years.
The Hart soldiers most certainly were not a hard-working bunch. Since they weren't equipped with horses, she doubted that most of them would ever go to visit the farthest-off village in the domain without a pressing cause. Mia wanted to confirm for herself just how far this boy's naivety extended.
"Well, we're an independent bunch in Dorn village, and we even have our own militia force in town to deal with any stray bandits or monsters that make their way over! We hardly ever see any army folks; I just heard stories about what it was like in my grandpa's day."
Yet another confirmation of this boy's lack of knowledge about the world. Looking back at this moment in time, Mia considered if this was when her personality began twisting itself... Her knowledge of this world being a game world may have caused her to callously treat Colson as a useful tool to be recruited rather than a real person; viewing him only as a potential party member and follower. Or was it that this feudal society itself and the depravities she witnessed that ended up changing her?
Well, she might never find out the answer to that question, but that didn't matter. What mattered currently was building up a support base of allies to help her take the domain, allies she could rely on.
RPG games always would typically have some arbitrary headcount limitations, such as limiting the main character to only three or four party members out on the field. Mia had no intention to foolishly obey by the game rules now that they didn't exist anymore, and fully intended to go around in a larger party in the future. Well, that was if she could make enough friends, of course, but Mia was fairly confident in her judgement of other peoples' characters.
"Well then, please allow me to show you what it's really like around here. I hope that you'll be able to find what you're looking for here, and give yourself a purpose in life."
Mia put her plan to obtain her first slave, er, retainer into motion on that day. What she needed right now the most was someone she could manipulate and listen to her command, rather than her father. As Colson was someone from an outlying town, he came with fewer prejudices and was young enough to have plenty of growth potential. She figured that even if he turned out to be weak, it would be fine as long as he did whatever she needed of him under her employ. She was still too young and weak for now, and needed to rely on others.
Three days ago, Colson arrived in the city of Palmo, which was the city that Count Hart directly ruled over.
Colson had always wanted to be an adventurer just like his grandfather after having grown up while listening to all his grandfather's stories about glory from times past. Being more influenced than any of his other siblings, he even pestered his grandfather to teach him the Azure swordsmanship style that his father had passed on learning to become a regular farmer.
Naturally, Colson's grandfather was overjoyed to finally have a disciple from his own family, and doted on his grandson. Colson learned the ins and outs of the Azure family swordsmanship style over the years.
His family's swordsmanship techniques could honestly be said to only be average or slightly above average. It definitely wasn't anything an experienced swordsman would be interested in learning. However, it was completely suited for beginners, as it stressed the importance of a solid foundation with proper sword stances and techniques for attack as well as defense, with more emphasis on the latter. If analyzed at a higher level, Azure swordsmanship may have been inadequate, but it happened to just be the right level for Mia to begin at.
Even if Colson's real dream was to be an adventurer, Hoplia didn't even have an Adventurer's Guild established as it was rather rural and the monsters were weak. His grandfather recommended that he join the army instead to gain some discipline and experience, knowing that Colson was perhaps a bit spoiled and lacking in real experience. Of course, his grandfather never would have made such a recommendation if he knew the real state of the Hart army, but retirement and an idle lifestyle had dulled the former top-tier adventurer's edges to the point where he no longer kept in touch with many of his old connections or knew about the happenings of the world around him.
Thus, Colson arrived in Palmo, applied to the Hart army, and was readily accepted on the basis that he seemed to be a sturdy enough youth.
A few days after he joined the Hoplia army, he ran into a mysterious little silver-haired girl. After learning that this girl was Mia, the daughter of the lord, Colson's first reaction was to think about escorting her back to her father, but this idea was quickly dispelled by Mia herself.
For the next few days, Mia kept visiting Colson in the barracks, and chatted with him about various topics such as politics, academics, or just idle gossip. Colson got the impression from her that she was far more intelligent and mature than he was, a fact that he was readily willing to admit as he himself knew that he was lacking in academics. That's why he was so surprised when Mia then requested that he become her sword instructor, as she didn't strike him as the type to be interested in such an activity.
"What!? You want me to become your personal attendant and bodyguard, as well as teach you the sword? The first part I can understand, but why does Milady need to learn how to wield a sword? Just speak, and we soldiers shall happily fight on your behalf!"
Well, while he may indeed be the type who would act the hero in rescuing a damsel in distress, it was doubtful whether the Hart soldiers were of a similar character. Colson had yet to learn about the scoundrel nature of the Hart army, having been preoccupied with his own personal training as well as Mia coming to chat with him.
"I believe that in times of danger, the only person I can rely on is myself. After all, even if I hire you as my guard, it's not like you can follow me everywhere still, isn't that right?"
Colson felt like he somehow disagreed with the individualistic girl and wanted to give her a speech about the values of friendship and teamwork, but he refrained as he knew he lacked the verbal talent to win a debate against her. As for teaching her the sword, he readily agreed after just a moment's consideration. The Azure family style of swordsmanship was no closely-guarded secret, and Colson's grandfather had taught a few other novice adventurers back in the day as well. There was no need for Colson to write a letter to his grandfather and request permission, as fifteen years of age was already considered an adult in this society. Colson felt that he could handle his own decisions.
Luckily for Mia, Colson already possessed a Status Stone, which was a basic magic item that any adventurer or warrior in training would have. Colson agreed to let Mia check her own status with the item and also showed her his own status so that she could have a comparison.
Job: Wind Mage
Magic: Light Breeze lvl. 2, Detection lvl. 1
Attack: 16 (+5)
Defense: 8 (+2)
Skills: Intermediate Swordsmanship Proficiency lvl. 6, Azure Sword Technique lvl. 4, Arc Slash lvl. 2, Stab lvl. 3, Parry lvl. 3
Innate talent: Swordsmanship Mastery – 10% bonus to all swordsmanship skills.
Apparently, the additional bonus numbers in the brackets came from their clothes and weapons which counted as [equipment.] Colson was wearing a [Tough Leather Jacket] which gave him +2 in defense on top of his base stat, as well as a basic [Iron Sword] that had a value of +5 attack points. Sadly, none of Mia's clothing seemed to be sturdy enough to provide any bonuses.
Mia could only smile wryly at this. She supposed that with her young age, having low base stats was only to be expected. It definitely didn't seem like she would be able to inflict much damage to anyone with her fists alone through a piece of clothing like the [Tough Leather Jacket.]
Mia also managed to get a slightly more concrete grasp on her own ability descriptions for the first time, vague as they were.
Light Breeze lvl. 2: Controls the wind in an area around the caster. Costs 1 mana per 5 minutes to maintain. Specialty magic.
Detection lvl. 1: The wind will whisper its information about the surroundings to you for the next 5 minutes. Costs 10 mana.
Well, this magic still wasn't anything to be bragging about, however. Mia knew that even ten of her probably wouldn't be able to defeat Colson, or any other adult really, at their current levels. Her only outstanding stat in comparison was mana, but that was only natural as she apparently had a magic job class.
Now she finally had some specifics about how skills and magic spells worked! While the main characters of the game were customizable and would learn skills and magic automatically upon leveling up, the same couldn't be said of the side characters. Just think about it, just how many side characters in most games were there with more than two or three abilities at best? Even enemy bosses typically had no more than three or four! Mia knew that she wasn't any main character from the game, and that she would have to work hard if she wanted to learn any skills by herself as nothing would be handed to her on a silver platter.
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