Tessa stared at the blackboard, trying to make sense of a few things. Where did Torgrak both find a foldable blackboard? How did he pull it out of his bag? And what did he mean by “first aid”, “equipment”, and “alchemy”?
First aid was something she was familiar with. At Unity Academy, she and the other healers practiced some emergency procedures. Apply pressure to an open wound to help it clot. Then dress it properly with bandages to stabilize. After that, use a healing miracle or wait for a healing spell to be available.
Outside of Aavron’s lectures about basic armor and weapons, Tessa didn’t really know anything useful about “equipment”. A.side from her staff, there was nothing else she could effectively use. Is he going to give a more detailed lecture about what she already knew? If so, she might have to force herself to stay awake.
But of the three, “alchemy” had her stumped. Outside potion-making and conning, it wasn’t something most people invested any time into. What practical use, if any beyond what she knew, did it have? Spells are superior in both efficiency and convenience. Maybe Torgrak was broadly covering potions?
With his finger, Torgrak traced a triangle on the board. Gesturing to all three words one, “Can ye tell me what these three have in common?”
If not for laying in bed, she’d be scratching her head. Do they have something in common? Maybe since I’m a healer, it’s all related to medicine? Raising her eyebrow slightly, Tessa tried to give an answer, “They’re all... things you can use to heal someone?”
Torgrak looked at the board, “Well, yer not wrong. But more accurately, none o’ them rely on magix, miracles, or otherwise. What I’ll be teaching you is how ta be self-reliant, rather than letting your god do everything for ye.”
If his goal was to confuse her, he definitely achieved it. Why did Torgrak want to shift away from miracles and focus on these things? She’s spent years training and practicing her miracles. They’re more convenient than any physical substitute. Using a sword, shield, or bow was out of the question. So why swap to non-magical things out of the blue?
“Wouldn’t it be better for me to practice and refine my miracles?”
“An’ what will ye do when ye run out o’ miracles ta use?”
Torgrak rolled his eyes, “Hei can explain it bet’er, but ever’one has a limi’ed amount o’ ‘power’ they can pull from; magix, divine, or otherwise. So I’ll ask ye again, what will ye do when ye can’t cast yer miracles?”
Tessa opened her mouth to speak, but stopped and closed it. Running away or using her staff as a weapon were options, but she was neither fast nor strong enough for those to be viable in the middle of combat. Torgrak chuckled to himself as Tessa now knew how weak she really was. Without the ability to cast miracles, she was no better than dead weight.
He continued, “These three things be what e’ry Adventurer shou’ know, even if only on a basic level. Tha moment ye step beyond Faethun, ye’ll be wi’out tha protection o’ any sacrosanct church. So if ye wan’ ta survive, these be what keep ye alive.”
Tessa stared at her hands, “I thought I was prepared. I took every class, every lesson I could to improve myself as a precaution. Studying and memorizing what I could, even if it took a toll on my body.”
“An’ look where ye be now.”
Tessa didn’t respond, unable to look him in the eye.
He’s right. I failed. I’m a failure.
Torgrak clicked his tongue, annoyed as Tessa wallowed deeper and deeper into her pit of despair and self-pity, “It’s ne’er a matter o’ success or failure, what matters is comin’ back alive. Ye can’t boast aboot your accomplishments if yer lying dead on tha floor. I’ve seen many an overconfident an’ underprepared adventurer bite off more than he cou’ chew an’ ne’er return.”
Whether or not Torgrak intended it, his words resonated with her. If not for him and Hei saving her, she’d likely have been one of those Adventurers. Tessa was now at the bottom of her pit, staring up at her own weakness that kept her trapped in it. What actual use did she have to other people? She’d failed to keep her party members safe. She’d failed to keep herself safe. All she could do was cower behind others while they fought. Heroes protected others without fail, so why was she trying to become a Hero?
Torgrak sent his blackboard spinning on its axels, the board flipping rapidly over and over. Then he hit it with the back of his fist, forcing it to stop on the clean side.
“So yer going ta learn how ta be a good adventurer.”
The sudden smack of Torgrak’s fist on the board snapped Tessa’s focus back onto him. But why didn’t he show a single bit of sympathy for her? How does such a person, blatantly disregarding everything while selfishly pursuing his own goals, exist unimpeded? Whether it be sympathy, empathy, or mercy, he was bankrupt of it all. Was he truly heartless?
Torgrak, pulling a step stool from his bag, wrote “First Aid” at the top of the board. Taking out an extendable metal pointer, he smacked the words to get Tessa’s attention on them.
“As someone who knows healing miracles, ye shoul’ at least know something aboot this.”
Tessa’s felt insulted, both personally and in place of her professors. They’d helped her learn with kindness and patience, and this dwarf was trampling over all of it. Effectively calling all their lessons and hard work pointless. Was it necessary to be so infuriating?
Parroting what she’d learned at Unity Academy, “Yes, I do know something about it. I learned how to clot and dress a wound. Then either use my own miracles to heal, or wait for a more powerful healer to be available.”
“Do ye know how ta do it wi’out magix or miracles??”
Tessa shifted her gaze back to the floor. She only knew that process. Why would she need to use anything other than spells to handle a wound? It was quick, convenient, and effective. Doing it without magic or miracles risked further injury or the wound becoming significantly worse.
Torgrak put his hand to his forehead, pressing on his face and sliding his hand down to the end of his beard, “Young folks these years... Then listen up! I’m going ta list what ta use or do based on tha level o’ available supplies when neither magix nor miracles be options.”
Tessa watched as Torgrak wrote the first option: Potions.
“Use a potion when ye still have most o’ your supplies. They’re effective an’ can be used by tha injured person or administered by someone else. Ye can also use them in tha middle o’ combat, so always have some on ye.”
For as mad as Torgrak is, what he said sounded uncomfortably rational. Next he wrote: Suturing.
“Suture tha wound after cleanin’ an’ clottin’ it. Best ta do when ye have a moment ta rest an’ recover. It won’t immediately heal tha wound, but it’ll let tha injured person continue on their feet afterwards. Avoid fighting ta let tha injury heal naturally, otherwise it might reopen an’ require new stitchin’.”
But then things took a dark turn: Cauterizing.
“Cauterize a wound when ye don’ have tha time ta properly treat a serious injury. Use this when runnin’ away, as it’ll make tha most efficient use o’ your time an’ won’t leave as much o’ a trail behind ye.”
Then Torgrak mentioned the unthinkable: Amputation.
“Amputate a limb when there be no other options an’ tha wounded person cannot move or be moved due ta their injury. Same as cauterizing, only do this when fleeing. It’ll leave a trail, but a lost limb be better than death.”
Tessa stared in disbelief, aghast that he would even suggest burning a wound or removing a limb as reasonable options. She thought he was sane for a moment, but this solidified that he was a madman!
“H-how can you say those are considerable options so casually?!”
“Oh? An’ what are ye going ta do when magix an’ miracles ain’t an option in an emergency?”
She needed to fight him here, but what could she argue? There had to be something she could say, “I... I would…”
Torgrak glared at Tessa, “An’ keep any idealistic hopes o’ carrying an injured person ta safety ta yourself. Adventurers sometimes have ta go into tha bowels o’ tha Nine Hells just ta bring some rich noble a flower ta cure his son’s common cold.”
His words backed Tessa into a corner. Torgrak’s experience as an Adventurer put him at a level far above her own. He’d likely seen things she dared not even imagine. She was outclassed here, unable to argue anything substantial to back up what she thought it meant to be a healer.
Torgrak pointed his metal stick at her, “Are ye prepared ta stare death in tha face? I’s hands wrapping themselves around yer neck, ready ta throw ye into tha void, eternally damning ye?”
Tessa tried to find some ground to stand on, but there was nothing. All she’d been doing these last ten years was haphazardly chasing a dream filled with glory and fame. Ignoring all the risks that came with it. Is her desire to become a Hero worth the risk? Can she handle standing toe to toe with death? She needed to decide here and now. The failed bandit hunt had forced her to acknowledge that she was weak. And now Torgrak challenged her resolve.
Staring Torgrak in the eye, she wanted to know one thing, “If I do listen to you and Hei, will I actually be able to grasp my dream? Is what both of you are going to teach me things that even Heroes have to face?!”
Tessa felt as though she at the edge of a cliff, staring down into an abyss of eternal despair and broken dreams and one foot already over the edge. A moment of silence passed between the two as they looked each other in the eye. Then Torgrak’s lips, through his bushy beard, curled into an honest smile for a moment. He erupted into a short fit of laughter, and Tessa began to fall into the chasm. If this dwarf was laughing at her for being so presumptuous, for being so weak, then what hope did she have of ever reaching the same heights. It felt like something was going to break, to die inside her. She was on the verge of crying, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.
Torgrak turned his back to her, cleaning the board, “If yer goal be ta stand on equal footin’ wit’ Heroes, we’ll turn ye into something Heroes aspire ta be.”
Just as she fell off her cliff, a set of hands grabbed her at the last minute. Above her, Torgrak and Hei stood there looking down on her. But their hands pulled her back up. The callous smirks were still across their faces, but were they actually going to help her? Turn her into something capable of being a Hero?
“And if you don’t, I’ll fry and eat me 400-year-old beard!”
Tessa stared at his back. Did he just instill hope in her? Was he being serious?
“I-is that... a promise?”
“A promise? Hah! I’s a guarantee!”
A small fire started flickered deep in Tessa’s eyes. But she wanted to make sure, needed to make sure they would help her.
“How can you be so sure?”
“In over me 400 years o’ being alive, no Hero in history has ever challenged me an’ walked away in one piece.”
Torgrak let out a sinister snicker, and Tessa was now both suspicious and concerned about this dwarf’s past.
“Have you... killed Heroes?”
It sounded so surreal. To ask, let alone think, that Torgrak has not only fought a Hero on even footing but also win was unheard of. To casually and confidently boast about his own strength when compared to a Hero and say he’s never lost took Tessa aback.
“For legal reasons, I cannot confirm nor deny that.”
He was definitely suspicious; she was certain of that. She didn’t like it, but if Torgrak and Hei are honest about their strength… then she would need to learn and absorb every piece of knowledge she could from them. These two were… are powerful. Whether or not they can fight on par with Heroes, she at least had some mentors that knew what they were talking about and have the experience to back it up.
Getting back to their lesson, Torgrak wrote “Equipment” at the top of the board.
“Alright, now what do ye know aboot equipment?”
Tessa wiped what tears she had in her eyes and gave Torgrak her full attention. She wouldn’t get anywhere by being combative, so she was going to answer like the honor student she was back at the Academy.
“I don’t know much about equipment. I spent most of my time practicing miracles, learning history, and studying existing theology around the Good Six.”
Torgrak paused for a moment, then gave a tired sigh and wrote: THE BASIC IMPORTANCE AND VALUE OF ARMOR.
“W-wait, wait, wait! I-I actually know about armor! M-my friend Aavron, a dwarf who studied blacksmithing, lectured me at length about the many kinds of armor, their differing kinds, and so forth!”
Torgrak stared at her, frozen for a moment. Then immediately went about erasing what he just wrote, “Well ‘en we can skip tha first three chapters aboot this.”
He quickly replaced what he wrote with: Preparation.
Setting the chalk down, Torgrak pointed at the word, “While I call it ‘equipment’, it’s closer ta making preparations. Setting traps, tinkering with armor an’ weapons, recognizing your party’s strengths an’ weaknesses, knowing tha target, researching tha area, an’ so forth.”
Tessa kind of understood what Torgrak intended. Information is valuable. The more you know, the more prepared you are. He might mean much more than just researching the target, environment, and such. The target may under guard, or prefers to attack instead of running away. She tried to process the near infinite possibilities, her head spinning from trying to take it all in at once.
“We’ll keep it short for today, so I want ye ta tell me how ye wou’ hunt somet’in’ like a bear. There be no wrong answers, only more right ones.”
Tessa thought for a moment, pondering what she would do. There was still much to learn, so she would stick to an easy answer. Even if she was wrong, she had plenty of time and opportunity to absorb Torgrak’s methods.
“I... would use some fresh meat as bait, gather some help from local hunters or team up with other Adventurers, and lay in wait to capture it.”
“That be one way o’ doing it, but here’s a better one. Track tha bear down an’ wait for it ta return ta its cave. ‘En drop a really big rock at tha entrance, an’ wait for it ta starve or suffocate. Whichever comes first.”
Tessa lay there, disturbed by his plan, “Isn’t that inhumane?”
“An’ beating it with sharp sticks an’ rocks is?”
“While me method be cruel, it makes tha most out o’ tha fewest resources. Sometimes a simple solution with a few steps is better than a complex one with many. As a man I once met over a game once said: play lame, win game.”
Tessa was about to argue again, but then she thought back to her history lessons. While there were plenty of times when a sudden turn in history required meticulous planning and strategy, she remembered reading about one general from centuries long past who constantly took advantage of his army’s mobility. Repeatedly, he kept his army at a distance while taunting the enemy and attacking from range. Then run away when the opposing army got too close. Eventually he won because of his army’s superior mobility, while the enemy spent its energy just chasing after him. And once the enemy couldn’t maintain the chase, he turned his army around. Striking swiftly, picking his enemy apart and routing the rest.
In her books, the author despised this general. The author glorified and embellished the flashy, grand clashes between armies attacking each other head on. All the while labeling this general as an honorless coward. But now, Torgrak’s words made sense of what the “cowardly” general was doing. He was aware of his army’s strengths and how most other armies fought. Was this one of the ways to “prepare”?
She’d think about it later, but Torgrak was suggesting ideas that went against the normal.
Is that how he became strong? By paying more attention than most to the finer details, did he just outmaneuver most of his opponents? Maybe… but I think there’s more to it.
“Now! Le’s move on ta me favorite subject. Alchemy.” Torgrak let out an evil chuckle, unable to control his excitement, and he wrote the word on the board, “Do ye know anything aboot it at all?”
“Other than its use for making potions and it being used by con artists, not really, no.”
“Tha’ss fine. I planned ta talk aboot it from tha beginning regardless.”
Reaching into his bag again, Torgrak pulled out and unfolded a table. Followed by a chemistry kit, scrap iron, a gold coin, a small piece of mithril, a wooden knife, some red dust, a few sheets of paper, and a quill. Tessa quietly watched, mostly wondering how many things he had in his bag and how it all fit inside.
“Alchemy be tha alteration, combination, an’ deconstruction o’ substances.” Torgrak drew on the board, making a rough diagram of a leaf with an arrow pointing to a monster’s scale, “Through alchemy, it be entirely possible ta turn something as flimsy as a leaf into something as resilient as a dragon’s scale. While this may be hard ta believe, it be possible. Expensive, but possible.”
Tessa’s face immediately turned doubtful, “That’s… hard to believe. Can you prove it?”
With an enormous grin across his face, Torgrak excitedly responded, “Easily! Though in a different way.”
Taking the red powder, he put it through his chemistry kit and turned into a red ink. Dipping his quill in it, Torgrak drew on three pieces of paper. Then he took the scrap metal and put it on one of the marked papers, placing the gold coin on another. Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a puff of smoke. From the third piece of paper he held the piece of scrap iron, but now it seemed to be made of gold.
“How did you…?”
“As ye probably expect, turning one metal into another be impossible. Ye can create amalgamations, like brass, but never create things like gold or iron. However, ye can coat one metal in another using alchemy’s combination an’ alteration properties. So, how much do ye think this wou’ be worth if ye hadn’t seen what I just did?”
“If I didn’t know better, some silver valins at the least.”
“Aye, roughly. An’ tha’ss how con artists trick people.” Torgrak breaks the piece of scrap in half. Showing that while it is gold on the outside, it’s still iron on the inside. “Done it plen’y maself.”
“But why are you teaching me this?”
“Just pay attention an’ I’ll explain.”
Torgrak gets more excited, holding up the wooden knife and mithril now. The knife looked fairly plain, not much more than a practice knife students from the War division used. He set it down on the same paper he used for the scrap metal. Then he held up the piece of mithril.
“Do ye know tha properties o’ mithril?”
“Kind of? It’s stronger and more durable than steel while also being lighter, right?”
“Aye, an’ nae. Mithril be one o’ few magic-infused metals. It be lighter an’ more durable than steel, but also much more flexible an’ highly resistant ta heat.”
He set the piece of mithril down on the paper he’d used with the gold coin. Another flash and puff later, and now the wooden knife appeared to have a mithril blade but wooden handle. Torgrak demonstrates it has an edge by quickly cutting a piece of paper with it.
Tessa stared in awe. Torgrak had just combined wood and mithril to make a weapon, and it functions as one would expect a knife to.
“Don’ get too caught up in what ye’ve just seen. While alchemy can change tha properties o’ a weapon, it comes with a catch. Tha knife be still made o’ wood, an’ can break with enough force. While a smith cou’ forge ye an actual knife, this will do in a pinch. Think o’ it like a shortcut. Alchemy be perfect for last-minute preparations.”
Torgrak’s explanation made sense, but now she had several questions. If you could use alchemy like this, how many other things could it do? More importantly, why wasn’t this more well known?
“Why don’t more people practice Alchemy?”
Torgrak chuckled to himself, finding Tessa’s interest funny, “Switching tunes quickly ain’t ye? Tha reason alchemy isn’t used much be due ta advancements in magix, miracles, etcetera. As ye thought until just now, most prefer tha speed an’ convenience o’ spells over things like this.”
Putting things back inside his bag, Torgrak folded his blackboard and table back up before shoving them inside. Then he pulls out a few massive books, dropping them at Tessa’s bedside.
“Tomorrow ye’ll be meeting with Hei at Redbrick Park in tha residential district ta practice magix. By dawn tomorrow, ye shou’ be able ta walk normally. So in that time, read these an’ study up.”
He then pulled out a folded up piece of paper and handed Tessa a flask of water, handing both over to her.
“This be medicine. Take a small bit o’ it at a time an’ quickly down it with water. It’s incredibly bitter an’ ye will puke if ye ain’t quick. But other than that, your it’ll help ye heal even faster.”
“Okay... but how did you get your hands on something like this? And what makes it so potent?”
“Made it myself out o’ powdered death bat bone, ground chimera fang, dried vile flower, an’ evaporated green leaf sap!”
Tessa’s jaw dropped. Torgrak not only named two highly dangerous and venomous monsters, but also two incredibly toxic plants.
“How many poisons did you put in this?! And how do you know it’ll heal me?!”
“Experimented tha recipe on many an unwilling test subject. Ye’ll be alright, finished tha trials a long time ago.”
With that, Torgrak made his way to the door. Leaving Tessa to wonder about just how many infamous things Torgrak’s done throughout his life. Opening the paper, she stared at the pale green medicine. Popping the flask open, Tessa quickly put a small bit on her tongue and took a big gulp of water.
It was incredibly bitter, but in mere moments, she felt a comforting warmth across her body. Sitting up, even slightly, now hurt a lot less. At least this medicine wouldn’t kill her... hopefully.
Just as Torgrak was at the door, he turned around suddenly to let Tessa know one last thing, “Oh! An’ if ye sprout cat ears, tha’ss completely normal!”
Tessa was in the middle of drinking more water, immediately causing it to go down the wrong pipe. Coughing for a moment, she shot him a distressed look. Trying to figure out what this mad scientist of a dwarf actually knew about medicine. But before she could say anything, Torgrak was already out the door, slamming it behind him.
“Huh?! Hey! Wait a minute! What do you mean by ‘cat ears’?!”
Unfortunately, Torgrak was already long gone. At least she had the books he left behind to read.
“Well... time to be a student again, I guess.”
Then there was a poof, and Tessa felt the top of her head.
“At least he warned me…”