Cass finished sliding down the hill, making a far more graceful entrance than Leah’s, just as Liam finished hauling her to her feet. He was all business a moment later, keeping his eyes on the tree line as the guards behind them circled the camp, facing out wards. Leah briefly took stock of their location. It was nestled between the edge of the forest, and a small cliff face, like Cassandra had said. A small depression in the rock face provided some small shelter from the wind, and there was ample vision both down and uphill. The only vulnerable direction was from the forest, but as Leah had just proved, they had been aware of this fact and paid more attention there.
“Yeah. Unknown monster. Uses fear. Single target but with some bleed off.”
“Reckon it’ll come after us here?”
“Dunno. It seems angry that I shot it, but I don’t think its stupid. We better be on guard tonight just in case.”
Letting out a breath he hadn’t know he was holding, Liam briefly glanced at Leah.
“So, did you manage to bring this down on us, or did our expert ranger mess up?”
“Leah? Hells no, I think she saved us. I couldn’t see a damn thing, but she played spotter for me when we tagged it.”
“Really? And you managed that how? No, that can wait. Did you get a good look at it?”
Leah shrugged, and crouched down to grab a stick, wincing as her muscles protested the strain.
“Not really. It was more of a feeling than anything concrete, but I think I can draw something close.”
Liam indicated for her to go ahead. She began scratching what she felt through her mana into the dirt on the ground, as best she could remember. And she really wished she could forget it. Cassandra took over watching the tree line while Liam watched her draw. His expression went from a frown to shock in an instant, and he crouched down next to her, looking between her and the trees.
“Are you sure thats what you saw? Absolutely positive?”
“I mean, as positive as I can be. I didn’t exactly see it so much as… well, know it was there.”
“Ok, how about this. Did it feel anything like a tree, or wood?”
“Yeah, in a way. Like a bundle of roots got mixed up with some bones, then someone slapped a man suit on it.”
“Oh fuck. Break camp, we’re leaving now.”
The guards needed little prompting, and half of them set to work tearing down their only recently erected camp. The concern on both Liam and Cassandra’s faces, and the speed at which the guards worked to collect their gear put some of the fear from before back into Leah. She turned to Liam, who clearly knew something she didn’t.
“What exactly is it?”
“A Root Ghoul, a type of greater undead. They’ll stalk their prey through a forest, hiding themselves amongst the branches of a tree, paralyse them with fear and slowly consume them with their limbs. Nasty buggers, but not usually a threat on their own.”
“So why are we leaving so fast?”
“Because if something like is spawning naturally, theres enough necromantic juice in the air to be raising a hell of a lot more than just that one. Best case, we’re looking at a horde of lesser undead who’ve just heard a meal ticket in the form of that Ghouls scream, and right here, we couldn’t hold them off even if we had a fully party. And right now, the only two of us equipped to fight undead are those two.”
He pointed to a pair of guards wielding maces, who had stayed on watch while their comrades broke down the camp.
“I’m shagged in a fight with undead, and while Cass might fair better, it won’t be by much alone. So we’re going to move hard and fast for the path down the rock face, and let that slow them down. If we can, we’ll camp on the road, if not, theres a village about a half days travel from the foot of the hill. I’m pretty sure they have a church, but at worst we’ll have warm bodies who are in danger anyway. Now, lets get moving. We don’t have much time.”
This time, Leah did her best to pitch in, which amounted to stomping out the remains of the fire while the real work was handled by the experts. Once packed and ready, the group set off at a fast march, back in the direction they were originally travelling. This time, instead of the rogue of the guards leading, Cassandra and Leah did, their elven eyes better suited to the low light conditions. The thick cloud cover and half moon led to a dark night, and once back on the plains, a cold one too. Pulling her cloak in tighter against the wind, Leah took stock of the notifications she had received in the short encounter with the Root Ghoul.
You have gained the sub skill, Multitasking.
The submind is not only able to supplement the activities of the main mind; it can also actively take over some tasks. Depending on the level of this skill, these tasks can range from simple, repetitive actions and filtering notifications, through to complex mental calculations or even spells. The possibilities are only limited by the users talent in the skill. This is an active subskill, and cannot be used alongside any other active subskills from the same parent.
Depending on skill level, the user is able to dedicate the submind to certain actions. Action complexity and aptitude increases with skill level.
You have gained the skill, Mana Manipulation.
The fundamental skill from which all mana skills are derived, Mana Manipulation is the art of utilising mana, both internally and externally. Through careful use and study of this skill, the user can perform great miracles, though always at a cost. This skill is a requirement for all mana related skills, unless otherwise specified.
Ability to manipulate mana. Effects only limited by imagination and mana capacity.
You have gained the skill, Mana Detection.
Similar to the innate ability of those possessing mana to see mana, this skill allows the user to use mana to detect things on the material plane. The higher this skill level, the greater the distance one can see, the greater the fidelity, and the less it costs. This is considered a mana based detection skill.
Ability to use mana as a detection skill. Detail and cost improves with level.
You levelled the skill, Mana Manipulation. Its total level is now 2.
Experience gained from levelling a skill.
You levelled the skill, Mana Detection. Its total level is now 3.
Experience gained from levelling a skill.
You have gained a level. The following bonuses have been applied:
+3 Free points
Well, that certainly explained a few things about what she was doing. It had felt normal, but been so focused on the what that she had never paid any attention to the how of what she had been doing. Mana manipulation certainly seemed like a potent skill, even if it was probably common given its description, and she was glad to have a use for her mana. She was about to ask Cassandra about it, when she realised that a) she had been told not to talk about things that might give her away when around the guards, and b) Cass might not appreciate potentially pointless questions in the middle of a tense escape from danger. A danger that had yet to show any signs of pursuing them, but with the rest of the group making haste, Leah thought it best not to question their logic. Instead, she focused on pushing her senses out again like she had before. While she could see, she wasn’t helping Cass much considering their difference in skills.
With her new skill level, she found it far easier to manage the skill while moving, and she noticed as well that the mana drain was far lower, even when she pushed it further than a meter. Her mana had replenished mostly during their flight from the forest, and since breaking camp had completely restored. A split second of remembering and some calculations later, she knew that it took roughly ten minutes to replenish, with an average of 10 points per minute. The ease with which the knowledge came took Leah slightly off guard, and she checked her Status page again.
Race: Elf (Magalyte Doll)
Str - 8
Dex - 13
Con - 10
Int - 23
Wis - 18
Cha - 13
Lck - 10
Mana Affinity - 100
Magalyte Mana Pool - 10
Parallel Processing 2
Mental manipulation 3
Knowledge (Magalyte Technology) 1
Knowledge (Magalyte Dolls) 1
Ranger Stealth 3
Mana Manipulation 2
Mana Detection 3
Of Another World
Attribute Points: 9
Her intelligence had certainly taken a huge increase, which Leah knew was from both her level bonus and the fact that she had improved her Parallel Processing skill. If the bonuses would continue to accumulate like this, her intelligence was going to skyrocket before long. Just how high could these skills be levelled? Feeling more confident, she pushed her awareness out further, tightening it to a 10 degree beam 100 meters in length, and swung it around her in a circle, covering the circumference around her in a second. RADAR, she thought with a smirk. Who needs knowledge skills when you can just remember things? She’d just improved the efficiency of a skill with only her own ingenuity and the fact that she had seen too many movies with a radar display and its characteristic rotating line. Trusting that the open field was about the safest place to practise with her newly improved, she let the beam travel around her, trying to let it run with as little input from her as possible. She almost slapped her head as she remembered the new skill she had picked up alongside her Mana Detection, and handed the maintenance over to her sub mind, telling it to inform her if anything changed from the usual. Her Mana could sustain the skill for another few minutes, and then she would try it again once her stores had replenished. She hadn’t expected for her sub mind to actually alert her of anything, not so soon.
She said in a stage whisper. The group stopped, looking around for whatever it is she had spotted. Leah took control of the skill back and moved the beam back over to where she had detected the oddity, hoping the sub mind had made a mistake. It hadn’t. There were two shapes moving through the waist high grass, at a steady pace in their direction from 80 meters out. Low to the ground, the distinct ears and nose gave what they were away immediately. She’d never seen any in real life before, and they were much bigger than she’d expected, even with their bodies hugging the ground.
“Looks like… wolves? Two of them, that way.”
She pointed in the direction they were moving from. Cassandra turned to face that direction, and peered into the gloom.
“Yeah, I see them. I can only see the grass being disturbed, how did you know they were there?”
And behind us, she left unsaid.
“A skill, the same one I used to spot the Ghoul back in the forest.”
“Well, they must be undead of some kind. No way a pair of wolves is going to be tracking us this far into the plains with a group our size. Can you tell if they have flesh on their bones?”
With no obvious voids throughout their body, Leah imagined that was probably the case.
“Zombies then. Ok, Liam?”
“Quarter circle, in that direction. Cass, you take point, I’ll stay behind you with Leah. Fat lot of good I’ll do against undead.”
He finished with a scowl, visible only to Leah and Cass, and the group moved into their positions. A quarter circle of guards spread out ahead of Leah, who was now stood with Liam and the hand cart, with Cassandra in the middle, and one guard on each end pulled a torch from their packs. Each then took a small stick from a pouch, and broke the end, touching it to their torch. The torches lit with a roar, the fire pushing back the darkness, and revealing them for miles around. The guards between them raised their shields, swords or maces at the ready, with Cass drawing her own twin swords. The narrow blades twinkled slightly in the fire light, drawing Leah’s eyes, before Liam snapped her out of it.
“Remember, go for disabling blows, not kills. Anything watching the plains knows we are here now, so we need to hustle. Leah, can you keep that skill of yours watching our backs?”
She nodded, and turned the skill away from the approaching wolves back to its circle motion. The sub mind took over the task once more, and she took a step back, suddenly nervous of the fight she was about to witness. Liam clapped her on the shoulder, causing her to squeak in surprise.
“Don’t worry, you’d have to be a fool not to be scared. But you’re with a well trained crew, even these mercs. Two jumped up doggies aren’t going to get through to us.”
The smile on his scarred face was rapidly becoming more comforting. She reminded herself to check this relationships tab to see exactly what was going on there, but she couldn’t deny she felt better for his words. Though she would feel better if she knew she could fight back. Right now, she was down to her fists, and her apparently lower than average strength in this world. She thought for a moment about trying to use mana manipulation to help the group fight, but Liam was trusting her to watch their backs, and she didn’t want to drop the skill by trying to multitask. Despite having a skill for that. This was no time to be experimenting. As the beam of mana went through its motions, it passed over the zombies regularly, tracking their progress as they stalked towards the prepared line. Once within 10 meters, the two split away from each other, coming in from slightly different angles. Cassandra, eagle eyes watching the slightly shifting grass, pointed out the two with a sword, and now that they were in the fire light, the guards took over from there, separating slightly so half of the group would go for each wolf. Seconds passed, and the zombies slowed, dead muscles tensing. The party held, weapons, shields and torches shaking with anticipation. Then, like a starting gun had been fired, everything exploded into action.
Leah could barely keep up. With 10 individuals in the flurry of blades and fur, making out details from the chaos with her untrained eyes was impossible. She saw one man go down, a wolf latched on to his throat, and the rest of his group pile on. On the other side, Cassandra ducked low, sweeping into the grass. Two shield users pushed up on either side of her, thrusting at something unseen. The torch bearers stood back, their light sources held high to aid their team mates. And then, it was over.
It had looked like an overwhelming victory to Leah, but the injuries proved otherwise. The zombies, while single minded, still retained some of their instincts from life, and the man who she had seen go down had a savaged arm to show for it. It seems she hadn’t spotted him get his arm between his neck and the wolf before he was ripped into. He would live, but not be fighting for the foreseeable future. Two others had light scratches up their arms, where the leather proved ineffective at staving off wolf claws. Bindings of clean wool were wrapped around the injuries, the most brutally wounded man receiving a sling to complement the bandages. His cursing and spluttering from the pain were eased by his comrades reminding him that girls love scars, and that fighting a wolf would make for a hell of a story. Leah was just concerned about infections. But this was no time to focus on that, as she was reminded when they set off the moment the wounds had been wrapped. With their night vision ruined by the torches, and with no sense in hiding the light now, Leah and Cassandra took to the middle of the party with the wounded, Connor the guard and Liam up ahead, with the hand cart and other guards behind them.
Once more they set off towards the rock face, and it was only an hour before they found it. At the foot of the slightly sloped plain, a sudden drop off was masked by the long grass. The two rogues raised hands to stop the party, and everyone took stock of the situation. While the hill wasn’t vertical, it was sufficiently steep enough to require care if you didn’t want to slip, and the scree covered ground promised to only aggravate matters. The party marched further north, where they found a pair of ropes that had been fixed to the ground with pitons. Liam explained, rather unnecessarily, that this was where they had climbed up originally.
“Connor and I will descend first. We’ll use his danger sense to see if its safe down there, then we’ll signal up for the rest of you to come down. Wounded first, then the cart, and then Leah, you lot, and Cass. Cass, you mind going last?”
She nodded her assent, and he continued.
“Great. If you run into trouble, everyone piles on in the same order. Leave the cart if its not down already, and slide as fast as you can, so someone else can get on behind you. Everyone clear?”
The group nodded, and together, Connor and Liam grabbed a rope each and descended the 100 meters down. Leah kept up her skill as much as she was able, but had to drop it not long before they all heard a whistle, which Cass told them meant it was clear. The two injured but functional guards hauled up the ropes, and tied them off on the cart, making sure that the contents would stay stable as they lowered it. Then, slowly and carefully, the pair let it slide down, controlling its fall with the ropes to ensure it wouldn’t tip. The descent was tense for all parties, with Leah keeping her skill up, and the guards and Cass forming an arc around her and the ropes. A minute passed, then two, as the cart was slowly lowered down, then a tug from the bottom indicated that the two rogues had received it. Another few minutes passed, before a pair of tugs indicated that it was loose and ready for the next pair to descend.
The guard with his arm in a sling and one of the less injured went down, him supporting his ally. As Leah watched them descend, she nervously checked her skill, now bouncing an arc covering the remaining land. The torches had been put out once the cart was on its way down, so Cassandra had the best chance of seeing something either Leah missed or was out of her range. She had explained while the cart was being tied up that 100 meters was her maximum for the most efficient use of her mana, something she had calculated on their approach to the hills edge. She’d also taken the time to explain that she was using her mana to cast a net over the area, which was how she had been locating things. That had surprised Cass.
“Really? Mana Detection? I shouldn’t be surprised after seeing you learn those other skills so quickly, but, wow. That was a spur of the moment thing?”
“Yeah. I just thought, if it was throwing out mana at us, then I should be able to follow it back to the source. Being able to actually see things with the skill is just a happy accident.”
“Well, its not exactly an uncommon skill, though only something those who specialise in spells ever end up learning. It takes a lot of fine mana control to maintain the flows in that pattern. And you can reach out to 100 meters? Whats your skill at?
Leah double checked her Status page, and responded with 3.
“And you can throw it out that far? Something isn’t adding up here.”
“Not in a circle. I make a tight beam, and rotate it around me. I can get a fine look at everything it touches, and if something changes between passes, I go back and look again in detail.”
“I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.”
Cass looked over at the smaller elf - Doll, she had to remind herself - and shook her head, before looking back out into the field. She wished she’d taken her mother up on the offer of a broader magic education.
“Theres someone I know who’d be very interested in you. Hopefully we can see him after this business is taken care of.”
A tug on the rope indicated it was Leah’s turn to descend, with the other injured guard. She took hold of the end of the rope, and took a deep breath. All of a sudden, the ground below looked a whole lot further away. Cass turned around to see what the hold up was.
“Get moving. Whatevers out there is scarier than falling, I assure you. Broken bones heal, like Liam said.”
Huffing, face reddening with embarrassment, Leah gently lowered her foot down. There was ground there, steep, but she could walk on it with the aid of the rope. Her foot slipped slightly, and she adjusted her weight, before bringing her other foot down. Not wanting to leave without a jab back, and to help curb her nerves, she responded back to Cass,
“Oh, don’t worry. It only takes magic to scare me. Not spooky root monsters in a forest, Ms. Fearless Ranger.”
She wasn’t sure in the firelight, but she was sure she saw the tips of the elf girls ears redden, though she never turned away from her post. Calling back to Leah, her voice raised in protest, she said,
“I wasn’t scared of that, it was your fault for freezing up, you damn-”
The rest of her words fell on deaf ears, as Leah had started making the treacherous climb down.