Noon had passed, and afternoon was in full swing, when Liam arrived at the training yard to deliver the news to Cassandra and Leah. He found the two of them sat under the shade of a hut, the smaller elf panting with exhaustion. He shook his head.
“Have the two of you been scrapping this whole time?”
“Not scrapping, training. Something you should do more of.”
“I train well enough. I train so well, you don’t even see me do it. I am a master rogue.”
“And yet, your ability to lie remains so inadequate. Are you done fleecing the elder for all this village is worth?”
Cassandra stood up, leaving Leah to rest. Liam grinned a half smile, his scars contorting horribly.
“Good news and bad news on that front. Bad news is, we don’t get paid.”
“Good news is, we get better than payment!”
He beckoned behind him, and a tall figure in drab robes stepped out into view. Cassandra narrowed her eyes at the man, her ears tilting back, and her hand going to her waist, where a sword should be but was instead with Leah. She cursed.
“Priest. What do you want?”
“Want? Cass, the man is here to help us. He’s going to put a blessing on the bodies, so they aren’t… affected by time, or the battle to come, and he’s kindly offered to help Leah learn some spellcraft.”
“If she has any talent for it, young man. I was quite clear about that.”
The tall priest spoke for the first time, his voice a quiet and calming timbre. He looked to the still panting Leah, and the corners of his mouth turned down.
“This one, is it? Have you been wearing the poor girl out?”
Liam smacked him on the back, and laughed.
“Oh, she’ll be fine. You’ll see what I mean soon enough. Plus, a little exertion will help her get her constitution up to snuff. A little extra bonus.”
The priest sighed, and walked over to the sitting Leah. Cassandra stepped between the two of them, hand on her other sword this time.
“Hold it, priest. What are you planning?”
The man looked genuinely hurt, and looked back to Liam. Liam sighed.
“He’s on the up and up, Cass. He’s in the know.”
Cassandra narrowed her eyes at Liam, then turned to the priest.
“What path do you walk?”
The priest smiled at her, and responded in kind.
“The only right path, friend.”
Cassandra let go of her swords hilt, but remained in between the priest and Leah, who had caught her breath back by now, and had questions of her own.
“Cass? Whats the problem with him being a priest?”
“Many, many problems Leah. Too many to list right now. But he knows of the path, so I’ll trust him. For now. But I’ll be coming with you. Walker or not, I’m not leaving you alone with a rookie.”
“Yeah, no. Cass, we don’t have time for that. I need you to come with me. Leah will be fine, even if this is a ploy, theres nothing he can do without us finding out.”
“Theres plenty he can do, Liam. Plenty-”
“Ok, thats enough of that.”
Leah stood up, and folded her arms. She looked between Liam and Cassandra, ignoring the priest for now.
“You two are talking around the topic enough. I’m not going anywhere until someone explains to me EXACTLY what the problem is?”
To her surprise, it was the priest that spoke up before anyone else. His kindly smile was tinged with sadness, but he spoke calmly.
“The priesthood of Uld are… xenophobic, shall we say. The dominant belief is that a certain passage decries non-humans, and-”
“And so, we are second class citizens, at best. Slaves or worse more commonly.”
The priest sighed.
“Indeed. However, those of us who know the Path turn our back on such barbarism. Uld may be supreme, but his chosen created the other races to be equals, not lessers. Uld has never denied this fact, despite what many believe. You will be in safe hands with me, I assure you. Even without an adventurers mark.”
Liam and Cassandra both put their heads in their hands simultaneously, though for different reasons. Liam, for forgetting to brief Leah, and Cassandra for Liam’s oversight. The priest, however, seemed unperturbed, amused in fact.
“My, your friend was right. You are a novice. Do not worry, I have taken in such to my care in the past. Your ignorance is no obstacle.”
Cassandra recovered first, and shook her head.
“Fine. You two go, do what you need to do. But I warn you priest, a scratch on her and I will take ten times more from you.”
“By Uld, I swear she will come to no harm in my care.”
With a look back at Leah, Cassandra shook her head and walked towards Liam.
“You’re on the hook for this as well, don’t think I’ll let you…”
Their words trailed off as the pair walked away. Leah turned her gaze back to the priest.
“So, what now?”
The two of them walked towards the church, as the afternoon dragged on. Leah was the first to speak.
“I hope you know that I have many questions.”
“As I would expect, from one in your position.”
“My position..? What exactly did Liam tell you?”
His smile returned, though he kept looking forwards.
“Enough to know you are in great need of answers. Though I suspect he was keeping a greater truth from me. Whatever your secret might be, if you do not wish to tell it, I shall not burden you with my curiosity. So long as it does not effect your learning, of course.”
He looked up at the sky, judging the distance of the sun from the horizon.
“Though how much learning we can get through before night falls, remains to be seen.”
A quick check with her internal clock, compared to her guess as to the season and some quick maths, gave Leah an answer.
“Another 6 hours, give or take.”
The priest looked down at her. She was aware now of their height difference. He truly was a tall man.
“Another curiosity. Very well, I shall trust you on that. Even still, we will be hard pressed to make any progress, even with your companions assurances that you ‘pick things up quick.’”
It was Leah’s turn to smile at his impersonation of Liam’s cadence.
“Well, I’ve done well so far. What will you be teaching me, anyway?”
“Spellcraft, as was said before. Clerics and priests, by necessity, must be adepts in both Life and Death mana. From what I can glean, you have the potential to use both, so I am happy to provide you tutelage. Though, again, what progre-”
“Life mana? Death mana?”
Leah was confused.
“I thought there was just ‘mana’.”
The priest looked down on her again, this time pityingly.
“Oh dear. We do have a lot to go over, don’t we. Though, first things first. What is your name, child?”
“Leah. And you?”
“Alistair. Priest of Uld.”
“Nice to meet you, Alistair.”
“And you, Leah.”
The two walked on in silence for a moment longer.
“So, this mana-”
“That, we can get to later. There are things we must cover first, once we reach the safety of the church. Come, we are almost there.”
The two stepped into the imposing building, revealing the insides to be a cross between the utilitarian outside, and warm, comfortable furniture. The walls were bare, exposed stone, but the floor was carpeted in pelts and rugs, possibly traded from those passing through. There were 4 rows of benches, arranged in front of an altar, similar in nature to the ones Leah had seen in churches before. Two doors at the back of the main hall led off into side passages, one of which the two walked through. They passed through a narrow hall, lined with doors, and the priest stopped before one, rapping gently on the door, waiting a moment, then entering. Inside, was a bare room with a simple stool, the only light coming from the narrow slitted window.
“Here. This is where I shall be teaching you.”
“It’s quite… bare.”
“Yes. It is said that to learn of Uld, one must first shed all mortal comforts. Ordinarily, I would ask you to disrobe, but I feel your elven… friend,”
He said the last word with a sly smile,
“Would disapprove of my asking such.”
Leah’s ears twitched a little, reddening as she heard the undertones in the mans voice. She ignored him, however, and followed him into the room.
“Now, first. Sit, please.”
She did so, on the stool in the centre of the room. Awkwardly, she looked around as the man looked her over.
“Are you a particularly religious woman, Leah?”
“I’m not about to convert you to Uld, do not worry. Doctrine is quite clear that only humans are to worship him. However, my teachings rely on belief. To whom, or what, it does not matter. Only belief. So, are you a religious woman?”
“I… Yes, I suppose so. Not especially, though. I believe, but its a personal matter…”
“That will do. Very well. First, you must learn of mana, before you can work it. Do you have any experience manipulating raw mana?”
“Yes. I have mana manipulation, and mana detection. I developed these not long ago, during our travels.”
“Indeed? And you learnt these on your own? Most impressive. Then that will save some time. There are 7 types of mana, believed to come each from a different god. Raw mana, Life, Death, Fire, Water, Earth and Air. Raw mana, as you have worked with, is the realm of Uld, and thus all priests of Uld must learn to use it. In time, I can aid in your development there. However, your ‘payment’ is to learn in Life and Death mana, so there we shall start. As was said before, all priests must, by necessity, learn to use both, as it is important to our duties. Life, naturally, is the realm of life. Giving and providing, creating stability where there is none. Death, on the other hand, is taking and removing, destroying that balance. Neither is good nor evil, and both can be used for good and ill. Now, we shall start with Life Manipulation, so we can nurture your Life Affinity. Follow my instructions carefully…”
Together, they went through basic training for the manipulation of Life mana. Alistair instructed Leah to take a hold of a portion of her mana, that was flowing through and around her, and to hold it close, feeling within it the potential for life. To feel it crystallise and shape into a fixed form, one of stability and strength, of giving and nurturing. To reach into her faith, and to feel what that meant to her, and to use that stability to help form the basis of the Life mana she was condensing. The teachings, in fact, did not help her much. Despite trying to make her belief work, it just didn’t for her. However, the practise did give her an insight into the fundamentals of mana, and how it could be formed into its constituent parts. And with that knowledge, she made her own path to forming Life mana.
You have gained the skill, Knowledge (Mana).
Mana is one of the true underpinnings of the world, and a fundamental form of energy. A deeper understanding of this strange and wondrous element can be used for any number of purposes, both good and ill. Through your understanding, you will understand the world.
You have gained the skill, Life Manipulation.
Life Manipulation is the skill used to form and manipulate a specific element of mana. This skill is required to nurture an affinity in the mana, and to store and wield the specialised mana for any number of purposes.
Ability to manipulate Life mana. Effects only limited by imagination and mana capacity.
[Special Stat Revealed: Life Affinity]
Prerequisites have been met for the Life Affinity stat to be revealed. All previously hidden effects are now enabled.
This Stat determines your ability to store and manipulate Life mana, refined out of raw mana. This stat determines how efficient you are at converting raw mana into Life mana
10% efficiency per stat level conversion rate.
Leah opened her eyes, which she hadn’t realised she had closed. She had descended into her mindscape once she realised she didn’t need the priests instructions, and rapidly assimilated all the information in front of her. She had learnt something new during the process - her increased mental processing in that state improved her ability to channel and store mana. It simply matched the speed at which she was working seamlessly. A new skill was formed once that revelation was made.
You have gained the skill, Mana Meditation.
By clearing your mind and dedicating it solely to mana manipulation, one can dramatically improve the rate at which it is accumulated or converted. This does not affect spell casting times, due to capacity limits imposed on spells.
10% bonus to mana recovery and manipulation speed per skill level.
She kept that one to herself, but made her other successes known.
“I’ve done it.”
The priest blinked at her, and peered closer, activating his mana sensing. He leaned back, and whistled, catching himself and turning it into a cough.
“Ah, well. Yes, indeed. That is most impressive, how quickly you picked it up. Are you sure you haven’t had any training in the past?”
“Well, at any rate… we shall now repeat the process with Death mana… it is similar, however…”
While he was speaking, Leah dipped back into her mindscape. With the knowledge she already had, and the experience of cultivating Life mana, it was a simple matter to create its inverse. Only a few seconds of real time passed before she was met with success.
You have gained the skill, Death Manipulation.
Death Manipulation is the skill used to form and manipulate a specific element of mana. This skill is required to nurture an affinity in the mana, and to store and wield the specialised mana for any number of purposes.
Ability to manipulate Death mana. Effects only limited by imagination and mana capacity.
[Special Stat Revealed: Death Affinity]
Prerequisites have been met for the Death Affinity stat to be revealed. All previously hidden effects are now enabled.
This Stat determines your ability to store and manipulate Death mana, refined out of raw mana. This stat determines how efficient you are at converting raw mana into Death mana
10% efficiency per stat level conversion rate.
“…you will need to understand the inverse- Excuse me?”
“Check me again, I’ve done it.”
He did so, and this time he could not stop himself.
“How in Uld’s name is that possible? You started refining only minutes ago, and yet already you have both Life and Death affinities? My word, your friends were not wrong when they said you would test my faith.”
Leah leaned back at the sudden passion of his words. She was starting to get concerned he may break his oath, and she wished that she had kept one of Cassandra’s swords. He seemed to realise what it must look like to her, and calmed himself.
“I… apologise for my outburst there. Truly, I do. Only, what you have done would take weeks for even a prodigy to achieve. Less, if they had experience with mana manipulation like yourself, but never have I heard of someone developing both in less than an hour…”
He shook his head of the possibilities in his mind, then focused back on her.
“Very well. Uld clearly wills it so. I will teach you as much as I can in the time we have left.”
Their remaining time was spent predominantly going over the basics. Leah questioned that, especially given the pressing nature of the impending attack.
“The reason I need to teach you these things, is because if you attempt to use magic without training, you run the risk of catastrophic consequences. Think on this. Mana, and by extension, magic, is capable of delivering untold boons and curses to the world. You could, for instance, use it to call down a meteor on a target. Surely you would want to understand the process by which this happens, lest you bring the meteor down upon yourself?”
Leah couldn’t argue with that, so didn’t. Alistair’s face softened at her cowed expression.
“It also isn’t strictly true. Yes, if you were to be developing your skills further, you would need to know these things, especially if you wish to attempt spellcrafting yourself. However, the truth of the matter is, I cannot give you much knowledge with regards to actual spells. My repertoire is sadly… limited, especially in the fields that would be useful in combat. Did you not wonder why I was assigned to this backwater position?”
“That does make sense. But why didn’t we start with those then?”
“Because, given your skills, I am assured that you will either pick them up quickly, or not in time to make a difference. It matters not whether we start now or later, and understanding the principles behind spells and skills will aid you in learning them.”
Of the knowledge he went over, parts had already been filled in by Leah’s Knowledge (Mana). However, there was a lot of new information to process as well. Firstly, all skills were powered by mana in some form or another. Even knowledge skills, which were the most passive of them all, used mana to stimulate the new pathways in the mind. Second, there were predominantly three kinds of skills; Knowledge, Passive and Active. Knowledge skills were simple - they imparted knowledge upon the recipient, and provide a measure of their current aptitude in a field of study. However, unlike other skills, they could only be levelled by further experience or study, and as such, some knowledge skills were limited. Passive skills, again, were simple. They were always active, and were powered by such little mana that they were effectively free. Active skills, on the other hand, varied wildly. The only hard and fast rule was that they required the user to actively think about using them. However, many active skills required an active use of mana supplied to them in order to work, making them a close relative of spells
She also got an explanation as to skill levels. Skills were divided up into four categories for the purposes of levels. Knowledge skills had their own category - they had rankings, but always had a maximum of 10 levels. Also, as was said before, their levelling requirements differed from the others, making them a tricky beast to grow. Only a few knowledge skills had ever been maxed out, and those by precious few individuals, most long dead. Common skills were the next rank. These all had 50 levels, and were among the easiest to grow. Anyone can learn a common skill, though their aptitude with them varied wildly. Rare skills on the other hand, were more limited. One had to have certain prerequisites in order to even learn them, on top of the aptitude required for common skills. These were commonly class requirements, however, some had more esoteric needs. Rare skills also had a maximum of 10 levels. Unique skills were the wildcards. They often had bizarre requirements, such that only a few people in the world could ever attain them. Their levels varied wildly too, and often they were difficult to level. Few were well documented, and even those that were were not common.
Spells were a special kind of active skill. Much like other skills, they came ranked in Common, Rare and Unique. And like active skills, they required an active input of mana to use. The difference between the two, however, was that spells only required that the user hold mana, and no matter what, required no prerequisites. And the only way to learn a spell was to either develop it yourself, find someone to teach it to you, or to learn it from a spellbook, which were rare. Simply being in the right place at the right time, or attempting to do something, would not grant you a spell. Even using a manipulation skill to emulate a spell might not even cause it to develop. Theories posited that because of the unique structure of each spell, one might be creating the same effect in a completely different manner to how the spell does so, but it had not been confirmed. Alistair also spoke on the dangers of experimenting with spellcraft.
“Spellcraft is dangerous. There is no two ways about it. When you attempt to create an effect using manipulation skills, you run the risk of it escaping your control. Should that happen, the mana will run wild in the environment, eventually dissipating into the background count, but in the mean time, causing devastation depending on its type. This is why many practitioners who attempt to develop spells will attempt to write down the steps involved before hand, and memorise them after going over it for potential flaws. Regardless, many practitioners die each year due to a poorly handled spell attempt, and few see results that are not a simple improvement on someone elses work. I advise against spellcraft until you have a firmer foundation in the magical arts.”
Leah nodded. His warning had sunk in, and she was glad then that her mana detection had gone so well.
“Now, on to the part that I know you have been waiting for. Learning some spells.”
Leah couldn’t hide her excitement, and Alistair smiled at her.
“Yes, yes, I know. It is quite exciting. However, I ask you to temper your eagerness. I only have a few that will be useful to you, and of those, I can only teach three. The others are secrets of the order, and I would be executed for teaching them to an outsider.”
Her eagerness was tempered, but not by much. She was going to learn an actual, real life, magic spell! She would be slinging fireballs, calling down lightning, FLYING! Or, perhaps not.
“The first is a simple healing spell. This runs little risk of going out of control, and thus is safe for us to study. If you master this in due time, and I feel your control is apt, we shall move on to the next spells.”
Alistair ran through the details of the spell multiple times before he was satisfied it would be safe. Leah closed her eyes, and focused internally on what she had been told. Imagine the frame, of what the mana should do once it is released. The direction it should go, what it should do when it runs into more mana, where to build up and where to dissipate. She filled the frame with her mana, converted into Life mana. A pressure inside her built, then transfered to her hands. It grew, and grew, and then…
She opened her eyes. Her hands were glowing with a pale golden light, which was slowly dissipating as the mana left her body. She couldn’t hide her grin.
“I did it! I can use magic!”
“Don’t sound too surprised. You have already used a minor magic with your mana detection.”
“Yes, but… this is real. I can see it happening!”
He shook his head with a smile.
“If it makes you happy. Did you receive a notification?”
She had, though in her excitement she had ignored it. She opened it up.
You have gained the spell, Minor Heal.
Mana cost: 1(Spell Level)
Effect: The user builds up life mana in their hand, and releases it. Up to spell level mana can be stored this way, and released at a time. The more mana is stored, the greater the effect. When the user touches an individual with this spell, it will find the nearest wounds and seal them. The amount of wounds, distance from touch site and size of wounds healed is determinate on the amount of mana infused. Greater wounds may require a higher tier spell.
“I learnt the spell!”
“And far quicker than I’d hoped, too. We will surely have time for the others.”
Over the next hour, they went over the other two spells, and Leah learnt them a short time after.
You have gained the spell, Bolt of Life.
Mana cost: 5
Effect: The user builds up life mana in their hand, and releases it as a projectile. This bolt will travel until it is dissipated by ambient mana, and whatever it strikes will receive damage from an excess of healing energies. As a life spell, it is particularly effective against the undead and other creatures of Death mana.
You have gained the spell, Bless.
Mana cost: 12
Effect: The user builds up life mana in their hand, and releases it into a target. If released into an object, the object will be blessed, radiating Life Mana for Spell level minutes before fading. This can cause harm to others, especially the undead. If released into a person, it will bless them with healing energies, providing a passive healing effect for the same amount of time. This is limited, and will expend the mana in order to work, shortening the effects time. It will heal as much as a Minor Heal spell of the same level before dissipating.
Leah had some more questions after learning these.
“These are great, but… I thought priests and clerics knew Death and Life spells. Why are these all Life?”
“Ah, therein lies an interesting question. Yes, I do know Death spells, however, their usefulness would be limited in the battle to come, and most are considered secrets-”
His sentence was cut off by shouting outside the window. He looked around at it, frowning.
“It would seem that our time has run out. Come, we must man the walls.”