Once everything was packed away, the group set out on the road. Hegar hadn't retied Rain's hands and had pretty much been ignoring him. That was fine as far as Rain was concerned. He was content to walk in silence as he poked around menus, looking at stats and skills. He had noticed a few more elements of the skill screen. Apparently, he could spend experience to unlock information about the next tier of skills. The descriptions for the first tier weren’t particularly detailed and he wasn't expecting it would be any different for information he paid to unlock. He had decided against trying it. Instead, he was paging through the tier zero skills and trying to get a feel for what each tree was about.
There were various trees for physical and magical skills. They ranged from general ones, such as the boringly titled ‘melee weapons’, to specific ones, such as ‘fencing’. In fact, there seemed to be several complementary skill trees available. Investing in both melee weapons and fencing seemed to make a lot of sense, as did other groupings like ‘fire evocation’, ‘evocation metamagic’, and ‘magical utility’. ‘Firebolt’ could be boosted by the evocation metamagic skill ‘guide sending’ to add a sort-of aim correction, while ‘intrinsic clarity’ from magical utility would allow for slightly faster mana regeneration.
There were even trees for things like ‘weapon-crafting’, ‘chemistry’, and ‘alchemy’, which was apparently different from chemistry. The skills in these trees seemed to be of the passive variety, at least at tier zero. +x% damage rating to crafted axes, for example. Rain mentally divided the skill trees into two categories: active and passive. Active skills were actions you could take to affect the world. For physical trees, these were straightforward, mostly fancy names and variations on stab, cut, throw, and shoot. None of these really stuck out to Rain after he had seen Brovose and Ameliah throwing magic around.
He had spent some time trying to figure out what skills they had been using. Brovose had probably been using ‘firebolt’, which was pretty self-explanatory. There wasn’t anything at tier zero matching the magical shield he had raised, though. Ameliah was a bit of a mystery. Her strength made him think that she had some points in the skill ‘strength of arm’, but he still wasn't clear on whether just adding stat points to strength would have that effect anyway.
The skill she had used after the battle might have been ‘purify’ from the utility auras tree. The description simply read: “Purify poison, corruption, and contamination within 1 meter.” Rain assumed that the range would increase with level as Ameliah's aura had extended much further than that. Either that, or she had invested in ‘extend aura’ in aura metamagic.
Those two trees were one of only a few pairs that were clearly meant to be used in conjunction. Pairings were usually more general, such as the ‘evocation metamagic’ tree which would boost ‘firebolt’, but not ‘ice shield’. The aura metamagic tree had Rain's long-dormant munchkin senses tingling. That one tree could boost three others: the offensive, defensive, and utility aura trees. Specializing in auras would allow a great amount of versatility without sacrificing too much power, depending on what was lurking in the higher levels of aura metamagic. The tier zero ‘amplify aura’ was already promising. It added 10% to the maximum output of any aura. The cost was a 20% increase in mana consumption, but the fact that it said ‘maximum output’ led Rain to believe that he would be able to vary the strength of an aura at will, up to some limit.
He almost invested his points right then and there, but he resisted the temptation. This wasn't a choice to be made lightly, and there were still tons of trees he hadn't even looked at. There were options for any type of combat you could think of, unless you liked Bards, that was. There wasn't anything even remotely like a charisma tree, though there was ‘psionics’, which looked like it might turn into something like that eventually. Hard to tell when the only tier zero spell was ‘mental blast’, which appeared to be just a different flavor of firebolt.
Rain was jerked out of the rabbit hole his thoughts had been exploring when his foot detected an absence of the road. He pitched forward, shouting as his foot struck the ground about thirty centimeters lower than he was expecting. His ankle twisted and there was a horrible snapping sound as he fell, shortly followed by a sickening crack as his nose slammed into the earth. He hadn't even tried to protect his face as the still open skills menu was blocking his view.
“Huuururr,” Rain tried to scream through a mouthful of dirt. He suddenly felt himself being hoisted up and set gently down. His ankle immediately rolled and he started to fall again. Whoever had lifted him guided him down, so thankfully he didn't end up with a broken tailbone to go with his nose and ankle. Through the pain, he heard Hegar's grating laughter.
Seriously? Holy fuck this hurts. Not funny. Owwww.
He heard Ameliah say a word and felt her hand on his ankle. Suddenly, the pain was gone. She repeated the word and he saw her hand pass through the floating blue skills screen to touch his nose. He felt it pop back into place as the pain receded. Healing Word, tier zero, restoration. Rain thought, still in shock.
His face started to turn red, though it was hard to tell given that it was covered by blood and dirt. Now that the pain was gone, he realized that maybe Hegar had a point. He had done the fantasy equivalent of walking into a light pole because you were glued to your smartphone. Chagrined, Rain dismissed the skills window and looked up at the group of faces staring down at him. Expressions varied from impassivity to tears of laughter.
Rain blushed furiously as Ameliah lifted him up with one hand without any apparent effort, setting him on the ground and then taking a step back.
“T... Thank you,” Rain stammered. Ameliah shook her head.
“Rain,” she said, gesturing to him. “Ameliah,” she indicated herself. Then pointing at the hole, she said another word Rain didn't recognize.
Brovose burst out laughing at this, joining the others in reveling at his expense. Even Ameliah was smirking at him. Rain was still a bit flustered, but the sudden removal of the pain let him appreciate what had happened from the perspective of the others.
Ok, I guess that might have been a little funny.
Glancing at the hole, Rain thought for a moment, then repeated the word she had said before, and pointed at the hole. Ameliah repeated the word, correcting his pronunciation. He tried again and she nodded, then turned and resumed walking.
She heals too. What the heck is her class? Rain idly wondered before Hegar caught his attention. Seeing that Rain was watching, Hegar pointed directly at him and said another word he didn't recognize. The bark of laughter from Anton confirmed that, whatever the word was, it wasn't very nice. It probably described the type of person who would break an ankle because they forgot how to walk.
The others were starting to move down the road again, so Rain dusted himself off and followed, thinking idly about how his right foot was sore and his left wasn't. His left ankle was the one that had been broken. There must have been some spillover from the healing magic as the sole of his foot wasn't sore from walking barefoot anymore.
Ok, next project, shoes. Step one, learn the word for shoes. Step two, ask if there are any in that pack, and if not, step three, steal Hegar's shoes.
Rain hustled to catch up, falling into step behind Ameliah, who he decided was the most likely to answer his questions. “Ameliah,” he said, causing her to look at him. He pointed back at the hole saying ‘hole’ in her language. Then he pointed at a tree and gave her an expectant look. She smiled and said a word, which Rain repeated. He then pointed to the road, then a rock, then her pack, each time, she said the word and he repeated it. Then, to help himself remember, he pointed back at a tree and said the word again. He waited for a nod of confirmation before moving on to the rest of the list, drilling the words into his head.
Once he felt that he had those few words down, he tried for something more abstract. He pointed at himself and said “Rain,” then at her, “Ameliah.” He then proceeded to point at each of the others in turn, naming them. Lastly, he returned to himself.
“I,” he said. Then, pointing at her, he said “You,” then Hegar, “You,” again, then Anton, “You.” He then looked at her expectantly. Catching on, she pointed at herself, saying a word, then each of the others, saying a single, different word.
Got it, ‘I’ and ‘You’, that wasn't so bad. Ok, next.
Indicating his shirt, then his pants, he learned the word for both before pointing at her shoes. She gave him the word. With all the pieces he needed, he put his plan into action.
“You shoes,” he said pointing at them. “I...” he let the word drag out, pointing at his bare feet. Then, he pointed at her pack “pack shoes?” He raised his voice at the end of the word, trying to sound hopeful. She smiled slightly and shook her head, saying another word.
Damn it. Well, at least I know the word for ‘no’ now. Rain sighed, then shrugged. Might as well keep learning words. This road seems to be going nowhere fast, and there is not much else to do. Shit, what was the word for ‘road’ again? Gah, this sucks. Why couldn't there be a translate skill?
Rain continued asking for words in this way for a few hours, slowing down considerably as he started forgetting the first ones and having to circle back to them. He picked up some essentials, such as ‘here’, ‘there’, and ‘we’, as well as a few more specific things, like ‘slime’. That one had been fun to re-enact. Eventually, Brovose had started getting annoyed at his continual mistakes and taken over from Ameliah. His tactic was a bit different; he would point at things and demand the word for them from Rain. Oddly enough, Rain found that this method helped him retain the words a bit longer before he forgot them again. At one point, Anton even tried to teach him a word, but Rain recognized it from one of Hegar's earlier bouts of cursing. When Anton said it while pointing at a bird, Rain noticed him struggling to keep a straight face. “No.” Rain simply replied and smiled. Brovose smacked the back of Anton's head lightly, saying something complicated that Rain couldn't understand. Gotta admit, teaching someone that ‘shit’ means ‘bird’ would be a pretty good prank. Look at all those shits in the trees. Shits everywhere.
Eventually, everyone was tired of the game and silence returned. To fill it, Hegar started whistling. Anton threw a rock at him. The hours wore on until the sun started going down and Hegar told Anton to start looking for a place to camp. Or at least, that is what Rain thought he said. He caught the word ‘camp’ but the rest he was guessing on body language, tone, and the tired mood of the group.
Anton replied and gestured down the road. Rain didn't catch any of it this time, but Hegar just sighed and trudged on, following Anton. An hour or so later, they came to a clearing on the side of the road which contained a ramshackle shack built from unhewn beams. Rain would have called it a log cabin, but really, it wasn't nearly charming enough to justify that.
That thing is nowhere near being up to code. Angus would have a fit if he saw me walk in there. Rain chuckled to himself at the memory of one of his co-workers from a job a year back. The man had hit the deck every time a crane brought a beam within ten meters of him. Rain regarded the shack skeptically. Well, I suppose it hasn’t fallen down yet. Better than sleeping outside. Rain's feet were dragging at this point and he was almost giddy at the prospect of rest.
Hegar poked his head in the door, looked around, then motioned the rest in. The interior of the shack was a bit cramped, and the floor was dirt, but there were four walls and a roof. Should stop a slime from eating me while I sleep, or even a musk wolf. Satisfied, Rain picked a spot in a corner, plopped down, closed his eyes, and went out like a light.