Rain slowly unclenched from a ball, coughing and spitting, trying to clear the horrible taste in his mouth. His head was pounding from lack of air and mana depletion and he was covered from head to toe in a layer of cold, icy, yuck.
Rain concentrated, but nothing happened other than the throbbing behind his eyes growing slightly worse. He was completely out of mana, his refrigeration aura having saved him from death by suffocation, but taken his entire mana pool in exchange.
Fuck this. I'm doing it now, even if I haven't done the math. Attributes. Statistics.
Focusing on the attributes screen, Rain dumped 30 points into clarity, implementing the idea he had been toying with back at the guild. Auras consumed mana per second, and Rain wanted to be able to use them indefinitely, so he had hatched the idea of pumping up clarity as high as it would go. He still wasn't sure if that was a good idea in the long run, but right now, covered in unspeakable corruption, out of mana, and shivering in a dank sewer, he thought it sounded like a great fucking idea.
He verified on the statistics panel that his mana regeneration would increase to 500/day, then smashed the apply button.
Dismissing the menu, Rain shivered and waited as his mana returned with excruciating slowness. He tried to ignore his sense of touch as he lay in the freezing puddle, eventually standing and trying to claw off as much of the freezing slime as he could.
Five hundred per day is... divide by 24... something like 20 an hour? Divide by 60... one mana every three minutes? Ish? Fuuuuuck it is so slow. I might have just made a huge mistake.
Rain wanted to open up the options menu and see if there was a way to modify his statistics screen to change the units, but he resisted. Instead, he crouched down and tried to stay quiet, listening hard for any sound of another slime approaching.
The quest said to kill five, not that there WERE five. Ok, come on, I should have enough by now.
Rain's teeth were chattering and his health had dropped by about a quarter from the slime's acid, combined with the cold. His mana bar was still showing almost empty but he decided to try it anyway, focusing on the image of light and summoning his purification aura.
Yes! It's working.
The slime clinging to him started to dry, but Rain ran out of mana again and the purifying waves stopped. The pounding behind his eyes redoubled as he was forced to cancel the skill. The slime seemed to be a bit less sticky and he had more success in wiping some of it away. He removed his shirt, noting that the acid hadn't done it any favors, and wrung it out, globlets of slime dripping off it and to the ground. He wiped at his face with the shirt. It helped a little bit. His shirt ripped as he tried to pull it back on, the acid having weakened the fabric. He pulled it on anyway, the rip in the collar leaving his left shoulder exposed.
Damn it, this is going to take too long. I should start walking back. Rain felt around in the slime for his spear, reaching out with his hands and causing small, horrible waves in the slime as he pushed his hands through it. His hand bumped into his spear, but as it did, he noticed a faint glimmer as the slime shifted. Letting go of the spear, Rain reached for the spot, feeling around and looking for the light. He saw it again and went for it, his hand feeling a small, hard grain in the otherwise mushy slush. Pulling his hand back, he opened his palm to reveal a small, white crystal.
I guess they do drop Tel, but not all the time. Well, it is something at least. It wasn't worth... this.
Picking up his spear, Rain stood and started squelching towards the torch, holding his hard-won prize in one clenched fist and his spear in the other. He felt heavy, weighed down by the oily film of filth covering him.
He stopped when he reached the torch and activated purify again, thinning the slime slightly. Before he continued, he looked up. Seeing the torchlight revealing the bare ceiling of arched stone, Rain relaxed and slumped down against the wall to take a breather. Looking left and right down the tunnel, he felt that it would be safe enough to pull up his menu. He limited himself to a few minutes of exploration, stopping frequently to look up and down the tunnel to make sure nothing was coming.
One of the first things he did was to set all of his screens to 25% transparency so he could see through them slightly, rather than having them completely block his vision. He also found an option for the statistics screen units, allowing him to confirm his math from before hadn't been far off. He set mana regeneration to display per hour but left the others on daily.
Closing his menus, he sent off another pulse of purification, then did some more math, mostly in his head, but also drawing out some slimy figures in the dust on the floor. Pulling up the skills screen, he noted his new skill point. He invested it in the winter aura, to boost his mana regeneration. Casting a firebolt would probably be a bad idea right now, assuming that these are as flammable as the ones in the forest. Not like I have the mana for it anyway.
He was pretty sure that the extra 10% combined with his higher clarity would be enough to offset the cost of the skill, but it was more than possible he had made a math error somewhere. Confirming the skill, he selected it. The icon that appeared was hard to describe. It was more the feeling of a sharp winter morning than it was a picture like the others, yet he could see it with his eyes. The synesthesia was a little off-putting, but he ignored it as he concentrated on the skill.
He didn't notice any visible effect, but he did feel the aura activate. It was a very subtle feeling and he felt like he could maintain it without much effort. Pulling up his statistics, he smiled and pumped his fist in the air. Math powers!
The difference was almost trivial, but it was a net positive. He could keep this aura on at all times, passively boosting his mana regeneration, essentially for free. It would only get better if he further increased his base regeneration by investing in clarity.
Closing the menu, Rain tried to focus on his purification aura at the same time as maintaining winter, but nothing happened. Purification he thought, trying to switch to the skill. Winter immediately deactivated as soon as the icon changed.
Damn it, I guess that would have been too much to ask for. Seems like the rule is one aura at a time. Still, every little bit helps.
His mana slightly recovered, Rain activated purification, further thinning the slime coating him. He immediately switched back to winter and activated it. Slowly, he rose and started making his way back down the tunnel towards the waterway, no longer even bothered by the slimy feel of the stones on his feet. The floor was cleaner than he was, even with him switching to purification every few minutes whenever he had enough mana to make it worth the effort.
In this way, he retraced his steps, reaching the waterway, turning, and trudging along it. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs he was feeling much better, merely like he had gone swimming in the brown-tinged waterway instead of a literal pile of sludge.
Rain gave out a last burst of purification, gritting his teeth as the feeling of mana exhaustion started to intensify in his skull, then switched back to winter. With relief at the sight of the sun, he started climbing back up the stairs. Well that was fun. Like the time I stepped on a used diaper in a ball pit, except so, so much worse. I… I almost died.
The trek back through the city was uneventful, though the streets were now much busier with the sun showing just past noon. Or before. Rain couldn't tell if it was rising or setting, and didn't know which way was east. He noticed people in the street giving him a wide berth, but he wasn't sure if that was due to his torn clothing, his spear, or the smell. Way past caring about what other people thought, he entered the guild and searched for Gus. Seeing him behind one of the counters, he made his slow, tired way over, joining the end of the line of adventurers waiting at the counter. As he approached, the man waiting in front of him sniffed and looked around.
Seeing Rain, the man swore, scrunching up his nose in disgust. Almost gagging, the man decided that Rain could have this line, retreating as far away from him as he could.
Really dude? It isn't that bad now. You should have seen me a half hour ago. I can’t even smell it anymore.
The others ahead of him in line apparently had stronger stomachs or more self-control, as they gave him distasteful looks but stayed in place. Nobody new seemed to be joining the line after him, though. When Rain finally reached the counter, Gus looked at him and shook his head. Rain pulled the still slightly damp quest slip from his pocket and placed it on the counter. He held up his hand, five fingers extended.
Gus rubbed the bridge of his nose, looking like he was developing a massive headache. He pushed the slip off of his desk with the tip of his pencil and into a bin of other discarded papers. It looked like the soggy slip of paper was all the confirmation he needed that the job was done. He dug out 5 Tel from somewhere and pushed them across to Rain. He took them gratefully and added them to his vial along with the two that were already in there.
Gus made a shooing motion and Rain was happy enough to oblige, heading off towards the room with the water barrel. He turned back at a shout. Gus was looking at him and pointing at the front door. He said something, which Rain didn't understand, but the message was clear.
Rain sighed and headed back outside. Not wanting to lug his spear through the city, he propped it against the inside of the door before he left. He debated washing himself in the fountain, but decided he'd rather not be arrested and set off in search of a bathhouse or something. He let off another burst of purification, nobody in the street seeming to notice the subtle white glow with how bright it was in the daylight.
The guild square was bustling with people. He saw a few people set up selling various things. There was a man making arrows, with a pile of finished ones sitting on a blanket next to him as well as a woman waving skewers of charred meat at passers-by as she cooked more over a small bed of coals in a cart.
Huh, this world has food trucks. He thought to himself, his mind feeling disconnected from his body as he plodded through the square.
Rain was still feeling somewhat queasy, so he passed the woman by, looking at the buildings around the square. Some appeared to be houses or apartments, but one looked like a general equipment shop. People were going in and out, some of them sporting bronze plates like Rain's own. It was easy to spot the adventurers even without the plates. They tended to stand out from the group for one reason or another. Rain was hardly an exception to this rule in his slightly damp torn t-shirt and plaid pajama pants.
I'll stop back there later and see if I can get something a bit more adventurer appropriate. Not what I need right now though. Bath first.
Continuing around the square, Rain didn't see what he was looking for, so he picked a direction and started wandering the city. Eventually, he came to a wide river which the main road crossed with a massive stone bridge. Looking up the river, Rain saw a large stone building sitting on the far side that had a canal built into it, diverting water inside.
That might be just a mill or something, but it is in the middle of the city, so I'm going to guess bathhouse.
Crossing the river, Rain turned and headed towards the building, increasingly convinced that it was a bathhouse as he saw a good number of men and women entering and leaving the building, not carrying huge sacks of grain.
As he entered, he saw a counter with an attendant and an archway leading to a large, open-ceilinged room with a huge pool set into the floor. The river entered at one end, the water pooling then flowing over a dam at the far end through a grate, presumably to the sewer system.
Rain walked up to the attendant, who greeted him with a bow and sentence that Rain couldn't parse.
“Sorry, I word no.”
Confused for a second, the attendant seemed to catch his meaning, then nodded. Gesturing to the bath, the attendant handed Rain a towel, then waved him in.
“Thank you,” Rain said. Seems like it is free, nice.
As he reached the bath, Rain looked around. It was an open bath, men, women, and children bathing or swimming together with no regard for modesty. Some were clothed, some not; he even saw one man scrubbing at a shirt with a washboard down near where the water tumbled through the grate to the sewers. So more like a public beach than a bathhouse. That works.
Rain was pretty much clean at this point, his wander through the city having given him time to regenerate sufficient mana for a few more rounds of purification. Nevertheless, he didn't feel clean, so, he walked to the water and, eyeing the shallow depth of the pool, jumped in with a splash, the water coming up to his knees.
The water was cool, but not too cold, and Rain quickly adapted to the temperature. He waded deeper into the pool until he was up to his neck, holding the towel above the water with one hand. Looking across to the other side of the pool, he saw some walled-off alcoves which would offer some privacy, like little private baths but connected to the main pool. Reaching into his pocket, he grabbed the little vial so it wouldn't slip out, holding it in his hand. The travel ration was long forgotten, thrown into the waterway beneath the city. He wasn't about to eat it after what it had been through, even with purify.
Rain waded his way over to one of the alcoves, and, finding it empty, entered through a gap in the stone wall where it connected to the water of the main pool. Built into the bottom of the alcove were some stone ledges that he could sit on. It is like a little hot tub, just without the hot. I'll take it.
Rain set the towel on the stone walkway surrounding the pool, tucking the vial of Tel underneath it to hide it from any passers-by. He then negotiated his way out of his shirt and pants, leaving his boxers on, careful not to rip the weakened fabric any further. He swished his clothes around in the water, then clambered up onto one of the stone ledges, and, standing, laid them out flat on the stone edge of the pool to dry. He then swam back out into the main pool, dunking his head under the water and scrubbing at his hair to clean out the last remnants of slime.
Heading back into his alcove, he stood in the center, the water up to his chest. He concentrated and activated purification at maximum range, which would just about cover the entire alcove. He held it for as long as he could, the pulses of light easier to see diffusing through the water than they were in the air. They rolled silently across the bottom of the pool until they bounced off the walls and dissipated.
His mana exhausted, he switched back to the soothing winter aura and arranged himself on one of the ledges to luxuriate in the feeling of being clean at last.
Still alive. He thought to himself, playing with the vial of Tel in his hand.
I… I really almost died. Rain’s shiver had nothing to do with the cold water as he thought about the feeling of the slime cutting off his airway. What am I doing? Going into a dark tunnel alone to kill monsters? Why did I think that was a good idea? Did I have a choice? Should I have taken the money Ameliah was trying to give me?
Rain closed his eyes, thinking of the past few days. He’d woken up in a forest, been captured by bandits, and then walked what felt like hundreds of kilometers only to be abandoned in a medieval city where he didn’t speak the language. He had no money, no friends, and his whole body hurt. Actually not that much worse than my old life, now that I think about it. Just trade death by runaway excavator with death by slime monster and you are pretty much there. You have to be pretty dumb to get run over by a piece of construction equipment on site, so what does that say about me?
Rain sighed and slid off the ledge. Taking a breath, he dunked himself down under the surface and let the cool water wash away his negative thoughts. No. I won’t slip back into my old life. I can cast magic now, and a slime can’t really kill me, not as long as I have mana. I’ll only get stronger from here, this is only the beginning.
Breaking the surface, Rain leaned back, his feet leaving the bottom of the pool as he let his worries go. He floated on the cool water and let his mind go blissfully blank.