Rain woke before his alarm and experienced some momentary disorientation. He was curled up against a rock and quite damp from the morning dew. The sun was just coming up. He shivered. The fire had gone out in the night and being without a blanket had left him with a pretty severe chill.
He rose, rubbing his arms and looking around. Carten was still on watch but the others were all asleep in their bedrolls. Does the man even sleep? Rain wondered, his thoughts sluggish. He moved about quietly, searching for more firewood to restart the fire. There weren't many trees around, but there was plenty of scrub brush and it was fairly dry, even with the dew. As he searched, he realized that not all of the chill was coming from the cool air.
Yes! It worked! My aura is still active!
Rain had been practicing with his auras for the whole day yesterday, using winter to keep his regeneration boosted between bouts of purification. He was getting a bit annoyed at how low the boost was and how slowly the skill was gaining experience. Trying to shove more mana into it did nothing, the barrier in his mind resisting all attempts to force it wider, only allowing a set flow of mana and that was it.
Amplify and extend were sort of like side channels that he could open or close, adding to the mana consumed by the skill, but not directly. He'd also tried reducing the flow, trying to reduce the mana consumption of purify down to something he could maintain all day. He'd had no luck with that either; the skill consumed mana at a fixed rate. Trying to use less than that would cut off the flow completely, the barrier re-sealing itself and stopping his mana from flowing out into the world.
Rain had gotten pretty annoyed at this, asking the other mages if there was any way to control the mana output of a spell. Neither Jamus nor Mahria had an answer that satisfied him. Jamus had explained that spells worked with a sort of threshold. You pressed mana against the barrier until the threshold was reached, then it would burst out into the effect you wanted, after which the barrier would close. Channeled spells such as Rain's auras were rare, at least at their level. Neither Jamus nor Mahria had any. He hadn't bothered asking Lavarro or Carten for different reasons in each person’s case.
There has to be more to it, winter feels so natural compared to the others. Rain tried varying the output of winter as he shoved some twigs into the fire, trying to get them to catch on the coals. He almost felt as if it was working, but the drain of the aura was so slow he couldn't tell if it was having any effect.
Why is winter different? I was even able to keep it on overnight. It feels less like a spell, and more like, well, just part of me. Maybe I've just been using it long enough? Skills get experience when you use them, but that is just numbers. Can you get better at a skill with practicing it, independent of what the system says? It makes sense, hard to see with an aura, but Mahria's aim is an obvious sign that skills and spells don't take care of everything.
Rain got the fire to catch at last and slowly started feeding in larger branches as the flames rekindled. He activated his purification aura and sat near the fire to dry out from the damp, watching as the ash in the fire pit dissolved under the assault of his aura. Even the smoke from the fire was attenuated. He focused on the feeling of purify, trying to feel the flow of the mana and understand how it was working.
He ran out of mana before managing to glean anything further about the skill, switching back to winter automatically. He stared at the flames, thinking about magic and skills until his alarm went off, the others seeming to jerk awake at the same time. Carten stood and walked to the cart. He tossed his shields in, then clambered up after them. He pulled a blanket from his pack and wrapped himself up in it, not even removing his armor.
I guess he does sleep. Walking for me today, then. Damn, he is frickin’ ‘uge! He practically fills that wagon. Rain pulled up his training overview as the others started to rise and move about the camp.
General Experience Earned
Stamina Use: 55
Mana Use: 1039
Skill Experience Earned
Extend Aura: 99 [Rank Up]
Purify: 825 [Rank Up]
Amplify Aura: 99 [Rank Up]
Intrinsic Clarity: 1039 [Rank Up] [Rank Up]
Holy fuck yes! That is what I am talking about! Dynamo's mana regeneration is going to make leveling up skills so much faster. Five ranks in just one day! And it is only going to get better. Intrinsic clarity increases regeneration, and with the boost from dynamo, my clarity attribute counts for triple. No level up for my class though.
Calling up his attributes screen, Rain saw that the experience requirement for level 6 Dynamo was 2021 experience, quite a jump from the 700 it had taken to get to level 5 Unclassed. At 1686, he was getting there, but still had a ways to go. While he had the window open, he checked his regeneration, seeing that he was now gaining about 200 mana per hour when winter was active.
Awesome, I can use purify for 200 mana every hour, on the hour; that is 3600 a day assuming eighteen hours awake. I'll be level 6 tomorrow, if I can keep up with the schedule, that is. Purify will probably level too, maybe more than once. Let's see. Skills.
Refrigerate (3/10) Exp: 104/400
22-25 cold (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes slow
Range: 3 meters
Cost: 15 mp/s
Extend Aura (2/10) Exp: 91/200
Extend aura range by 2 meters
Multiply aura mana cost by 140%
Purify (4/10) Exp: 639/700
Purify poison, corruption, and contamination
Range: 4 meters
Cost: 40 mp/min
Winter (1/10) Exp: 47/100
Multiply M.Regen by 110% for all entities
Range: 1 meter
Cost: 1 mp/hr
Intrinsic Clarity (5/10) Exp: 334/1100
Multiply base mana regeneration by 200%
Amplify Aura (2/10) Exp: 26/200
Multiply aura intensity by 120%
Multiply aura mana cost by 140%
Free Skill Points: 0
Wow, 4 meters for purify, that is no joke. And with extend I can get to 6. That would let me cover practically the whole quest hall in the guild if I was standing in the center. That is insane! I feel like the effect is working faster as it levels too. Maybe I should spend some time on refrigeration today, 6 meters for that would be nuts, but the mana cost would be... yeah wow, that skill's mana cost is insane. I'd drain myself dry in a few seconds, assuming the cost scales linearly with level. What was I looking for? Right, experience costs.
Rain looked through his skills, trying to figure out the progression of the leveling costs. Level 1 was 100, 2 was 200, so double, and 3 was 400, double again. Thankfully, level four only took 700, not 800, so it didn't look like it was just doubling, as Rain knew that would get out of hand quickly. At 1100, level 5 didn't make a bunch of sense to him. Opening his notebook, Rain played around with the numbers, trying to work out the sequence.
100, 200, 400, 700, 1100, …? Damn, this is like one of those standard math problems. I always sucked at those. Let's see here, it isn't doubling, that would be 200, 400, 800, 1600. Humm, addition, but it is adding a different amount each time, so subtract one from the next gives 100, 200, 300, 400, oh, I see. So it should be 100, 200, 400, 700, 1100, 1600, 2200, and so forth. 100 more each time, adding to the last level, and it resets to 0 when you rank up.
Rain played with the numbers a little bit more, working out the mathematics and using refrigerate as an example. So right now, I can spend 3600 mana a day or thereabouts, so if I use nothing but refrigerate...wait, something doesn't make sense here. Recalling his training review, he compared the numbers against his estimate for how much mana he had used the day before. He cross-checked a few things, running sums and trying to build an understanding of what exactly was going on.
Damn it, too many variables. I should have finished college... Rain thought to himself, ignoring the fact that this was basic algebra, not anything like calculus or differential equations. It isn't 1 to 1, I know that much. I was using purify until I was flat out of mana, so that would have been way more than 900, but it isn't 2 to 1 either, otherwise winter would be higher. Do extend and amplify count towards the skill, or as their own thing? Maybe it counts twice? Intrinsic clarity definitely counts things twice, no, three times, purify, intrinsic clarity, and class experience. Gah.
Rain continued to struggle with the math, dreaming of a computer until he heard his name called in an impatient tone. The others were waiting for him, the cart waiting on the road ready to go.
“Shit, sorry,” Rain cursed as he got to his feet. He tucked away his notebook and kicked out the fire, making sure it was well and truly out before hurrying to catch up with the others. He fell into step as Lavarro got the cart rolling, struggling to move his sore legs to the quick pace that she set.
He didn't have the luxury of his notebook as they walked, so he made do with practicing his language with Jamus using the point and name game. He thought he was getting a bit better at remembering the various names of land features, but sentence structure was still a bit of a mystery. Mostly, he just tried to copy the others and say things the same way they did. Progress was slow. Rain again wished for a translation spell, but doggedly continued to put in the work as they continued down the road.
By the time they stopped for lunch, Rain's legs were screaming in protest and his stamina was almost to zero. He was having trouble keeping up with the pace Lavarro had set. His mana was doing fine despite him using purify every hour to drain it all out. Jamus had commented on the expanded range, but didn't seem to notice the slightly stronger glow of the aura that came with the increased level. Everyone was already spotless, so the faster cleaning wasn't that apparent. Nobody seemed to have noticed the colonic implications of the aura yet, and Rain was eagerly awaiting the moment when someone realized that they hadn't had to use the bathroom since yesterday. That was going to be great.
The group made do with ration bars and other, less jaw destroying trail food as they hadn't managed to find any other wildlife in the rocky hills. Carten had woken up as they stopped for lunch, hopping down from the cart, apparently fully recovered. Rain climbed up into the back of the cart with relief, folding his aching legs and scooting over to make room for Mahria and Jamus to join him.
They continued through the afternoon, the scraggly trees and brush growing a bit more sparse as the terrain grew craggy and mountainous. The road wound between the hills, still heading in the same general direction, though there weren't any more travelers this far out. He was on edge at the thought of monsters like the musk wolf, far as he was from the safety of the city and the patrols of the Watch. The others didn't seem too concerned, but he did note that Lavarro and Carten were keeping an active lookout even as the others goofed around in the cart.
As night was falling, Lavarro brought the cart to a halt near a small dirt track splitting off from the main road and heading up into the hills. It seemed they would be stopping here for the night, so Rain walked about collecting firewood. It was a bit harder to come by out here, so his search ended up sending him a bit further from the others. He noticed a commotion as he returned to the camp with an armload of wood. Setting it down near where he had intended to start the fire, he watched as Mahria shot bolts of ice at Carten, who was blocking them with his shields. He seemed to be going out of his way to get hit, diving for the bolts in some cases to catch them on his shield even when they would clearly have missed.
Training, then, not a fight.
Mahria stomped off after a little while in a huff at her inability to get a single bolt through Carten's defense. Carten was laughing at this, but shut up quickly as a bolt of blue light struck him right in the face, launched by a sniggering Jamus. Carten wasn't wearing his helmet but didn't seem too hurt, just agitated, shouting loudly as he chased after Jamus, blocking shot after shot with his shields. Eventually, Jamus hid behind Lavarro, who to Rain's surprise didn't get mad, simply ignoring the two men circling around her as she sat silently watching the road.
Jamus made a break for it, but Carten caught him with a shield rush, sending him sprawling to the ground. Laughing, Carten relaxed and then leaned down to give the dusty mage a hand up, clapping him on the shoulder and almost sending him to the ground again. Rain winced in sympathy for the poor mage. Carten wasn't exactly gentle.
Seeing Rain watching, Carten walked over to him, leaving Jamus to nurse his wounds.
“Want to try?” the big man asked him, grinning through his bushy black beard.
Sure, why the heck not. Let's see if he can block an aura.
Rain nodded, readying refrigerate and moving to within his estimated range of the big man.
“Ready?” Rain asked. Carten crouched and banged his shields together by way of response.
Rain nodded and started to focus on refrigerate, extending the aura, but not amplifying it. He didn't want to really hurt the man, so he was ready to shut it down if it looked like it was doing any real damage. As the wave of cold rushed towards Carten, he slammed his shields together and ducked behind them. The flat inside edges of the two shields interlocked, one having a raised flange that covered the seam. The cold washed against them, but then flowed over and around, reaching for the man hiding behind the wall of metal.
Carten seemed momentarily shocked by this, not having expected this form of attack. Rain almost canceled the aura, but he kept it on as he heard laughter coming from behind the shields. Carten stood, frost forming on the metal of his armor as he took a step towards Rain. He started walking toward Rain with a wide grin on his face, his arms spread wide.
Shocked at the ineffectiveness of his aura, Rain activated amplify, pushing as hard as he could. Carten didn't even seem to notice the difference. Rain frantically waved his hands at him in defeat, canceling the aura completely. His mana was totally drained after the few seconds of combat, despite having been near full. The frosted ground cracked as Carten walked up to Rain and clapped him on the shoulder. Rain winced, then smiled up at the man, shrugging.
Damn. I guess it is only good against slimes at this level. Carten is a beast.
Mahria walked up to Rain, having returned at some point to watch the fight.
“What was that skill?” she asked, indicating the melting circle of frost on the ground.
“Aura,” Rain said, shrugging, failing to remember the common word for the skill. He’d asked the adventurers at the guild for the names of several tier 0 skills, but he’d neglected to write most of them down.
Mahria paused, then, staring off into space, started swiping at something Rain couldn't see. He did recognize the motion though, figuring that she was paging through the skill window.
Well, there is one question answered. Other people have the same interface, or at least a similar one. It isn't just me.
Eventually, Mahria seemed to find what she was looking for, turning to him and speaking a word with a questioning tone. It sounded familiar, but he didn’t recognize it. Unsure, he simply shrugged.
She crouched down and sketched out a circle about a meter in radius on the ground around herself, then looked at him questioningly. She pointed at the circle of frost around him, repeating the word, then pointed at the fire, saying a different word. Yeah, looks like she found it.
Rain nodded. “Refrigerate,” he pointed to the aura around him, using the same word she had used.
The other one must have been immolate. I’ll try to remember that this time.
Mahria sniffed, seeming to lose interest, muttering something about mana as she walked back towards the fire.
Yeah, tell me about it, Rain thought as he followed her, sitting down and fishing out a ration bar from his pack.
Jamus joined them and sat next to Rain who was watching Mahria across the fire. Her green eyes were captivating. The mage tapped Rain on the shoulder and leaned in to whisper to him.
“What?” Rain whispered back.
“Mahria. Be careful.”
“She is Lavarro’s <something>.”
Jamus motioned to Rain’s pack, then made a writing motion. Rain pulled out his notebook and handed it to the man. Jamus started sketching in the notebook. He drew a quick doodle of the two women, then another figure that Rain didn’t recognize. He connected Lavarro and the unfamiliar man with a line. He then extended it with an arrow to point to Mahria, who was drawn in above the other figures. He started labeling the diagram, but Rain had already caught on.
It’s like a family tree, just upside down! Shit, she’s Lavarro’s daughter. Warning taken.
Jamus taught him the words for the relationships between the people, Rain taking the notebook back to fill in the phonetic translations in English. When they had finished, he felt like it would be safe enough to ask a question. He kept his voice to a whisper though.
“Her father? Who?”
“You wouldn’t like him.”
Mahria had started watching the whispering pair curiously, so Rain decided that he should probably mind his own business. He sighed and picked his ration bar back up from where he had left it. He gnawed at it unenthusiastically, his poor jaw almost as sore as his legs.