Two days later, Rain was sitting in his alcove in the bath, soaking his tired legs in the cool water and idly swiping through his menus. The return to the city had been uneventful, but Rain's mood was sour. It wasn't even the money that was the real issue for him; it was the unspoken message: you are not one of us.
Rationally, he knew that he had agreed to the terms before they had set out, but it still hurt. He had been getting along well with the group, but then there was the battle and his inability to fight had made him start to feel like baggage, just along for the ride. His purification aura had aided the group, but not in any way that mattered, not really. The Tel had been the nail in the coffin. Friends would have shared, business associates would stick to the contract.
As they had traveled back to the city, Rain had kept to himself, studying from his notebook and using his spells for practice. He wasn't feeling as at home with the group as he had before. He felt awkward around Mahria, and Jamus was slow to recover from his mana usage. The mage had just sat in the cart with his eyes closed for the entire first day, wincing at every bump.
When they had finally returned to the city, Rain hadn't even accompanied them to the guild to turn in the quest. He had stiffly said his goodbyes and had wandered the city, his feet eventually carrying him here. Jamus had looked like he wanted to say something but had stopped himself at a look from Lavarro.
He felt like he had finally made some real friends in this world, but then it just fell apart before his eyes. He didn’t blame them, and he knew that he was taking it harder than he should. Rationally, he thought it might be a good idea to seek them out at the guild and ask to join the group formally. He thought he had a chance at convincing Jamus and Carten, and maybe even Mahria. Lavarro was another matter. Rationality aside, the perceived betrayal had hit him hard, sending his mind down a dark path that had led him here, alone and feeling sorry for himself.
Ok, no more of that.
Catching his thoughts spiraling down the familiar well of depression, Rain splashed some of the cold river water onto his face and re-focused on his status. While he hadn’t found the sense of belonging that he craved, he had made some pretty good progress in other areas.
Richmond Rain Stroudwater
Refrigerate (3/10) Exp: 194/400
22-25 cold (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes slow
Range: 3 meters
Cost: 15 mp/s
Extend Aura (5/10) Exp: 30/1100
Extend aura range by 5 meters
Multiply aura mana cost by 200%
Purify (6/10) Exp: 829/1600
Purify poison, corruption, and contamination
Range: 6 meters
Cost: 60 mp/min
Winter (2/10) Exp: 24/200
Multiply M.Regen by 120% for all entities
Range: 2 meters
Cost: 2 mp/hr
Intrinsic Clarity (8/10) Exp: 1790/2900
Multiply base mana regeneration by 260%
Amplify Aura (5/10) Exp: 21/1100
Multiply aura intensity by 150%
Multiply aura mana cost by 200%
Detection (4/10) Exp: 265/1400
Sense selected items of interest
Not occluded by mundane materials
Resolution: 0.7 meters
Range: 4 meters
Cost: 4 mp/s
Free Skill Points: 1
Rain had been spending some time thinking about what he wanted for the future. He had decided against investing more in his offensive auras for now. He couldn't see a way to use them in a group, not being able to hold back or direct refrigerate in any way. He felt as if it should be possible, but whenever he tried to change the skill effect, it either did nothing or just canceled the aura completely.
Rather than stressing about it, Rain decided to focus on making himself useful by boosting his beneficial auras instead. The well auras in particular had caught his eye. They would allow him to change mana to other resources: health to heal wounds, stamina to refresh warriors, and even mana to help other mages who hadn't invested into clarity like he had.
To get those, however, he needed to break through the wall that was the seasonal auras as he called them. Spring, summer, and winter. The low mana cost of winter was making it difficult for him to level the skill, though the regeneration effect was incredibly useful and he left the aura on pretty much 24/7, even maintaining it while he slept. The boosted regeneration wouldn't be as good for traditional mages, however, as most of the benefit he was reaping was coming from his high base clarity and the tripling effect of the dynamo class.
The effect of winter was even stronger now that it was level two, more than offsetting the increase to the base cost. Rain was actually happy about that as it meant that the skill could level faster, especially with amplify and extend multiplying the mana cost by four when used in conjunction.
Still too slow, and I want to level all three seasons, so I need to get it even higher. There is only one skill that I can take right now that will do that.
Flicking to the aura metamagic tree, Rain considered, then invested his free point into aura focus, seeing that he now satisfied the requirement of 5 ranks in both amplify aura and extend aura.
Aura Focus (1/10) Exp: 0/200
Focus on an aura to boost its output
Multiply aura intensity by 120%
Multiply aura range by 120%
Multiply aura mana cost by 120%
User loses all external senses while focusing
Base cost of winter is 2 per hour, times 2 from extend, times another 2 from amplify, and then 1.2x from focus gives 9.6 mana per hour. I'll need to level extend, amplify, and focus first, then that should let me get that up to a 27x multiplier. That should help quite a bit. Plus, I can use focus for other things, so it isn't like it is going to waste.
Rain almost activated purify with all of his buffs right then and there, but caught himself, remembering the rule about magic in the city. It was almost noon and the baths were quite busy. Rain clambered out of the alcove, towling off and dressing himself in his dry clothes that he had left at the side of the pool. He was a bit embarrassed to be naked in public, but plenty of other swimmers were, so he played it cool and dressed as quickly as he could.
Grabbing up his pack, he made his way out of the baths and to the one place that he knew he could use any aura he wanted without drawing too much attention to himself. He walked to the bottom of the sewer stairs and looked around. There wasn't anyone in sight and the stairs hid him from the street, so he activated purify at full blast, extending the aura to its massive buffed range of 11 meters. He used amplify as well, watching as the pulses of light intensified, quickly scouring the stone and diffusing down through the flowing water. His mana was draining quickly so he wasted no time and activated aura focus.
The instant he did his vision quickly faded to black and his hearing cut out as if someone had pulled a bag over his head. Stranger still was the sudden lack of the damp feeling of the sewer air against his skin, or even the weight of his body pressing his feet into the ground. He started to topple over, his proprioception, the only sense left to him, insufficient to counter his sudden lack of external stimulus.
He canceled all of his skills and stumbled, catching himself just before he toppled into the waterway.
“Woah,” he gasped, staggered at the loss of perception caused by the skill.
He looked around at his surroundings. The area covered by the aura was now larger than his ability to see in the dim torchlight of the sewer, but the area immediately surrounding him was spotless. He had cleaned it only a few days before, so this wasn't entirely unexpected. He'd have to find fresh filth to test the true effect of his layered skills.
He walked a little ways down the tunnel until he reached the end of the mostly clean area, then sat, ignoring the slime on the stone as it would be cleaned away momentarily. The seat of his pants might still be a bit wet, but that was much better than falling into the waterway.
Ok, let's get an fps reading on this. 5 seconds, I think.
Rain sat up straight, readying himself. He let loose with his maximized purification aura, counting the seconds once his senses dropped away, releasing the aura after 5 seconds had passed. His senses returned and he swayed slightly as his balance returned.
Inspecting the area around himself, he saw that the ground was mostly clean, but there were still some persistent stains. Taking the layer of slime here as 1 filth, that was 5 seconds of aura, so 0.1 filth per second, maybe? I'll try another 5 seconds.
Closing his eyes again, Rain repeated his effort. When he opened them, he smiled as he saw that the stones had been scoured clean. He watched with mild interest as the water flowing in the waterway faded back to brown, the clean water being swept away downstream and replaced by the gradual flow through the canal. Glancing at his mana, he saw that the effort had taken around a quarter of his total.
Getting to his feet, Rain paced out the distance along the waterway, finding the edge of the clean area and then walking past it for about the same distance. He then sat again and re-activated the skill for another ten seconds, watching as his mana ticked down. His vision might have faded to black, but his status overlay was working fine. After another ten seconds, his mana was down to half and he found himself sitting in another perfectly clean circle.
Humm, so just a little bit stronger with aura focus. Pretty much what I was expecting.
Still seated, Rain switched to his detection aura, focusing on the image of a slime and activating the skill, using all of his buffs to boost it, including aura focus. His senses faded, but he didn't feel any detections on his magical radar. He canceled it after a few seconds, switched his focus to Tel, and activated the aura again. His vision faded, but this time it was replaced with the immaterial sense of the Tel in his pocket. He was surprised to feel another signal coming from further down the tunnel. Canceling the skill and getting up, he walked slowly down the tunnel for a few meters, trying to remember how far the signal had been. Eventually, he spotted its gleam coming from a wide crack in the cleaned stone. He picked it up wonderingly.
What are you doing here? Did someone kill a slime and just leave it? Oh well, finders keepers.
Rain added the Tel to the others in his vial, then turned to head back up to the city, his mana getting a bit low. He didn't want to spend his whole day down here hunting slimes right now. Detection didn't have a visual effect, but it used plenty of mana and he felt that he would be safe enough using it to train aura focus from the comfort of the guild.
Rain was a bit hungry when he made it back to the street, having eaten his last ration bar for breakfast that morning. His offensive aura still might be a little weak, but his jaw was certainly getting stronger from all the exercise. He walked for a while, looking for a restaurant or an inn. He didn't find one, but he did see a man selling sausages wrapped in bread over in the merchant's square. He bought two, then decided to wander through the square while he ate.
There was a wide variety of things on display, but not really that much for adventurers beyond simple travel supplies. He did buy some beef jerky, figuring that it would keep and was softer than travel rations. It was cheaper too; guild rates seemed to be artificially inflated. Rain was about to leave the square when he suddenly stopped, then walked back to a stand he had just passed. He traded two whole Tel for a thick, woven blanket, which he rolled and tucked into his pack, almost filling it completely. His days on the road had given him his fill of sleeping on hard dirt with nothing to cover him.
The merchant had been giving him the stink eye when he paid with Tel, but Rain didn't care, smiling at his new acquisition. He was pretty sure he had paid more than he needed to as well, but he didn’t have the motivation to haggle at the moment.
Rain's mana was almost full at this point, so he found a barrel in an alley and sat on it, activating maximized detection and searching for Tel. He got far fewer signals than he was expecting, just those of the Tel in his pocket, two coming from the direction of the merchant, and one or two more wandering through the crowd.
Switching his focus to the small copper coins, Rain was almost overwhelmed by the number of detections. He felt as if he was in the middle of a cloud, fuzzy copper signals coming from all sides, though stronger from the direction of the market square. He changed his focus again to the larger coins, feeling the fog around him shift slightly. It started to drop off when he switched to focusing on the copper tiles, then dropped much lower when he switched to the bars, with him able to pick out individual signals coming from various directions.
This quick scan had taken almost all of his mana, so Rain let the skill drop and pushed himself up off his barrel. Like I thought, only adventurers use Tel. I should try searching for Tel around the guild to confirm. Looks like the small coins are commonplace, but the tiles and bars are less common. I should find a bank or something and get some copper to spend in the city.
Rain wandered over towards the guild square, keeping an eye out for anything that looked like a bank, but not searching too hard. He didn't plan on spending any more copper right now, so it was a low priority. When he reached the guild square, he poked his head into the shop he had noticed before, then walked in to look around. As he suspected, the shop catered to adventurers. Various types of weaponry and armor lined the walls, and there were a few displays in the center of the shop with more ornate pieces on display.
There were a couple other adventurers browsing the wares. A man in a green tunic came up to him as he entered, greeting him and asking to see his plate. Rain fished it out from underneath his tunic and left it there, content to walk about with his guild status on display when he was this near to the guild.
The man in the tunic, some sort of uniform Rain supposed, nodded at his plate and asked him a question.
“Sorry, what? My speaking not good,” Rain replied, having missed the question.
“What are you looking for,” the man repeated, speaking slowly and clearly.
“I don't know. Weapon? Magic?” Rain asked, not really intending to buy anything, just fishing for information on what was available.
“Sword?” the man asked, eyeing Rain's workman's clothes and apparently deciding that he was some type of warrior. Rain shrugged, deciding to just go with the flow. The man drew him over to a wall of swords, taking a blade down and handing it to him. Rain took the sword, noting that it was much lighter than he had been expecting. It seemed to be just a basic longsword, with an unornamented guard and nothing about it to indicate that it was magical in any way.
“Magic?” Rain asked, inspecting the blade. The man nodded saying a word Rain didn't know.
“I don't know that word,” Rain replied with one of the most useful phrases he had learned so far. The man held up a hand, motioning Rain to wait, then walked behind a counter, returning with a scrap of leather. He handed it to Rain, taking the sword back.
“Try your knife,” the man said.
Rain did so, finding that he could cut through the leather scrap, but he had to saw at it to get through the tough material. The man stopped him with a wave, then handed him the sword again. “Try the sword.”
Rain ran the leather along the blade, marveling as it sliced through it with no resistance. It was beyond sharp, like a razor despite the mundane appearance of the blade.
Oh cool, so it is enchanted to be sharper.
“How much?” Rain asked, wondering at the price for the blade.
The man seemed to consider, then replied “Two Gran-Tel.”
“Gran-Tel?” Rain asked. “What is gran?”
The man took the sword back from him coolly and replaced it on the wall. He seemed to be annoyed with Rain for some reason, so Rain apologized, using his favorite phrase again.
“Sorry, I don't know that word.”
The man sighed and explained with his hands that a 'Gran-Tel' was a larger crystal than a normal Tel, and that the exchange rate between Tel and Gran-Tel was 1000:1.
Rain's eyes popped at the value of the sword he had been holding. That thing is the price of a car!
“Too many Tel for me, sorry. What is fewest Tel magic item?”
The man sighed, then led Rain over to the counter and gestured at a box of grayish metal rings. “Statrings, 10 Tel, 2 for 15.”
It took Rain a few moments to parse out the run-together word the man had used. Stat Rings?
Rain looked closely at the rings. They were jumbled haphazardly in the wooden box, not displayed neatly. The rings seemed to be made of iron, and were uniform in shape, if a bit rough. Each ring was inscribed with a small, crudely drawn symbol. Rain recognized them as the symbols for the primary attributes that he’d learned from Jamus. The common script represented each of the attributes such as strength and focus with a single symbol. Health, mana, and stamina also had unique symbols, but he didn't see any rings marked with them.
Taking a ring with the symbol for strength, he looked at the attendant questioningly. “What does it do?”
“That one? Strength. Try it.”
Rain slipped the ring on, but he didn't feel any different. The ring was a bit loose on his ring finger, and he was about to transfer it to his middle finger when he noticed that his health bar was showing half full. Oooh, I get it. Attributes.
Pulling up his attributes screen, Rain saw that his strength was showing as 20. He removed the ring and watched as it dropped back to 10, his health bar instantly re-filling. Replacing the ring, he watched his strength and health jump back up again.
I don’t feel stronger. I also don’t feel like I am half dead, but my health is at 50% with this on. Weird.
He removed the ring and placed it back in the box, selecting one marked with the focus symbol. Trying it on, he watched as his focus increased by 10. He slipped on a few more, one for each of the fingers on his left hand. It didn't seem like there was any conflict, each ring boosting a stat by ten. Even wearing two of the same type didn't seem to cause an issue, the boost just adding to +20. Wearing two rings on a single finger didn't work, though; only the first boost seemed to take effect. Slipping off all of the rings and laying them out on the counter, Rain considered.
I have 23 Tel, and I could get two of these for 15. That seems like a pretty good deal to me. I can make that back in a day if I get a good quest. Compared to the sword, that is nothing. 20 free stat points! Humm, do I go for clarity? I get triple bang for my buck that way, but it is really just a drop in the bucket compared to how much mana regen I want. Maybe some strength so I have a bit more health? Or Vigor so I can recover fully after a full day of walking?
Rain stood, considering as the shop attendant tapped his foot impatiently. Eventually, he made his choice, fishing out a number of rings with the symbols for focus and strength stamped into them. He returned the rest to the box, then tried on the rings one at a time until he found one of each type that fit decently well. He picked up the remaining rings and tossed them back into the box, not being too careful with them. They were made of iron after all, and the box seemed to be this store's equivalent of the candy display at the checkout of a supermarket.
“These two,” Rain said, fishing out his vial and counting out 15 Tel onto the counter. The man picked up one of the Tel and squinted at it before nodding and sweeping the rest into a pouch.
“Thank you,” Rain said. The man snorted and walked off to help another customer, though Rain noticed he was still watching him from the corner of his eye.
Wow, that was a bit rude, though I suppose I'd be a bit annoyed too if someone came into my luxury car dealership and spent ten minutes picking out an air freshener. I forgive you, random shop guy. I'll be back later with more Tel.
Rain transferred the rings between his fingers, settling on his left middle finger and right ring finger as having the best fit. He looked at his vitals as he left the shop, smiling as he saw that health and mana were both showing as half full.
Doubled my mana and health pools! I can use my skills for twice as long now, and I'll still be full when I wake up in the morning. Oh, and refrigerate is probably a bit stronger too because of that (fcs) next to the effect. Let's see.
Rain walked out of the flow of traffic and pulled up his skills menu. He was a bit disappointed that the power of Refrigerate hadn't doubled. The menu listed it as 23-26 cold damage. He found that he could focus on the number to bring up the base value of 22-25. That confirmed what he had seen before about the damage scaling of the skill.
Oh well. It is something at least. I can use it for twice as long, that is the real takeaway here. Man, I want more of these rings. I need a quest.
Rain wandered over to the guild and walked in. He saw Gus over behind his counter and waved to him, getting a double take in response, then a hasty wave back. Hah, guess I should have told him where I was going, not that I really knew. Walking to the board, he looked it over. This late in the day, it was pretty picked over. He recognized a few postings that had been there since he had set out almost a week ago, including the one for the slime near the middle of the board. I guess nobody wants to fight a giant slime. Can't imagine why. Seeing that there was nothing available for his level, Rain decided to implement plan B.
He walked over to Gus, who was manning one of the counters though there wasn't a line at any of them at the moment.
“Hi Gus, I am back.”
“Rain. Thought you were dead.”
“Yeah, sorry, I should have goodbye.”
“Your language is better. Still bad, but better.”
“Thank you,” Rain said. “I am much practice.”
Gus cocked his head at this. “What?”
“I am practice much? Much practicing?”
“Your <something> needs work.”
“Yes,” Rain agreed. “Me try make words good.”
Gus just shook his head at this, chuckling. “Do you need something?”
“Yes. I need Tel. There are no quests I can do, how get money?” Rain asked, using the general term for wealth, not caring if it came in the form of Tel or in copper.
“I am not giving you a <something>.”
“No, no, not... I want...find Tel, not...get from you for nothing.”
“Kill monsters, get money. Adventurer <something>.”
Rain smiled at the saying, feeling like it was a fitting motto for the type of people he had met in the guild so far.
“In the forest, or in a <something>, but that is dangerous.”
“Dangerous like slime?”
“Slimes are not dangerous. Slimes are <something>. The forest is dangerous if you are alone. <Somethings> are very dangerous, always.”
Gus shook his head and sighed. “<Somethings>. Monsters come from <Somethings>, they are <something>, and they <something>.”
“Sorry, I don't know that word.”
“Below the sewer. Very below. <Something>,” Gus replied, repeating the word again, annoyed.
I'll go with lair until I learn better. That seems close enough. Monsters come from lairs, and there is one under the sewer. I guess that explains the slimes, and maybe the dark hounds too. The miners, they delved too greedily and too deep.
“Under sewer where?”
“Don't. You will die.”
Shit, he is probably right about that. Note to self, do not go too deep in the sewers.
“How make money without kill monsters? Without lair?”
“Quests. Or get a job.”
“Job?” Rain repeated the word, unsure if he was remembering the meaning correctly from his lessons from Jamus.
“I work...for guild? Like you?”
“No, the guild does not have any jobs <something>.”
“No? I can help. Clean guild. Purify. I clean, you give me Tel?”
Gus seemed to consider this. He then called over the old man who was manning the other counter, the two of them having a quick conversation too fast for Rain to follow. The old man nodded, then looked at Rain.
“Show me,” the old man said.
Rain signaled him to wait, then walked to the center of the guild. Seeing that he had the old man's attention, he activated purify and extended it to maximum range. The white light spread out through the room causing a few startled yelps, but the clamor died down as those familiar with Rain's aura explained the effect to everyone else. Rain watched as the light rebounded against the walls of the room and spilled over into the hallways. He gave it a good ten seconds, then canceled the effect, figuring that it should be more than enough.
The old man and Gus walked over to him, the old man crouching to run a finger along the floorboards. Seeing it come up clean, he considered, then turned to Rain. “The guild has no jobs.”
Rain's face fell at this but the old man held up a hand to forestall him.
“But, if you clean the <something> guild hall every day, you can use the bunk room for free.” There was a bit of an angry uproar in the room at this; the group had attracted a fair audience at this point.
Seems like that is a rare thing. Everyone with a bronze plate looks pretty miffed. Silver plate dude in the back doesn't seem to care though.
“Yes,” Rain said, sticking out his hand for the old man to shake. The man took his hand in a surprisingly strong grip and shook it firmly, then turned to go back to his desk.
“Hey, I am Rain, what is your name?” Rain said, before the man got too far away.
“Rankin,” the old man replied, nodding to him, then returning to work.
Gus clapped Rain on the shoulder as he walked past him back towards his counter. “Start with the training room. Someone bled all over the floor.”
Rain sat on his blanket near the fountain in the guild square. The sun was going down, but the square was still fairly busy with both adventurers and normal townsfolk. He had camped out here after having finished cleaning the guild, inspired by his deal with Rankin to see if he could make a bit more money from his aura.
Looking at his mana, Rain stood, causing the few figures waiting near the fountain to perk up and look at him expectantly. Grinning, Rain hopped up on the edge of the fountain and spread his arms, activating purify at maximum range and intensity. There were a few startled shouts from some of the townspeople as the glowing white light washed over them, but the calm reactions of the adventurers kept them from panicking. A good portion of the people in the square were already familiar with him, having seen him use the aura in the guild at one point or another. He gave it ten seconds, then hopped down, returning to his seat on his blanket.
Next to him, he had a sign labeled with the word ‘donations’ and a hat that he had borrowed from Gus. A few townsfolk came up and dropped some copper coins into the hat to join those already there. The first time he had tried this little stunt, he had gotten a much worse response. Now, though, word seemed to have spread and a few people had come to the square specifically to see what all the fuss was about.
Rain smiled as he thanked a man who had dropped a large copper coin into the hat.
He had hatched the idea while having dinner in the tavern after finishing cleaning the guild. A few large flagons of Khurt’s beer had gone a long way to get over his reservations about displaying his aura in public. Purify apparently didn’t work on alcohol, for all that it was technically poison. It did work on his bladder, though, allowing him to stay in the bar for longer than he probably should have.
To make sure that he wouldn’t get in trouble for using magic in the square, he had floated the idea past Gus before deciding to try it. Begging was prohibited in the city, but busking was allowed provided that it wasn’t dangerous to the people or the infrastructure. It wasn’t even all that uncommon; however, most buskers were musicians and other street performers, not mages. Gus had also told Rain that he was an idiot, but Rain hadn’t cared about that, drunk as he was. He needed money if he wanted more of those stat rings.
He had been a bit uncomfortable the first time he had tried it, given what Jamus had told him about the Watch. They didn’t patrol the guild square, however, and the spell was completely harmless, so Rain had decided that it would probably be fine. His gamble seemed to have paid off, most people being pretty appreciative of the effect of the aura once they figured it out.
The sun had well and truly set now, so Rain took down his sign and pulled in the hat to count the coins. His busking had earned him almost five Tel’s worth of assorted copper coinage. Rain was smiling as he returned to the guild, blanket under his arm, pleased at how lucrative the activity had turned out to be. Gus wasn’t there, so he left his hat on his desk and made his way to the bunk. He was beat from the long days of walking and the beer he had drunk hadn’t done his energy level any favors.
Kicking off his boots and tucking his pack under the bed, he called it a day and laid down to sleep.