“Damn it!” Rain swore at the scraps of wood in front of him. He had been trying to light a fire for the last fifteen minutes using his flint and steel, but the damp wood refused to catch. It had rained overnight and the roof of the hut had been decidedly less than waterproof. He had slept poorly, and now he was cold, damp, and irritated.
What I need is some lighter fluid.
Tallheart was no help. He had disappeared somewhere before Rain had woken and wasn’t anywhere near the clearing. Rain, left to his own devices, had decided to get a fire going to dry himself out. He had been stymied by wet wood and his own inexperience with starting a fire. He had shaved off some splinters of wood with his knife, but the fire refused to catch no matter how many showers of sparks he had sent cascading over them.
He shivered and pulled his sodden blanket tighter around his shoulders. This wasn’t working. Sitting back on his heels, Rain resigned himself to a miserable morning. He would try to light the fire again a little later, once things had dried out a bit. To take his mind off how cold and damp he was, he pulled up his training overview from the day before.
General Experience Earned
Stamina Use: 84
Mana Use: 2027
Skill Experience Earned
Extend Aura: 496 [Rank Up]
Amplify Aura: 496 [Rank Up]
Aura Focus: 14
Intrinsic Clarity: 272 [Rank Up]
Huh. Something isn’t adding up here. Intrinsic Clarity should have earned much more experience than that. It has been matching my overall experience from mana use… Oh! That must mean… skills.
Refrigerate (4/10) Exp: 356/700
31-35 cold (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes slow
Range: 4 meters
Cost: 20 mp/s
Extend Aura (6/10) Exp: 165/1600
Extend aura range by 6 meters
Multiply aura mana cost by 220%
Purify (7/10) Exp: 1060/2200
Purify poison, corruption, and contamination
Range: 7 meters
Cost: 70 mp/min
Winter (3/10) Exp: 146/400
Multiply M.Regen by 130% for all entities
Range: 3 meters
Cost: 3 mp/hr
Intrinsic Clarity (10/10)
Multiply base mana regeneration by 300%
Amplify Aura (6/10) Exp: 277/1600
Multiply aura intensity by 160%
Multiply aura mana cost by 220%
Detection (5/10) Exp: 65/2200
Sense selected items of interest
Not occluded by mundane materials
Resolution: 0.60 meters
Range: 5 meters
Cost: 5 mp/s
Aura Focus (1/10) Exp: 62/200
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
Free Skill Points: 2
Tracing his finger down his skill list, Rain stopped at intrinsic clarity. The skill showed 10/10, meaning it had hit maximum rank. Rain pulled up his notification log and searched it for anything new, but there was nothing. It seemed that there wasn’t an obvious bonus for reaching maximum rank on a skill.
What a fucking letdown. So it just caps out? No skill evolution or perk or anything? Lame. I’ll ask Tallheart about it when he gets back. He might know if there’s something I’m missing.
Rain considered his two free skill points. He had a few options for what to do with them. Right at this moment, immolate was looking pretty tempting. Based on the strength of refrigerate, it would go a long way towards helping get the fire going. He doubted that it would actually set anything on fire without leveling it up a bit first, but it would help dry out the firewood. He didn’t want to make a hasty decision, though. He already had refrigerate for offense. Unless he ran into an ice monster, he didn’t think immolate would be that much more effective at keeping him safe.
Velocity was another option. Being able to move faster would be a huge advantage for combat. The cost was a bit steep to use it for travel, but he might get there eventually if he kept investing in clarity. Rain wasn’t sure if the speed stat would just boost his physical body, or his mind as well.
Another question for Tallheart. Where the heck did he run off to?
Rain looked around the clearing, but there was no sign of the armored man. He glared back at the unlit firewood despondently. There didn’t seem to be any point in trying again yet. He kept his skills window open and pulled up his attributes and statistics as well. He dragged them around until he could see all three windows without them overlapping.
Richmond Rain Stroudwater
I have 10 free attribute points I could spend. I made it to 100 clarity like I said I would, but I kinda want to keep going. I want more mana too, but investing in regen is more economical with my class. If I can get more of these rings then I can probably get by without it. Tallheart said he was a smith... I wonder if he can make something like this.
Rain idly twisted the focus ring on his finger, considering.
One more question for him then. Still, I could just get a clarity ring and put the points in focus instead. Same thing, right? Focus boosts damage too, but that is only for refrigerate. None of my other skills have the (fcs) annotation. Humm. I might be better off just training refrigerate to rank it up. The damage boost from going up a rank is way higher than what ten points of focus would get me.
Rain stopped as he came to a sudden realization, then hit himself in the forehead.
I am just sitting here with full mana like an idiot. He groaned as he realized that he had missed out on a ton of experience the day before. With all of the activity surrounding the construction of the hut, he had forgotten to periodically use his skills. He resolved to do better today and switched to his detection aura. As much as he wanted to train refrigerate, he was already freezing. Adding a layer of ice to everything didn’t seem to be in his best interest.
He made sure he was seated securely and activated the skill, using aura focus, amplify, and extend to boost it. The world faded to black silence, but his menus remained visible in front of him. He noted that the mana cost for the skill with all of the boosts was almost 30mp/s by focusing on it on his status screen. He had chosen Tel as the object of his search, but there weren’t any within the range of the skill other than those in his pack. He let his mana drop down to zero before canceling the skill.
Crap, that may have been a bad idea. Rain admonished himself as light returned to the world. He hadn’t even considered that he would be left helpless if a monster attacked him while he was out of mana. There was a sudden noise behind him and he shouted in alarm, jumping to his feet at the imagined threat.
“Good, you are awake.”
“Tallheart! Fuck! Don’t do that!”
The man chuckled with a bass rumble. “I was not being quiet. You should pay more attention.”
“I was using a skill that… never-mind. You have a point.”
“There are no monsters in this forest. That does not mean there is no danger.”
“No monsters. There are animals. And humans.”
“What… is a monster?” Rain asked a question that had been bothering him for a while now. He had seen normal animals he was familiar with, as well as some strange creatures like boar-rabbits. None of them had shown a health bar or a level indicator, though, unlike the skiffun and the dark hounds.
Tallheart cocked his head and considered Rain for a moment before answering. Thankfully, he didn’t challenge him on his lack of knowledge.
“Monsters are not alive. They are not <something>, they come from nothing. In a higher rank area, there will be more. Stronger.”
“Not <something>? I don’t know that word.”
“Humm,” Tallheart considered. “When two animals <something>, you get more animals, after a while. The new animals are <something>. Monsters come from nothing.”
“Born? Monsters are not born? They… appear?”
“Yes. But only in areas with a high rank. The word for a monster appearing is <something>.”
I’ll go with ‘spawn’. Even if it isn’t technically correct, it fits with the fantasy theme. But still, spontaneous generation? Wasn’t that how they used to think you got things like maggots before someone invented the microscope? So monsters just... show up? Is he sure about that?
“Why? How? What does it mean, rank? Rank of a place?”
“Light the fire and I will tell you. It is too cold to stand here answering all of your questions. Have you eaten?”
Belatedly, Rain realized that Tallheart was carrying a tattered burlap sack. He set it on the ground and reached into it, pulling out an apple and offering it to Rain. “Humans can eat these. Here.”
“Oh, an apple, what is the word for these here? Thank you,” Rain said, taking the slightly shriveled fruit.
“Apple,” Tallheart replied with the word in common. Rain quickly fished in his pack for his notebook to write down the word, as well as the others he had just learned. He was honestly a bit surprised at how little trouble he was having with the language now. It really was simpler than English.
“Rain. The fire?” Tallheart prompted him, watching as he scribbled in his notebook.
“What? Oh, sorry. I tried to start it, but it is too wet.”
“That is not the problem. Here. Watch.”
Tallheart knelt and drew out a flint and a tiny knife from a pouch hanging from his belt. He set the flint down for the moment and used the knife to scrape at a piece of wood. He wasn’t paring off large splinters like Rain had tried before. Instead, he used the edge to shave away the fibers of the wood, making a sort-of fluff. He added this to the pile of splinters Rain had been trying to light. The fluff caught with the first shower of sparks from Tallheart’s flint. He leaned in and blew softly, feeding oxygen to the embers. Soon, the larger splinters caught and the fire started burning in earnest. Tallheart sat back, his armor not preventing him from assuming a cross-legged position next to Rain.
“Sorry, I am not good at this stuff.”
“I have shown you how. The rest is practice.” Tallheart fished in the sack and retrieved an apple for himself. He bit into it, chewing slowly as he fed larger and larger pieces of wood into the fire.
Rain considered his own apple. It looked to be a bit overripe, but otherwise normal. He took a hesitant bite. It was mealy and a bit dry, but it was otherwise fine. He took another bite, thankful to have something softer than a paving tile to eat.
“Rank,” Tallheart said, recalling Rain’s previous question. “This forest is without rank, as is the city and the plains. That is why the city is here. No monsters will spawn.”
“Different places have different rank? Why? There are slimes below the city, they are monsters, right?”
“Yes. I do not know why. Different places will have different rank. Rank always increases as you go down though. The sewers must be deep enough for your slimes to spawn. The rank of a place is the <something> level of the monsters there.”
“Oh, I see. Then what is a...” Rain consulted his notebook, “What is a lair? I heard about them in the guild.”
“A lair is a place with an abnormally high rank. Many monsters spawn there.”
“Are there any around here?”
“I need Tel. Monsters drop them, right?”
“Adventurers,” Tallheart said tiredly, shaking his head. “Yes. Monsters drop Tel. Do not go to a lair alone unless you are much stronger than you seem.”
“I’m not an adventurer, at least, not right now. I’m not sure I even want to be one, anymore. I do need to pay the fine to get back into the city though.”
“You humans and your rules. You cannot enter the city without paying the fine?”
“Right. I need an adventurer’s plate to get in, or a … residency permit,” Rain said, checking his notes from when Jamus had been telling him about the Watch.
“So get the second one.”
Tallheart laughed bitterly. “You are asking me? I do not know. I cannot enter the city either.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” Rain winced, remembering the foul mood Tallheart had fallen into the day before. To change the subject, he asked one of the questions he had decided upon earlier.
“Hey, Tallheart, do you know what happens when a skill reaches maximum rank?”
“Yes. I suppose you want me to tell you, too.”
“Humph. When a skill reaches maximum rank, you have mastered it. That is all. More practice will not help you improve.”
“That’s it? No reward?”
“Damn it. So I’m going to be stuck at 10 forever?”
“Perhaps. It is possible...” The man trailed off.
“How?” Rain prompted him, trying not to seem too eager.
“Powerful equipment can add a rank to a skill. My armor… I could make such things. Once.”
Rain sat back and took a big bite out of his apple to give himself some time to think.
Shit, another sore subject. He can’t make anything out here. For a smith, that must be heartbreaking. Why hasn’t he tried to build a workshop or anything? He’d just need… huh, a lot of stuff, actually. He has his hammer, but I don’t see an anvil or a blast furnace around. Something like that would have survived the fire. There were just a few scraps of metal. Oh, he probably wouldn’t have the materials to make anything, even if he had the tools. Damn.
“If I found you metal, could you make one?”
“No. It takes more than metal to make such a thing.”
“How about something like these?” Rain raised his hands, showing the man the two rings he was wearing.
Tallheart barely spared them a glance. “Humph. Trash.”
He motioned for Rain to hand him one of the rings, so he removed the focus-boosting one and handed it to him. He wasn’t at full mana anyway, so lowering his maximum mana wouldn’t cost him anything. Tallheart examined the ring, holding it up to his eye, then shaking his head and handing it back.
“This was made with little skill. It will only last a few more days. I hope you did not pay too much for it.”
“What?! It is going to break? Can you fix it?”
“I could, but why? It would be better to make one that would last. This was made for a smith to practice, or to keep customers coming back.” The antlered man shook his head. “Humans,” he sighed.
Rain slipped the ring back on and spun it around his finger, thinking.
“So you could make a better one? What would you need?”
“For a ring? Metal, of course. Gold would work, at a minimum. <Something> is wasted on a ring. It could be done, but there is no reason to waste so much.
“That ring is made of it, but it has not been <something> enough to hold the enchantment.”
Oh, iron. Iron is wasted on a ring, he said. So different metals are good for different things?
“How about copper?”
I could get Jamus to trade in some of my Tel for coins, and then we could melt them down… Damn, how hot do you need to get metal before it melts?
Tallheart snorted at this. He didn’t dignify the question with a response.
“I can probably find metal. I have a skill. If I do, can you make something?”
Tallheart’s eyes flashed at this. “A skill to find metal?” The sudden excitement in his voice shocked Rain. “Please try, even if all you can find is copper or <something>. I have been wandering this forest for two years and all I have found is in that pile.”
Tallheart pointed to the small pile of metal scraps outside the door of the hut. “I want to make something again, even if it is trash.” There was a fire burning behind the man’s eyes as he looked back to Rain.
“Two years? That is all you found? Why stay here? Why not find a mine or something?”
“The Watch does not bother me here. Humans use this forest for wood, but little else. If I left, I would be hunted.”
“Oh, sorry. Umm. Could we ask Jamus to bring us some metal?”
“I have thought of that. It would not be enough. I do not want to ask it of him.”
“He could have someone else bring it to you… Shit, I forgot. It might be hard to find a… good merchant. A good human merchant.”
“Welcome to my life.”
Rain tried not to smile. The familiar phrase from the man had struck him as funny due to how unexpected it was and the serious tone with which he had said it. He didn’t want his reaction to offend the man, so he schooled his face to stillness.
“What should I look for? With my skill, I mean. What metal?”
“Anything. Iron would be best. I will need an anvil, first. Your skill, how does it work?”
“I can sense things in a… radius? Is that the word? Radius?”
“Yes. How large?”
“A few meters. Oh, sorry, you don’t know meters. Umm... maybe from here to the hut?”
Tallheart’s face sunk at this.
“It goes down too. I can feel things under the ground. It is a… a… Damn.”
“A sphere?” Tallheart asked, placing the tips of his gauntleted fingers together to form the shape.
“Yes, a sphere. Thank you.”
“Then perhaps there is a chance. You will have to walk and use the skill frequently. Can you do that?”
“I think so, if I only use it quickly. It takes a lot of mana.”
“Is that an issue? I know how you mages can be with hoarding mana.”
“It shouldn’t be. My regeneration is… insane.”
“Yes, I am not a… normal... mage.”
“Humph. I should have expected it. You are a very strange human.”
Tallheart got to his feet, throwing the core of his apple into the fire. “Give me an hour. I will make you a shovel.”
“If there is metal here, I have not found it. That means it is under the ground.”
Rain watched as Tallheart walked over to the pile of metal scraps outside of the hut. He pawed through them, collecting a few of the larger pieces. He brought them back over to the fire and tossed them in. The largest piece was a bucket with the bottom rusted through. There were a few other recognizable items, such as a tin cup and what might have been a piece of a copper lantern.
“Are you sure that the fire will be hot enough?” Rain asked.
“It is not.”
“Enough questions. You are worse than Jamus.” Tallheart made a shooing motion.
Rain retreated to the other side of the fire to give the man space to work. He still needed to dry out and he was planning to watch, but he didn’t want to get in the way. It didn’t look like there was going to be much to see for a little while though. Tallheart was slowly feeding the fire with more wood as he waited for the metal to heat.
Maybe he has some skill to make the fire hotter? I didn’t see anything like that in any of the craftsman trees, but it could be a higher tier.
Suddenly, Rain realized that the reward for reaching rank ten in a skill might not be nothing after all. He pulled up his skills menu and opened the full list of items in the magical utility tree. He could only see the tier 0 skills he had already reviewed, along with the option to spend experience to reveal the next tier.
Level ten means I probably meet the prerequisite for a tier 1 ability. For 100 experience, I’d be an idiot not to at least look.
Rain spent the required experience and watched as a new set of skills was revealed.
Intrinsic Clarity (10/10)
Multiply base mana regeneration by 300%
Intrinsic Focus (+)
Multiply base mana by 120%
Delay cast of an immediate spell to charge it with mana
Charge time reduced by mana manipulation
Boost effect intensity by up to 120%
Maximum mana charge 120%
Requires 5 points in Intrinsic Focus
Mana Manipulation (0/10) (+)
Allows internal control of mana
Allows expulsion of mana to environment
Allows transfer of mana to and from capacitive items with direct contact
Maximum transfer rate 140.0 mp/s (fcs)
Requires 5 points in Intrinsic Clarity
Channel Mastery (0/10) (+)
Allows intuitive control of channeled skill intensity
Minimum skill intensity: 90%
Maximum skill intensity: 110%
Skill mana cost modified by intensity adjustment
Hidden Skill, Revealed by Meeting Requirement
Requirement: Two channeled skills at level 5
Requirement: 10 points in Intrinsic Clarity or Intrinsic Focus
His eyes were immediately drawn to the glowing blue text near the bottom.
Hidden? There are hidden skills too? What does it do? Allows intuitive control of channeled skills? Auras are channeled skills, right? They must be, if I meet the requirement. I guess there is a way to control them after all. Makes sense that Jamus wouldn’t know about it; he said he didn’t have any channeled skills. Yeah, I’m taking this. Oh, hang on, let me check one thing. I’m pretty sure I am right about this, but I want to make sure.
“Sorry, I have one more question.”
Tallheart gave a sigh and motioned for him to go ahead. “One question.”
“Ok, I will make this quick. If I have two skills that affect the strength of something, do the numbers add, or multiply?”
Tallheart nodded, then stood. “Do not touch the fire,” he said, then headed off for the treeline. Rain put aside his curiosity about where the man was going and looked back to his menu. He put a point in channel mastery and applied the changes.
This is exactly what I wanted. Well, one of the things I wanted, anyway. Amplify aura is 160%, aura focus is 120%, and now another 110% from channel mastery. Shit, I need paper.
Opening his notebook, Rain worked through the multiplication. He had a bit of trouble. His grade-school skills had been atrophied by a lifetime of easy access to a calculator. Eventually, he came up with a factor of 2.1 for the combined effect of the skills. He smiled. It would only get better as each of the support skills leveled up. The mana cost would be similarly multiplied, but channel mastery would also let him reduce the intensity to save mana when he didn’t need full power.
Already having winter active, he tried to activate channel mastery to boost the skill as he did with amplify aura. Nothing happened, however. Confused, Rain brought up his skills to re-read the description.
Allows intuitive control… Humm, so can I just…
Instead of trying to activate a modifier, Rain simply willed additional mana into the feeling of winter. To his delight, he could sense the flow of mana into the skill increase. It was now working like he thought it should have originally. The barrier that he felt in his mind when he used a skill now felt sort-of squishy. He could freely vary the strength of the aura, within the bounds of channel mastery.
Increasing it to max, he pulled up his statistics menu to see that his regeneration had increased to 557 mp/hr, up from 540. The math checked out. Tallheart had been right; the skills multiplied.
Nice! I need to practice this so it ranks up.
Rain was interrupted from further experimentation by Tallheart’s return. The man was carrying a large hunk of granite, about the size of a mini-fridge. Rain’s eyes bulged as he dropped the rock next to the fire with a whump of impact.
It is going to take me a while to get used to that.
Tallheart inspected the rock, then adjusted it slightly so a mostly flat spot was on top. He then knelt next to the rock and placed his hammer on top. Rain stood to watch as Tallheart moved dangerously close to the fire. He reached straight into it with his gauntleted hands, heedless of the flames. Rain stopped himself from shouting in alarm. He moved to get a better angle so he could see what Tallheart was doing.
The man had grabbed the metal bucket with both hands and pressed it flat. The fire wasn’t hot enough to make the metal glow, but Tallheart was folding it easily, like it was cardboard. He kept folding it on itself until he had a small twist of metal about the size of a fist. He squeezed this tightly in both hands, then brought it out of the fire and placed it on the rock. He hit it lightly with his hammer, flattening it down. He then returned it to the fire.
He repeated this with the other metal pieces until they were all small lumps of different colors sitting amid the coals. The metal looked ragged and torn, not being anywhere near hot enough to properly weld itself together. Rain stayed silent.
Tallheart reached into a pouch at his waist and retrieved two Tel. They looked tiny, held in his gauntleted fingers. He placed them on the rock, then retrieved the smallest of the lumps of metal. Rain thought it had been the tin cup, but he wasn’t sure. Tallheart pushed the Tel into the lump of metal with his fingers. Instead of shattering like Rain had expected, the crystals sank into the metal easily. The smith placed the lump of metal back on the rock and picked up his hammer.
He pounded it flat, the strength of his blows ringing in the clearing. He must have been holding back considerably as the granite anvil didn’t immediately explode from the force. The metal started to weld to itself after he had folded and flattened it a few times. If nothing else, the Tel appeared to have made the metal easier to work.
He retrieved the next lump of metal, copper this time, and added it to the first. As he hammered and folded, the two metals mixed in a way that didn’t seem right to Rain. The color changed from gray to yellowish as the copper mixed with the tin.
Bronze? Did he just make bronze?
Tallheart didn’t stop there. He added in the remaining small pieces of metal but left the large hunk of iron in the fire. He added in two more Tel as well, pressing them into the metal and continuing to knead it like dough. The metal was starting to turn red from heat. Rain was sure that it was more from the abuse Tallheart was laying on it than it was from the fire.
Finally, Tallheart retrieved the lump of iron and added it to the mix. The colors of the various metals melded together under the assault of his hammer, blending into a uniform brownish gray. Once they were completely mixed, Tallheart started pounding the lump of metal out into a flat shape on the stone. The outline of a shovel blade quickly formed before Rain’s eyes. The metal wasn’t behaving like he expected at all. The way Tallheart shaped it seemed far, far too easy. The man had even made a socket for the handle to attach to the shovel blade by rolling up a section of the metal and pinching it back together with his fingers.
Metal doesn’t work like that!
Rain’s indignation didn’t change the reality of what he was seeing. Tallheart had somehow melded together all of the various metals into an alloy that made no physical sense. Rain was no metallurgist, but he knew you couldn’t just weld bronze to steel. The Tel must have changed something about the process, that or Tallheart was doing some magical bullshit with a skill.
The metal of the shovel blade was still glowing red hot, but Tallheart tossed it back into the fire before standing and stretching his legs. He replaced the hammer on the loop at his belt and turned to Rain. He sized him up, then moved towards the pile of spare branches to find a handle of a suitable length.
Rain realized that his mouth was open and closed it quickly.
So that is what smithing looks like when you add magic to the mix?
He looked at the granite boulder. Its surface was shattered from the repeated impacts of Tallheart’s hammer.
I can’t even imagine what he could do with proper tools. That was crazy.
Tallheart returned in a minute with a relatively straight branch. He reached into the fire to retrieve the shovel blade. Counterintuitively, it looked like it had cooled during its stay in the fire. He lined up the end of the branch and pressed it into the socket he had forged in the shovel blade. The wet wood smoked and hissed as Tallheart squeezed the socket tight, locking it in place.
He handed the completed shovel to Rain, the wood still smoking slightly where the head had been attached to the handle. Rain took it carefully, making sure to keep his hands far away from the hot metal.
“Don’t you have to… put it in water or something? To cool the metal fast?”
“I am impressed. This looks really good.”
“It is not.”
“You should have seen the spear I made.”
“We work with what we have.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find you some metal. Do you want to come with me?”
“I will stay here. There are a few small pieces of metal left. It was good to make something again. I will continue.”
“Tallheart, you’re smiling.”
“I suppose I am.” The man laughed. “Go on. You have digging to do.”
Tallheart’s happiness was infectious and Rain was grinning as he walked into the trees despite the cold and wet start to his day.