“What were you doing that was more important than watching your surroundings?” Tallheart asked, watching as Rain paced back and forth near the river.
“I was…looking at skills.”
“Humm. Did you level up then?”
“Yes, though…isn’t that question… rude? I don’t mind, but I thought...”
“Pfft.” Tallheart blew air out through his lips in a derisive snort. “Fel Sadanians. I have no <somethings> about such questions.”
“Fel Sadan… Oh, the people who live in the city? So it is just a local thing?”
“You know, the...rude asking thing. About skills. And levels. That is the word, right? Rude?”
“I will not say all humans are foolish, only most.”
“Oh. In that case...” Rain looked around for his notebook. Spotting it over by the rock, he walked over to pick it up. He almost fell when he bent down to retrieve it, his back spasming painfully.
Tallheart shook his head as he watched Rain flick through the pages. “I will answer one question, but you must come help me with the <something> in return.”
“Only one?” Rain asked. Tallheart’s face was stony as he stared back at him. “Fine, fine. I should probably move around anyway.”
“Come. Ask while we walk to the clearing.”
After grabbing his pack, Rain looked over the list of questions he had built up, trying to decide which one he wanted to be answered the most. He skipped over a few that he guessed Tallheart wouldn’t know the answer to. Finally, he settled on a question that wasn’t even on the list.
“Tallheart, I have a lot of clarity. Like, a lot, a lot. I want to be able to use my skills constantly. I am a...” Rain hesitated before continuing, reluctant to reveal his rare class. “I am a mage but my focus is low. I don’t have any other high attributes. I want to know… Is it good? To put all of your attributes into one thing? Or is it better to spread them out?”
“That is a long question.”
“You have seen my strength, yes?”
“There is your answer.”
“What? Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“My focus is strength. It serves my skills as a smith. Anything else is <something>.”
“But what about recovery? Or endurance? Don’t you need any defense?”
“I am not a warrior.”
“But something could still hurt you, kill you even.”
“If I die, I die.”
“What?! You don’t care if you die?”
“I care. I have my armor. If I spent points on defense, then I would not be as good of a smith as I could have been with more strength.”
“But surely you must have a few points in other things?”
“Some. I was young once, and foolish.”
“I think… I think I agree with you, but I really don’t wanna risk dying over it.”
“Just like that?”
“But how? If I put all my points in clarity, then...”
“Enough. I have answered your question. Focus on what you are good at, and work to correct your weaknesses in other ways. Take my advice, or do not. Now, help me with the <something>.” Tallheart gestured at a pile of rocks as they entered the clearing.
“<Something>? What is that? I don’t know that word.”
Suddenly, Rain heard a voice coming from the direction of the hut.
“Ah, there you are. I need to tell you, this has got to be the worst excuse for a house that I have ever seen.”
“Hello, Jamus,” Tallheart rumbled.
“Jamus! I thought you weren’t going to be back for a week,” Rain said, moving to greet him.
“It was a <something> job. I have the rest of the day free, so I decided to see how you two were doing.”
“We are fine,” Tallheart informed him. “I am building a <something>.”
“What? Tallheart, that is great news!” Jamus exclaimed. “Where is it? What are you going to use it to make?”
“I am making an anvil, first.”
“Tallheart, I could have gotten you an anvil, all you had to do was ask. Where did you find enough iron for an anvil anyway?”
“Rain found it for me.”
“Oh, did he?” Jamus leaned in to peer at Rain, eyeing him curiously. Rain pulled back. The man’s face was very close and it seemed he had been eating something with a lot of garlic in it.
“Yes. You told me to be useful, remember? You know that pick I found in the mine? By the broken wall? That was a skill. I used the same one to find metal for Tallheart.” Rain took another step back. “Sorry, your breath is really… here, let me just...”
He activated his purification aura, boosting it to maximum. He didn’t really need the power, but he was going to take every opportunity to train his metamagic skills. He was in the middle of a conversation, though, so he didn’t add aura focus into the mix this time.
Jamus was giving him a curious look as the waves of purification washed over him. “Rain, has Tallheart been teaching you? The language, I mean.”
“Well, your speech has gotten much better in just the past few days. It is kind of scary how fast, actually.”
“Really? I don’t think that’s true. I don’t understand a lot of words still.”
“That is true. It is annoying,” Tallheart contributed. Rain shot him a look, watching as the light of the purification aura swirled around his antlers.
“Yes, yes. Of course there are words you don’t know, and your accent’s terrible. That isn’t what I mean,” Jamus continued. “Look, when we met, back in the guild, could you have spoken to me like this? Did you even use proper sentences?”
“No, I suppose not,” Rain admitted.
“And you don’t think that’s odd?”
“Well, I suppose. A little. It has been ages since then, though.”
“No, it hasn’t. You don’t just learn a language in a few weeks, Rain.”
“But I’ve been speaking it every day. I spoke a lot with Tallheart while you were gone.”
“That explains nothing. Tallheart barely speaks. No offense, Tallheart. Just two days ago, you sounded like a four-year-old. How did you do it? Were you <something> the whole time?”
“He said he has a lot of clarity,” Tallheart supplied, looking at Rain curiously.
What’s that got to do with anything?
Rain was about to reply when he was interrupted by a sudden piercing crack and a spike of pain from his hand. He yelled in alarm and canceled his purification aura.
“What the depths was that?!” Jamus cursed, stepping back warily.
“Peace, Jamus. Rain, let me see,” Tallheart said, extending his gauntleted hand.
Rain unclenched his hand and stared down at it. The pain was coming from the finger that had been host to the focus stat ring. The ring was nowhere to be seen, but the source of the pain was obvious. The skin of Rain’s finger was shiny and starting to redden, as if it had been dunked in scalding water. Rain clenched his teeth and hissed as Tallheart took his hand to inspect the damage.
“Humm. This is wrong.”
“Owww, hey, that hurts!” Rain pulled his hand back, clutching it to his chest. “Tallheart, what happened? Why did my ring… die in fire?”
“I think you mean ‘explode’,” Jamus interjected.
“Sure, whatever. But why did it explode? You said it had a few days left, not that it was going to… ah, fuck this hurts.”
“It shouldn’t have. It had three days left, maybe four,” Tallheart said, scratching his chin.
Jamus had bent down and was searching the ground. He came up with the twisted remains of the ring in his hand. The metal looked melted and it had split into several pieces from the force of the detonation. “You are sure about that? What kind of ring was it? Focus? Clarity?” he asked, tossing the pieces away. He patted at the pockets of his robe, searching for something.
“Yes, focus. I’m going to kill that damn shopkeeper. He sold me a… broken ring. I...”
“No, he did not,” Tallheart interrupted. “It was a poor item, but it should not have failed like that. Unless...”
“Tallheart, you don’t think…” Jamus paused. “Rain, how much mana does that aura use? The purification one. I know it’s rude of me to ask, but...”
“I don’t mind telling you. It is something like 70 mana a minute, but closer to 400 when I boost it.”
“Wow, that is…insane.” Jamus looked taken aback.
“What? It does not sound so high to me.” Tallheart rumbled. “He could not have <somethinged> the ring with 400 mana.”
“No, that isn’t it, Tallheart. It isn’t how much mana the skill uses, it’s how often he uses it.”
“He has used it a few times. Not nearly enough to...”
Jamus cut in. “He came with me on a quest and he used that skill at least 50 times over a few days, and usually for longer than he just did. Perhaps if it was only 70 a minute…over four days... No, even then. Rain, what is your mana regeneration?”
“Hummm. I think you are right, Jamus,” Tallheart looked at Rain, considering.
So inquisitive was the look in the mage’s eyes that Rain didn’t see a way out of answering the question. He decided to just tell him. He gave Jamus his hand as he saw that he had retrieved a jar of ointment from one of the pockets in his robe. “Around 500, with my winter aura? Maybe closer to 550?”
“Only 500 a day? That isn’t too unusual I suppose. Can’t be clarity then, it’s gotta be focus. How much do you have? To spend that much mana in four days...” Jamus mumbled to himself as he smeared the soothing ointment on Rain’s fingers.
“No, not 500 a day, 500 an hour. Ow! Hey!”
Rain gasped in pain as Jamus jerked his hand violently in shock.
“Ffff fff five hundred an hour!” Jamus spluttered. Tallheart was staring at Rain, his only reaction a slight tilt of his head.
Feeling compelled to defend himself, Rain wavered, trying to decide if he should just go ahead and tell them about his class.
In for a penny, in for a pound. Here’s hoping this isn’t a mistake...
“It’s because I spent all of my points on clarity. And my class, which I unlocked because of it.”
Rain’s eyes widened as Tallheart said the word. It sounded similar to the term for mana regeneration, but had the same conjugation as the simpler classes he had learned the names for, such as ‘warrior’.
I think he just guessed my class…
“Oh, you know about it? Dynamo? The class?”
Jamus cut in instead. “It isn’t that rare. All of the <something> classes are general knowledge. But Dynamo? Why would you choose that over, say, Animus?”
“<Something> classes? So there are others? What is… <something>?”
“Like ‘pure’, but more than that. It means size, too. Think of a huge object, but made of all one thing. A monolithic class. Now, why did you do it?” Jamus was still staring at him.
“Well... I wanted to use auras, but the mana cost was insane, so I decided to work on regen. I started getting lots of experience from my mana use, so I kept going. At level 5, I got the class and, well, here we are.”
“Tallheart, did you know about this?” Jamus whirled on the antlered man. “Don’t tell me you encouraged him.”
“No, I did not. He told me he had high clarity, but not how high.”
Jamus whirled back to Rain, “And what level are you now? No, don’t tell me, that is too much. Have you hit your cap yet?”
“I told you, I don’t mind about that stuff. I’m level 10. Cap? What cap? Is there a maximum level?”
“You don’t know about… no, of course you don’t. You must have thought you could just keep leveling like that forever. Reckless.”
“No I didn’t. I guessed there would be a cap somewhere, like level 100. What do you mean ‘my’ cap? Is it different for different people? Is that why the townsfolk aren’t… Can they become adventurers if they train, or are they… Are people born without...”
“No, no, nothing like that. Everyone starts without the ability to level, but you can change that.”
“Monsters,” Tallheart rumbled.
“Yes, monsters,” Jamus elaborated. “When you kill a specific monster, your cap increases to its level. The mage’s <something> of <something> says it has to do with essence. When you kill a monster, the essence of the world flows into you and gives you potential.”
Rain thought about this for a few seconds, then rejected it. Something wasn’t lining up. He decided not to bother with the unknown words and ask about what was really bugging him.
“So if I killed a slime, the cap would go to one? Then I’d just need to kill something at level two or higher to increase it again? Anyone can kill a slime. Why don’t...”
“No. Not just any monster. There are special ones, filled with the essence of the world, or so the <something> says. A slime would not do it.”
“But I haven’t killed anything like that! Oh… wait.” Rain stopped as he remembered something from his very first day in this world. The musk wolf. When it had died, the dialog had listed its name in blue text, unlike any other monster he had seen since.
“Does it count if someone else kills it? If I’m just in the party?”
“Yes,” Tallheart confirmed.
“But I didn’t even touch the thing!”
“If you were in the party, then it does not matter.”
“Then, what is a party… no, wait, that’s not important right now. If it works in a party, then why don’t people just go hunting them in groups? High-level people could kill them and raise everyone’s cap...”
“People do indeed do that,” Jamus explained, “but essence monsters are very rare. You must have been incredibly lucky to find one on the surface. It was on the surface, right?”
“Yes, in the forest with Hegar and the others. They killed it. It was the same day I got teleported here, I would have had no chance...”
“You were lucky then, to find something at least level 10 up here...”
“It was not luck.” Tallheart interrupted.
“What?” Jamus asked, looking at the antlered man. “What do you mean, not luck? I’ve never seen anything that high-level on the surface.”
“The teleportation,” Tallheart said, by way of explanation.
“You think the <something> from the… It’s true, teleportation magic does attract monsters, but it would have had to have been close… I don’t see how…”
“Jamus, think. Where is Rain from? How far? Did he tell you?”
“Oh. Ohhhh. If the spell was strong enough, a monster could pick up on the <something> from further away. It would be drawn to it. It would have to be at least...”
“Yes,” Tallheart interrupted, “and it would follow the scent. It would have killed Rain if not for this… Hegar person.”
“So he was lucky after all, but only in that he found someone capable of killing the monster before it killed him.”
The musk wolf was tracking me? Shit, I would have died instantly. I forgive you for everything, Hegar.
Jamus sighed and pulled out some strips of cloth to bandage Rain’s hand. Rain let him work as he silently pondered everything that he had just learned. He flexed his hand once Jamus had finished wrapping his finger. It hurt, but he didn’t think there would be any lasting damage. He’d burned himself worse before from a microwaved pizza roll.
Jamus stepped back and nodded to himself.
“Well, at least that explains the language. Sorry for pressing you, Rain.”
“It is the overmana, from your class and your high clarity. It helps your mind learn and remember.”
The shocked expression on Rain’s face must have been exquisite, as Jamus broke out into raucous laughter.
“Wait, overmana… is that like overhealth? It’s making me… smarter?”
“Clearly not,” Tallheart slapped Rain on the back with a joking laugh. “I will be working on the <something>. Come help when you are done bothering Jamus.” He walked off towards the site of his project, leaving Rain and Jamus alone.
I don’t know if I like the idea of stats changing my brain… I mean, sure, who wouldn't want to be smarter, but… would I still be… me?
“Don’t mind Tallheart. He’s right though. It doesn’t make you smarter, it just helps your mind <something> things. High-level mages have very good memories, but there’s a limit. You are just a bit ahead of the game because of your class and your…build.”
“Oh. Still, I don’t understand. If people know about dynamo, why doesn’t everyone take it? You said there are others? Is there a stamina regen one? You could do the same thing, use skills that take stamina, and level up really fast because of all the experience.”
“Some do. You know Jaks from the guild? The man with all the scars? I did a job with him once. I think he’s a Vivificant, but I’m not sure. He heals really fast, but the overhealth might not be enough to deal with the… Anyway, yes, there are others with monolithic classes, but most don’t make it very far before they hit the cap. At least, not in one of the independent cities. Inside the <something> it’s another story.”
“Still, aren’t they… better? The monolithic classes?”
“Better is <something>. What level was the monster you killed? Do you think you could have killed it alone? As you are now? If you were at your cap, even?”
“No, I don’t think I have the damage, or the defense.”
“Yes, you see the problem. To keep growing, you need to be able to fight stronger and stronger monsters. You could join a team, but eventually, something could go wrong and you could die. It is risky, doing what you are doing. You really have no defense?”
“I have a strength ring… For a few more days, at least… It isn’t going to explode too, is it?”
“Humph. No, that was only because you forced so much mana through the focus one. You overloaded the enchantment.”
“I was thinking of asking Tallheart to make me some armor...”
“It would be a start. I suppose the metal wouldn’t interfere with your auras like it does with targeted spells.”
“Wait, metal… interferes with… No, never-mind, later. Tallheart said I should stick to what I am good at. Do you think I can do that? Keep going with just pure clarity? Are there more class unlocks at higher levels?”
“Tallheart might be even crazier than you are. Take his advice at your own risk. As for class selections, there is another one at level 25, but most don’t reach it. That is the line between bronze and silver, by the way. You could do it, but… it might not be wise. It certainly wouldn’t be safe.”
“I have some ideas about that. I need more mana, though, if I want to make them work. Do you think a few points in focus would stop me from getting an upgrade to dynamo?”
“I don’t know. Higher rare classes are not common knowledge like the entry level ones.”
“Damn, what about skills? Is there a hidden skill to boost mana?”
“Humm, probably. I know of one that might be perfect for you. It isn’t hidden, though, just tier 2.”
“What is it?”
“Magical <something>, tier 2, magical utility. If you have both <something> focus and <something> clarity at level 10, you can unlock it. I’m assuming you already know what those are. It allows the stats to boost each other, partially. Most mages take it as soon as they can. It would let some of your clarity count towards your mana pool, but not your spell damage. It works in the other direction, too, but I don’t think you care about that.”
“That’s perfect! Ow!” Rain had clenched his hands in excitement and aggravated his injury. He slowly relaxed them and winced at the pulling sensation of the bandage against his burned skin.
“What about other hidden skills? Something that I can get right now? Do you know of any that would help? What are hidden skills, anyway?”
“I don’t know many hidden skills, but maybe there are some that would help. I don’t know. You’ll just have to keep looking.”
Rain looked to where Tallheart was piling more stones. It looked like he’d be fine without his help for a little while.
“Jamus, you said you have all day?”
“Yes, more or less, why? Got something in mind?”
Rain pulled his notebook out of his pack.
“Good. I just have a few questions...”