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The sound of hammering rang out into the clearing. After he had finished his soup, Tallheart had retreated to the forge to work on the meteorite. He’d been alternating between heating and hammering the clump of metal for a little while. Rain looked up as the sound stopped abruptly. He watched as Tallheart placed the meteor back in the heart of the flames within the stone enclosure. He was skeptical that the leafy branch the man was using to fan the fire would generate enough airflow, but he didn’t say anything.


Tallheart knows what he’s doing, at least when it comes to metal.


Jamus was puttering around, trying to make a shelf to store the items he had brought with him from the city. In addition to the small metal cauldron, he’d brought some wooden cutlery, an oil lamp, some rope, and a few other oddments. He’d piled the stack of ration bars just inside the door to the hut. The small pyramid looked more structurally sound than the hut did, honestly. There were also some left-over potatoes in the bottom of the sack, which he’d left near the fire.


Rain had just finished eating his serving of lago. He was trying to figure out how to preserve the remainder of the meat for later. There was a good amount left over, even after having shared with Val and Jamus. The mage had brought a little salt with him, but not nearly enough to use for preservation. That left smoking and refrigeration as his options.


Obviously, he didn’t have access to electricity, so the only option he saw was to build his own freezer. With dirt! And magic!


He dumped out the remaining potatoes from the bag and stuffed the cooked lago meat into it. He looked around for the shovel, spotting it over near the forge. Next, he looked for a good spot to dig, intending to make a small hole before using his aura to chill the meat. Conscious of his inability to restrict the range of the aura, he started digging the hole as far away from everything else as he could.


“What are you doing?” Val asked as he watched Rain dig.


“I’m making a freezer,” Rain said, using the English word as he continued his exertions.


“A what now?”


“I want to save the rest of that lago, so I’m digging a hole. I’m going to freeze it and cover it with something.”


“How?”


“I have an aura. Refrigeration.”


“So you’ve got both cold and fire auras, huh?” Val said, looking at the burned circle. “What happens if you use them both at the same time?”


“No idea. Can’t do that yet.”


“Humm. Why not just smoke it?”


“Do you know how to build a smoker?” Rain paused to look at Val.


“Nope, it’s never come up.” Val shrugged.


“Well, there you go.” Rain returned to digging. “I suppose I could ask Jamus, but this should work well enough for...” He was interrupted by a crash and some loud swearing coming from inside the hut.


“Besides, he’s busy,” Rain said, tossing a shovelful of dirt out of the hole.


“We could probably hire a builder or something. This setup you have going here is a bit sad.” Val said, looking in the direction of the continuing stream of expletives.


“Huh, I’ve never heard Jamus swear like that. I didn’t know trees had mothers.”


“He is being rather creative,” Val agreed.


“Ok, that should be deep enough. Stand back, I can’t restrict the range of this thing.”


“Oh? Is that why you’re digging way over here?”


“Yup. It’s around 4 meters, if I don’t boost it.”


“What is a ‘meter’?”


“Remind me to teach you guys the metric system later. I have no interest in learning how many barleycorns there are to the furlong.”


“You’re really odd. Has anyone ever told you that?”


“Just back up, I’ll tell you when you’re far enough.”


Rain watched as Val retreated, then nodded once he was clear. He grabbed the sack and tossed it in the hole. He activated refrigerate, boosting it as much as he could without extending the range. He watched as ice crystals started forming, creating a light shower of snow as the water froze out of the rapidly cooling air. After about 10 seconds, he ran out of mana and had to stop. He poked at the sack, feeling that the meat had gone as hard as a rock.


“Not bad. Now I just need to figure out how to keep it cold.”


“Pretty impressive,” Val said, stepping up next to him and staring down at the icy sack. “For an AOE spell, that was pretty strong. Must have used a ton of mana.”


“Yup, around 500.”


“Not very efficient.”


“Yeah, I’m not getting the energy star logo any time soon.”


Val gave him a level look. “I think you should spend a little time with that dictionary. I can’t understand a thing you’re saying.”


“Oh, never mind. It isn’t worth the effort to explain. Do you think this will stay cold if I just bury it?”


“For a bit. Why don’t you go to the river and freeze some ice? How long until you can use that skill again?”


“Great idea!” Rain stood and dusted off his knees. “I’ll go do that. Mana shouldn’t be an issue. Want to come?”


There was another crash from the hut, followed by a wordless growl of frustration. “I think I’ll help Jamus. Sounds like he needs it.”


“Probably for the best. I’ll be back in a bit.”


Rain grabbed all of the empty wooden bowls from around the fire and piled them up. He also grabbed the sack that he had used to transport the clay from near the forge. A quick blast of purify with the dregs of mana that he had regenerated was enough to clean everything. He walked out of the clearing, waving to Tallheart as he made his way to the river.


His mana was already nearing full by the time he reached it. He filled the bowls with water from the stream and blasted them with purify before freezing them solid with refrigeration. He didn’t hold back this time, using aura focus to achieve maximum output. When his senses returned, he was startled to see a frozen semi-circle of ice jutting out into the river. It quickly broke off from the bank and floated downstream, bobbing in the current.


Wow. The river doesn’t flow that fast, but to freeze running water? That’s pretty crazy, even if it was only the surface. I could probably put out a campfire now. This is...just as dangerous as immolate. I hope I didn’t burst any pipes when I was using it in the sewer before.


Rain returned to the clearing to find Val bandaging Jamus’s head while Tallheart watched with concern on his stony face. Looking at the hut, Rain saw that the roof had collapsed.


“Jamus, you ok?” he asked, walking up to them.


“Damn roof fell on me. Branch hit me in the head. I’ll be fine, just need a minute.”


“I am sorry, Jamus. It is my fault,” said Tallheart.


“No, it isn’t. If I’m dumb enough to walk into such a shitty building, I deserve what I get.”


“But I built the roof,” Tallheart insisted, “the fault is mine.”


“Don’t worry about it, but maybe stick to smithing, ok?”


Rain fished out one of the bowls from his sack and popped the ice free from the wood. He handed it to Jamus, saying, “here, use this.”


“Ah, perfect, thank you,” Jamus said taking the ice. He slipped it into his hat, which was lying nearby, and pressed it to his head through the cloth.


Rain shook his head and walked back over to his makeshift deep freezer. He freed the rest of the ice from the bowls and tossed it in the hole, using the shovel to raise a mound between the ice and the sack containing the food. He didn’t want the water from the melting ice to ruin anything. He blasted the hole with another round of refrigerate, followed by a light purify to kill off any microbes.


Are microbes even a thing in this world? How dead would I be right now if not for purify?


He covered the hole with some leafy branches and then walked back over to the others. If it didn’t work, well, there were always more ration bricks. He stacked the bowls up and placed them on the ground near where Jamus was sitting. “Thanks for bringing all this stuff, Jamus. Don’t worry about the hut. We can fix it. When do you have to go back?”


“I’ve got an hour or so,” Jamus said, lowering the chunk of ice from his forehead. It had started to melt, the water dripping from his hat and matting down a patch of his wavy brown hair. “Lavarro wanted to leave at nightfall.”


“Any idea what the mission is this time?”


“No clue,” Jamus replied, replacing the ice against his forehead.


“Wait, did you say Lavarro? You’re on her team?” Val was looking at Jamus with a shocked expression. “Your plate’s bronze...How are you still alive?”


“No, I’m not on her team. Just helping out. She’s training her daughter, so the missions aren’t too bad. I can take care of myself, but I couldn’t keep up with her on a real mission.”


“You know her?” Rain asked, looking at Val.


“She’s famous. They call her the silent, deadly killer. What’s funny?”


Rain stopped chuckling as everyone stopped to stare at him. “Nothing, sorry. Continue.”


Silent, but deadly. Hah. Ok, come on, keep it together, Rain. What am I, twelve years old?


“She’s the highest level force mage outside the empire or the <something> kingdoms. You wouldn’t be laughing if you’d met her,” Val said.


“Oh, I’ve met her. Jamus and I went on a mission with her, before I got banned.”


“Then what the hell were you laughing about? You should feel honored! Or at least, lucky to be alive.” Val was watching Rain with a confused expression on his face.


“No, you’re right. She’s fucking terrifying. She was snapping dark hound necks like they were twigs. She didn’t even move, they just...broke.”


“Dark hounds? Where?” Val asked.


“In a mine. Actually, since you’re all here, I wanted to ask about that. I need to kill some monsters to earn Tel. Does anyone know if there is a good place nearby, other than the sewers? Someplace that won’t get me killed? I don’t think we could handle the mine without Lavarro.”


“If it’s just dark hounds, I’d be up for it,” Val chimed in before Jamus could respond, “My magic is perfect against them.”


“Hummm.” Jamus paused to consider. “It would be dangerous. We’d need someone like Carten to defend.”


“For dark hounds?” Val scoffed. Rain was a bit taken aback. Val was only level five; if he knew what dark hounds were, he should have also known that they were around the same level as he was.


He tried to fight that slime solo, too. He might be even more reckless than me. I think I’m regretting bringing this up.


“There were a lot of them, Val. Like a hundred or something,” Rain said, trying to force a little caution into the man. Counter to his expectations, Val seemed even more enthusiastic at this.


“Was it a lair?” the man asked, his eyes flashing.


“I think so,” Jamus cut in, “but we didn’t explore it fully to make sure. It wasn’t one I’ve ever heard of. I’m not sure if Lavarro reported it to the guild.”


“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Val jumped to his feet. “An undiscovered lair! Is it nearby?”


“Don’t you think that’s a bit…reckless?” Rain asked.


“Psh, it’s just dark hounds. That aura of yours should take care of them.”


I don’t think so. I can’t use it in a party, it would hurt my allies. I need to get...


So go in first,” Val said, cutting him off.


“Go in first? No way, I’d die instantly! We’d need a tank.”


“What is a tank?” Tallheart asked. He’d been silent in the conversation for the past few minutes, so much so that Rain had almost forgotten he was there.


“Oh, a tank is…someone like Carten, I suppose.”


“You mean a defender?” asked Jamus.


Close enough,” Rain said, shrugging. “You think he’d even want to come? Not saying I agree with this idea...


If you paid him, he would,Jamus said.


What about this guy?” Val stuck his thumb out, pointing to Tallheart. “That armor doesn’t look like it’s for show.”


“I do not fight,” rumbled Tallheart, “but I will come.”


“What?” Rain turned to stare at the antlered man. “Really? You’re on-board with this?”


“You said it was a mine. There could be metal there. Metal I could use.”


Val continued, undaunted. “Ok, Tallheart’s the distraction. I’m a light mage, Rain uses auras, what do you do, Jamus? And what about this Carten fellow?”


“Wait, hold up...” Rain tried to cut in, but Jamus rode over him.


Arcane. Medium range. Carten’s pure defense. Dual shields.”


“That’s…weird,” Val said.


Don’t challenge him about it unless you want to lose half a day. He says he’s ‘got a plan’,” Jamus replied, doing a fair imitation of Carten’s voice. “I’ll have to ask him how many more missions he owes Lavarro.”


You really think we can do this Jamus? If Lavarro hadn’t been there last time...” Rain trailed off. He was regretting bringing monsters up more and more by the minute.


“With some <something>, sure.”


“<something>?”


Gathering supplies, having a plan, that kind of thing. Preparation. We know what we’re facing this time. If it really is a lair, it should be all dark hounds or things like them. They aren’t that bright.


Really? The dark hounds aren’t bright? Did you do that on purpose?”


“Maybe,” Jamus laughed. Tallheart groaned in disapproval.


Val leaned in, summoning a glowing orb of light and sending it playing around his fingers. “If it’s a lair, there’ll be an essence monster, if we’re lucky,” Val added. “I get to kill it. Alone.”


Rain choked off a question about the man’s class requirements. He’d promised to keep quiet about it, so he couldn’t ask in front of the others. Instead, he sighed and nodded in submission.


“Fine, but only if we can get Carten to come.”


Jamus stood and tossed the partially melted hunk of ice away. “I’ll ask him when I see him. I won’t be back for a few days, probably. Do what you can to get ready.” He wrung out his sodden hat and returned it to his head.


Rain watched Jamus’s back as he walked off into the trees towards the city. Val was pacing excitedly, and Tallheart was moving towards the forge, hammer in hand.


I don’t know whether to be excited or terrified for my life. I’m starting to think every last adventurer is at least a little bit insane.

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I'm on vacation, so I'll have little to no internet access for a week. Don't fret. I'll set up another chapter to release next Sunday. I've been working on building a small buffer on Patreon, so I have a few stored for just such an emergency.

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