Rain was shivering in the frigid morning air next to the pile of logs he had built up in the center of the dirt circle. He’d been trying to get the fire started as Tallheart had shown him, but the stubborn wooden splinters refused to catch. It had rained again overnight, and the wood was sodden.
Fuck it. Immolate.
Rain activated his fiery aura, forcing as much power into the skill as he could without extending the range. He hadn’t checked his messages yet, but he expected it had leveled several times from all the practice and he didn’t want to risk burning down the hut. The hot wind that blasted out was several times stronger than it had been the day before. The wood quickly started to dry, steaming as the water evaporated. The dew on the grass surrounding the dirt circle flashed to steam and the greenery started to yellow.
Rain didn’t relent, seeing that there wasn’t anything important within the expanded range of the aura. He held the skill, watching as the grass all around him started to smoke, then broke out into fire. Still, he didn’t let up. The entire circle of grass was burning now, and the pile of wood in front of him was smoking.
Some of the smaller logs in the pile started to burn, the now thoroughly dry wood catching quickly. Rain smiled and canceled the aura, standing to make sure that the fire wouldn’t spread. It had only been around five seconds since he had started. He sat back down when he saw that the grass fire had already burned itself out. The grass outside of his range had been too wet to catch from the heat, and the grass within it had turned to ash before the fire could spread.
Now that’s more like it.
The ground around him in a five-meter radius was charred and covered in ash, and the fire in front of him was roaring. He had to scoot back, the intensity of the flames being uncomfortably warm on his skin despite the lingering chill in his bones.
“Well, that’s one way to start a fire,” Val said, walking through the circle of ash towards where Rain was sitting. Rain activated purify, watching as the white light rolled over the ground, washing away the ash as if it had never been and leaving only bare dirt. Val looked at the disappearing ash, then at Rain, taking a seat next to him.
“Good morning,” Rain greeted him. “You look miserable. You should have slept in the hut with us.”
“No thanks, I don’t trust that roof. I’ll dry out by the fire. That was pretty impressive, by the way. I could have sworn that skill wasn’t this strong the day before.”
“It wasn’t. I had only just gotten it, so it ranked up a few times overnight.”
“Ah, I see. But still…” Val trailed off. “Anyway, how’s the shoulder?”
“Better. Still hurts,” Rain said, slipping a hand through the hole in his shirt to check the bandage. The hole didn’t line up with the injury, having come from when Val blasted it when Rain had thrown it as a distraction. Still, it was large enough for him to snake an arm through to reach his injured shoulder. It seemed Val had some control over the diameter of the beam. His shoulder was sporting a large burn, rather than the pencil-thin hole that had been bored into the skull of the lago.
“I still can’t believe you have so little health,” Val said, shaking his head.
“I know, I know. Like I said yesterday, I’m not mad about my shoulder. Don’t beat yourself up over it. I just need to get Tallheart to make me some armor... Maybe don’t shoot me again until then, okay? Actually, please don’t shoot me again, ever.” Rain winced as he pulled his hand back out of the hole in his shirt.
“That would help, to be sure,” Val said. “There’s not much I can do against someone in plate right now.”
“Really? I saw your aim when you hit that lago… Why can’t you just shoot ‘em right in the face?”
“One, lago don’t dodge, two, warriors tend to wear helmets, and three, metal armor would attract the shot even if they didn’t.”
“The same reason mages don’t wear armor.”
“Oh, Jamus told me about that, but I didn’t think… So it works even if you’re the target, not the caster? Does the metal attract mana or something? That’s what Jamus said. Isn’t it just light, though, once you cast the spell?”
“You need more help than I thought,” Val said, sighing. “This is basic stuff. Yes, metal attracts mana, and no, it isn’t ‘just light’. All mage spells that create something are just mana constructs, no matter the form.”
“Really? I saw someone summon a wall of ice that lasted for ages. It was even melting and everything. You’re telling me that was just her mana?”
“Yes, still just mana. Depending on the spell, it might last quite a long time, but eventually, it would revert to its base form and disappear.”
“Oh. That makes sense, I guess. So if I was wearing armor, your mana would be drawn to it?”
“Yup. That’s one of the downsides of being a mage. You have to punch through the armor. An archer could just plant an arrow right in your eye socket.”
“Ah. That’s not a fun image. Oh hey, I just had an idea. Do you think you could go into the city today and buy me some? Armor, I mean. I have some Tel, but it isn’t enough to cover my debt. Tallheart doesn’t have the metal to make anything, and I don’t think I can afford to wait. Getting back into the city is no use to me if I’m dead. How much does armor cost, anyway?”
“If it isn’t enchanted? Not too much. Sure, I can get you some, but I’m buying myself breakfast as payment. I don’t fancy cold lago and ration bars. Cough it up, I’m hungry.”
Rain dug around in his pocket, found the small pouch of Tel, and tossed it to the man. “Be careful, that’s all I’ve got.”
“I know what to spend it on better than you do. How are you even alive with defenses like that? Why haven’t you bought armor already? I mean, it’s not a bad idea, armor and auras. The metal won’t affect them much, as they aren’t targeted. Without it, though…”
“I haven’t had a chance. I’m new at this.”
“You don’t say. There weren’t adventurers where you’re from?”
“You’ll have to tell me where that is, sometime,” Val said, climbing to his feet. “Well, no sense waiting around. I’ll get you some armor, and a new shirt. Mind if I get a few other things too?”
“Don’t go crazy.”
“Right, but you’ve got to spend money to make money. We’ll need supplies for our run on the lair.”
“Sure, just… watch out for greedy merchants.”
“Are there any other kind?”
“Hah,” Rain laughed and waved at Val’s departing form, thinking of the mustachioed man who had sold him his first set of clothes. Yes, but I can’t say they’re the norm.
Rain pulled up his training overview now that he was alone and warm from the fire. Tallheart had wandered off somewhere, as seemed to be his morning routine. He reviewed the dialog, wincing at the experience notification for health use.
General Experience Earned
Health Use: 34
Stamina Use: 48
Mana Use: 11659
Skill Experience Earned
Refrigerate: 1030 [Rank Up]
Extend Aura: 1608 [Rank Up]
Purify: 2257 [Rank Up]
Amplify Aura: 2486 [Rank Up]
Aura Focus: 998 [Rank Up]
Channel Mastery: 495 [Rank Up]
Immolate: 1505 [Rank Up] [Rank Up] [Rank Up] [Rank Up]
Intrinsic Focus: 4534 [Rank Up] [Rank Up]
Experience for getting hurt. Rain shuddered. Nothing fun about that. That guy at the guild with the scars is insane. What did Jamus say his class was? Vivificant? That must be the health-regen equivalent of Dynamo. What is Animus, then? Bah, I’ll ask later. No sense agonizing about choices I could have made now that it’s in the past. Attributes.
Richmond Rain Stroudwater
Damn, just a bit short of 13. I was hoping for two levels. I’ll do better today.
Rain sunk his ten free points into clarity as per usual, then pulled up his statistics screen. He quickly sought out his mana regeneration, reading the increased number.
Humm, I should probably switch this over to mp per minute, now that…woah.
Rain paused mid-thought as the number changed before his eyes.
Ok, now I know something is going on. First I opened up a bunch of skill windows all at the same time, and now I can change the unit just by thinking about it? I’m positive I couldn’t do that before. I needed the options menu.
Nothing happened. Well, that’s odd. Menu… Nope, nothing. Do I…not need them any more?
Concentrating, Rain focused on some of the settings he had modified, such as the opacity of the windows. To his surprise, they changed in response to his focused attention, if a bit sluggishly. He was now even able to manipulate things without needing to physically touch them, though that method still worked. With a simple thought, he dismissed everything.
What the...? This must be another effect of overmana. That, or maybe I just needed time to integrate with the system, or whatever the hell it is that draws these dialogs. I’ve got intuitive control of my HUD now… How far does it go? Can I…
Rain focused, trying to will a calculator into being. He gave it up after a minute of fruitless effort. He couldn’t summon any windows other than those he had already discovered.
Damn, no calculator, no notepad, no command line. Bah. Still, I’ll take it.
He spent the next few minutes rearranging his skills menu to show things in a more orderly format, as that had been bothering him for some time.
Amplify Aura (8/10) Exp: 1972/2900
Multiply aura intensity by 180%
Multiply aura mana cost by 260%
Extend Aura (8/10) Exp: 1038/2900
Extend aura range by 8 meters
Multiply aura mana cost by 260%
Aura Focus (4/10) Exp: 279/1400
Focus on an aura to boost its output
Multiply aura intensity by 180%
Multiply aura range by 180%
Multiply aura mana cost by 180%
User loses all external senses while focusing
Intrinsic Clarity (10/10)
Multiply base mana regeneration by 300%
Intrinsic Focus (10/10)
Multiply base mana by 300%
Channel Mastery (3/10) Exp: 243/800
Allows intuitive control of channeled skill intensity
Minimum skill intensity: 70%
Maximum skill intensity: 130%
Skill mana cost modified by intensity adjustment
Refrigerate (5/10) Exp: 686/1100
37-42 cold (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes slow
Range: 5 meters
Cost: 25 mp/s
Immolate (5/10) Exp: 105/1100
37-42 heat (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes ignition
Range: 5 meters
Cost: 25 mp/s
Purify (9/10) Exp: 1312/3700
Purify poison, corruption, and contamination
Range: 9 meters
Cost: 90 mp/min
Winter (4/10) Exp: 422/700
Multiply M.Regen by 140% for all entities
Range: 4 meters
Cost: 4 mp/hr
Detection (6/10) Exp: 1746/3200
Sense selected items of interest
Not occluded by mundane materials
Resolution: 0.50 meters
Range: 6 meters
Cost: 6 mp/s
Velocity (3/10) Exp: 409/800
30.00% boost to speed for all entities
Range: 3 meters
Cost: 3 mp/s
Free Skill Points: 1
Much better. Now, to bring it on home.
Rain pulled up the full skills tab for magical utility and dropped his free point into the mana-boosting skill Jamus had told him about. He slammed the apply button with more force than was necessary, causing the window to fuzz and crackle into a burst of electric-blue static. It quickly re-formed before his eyes.
Oops, haha. Where did that skill go, ah, there it is. The window automatically re-sorted itself. Nice.
Magical Synergy (1/10) Exp: 0/400
Enables limited synergistic cross-coupling of magical attributes
2.5% of Focus contributes to M.Regen
2.5% of Clarity contributes to Mana
Free Skill Points: 0
Let’s see what 2.5% of my clarity adding to my mana pool does. Statistics.
Nice! It was 600 before, so it went up about 300 based on 140 clarity. I think intrinsic focus and dynamo must be boosting it. Once it’s level 10, that’s 3000 extra mana. Not bad for one dinky skill point! Dynamo is fucking broken. Let’s see, the formula is…
Rain scratched in the dirt; his notebook was back in the hut with the dictionary. He played with the numbers for a bit before finding a matching set of equations for his mana and mana regen. He’d had to make a few logical leaps, but he thought he had it right. It was difficult to check without a calculator.
Mana = ((20*Focus*3) + (10*Clarity*3*3*0.025)) mp
M.Regen = ((10*Clarity*3*3)+(20*Focus*3*0.025)) mp/day
Right? I think that’s right, based on how the other stats work. Dynamo makes things complicated, hang on, let me just check…
“What are you doing?”
“Fuck!” Rain lurched halfway to his feet before he recognized the voice as belonging to Tallheart. His sudden movement aggravated his various injuries, sending a litany of complaints screaming along his raw nerves. “Tallheart! I told you not to do that!” Rain collapsed back to the ground, wincing in pain.
“And I told you to pay attention to your surroundings.”
“What are these symbols? I do not recognize them,” Tallheart said, crouching down and indicating the formulas he had scratched in the dirt.
“What? Oh, that? That’s just some math. I’m trying to figure out how attributes apply to vitals when combined with skills.”
“Humm. You are a scholar?” Tallheart asked, tilting his head.
“What? No, not really. This is just high school math. Middle school, even.”
“What is ‘school’?”
“Oh, sorry. I don’t know the word for it in your language. It is where people go to learn. Reading, writing, math, history, those kinds of things.”
“Humm. I have heard that human nobles go to such places. You do not seem like a noble.”
“No, everyone goes to school where I’m from. We don’t really have nobles.”
It’s a good thing I spent a few hours with that dictionary last night. Wow, now that was an unexpected sentence.
“Humm. What is this symbol here?” Tallheart asked, taking a seat near Rain and pointing to a zero.
“That’s a...” Rain paused. He didn’t actually know the word. The dictionary he’d been given wasn’t in alphabetical order. Instead, it listed common words first. Numbers were less important than the nobility it seemed, at least from the perspective of the book’s author. He knew the written and spoken forms of the numbers up to a few hundred from his time in the guild, but somehow zero had never come up. The common number system worked a bit like Roman numerals, so zero wasn’t needed to get past ten.
Rain scratched his head. “Actually, I don’t know the word. It is a number. It means none. Here.” He scratched out the numbers 1 through 10 in common in a fresh patch of dirt, then added in the Arabic numerals 1 through 10 below them. Tallheart watched as he sketched in the number zero to the left of the sequence.
“There, that’s one through ten, and that is a zero. It is...well, one less than one. In my language, when you get to ten, you just add a zero to one, see? Then eleven is just two ones, like this.” Rain scratched in the next number in the sequence, adding the common equivalent.
“Humm,” Tallheart rumbled. “You are wrong. You are a scholar. This is beyond me.”
“What? No, this is just basic stuff, Tallheart. What’s the word for it, anyway? Zero, I mean?”
“There is no such number. You cannot have nothing of something.”
“What? Sure you can. If I had one apple and gave it away, then I would have zero apples.”
“No, you would have no apples.”
“That’s what I just said.”
“No, it is not.”
“Tallheart, come on, don’t mess with me. I know you guys know math. There’s numbers everywhere in the system. Percentages and stuff. I asked you a question about skills before and you told me they multiply. How can you know multiplication but not zero?”
“Yes, math is useful. That,” Tallheart waved a hand at Rain’s scrawled formulas, “is not math. That is <something>.”
What? Seriously, I don’t understand. How can he not know this? There’s no school here, sure, but…
Wait a minute. If they really don’t have zero… Like, as a concept, I mean... Huh. How would math even work?
“You really don’t have zero? Wow,” Rain said disbelievingly, sitting back.
“Scholars,” Tallheart said, shaking his antlered head.
“Sorry, Tallheart. I know that sounded a bit… rudely superior,” Rain said, struggling to find a way to say ‘condescending’ as he didn’t know the actual word.
I’ll have to ask Jamus, or maybe Val. I refuse to believe that nobody has heard of zero as a concept. Not with so many percentages in the skill descriptions. Oh...
Tallheart grumbled and made to get up, but Rain stopped him.
“Wait, Tallheart, one more question.”
The armored man sighed and sat back down resignedly. “Fine.”
“No more crazy math, I promise. This is more basic. There’s something that has been bothering me. All of my skills have a range in meters, but nobody here uses that unit. Are skills the same for everyone?”
“Yes and no. Skills are skills. The details vary.”
“Can you check something for me?” Rain asked. “In the utility auras tree, there is a skill called purify. It’s the one I’m using all the time. Can you tell me what it says? It’s tier zero, so you should be able to see it.”
“There is that word again,” Tallheart said grumpily. Nevertheless, he raised his hand and started flipping through something that Rain couldn’t see. “Purify. Cure poison and remove corruption for one <something> in all directions.”
“Sounds right. It isn’t the same as mine, but it’s close. How far is a <something>?”
“I am around three <somethings> tall.”
Ok, the range has to be shorter than a meter for him then. He’s tall, but not that tall. Wait, is he including the antlers? No, doesn’t matter. Three meters would be insane. He’s 225, 250, tops.
Rain considered, then nodded. “And it just says 1? Not 1.5 or something?”
“You said no more math,” Tallheart groused.
“Oh, come on.”
“It says 1. Enough numbers. I am going to finish my anvil. Will you find more metal for me?”
“Sorry, I don’t really feel up to much walking today,” Rain said, gesturing to his injured shoulder. “I was thinking of just training my skills around here. Oh, I do have this.” Rain pulled the scrap of leather with the metal bit out of his pocket and offered it to Tallheart.
“Humm. This would make a good <something>. Thank you,” Tallheart said, taking the scrap from Rain. He got to his feet and started off in the direction of his forge.
“Tallheart,” Rain called after him, getting to his feet as well. “Thanks for answering my questions. Sorry, I know I can be difficult. Do you think you can keep an eye on me while you work? I lose my senses when I use the skill I want to train today. I don’t want anything to sneak up on me.”
“It hasn’t stopped you before. Very well. I will make sure you are not eaten by a squirrel.”
“Haha, very funny.”