What the heck is going on? Why is my arm…oh.
Rain canceled aura focus, blinking as the light of the noon sun greeted his desensitized pupils. He had been lying on his back in the clearing using all of his modifiers on his winter aura. It took around 40 minutes to restore his newly-boosted mana pool, and he’d been trusting Tallheart to keep him safe while he practiced. At first, it had been disturbing to be without senses for so long while his mana regenerated. He’d persisted, however, slowly getting used to the feeling, or rather, the lack thereof. He was determined to get two levels today, so he had decided to focus entirely on training until Val returned. Purify had been the focus of his morning practice, and with the last round he thought he’d have used enough mana to get it to level 10. He’d had plenty of time to do the math while lying insensate.
He had been roused from his meditation by the most curious feeling. His arm seemed to have started moving of its own accord, his proprioception informing him of the changes to the relative position of his forearm to the rest of his body. He wasn’t moving it himself, and he couldn’t feel any external force acting on it, yet it had clearly been moving. Val was revealed to be the culprit as his senses returned. The man released his arm, seeing that he was looking at him.
“You are a really deep sleeper,” Val said, “You didn’t hear me at all.”
“I wasn’t asleep. It’s that skill I mentioned yesterday. I lose all external senses when I use it. I didn’t even know you were there until I felt my arm moving.”
“Well, that seems like a bad thing to use out in the open,” Val said, offering Rain his hand and pulling him to his feet. Rain winced as the bandage pulled at his burned shoulder.
“Tallheart is here. Besides, it isn’t like I’d be able to stop someone from murdering me even if I knew they were coming. You could blast me from across the clearing and I wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.”
“It’s a good thing I’m not a murderer then. Come on, I’ve got some armor for you. Should help you with that little problem.”
“Yup. I got you a <something> shirt and a <something> to go under it. A helmet too. They’re over there, by the hut.”
Rain glanced over to where Val was pointing, seeing a pair of leather-strapped cloth bundles lying near the entrance to the building. They looked dirty compared to the pristine environment of the clearing. His purify skill pretty much covered the entire area now, and he’d been using it all morning. Val walked over to the larger package and undid the leather binding, revealing a stained padded jacket. As it unfurled, there was a rattling of metal as a chain shirt fell out onto the ground.
“Is that… blood? You didn’t steal this from a dead guy, did you? What did you say it was called again?” Rain held up the padded jacket, shaking it out and inspecting it. I know the word for this… what was it? Um…
“<Something>,” Val said, “You wear it underneath the chain shirt.
Gambeson, that was it. Padded armor coat thing. Thank you, D&D. James refused to call it padded armor whenever we played. Spoony bard lover. Now I just have to remember the common word for it. Val just said it; shame it sounds completely different.
Rain activated purify. The reddish stain quickly evaporated from the gray linen, helpless against the scrubbing action of the white light. The rust also flaked off the chain shirt and disappeared, though it took significantly longer and did nothing for the pitted surface of the metal. He peered at the linen as he canceled the skill, checking for obvious holes in the fabric. He didn’t find any, so he decided to believe that the stain was just wine, not the blood of the previous owner.
“Here, let me help you,” Val said, retrieving a new shirt from the other package. Rain saw that it also contained a padded pair of pants to match the gambeson, though dyed a much darker gray. “Lose the shirt,” Val said, taking the padded jacket from him.
“Aren’t you going to buy me dinner first?”
“What?” Val paused in confusion as Rain struggled out of his damaged shirt, hissing as his movement pulled at his burned shoulder.
“Oh, yeah, hang on. I’ve got something for that too,” Val said, setting down his pack and fishing around inside of it. “Hold still.”
Val stood back up holding a rolled sheet of paper. He unfurled it and held it up to Rain’s shoulder, barking a word. There was a rushing sound of wind as the scroll destroyed itself in a flash of light. Rain blinked.
The pain is gone!
“Was that a healing scroll? Nice! Wait, how much did all this cost?” Ah, screw it. Even if he spent all of it, this is quite a haul. I wonder if any of this armor is magical. There must be a way to tell...
“You’ve got to spend money to make money.” Val shrugged, waiting with the shirt in hand.
As Rain peeled the bandage off his shoulder, he stopped, tilting his head slightly. Damn, I look… not half bad, he thought, looking at his naked torso. His steady diet of ration bricks and vegetables was starting to show an effect. He didn’t exactly have abs or anything, but the slight pudginess around his midsection had melted away. I probably need to start eating more. I don’t want to turn into a scarecrow. I am just soooo tired of ration bricks.
Conscious of Val’s eyes on him, he quickly took the fresh white shirt and pulled it on. This society seemed to be pretty similar to his own in terms of what was considered indecent. The bathhouse was the notable exception. Still, unless he was bathing, it felt awkward to be standing around shirtless. Plus, Val was making him feel a bit inferior. Rain didn’t swing that way, but he felt it was a safe bet that the man was pretty popular with the ladies.
“Here, these next,” Val said as he passed him the padded pair of pants. The dark linen was thick and quilted, clearly armor and not regular clothing. Rain briefly considered, then decided to pull them on over the leather pants he was wearing. He removed his boots and the contents of his pockets before struggling into them.
Sitting, he pulled his boots back on and re-buckled them. He stood back up, feeling the noticeable difference in the weight of the fabric. Compared to the soft leather he’d been wearing, this was more like a set of ski pants. He pulled on the long-sleeved gambeson next, lacing up the front of the jacket-like garment tightly. It was made of the same heavy quilted linen as the pants and fell past his knees. Thankfully, the fabric wasn’t too stiff, being well worn-in by its previous owner. He was feeling much more durable already, the long sleeves of the jacket protecting his arms. It felt a bit like a full-body oven mitt. It was actually kind of cozy, especially with how cool the air was.
“How’s the fit?” Val asked.
“Seems good enough. A little loose, maybe.”
“Good. Here, crouch down and lift up your arms.”
Rain was momentarily confused, but followed instructions. He saw what Val was after as the man rolled up the chain shirt and held it for him to stick his arms into. He got it on with some difficulty, the chain links settling over the top of the gambeson as he shook his arms. Combined with the thick jacket, he was feeling quite weighted down. Calling it a chain shirt felt a little insufficient. It was just as long as the gambeson, the links falling down past his knees.
Yeah, this is definitely an upgrade. I feel like some sort of knight. How the hell does Tallheart wear plate all the time? This chain isn’t too bad, but I don’t want to spend all day wearing it.
“Here, try the helmet,” Val said, passing him a shiny skull-cap he’d pulled out of his pack. It didn’t have a full face guard, just being a simple dome of metal padded with leather on the inside. There were banded strips holding the plates of the helmet together. It looked a bit Nordic, he thought. Real Nordic, that was, not the silly horned helmets you saw in video games. That was another thing James constantly complained about. He slipped it on his head. It was a bit snug, but not too tight.
“Ready to go a Viking!” Rain said, laughing.
“Sorry, nothing. It fits. Thanks for getting all this. None of this is enchanted, is it? How many ‘defense points’ does it have?” Rain asked, making finger quotes. The metal links clinked softly as he moved his arms.
“Hummm,” a deep voice behind Rain spoke.
Rain jumped at the unexpected voice, then pivoted smoothly to see that Tallheart had walked over from his forge to join them. Damn it, he got me again. Don’t react. It will only encourage him.
“Tallheart, what do you think?” Rain asked, keeping his voice steady.
Tallheart reached out and fingered the links of the mail, then held out his hand for the helmet. Rain pulled it off and passed it to him, watching as the antlered man turned it over in his gauntleted hands.
“Humm. It is only steel, but not badly made. Old, but acceptable.” Tallheart handed the helmet back to him. “Get used to wearing it. Don’t fight without a helmet.”
“Good advice,” Val said, nodding. “Hey big guy, where’s your helmet? That plate looks amazing, but an archer could take you out with a single shot.”
“Thank you for praising my work. Do not worry. I would not leave such an obvious weakness undefended.”
Huh, I hadn’t thought of that. How would he even wear a helmet with those antlers? Maybe there’s an enchantment or something? Come to think of it…
“Val, how do normal mages deal with arrows and stuff. If you can’t wear armor… How do they protect themselves at all? Skill damage seems really strong, what with all the multipliers and such. Is there some sort of mana shield, or...”
“Questions, questions, come on, let’s test out that armor.” Val laughed, sending the glowing orb of light spinning around his fingers.
“No, seriously. How? Calm down you trigger happy maniac, I don’t want to fight you.”
It was Tallheart who answered. “Just as I make armor from metal, there are those who weave cloth with enchantment. It is not as strong, and it requires rare cloth, but the effect is worth the effort.”
“Ah, so then that jacket you are wearing is enchanted or something?” Rain asked, turning to Val.
“Yup. Otherwise, I’d be wearing a gambeson like yours, just without the chain. This is much more mobile, but it has seen better days. I can’t exactly afford to replace it right now.” Val poked at a hole in the sleeve of his tattered jacket and shrugged.
“Ah, cool. So how does this stack up, then?” Rain said, gesturing to his own outfit. “I can’t help but think someone with a few skills stacked on top of each other could blast right through it.”
“I could probably get through that chain with a few shots to the same spot,” Val said, “but there isn’t much I could do against the helmet. At long range, I’d win, but if you got up close to me, I think I’d really be in trouble. Sounds fun. Let’s try it.”
“What is with you and the sparring? Calm down, Goku.”
“He’s this character from an anim…from a story where I’m from. Always wanted to test himself against strong opponents.”
“Hah, sounds like we’d get along. Come on, let’s go!”
“I just got this armor, I don’t want you breaking it. Or me, for that matter.”
Tallheart broke into the conversation. “As long as he does not damage it too badly, I can repair it.”
“Not helping, Tallheart. You can’t repair me,” Rain said.
“We need to get you used to moving in the armor, so come on, let’s have a <something>. <Something> rules.”
“I don’t even know what that means. And I can move fine, this isn’t that heavy.”
“You say that now. Let’s see if you feel the same once I’m done chasing you around the clearing.”
“Fine, but no shooting me in the face.”
“Yes! Got ‘em! Don’t worry about that, just wear your helmet and you’ll be fine!”
What have I signed myself up for?
Val and Rain stared at each other, standing about ten meters apart on the dirt where Rain had used his immolation aura before. Val had explained the rules of the duel to him, outlining the procedure for the contest under the Osaran rule-set. Before it fell to the empire hundreds of years ago, the kingdom of Osar was known for its duelist’s culture. Osaran rules meant a 1-on-1 duel to incapacitation, ring-out, or surrender. Unlike more contemporary dueling styles, Osaran rules stated that killing your opponent was an immediate loss.
There was no time limit and no restrictions on skills or equipment. It was the purest form of dueling that had been the defining feature of Osaran culture. Anyone could challenge anyone without a reason, independent of standing. The challenged had the right of refusal, a fact which Val had chosen to ignore in this case. The rule-set had survived the fall of Osar, though the cultural overtones had largely been lost. Nowadays, it was only idiots like Val who used it to justify beating the crap out of people for fun.
Of course, Val hadn’t said it quite like that when he’d been explaining the rules. The man seemed to be a huge proponent of martial contests in any form. He’d gone on and on about the legendary tournaments that had been held in ancient Osar before dragging Rain into the ring.
There was no referee and there were no rules about honorable conduct. In this case, the two had agreed to surrender upon reaching half health. The only ceremony involved was already done with, both contestants having announced their names and stated that they were ready to begin. Rain was contemplating immediately stepping out of the ring, but he decided that he had to at least give it a go. He’d said he would, after all.
Seeing that Val was waiting for him to make the first move, he readied his refrigeration aura and prepared to rush the man. They were standing at opposite ends of the dirt circle, which made a convenient boundary for the duel. If he were using the base aura, he’d have to close the distance in order to catch Val within the range. He’d been in the center of the dirt ring when he’d created it with immolate. In theory, once he reached the center he could just stand still and let his aura do the work. He doubted that would turn out to be a viable strategy on its own though. There was one thing he was hoping Val didn’t remember. He needed to distract him long enough to put his larger plan into action.
When I burned this circle, I wasn’t using extend aura. I only used it for a few seconds when we fought before, so it’ll be hard to judge how far it reaches. You might not realize it, Val, but you’re already in my range! Mwahahah! Ready, aaaaaand, GO!
Rain activated his refrigeration aura, maximizing the range, but pulling back the intensity as much as he could. If he was going to win this thing, he needed to use mana efficiently. The links of his chainmail glowed almost imperceptibly with a pale blue light as the mana interacted with the metal. He started sprinting directly towards Val, chasing the wave of cold air. The moment Rain started moving, Val raised his hand to point directly at him.
Rain gritted his teeth and charged on, aiming for the center of the circle. The blast of light took him square in the chest, a sudden warmth warning him that the strike hadn’t been entirely blocked by the metal links. The wave of cold hadn’t even reached Val yet, traveling significantly slower than the man’s instantaneous blasts of light.
Rain smiled as he saw some of the confidence in Val’s expression fade away when the circle of frost grew past the center of the ring and continued straight towards him.
Hah! He forgot I could boost the range after all! It’s just a distraction though, once I get to the center, it’s over for you!
Val swore and lifted his other hand. Rain felt another blast of light hit his chest. The heat became much worse and he smelled the burning of cloth. He noticed his health bar drop noticeably with the strike, but much less than it had when he had been hit while unarmored. Rain skidded to a stop in the center of the circle and crossed his arms in front of himself, blocking access to the weakened section of armor.
Time for my master plan!
Rain switched his buffs, replacing extend with amplify and pushing as hard as he could with channel mastery. Then, he started to spin.
The wavefront of cold raced towards Val, the stronger aura clearly visible in contrast to the weakened version he’d been using before. Frost crystals were forming in the air and there was a blue tinge of magic as well, just barely visible. The blue light shining through the metal links of his armor was also much stronger with the increased mana output. Rain felt the strike of another laser impacting his back, but he ignored it, his armor shrugging off the blow. He continued to spin, feeling additional strikes to his arms and his back. None struck the same spot more than once due to his wild rotation. He heard Val swear loudly and smiled, watching as his mana ticked down. Soon, it ran out and he was forced to cancel the skill, but he kept spinning. He knew that if he stopped, Val would nail him in one of the spots he had already hit, pushing his health down into dangerous territory.
Though he had stopped channeling, the wave of cold wind would still last a few more seconds as it crossed the distance to the edge of the circle. It would have to be enough; otherwise, that was it for him. He counted three more strikes before he heard Val’s voice call out.
“Stop! Half health, damn it!”
Rain spun to a stop, panting. It had been less than 30 seconds since the duel had started, but he was exhausted and the world was spinning horribly. His armor felt like it was on fire where it had been hit, the heat baking him despite the frozen surroundings.
Rain sat on the ground hard and watched as Val furiously rubbed his arms, trying to warm up. He was grinning like an idiot as Tallheart’s deep rolling laughter flooded the clearing.
Haha! I can’t believe that worked! That…was actually kind of fun.
Tallheart walked over to him from where he’d been spectating on the side of the ring. His armored boots left footprints on the icy dirt, but he looked as if the cold hadn’t bothered him in the slightest. His armor didn’t even have any frost on it.
“Winner, Rain,” he said, extending a hand to pull him back to his feet. “That was the dumbest duel I have ever seen.”
“Bullshit is what that was. I’ll get you back for that,” Val said, his teeth chattering.
Uh oh. He’s smiling even though he lost. That’s not a good sign. I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon...
“Rematch!” Val shouted.
“Fine, one more,” Rain said with a resigned sigh. “Just give me an hour to get my mana back. Tallheart, do you need to look at my armor? It doesn’t look damaged, but...”
Val cut him off. “An hour? You seem to have pretty good regen, but I’m going to need more than that. I’m not waiting around half a day for my mana to recharge, though. We’ll use <something> rules this time,” he said, slamming a fist into his open palm. “No magic; just need to find a couple good branches to hit each other with. Now where did I put those healing scrolls...”
Damn it. Of course the guy I saved turns out to be some sort of dueling addict. This…is going to be a long day.