The sound of Rain’s alarm gently tugged him from the clutches of sleep. He yawned and sat up, blinking blearily in the soft morning light.
The group had reached the mine well after dark the day before, having decided to press on rather than camp half-way up the winding track that lead into the hills. Rain had been dead on his feet by the time they got there, exhausted and footsore. They’d made good time in the afternoon, partly thanks to some light Velocity training. He’d had to keep it at a low intensity so the horse could tolerate it, but over time, the minor boost to speed became a significant boost to distance.
He’d half expected the crazed bunch of adventurers to jump straight into the lair without even waiting to rest. Thankfully though, they seemed just as tired as he was, even Ameliah and Tallheart. The two of them probably had higher Stamina than the rest, except perhaps Carten. Rain had taken the first turn at watch, further exacerbating his lack of sleep.
It looked like the others were getting up, so as tired as he was, it didn’t look like sleeping in would be in the cards.
I miss coffee.
“Right, let’s go!” Val said, looking fully awake despite the early hour. “Time’s wasting!”
“Slow down there, bub,” Carten laughed. “The mine ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’m having breakfast. Never fight on an empty stomach.”
“Hey guys, can we maybe wait a day before we go in?” Rain asked.
The entire group turned to stare at him. He shifted uncomfortably.
“Okay,” he said in a resigned voice. “I guess not.”
“Don’t be so timid, Rain,” Val said. “You are a lot stronger than you think you are.”
“No, that’s kind of the problem. I’ve actually been avoiding training my attack auras. I only just got IFF and it doesn’t help that much yet. I don’t want to accidentally kill anyone.”
“Weren’t you training it yesterday?” Carten asked.
“Yeah, but I doubt I’ll have gotten it to rank 10 overnight.”
“Perhaps you should check? If anyone could do something like that, it would be a Dynamo,” Jamus said from where he was rebuilding the fire.
Rain brought up his interface, sliding the windows over to the side so he could consult them while continuing the conversation. He dismissed the attributes panel after a cursory glance, seeing that he was once more capped at 1 experience under the limit.
General Experience Earned
Mana Use: 13000
Skill Experience Earned
Channel Mastery: 7277 [Rank Up]
Velocity: 9359 [Rank Up] [Rank Up] [Rank Up]
Aura Synergy: 1901 [Rank Up]
Essence Well: 6711 [Rank Up]
Aura IFF: 3588 [Rank Up] [Rank Up] [Rank Up]
Amplify Aura (10/10)
Multiply aura intensity by 200%
Multiply aura mana cost by 300%
Extend Aura (10/10)
Extend aura range by 10 meters
Multiply aura mana cost by 300%
Aura Focus (10/10)
Focus on an aura to boost its output
Multiply aura intensity by 300%
Multiply aura range by 300%
Multiply aura mana cost by 300%
User loses all external senses while focusing
Aura Synergy (5/10) Exp: 1093/2200
Increase all aura output by 0.5% for each rank in any aura
Effective boost: 25.5%
Aura IFF (4/10) Exp: 788/2800
User may exempt entities from direct aura effects at will
Selected entities receive 60.0% aura output
Intrinsic Clarity (10/10)
Multiply base mana regeneration by 300%
Intrinsic Focus (10/10)
Multiply base mana by 300%
Channel Mastery (10/10)
Allows intuitive control of channeled skill intensity
Minimum skill intensity: 0%
Maximum skill intensity: 200%
Skill mana cost modified by intensity adjustment
Magical Synergy (10/10)
Enables limited synergistic cross-coupling of magical attributes
25.0% of Focus contributes to M.Regen
25.0% of Clarity contributes to Mana
Refrigerate (6/10) Exp: 1168/1600
55-63 cold (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes slow
Range: 7.53 meters
Cost: 30 mp/s
Immolate (5/10) Exp: 316/1100
46-53 heat (fcs) damage per second to entities and environment
Sufficient damage causes ignition
Range: 6.27 meters
Cost: 25 mp/s
Purify poison, corruption, and contamination
Range: 12.5 meters
Cost: 100 mp/min
Winter (6/10) Exp: 832/1600
Boost M.Regen by 75% for all entities
Range: 7.53 meters
Cost: 6 mp/hr
Essence Well (10/10)
Transfer mana to all entities within range, including user
Transfer Rate: 12.55 mp/s
Range: 12.5 meters
Velocity (7/10) Exp: 2868/4400
87.85% boost to speed for all entities
Range: 8.79 meters
Cost: 7 mp/s
Detection (7/10) Exp: 1879/4400
Sense selected items of interest
Not occluded by mundane materials
Resolution: 0.25 meters
Range: 8.79 meters
Cost: 7 mp/s
Free Skill Points: 3
Resisting the temptation to get lost in the panels, Rain forced himself to stick to the question at hand.
“IFF is at rank four now. That means I can reduce the intensity of my auras by 40% for specific targets. It’s still going to be tough to use refrigerate if I’m with you guys. Also, I can’t really reduce the effect on the environment at all, so even if it doesn’t damage you directly, the cold air might. I have no idea how that works.”
“Yes, you need to be careful about that,” Ameliah said.
“Ha, ain’t nothing more stupid then givin’ yerself mageburn,” Carten laughed.
Jamus clarified. “Focus-heavy mages tend to have issues if their defenses aren’t up to snuff. Stay out in the sun too long, you get a sunburn. Cast too many Fireballs, you get mageburn.”
“Yup,” Carten said. “Silly mages, always ignorin’ defense.”
“It isn’t just mages,” Tallheart said. Rain turned to look at him, the stoic man’s unprompted response taking him by surprise.
“Oh?” Val asked. “I’ve only ever heard of it with mages. What do you mean?”
“Jamus can explain,” Tallheart said, sighing and shaking his head slowly.
“…I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about either, Tallheart.”
“He probably means stat unbalance in general,” Ameliah said.
Tallheart inclined his head toward her. “Yes.”
Val nodded. “I’ve met warriors focused solely on Strength. They tend to hurt themselves as much as they hurt their enemies.”
“What, so like a Strength Dynamo?” Rain asked.
“The term is ‘Fortifico’, and they don’t tend to last long,” Jamus said.
“It isn’t just a Fortifico problem. Any imbalance is dangerous,” Ameliah said, giving Rain a level look.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Val said. “Rain here is going to be a real terror, once he gets going. What else did you get, Rain? How about Velocity? You used that practically all afternoon.”
“It’s up to rank 7,” Rain said, consulting his skill panel. “Almost a 90 percent boost to speed.”
“Ooh! That sounds fun!” Carten said. “Let’s try it out!”
“Over there.” Ameliah pointed at a stony patch a good distance from their campsite. “Tallheart and I can take care of breakfast.”
“I can help if you’d like,” Rain offered, concerned by the look in Carten’s eyes. He’d rather cook than figure out what that was about.
“Thanks, but we can handle it. You should go train,” Ameliah said. She swept her gaze over the others. “All of you should go. Learn each other’s skills and figure out how to work together.”
“Sounds fun to me!” Val said. “You’re all gonna lose your shit when Rain uses Velocity with that ‘Nova’ technique.”
Rain nodded in grudging acceptance. He followed Carten over to the designated training ground.
Ameliah’s right I suppose. I have no idea how to actually fight with a group. Last time I was here, I was just cowering behind everyone.
“Ok, let me have it!” Carten said as soon as they reached the center of the rocky area. Rain checked to make sure that they were far enough to avoid disturbing Ameliah and Tallheart. They were, even if he used Extend Aura.
“Ok everyone, get ready. At 90%, it’s going to be really disconcerting. Don’t make any sudden movements.”
Jamus and Val checked their footing and nodded, bracing themselves for the effect of the skill. Carten was hopping from foot to foot, clattering loudly as he bounced on his toes. “I’m good. Come on. Just do it already.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Rain said, then activated the aura. True to its name, there was no discernible lag in the spread of the aura as there was with Refrigerate. As the effect washed over the huge man, his body blurred, trailing visible wisps of wind as he moved. To Rain’s surprise, Carten didn’t immediately fall down in a heap as Val had done when he’d first experienced the same level of acceleration. After a few halting starts, the big man seemed to get the hang of it. He was soon rocketing around like a drunken cannonball, tumbling into rocks and laughing like a madman.
Rain snorted in amusement as Carten slammed full speed into a particularly large rock and bounced off to land flat on his back. It looked like the rock had gotten the worst of the exchange. Jamus took a hesitant step, then windmilled his arms as he lost his balance. He went down, followed by Val when he bent to help him. Rain edged over slowly, focusing on keeping his movements tight and controlled. He offered Jamus his hand and pulled him back to his feet. Val managed to get back up on his own, looking embarrassed.
“How are you doing that, Carten?” Rain asked. “Why isn’t the speed bothering you?”
“Oh, it feels odd as shit, that’s for sure,” Carten said, jumping straight up into the air. His armored boots easily reached two meters off the ground. He landed with a huge thump. “I’m just too awesome to let somethin’ like this bother me.”
Holy shit, that was an insane jump. I had no idea that Velocity would boost vertical speed too. Wait, I just got a great idea. Rain’s face split into a stupid grin. “Hey Carten, I’ve got an idea. Do that jump again.”
“Huh? Why?” Carten said, stopping to look at Rain with a confused expression.
“Just trust me,” he said. “I’m going to count to three, then jump as high as you can.”
“Yeah, do it!” Val said, giving Rain a knowing wink.
“This is going to be good,” Jamus said, slowly lowering himself to a seated position. Rain joined him on the ground, not wanting to injure himself. He mentally blacklisted everyone but Carten, reducing the effect for them by 40%.
“Ok, ready Carten? One…Two…Three! Jump good!”
The Velocity Nova struck Carten just as he pushed off from the ground, boosting his speed by a massive 1054%. The armored man shot into the air as if fired from a cannon, leaving a streaking afterimage in his wake.
As Rain’s senses returned, he immediately realized what he had done. He canceled the aura completely, watching in horror as Carten flew into the sky, peaking at well over fifty meters and starting to plummet back towards the earth.
“Shit! Carten!” He tried to scramble to his feet, but Jamus stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Shh. He’ll be fine. Watch.”
“REBOUND!” Carten roared, just as he hit the ground. There was a flash of red light and an enormous boom, followed by a wave of dust and rocks that thankfully fell short of the spectators. Carten was cackling madly as he climbed out of the crater, dusting off his armor.
“That was fuckin’ awesome!” Carten pumped both of his fists into the air. “Do it again!”
Sometime later, after some more training and a light breakfast, the group was finally ready.
Carten lifted the bar holding the heavy wooden door closed and pulled it open with a creak. He hefted his shields, ducked under the doorframe, and started moving down the tunnel. His hulking form filled all of the available space; there were only a few centimeters between his head and the ceiling of the sloping tunnel.
“Come on, Val, I can’t see shit,” Carten said as he ducked under one of the timber beams bracing the ceiling. Wordlessly, Val sent his Lunar Orb zipping to hover over Carten’s shoulder, then followed the large man into the tunnel. Jamus was next, having to duck as well to avoid losing his brilliant orange hat. He was about the same height as Carten after all, just half the width. Rain gripped his staff and went in next, his chain armor clinking softly. He’d borrowed a leather belt from Jamus to secure it around his waist, but it and the metal helmet still felt unfamiliar and cumbersome.
Tallheart followed him in, having to bend almost double to avoid scraping the ceiling with his antlers. A mine was no place for a cervidian.
“Don’t worry, Tallheart, the ceiling gets a little higher once we get to the first chamber,” Rain said.
Ameliah brought up the rear, leaving the door open. She was carrying a bundle of unlit torches that they had found near the entrance where the miners had left them. There had been a few metal lanterns as well, but the candles inside were burned down to stubs.
“Can we light one of those?” Rain asked as the daylight from the entrance faded. “I can barely see anything.”
“Not yet,” Ameliah replied. “These are for emergencies. They won’t last long.”
“Huh? I thought torches lasted for a few hours or something.”
“You’re thinking of evertorches. These are just wood and a bit of oil. They’ll burn out much faster than that.”
“Oh,” Rain said.
Evertorches? Was that what they had me setting up in the sewer? They just looked like normal torches to me…
“Here,” Ameliah said. Suddenly, a second ball of white light appeared above her hand, identical to Val’s. She sent it up to the ceiling, causing the shadow of Tallheart’s antlers to be projected against the walls.
“You know Lunar Orb too?” Val said, looking back in her direction. “What is your class? How do you fight? I don’t think I ever asked—”
“Shh,” Jamus hissed. “Listen.”
“Cavern’s ahead. Somethin’ in there.” Carten whispered. “Goin’ in. Send the light up.”
Val did so as soon as Carten moved out into the chamber, revealing the circular cavern. The ceiling was higher here, supported in a few places by large wooden beams. It was uneven, some parts clearly having been excavated and others looking more like a natural cave. Rain wasn’t that worried about the scenery at the moment. He searched the dim cavern with his eyes, looking for whatever had caused the noise Jamus had heard.
Rain’s ears caught an abrupt sucking pop and he whipped his gaze upward. He saw a blobby creature falling in the darkness, having detached from the ceiling with the telltale sound of a slime. It landed with a wet splut and started moving toward them. Unlike the ones in the sewer or the forest, this slime was an inky black. Focusing on it in the dim light brought up its description on his HUD.
Dark Slime? Level 2? Huh…
“Just a slime,” Carten said, glancing at it, then moving out into the center of the cavern. He ignored the slime moving towards him, watching for any other threats.
“I’ve got it,” Val said. There was a sudden flash of white light. Rain blinked; his eyes had adapted to the dark and the sudden light was painful. The slime collapsed, its inky insides spilling out of the hole that Val had punched in its membrane. Checking his notifications quickly, Rain registered a sub-1% contribution and a few experience for the kill.
I guess I’m in the party then. Not like I had anything to do with killing that thing…
A flicker of movement caught the corner of his eye. “There’s another one,” he said, pointing at the ceiling. Val blasted it, and it fell with a sickening splatter, dead before it hit the ground.
Ten percent contribution that time? I really need to figure out how this party stuff works.
“Can you make that light any brighter?” Jamus asked, looking at Val. The soft white light from the two orbs wasn’t nearly as strong as torchlight, barely fighting back the shadows.
Val shook his head. “Not until next level.”
“Damn. How about you, Ameliah?”
“Double damn,” Jamus said. “Carten, this is why I told you to bring torches.”
“Shut it, Jamus, I know,” Carten grumbled.
“Hang on, I’ll try detection,” Rain said, activating the aura and searching for monsters in general. He got a few hits from within the cavern, as well as a few more down one of the side passages. The range was up to 21 meters due to Extend Aura and Aura Synergy.
He pointed, and Val sent his light over to reveal three more slimes squeezed into a crack in the ceiling.
“Let me,” Jamus said, then blasted the slimes with bolts of blue energy. The slimes detonated when struck, showering the floor of the cave with their putrid insides. Some of the black gunk landed on Rain’s shoulder and he jumped back, far too late.
Strangely, the slime didn’t smell anywhere near as bad as he had expected. It had a pungent odor to be sure, but it was deep and metallic, not the rancid scent of a dumpster on a hot day.
He activated purify, not bothering with any modifiers and just letting the spell do its work. The slime evaporated, and he canceled the skill after a few seconds.
“Humm,” Jamus said. “Can you leave that on? The light isn’t that bright, but it goes pretty far.”
“I suppose I could…” Rain said, re-activating the skill. At the base rate of 100mp/min, he could keep it running quite a while. “I can’t use Winter while I do it though.”
“Just while we check the cavern, then,” Jamus said.
“What’s the point of those puny lights if Rain can light up the whole damn cavern at once?” Carten asked, looking at Val and Ameliah. Rain winced, but Val and Ameliah didn’t seem bothered by the offhanded insult.
“Lunar Orb might not be bright, but once we get into the lair I doubt Rain’s aura will be enough,” Val said.
“It’s practically free, Carten,” Ameliah explained, sending her orb over to orbit around his head. “And it won’t be suppressed by the darkness in the lair.”
“Damn spell is annoying,” Val said, twirling his own light around his fingers. “Took ages to get it to rank 10, and it is still barely better than a candle.”
“Then why take it?” Carten asked.
“It’s more than enough, if you improve your vision,” Ameliah said.
“And how am I supposed to do that? Squint?” Carten asked loudly. His voice echoed as it bounced off the walls.
“There’s still more of them, you know. Down there,” Rain said, pointing at the smallest of the tunnels.
“Don’t rely on that too much, Rain,” Jamus cautioned. “Remember, nothing is absolute. This is a dark-aspect lair, so the likelihood of monsters being able to evade detection is even greater than normal.”
Rain gulped. “I thought we weren’t in the lair yet?”
“This is just spillover. The fact that there are Dark Slimes around is good proof that there really is a lair down there.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Ameliah said. “Remember, there weren’t supposed to be Kin outside either. A rank shift isn’t out of the question.”
“What? Not likely. This area has been stable for thousands of years…”
Rank shift? That can happen?
“Enough, let’s clear out the last of them,” Val said, heading down the tunnel Rain had mentioned.
“Wait, I’ll go first,” Carten said.
“They’re just slimes,” Val laughed.
“You don’t know that,” Carten argued.
“Rain? You just felt slimes, right?” Val asked.
“I’m not sure. I could check again. If I boost the power I can kinda get a better sense of what’s what. It’s hard to explain.”
“Don’t bother,” Jamus said. “Save your mana. Let the turtle do his job.”
“Jamus is right for once. I’ve got this one.” Carten shouldered Val out of the way, heading over to the indicated tunnel and squeezing himself into it. Val and Jamus followed him.
Turtle? Hah. That fits.
“Rain,” Tallheart said, standing in the center of the room.
“There was metal here?”
“Oh, right. It was in the walls of the tunnel leading down to the next level, over there.” Rain pointed. “I’ll show you after we take care of the monsters.”
“I will wait here,” Tallheart said. Rain nodded and started to follow the others into the tunnel, but paused, looking back.
“You’ll be okay in the dark?”
“I’ll stay with him until you get back,” Ameliah said.
Rain nodded and hustled to catch up with the others.
They’ll be fine. Me, I’m not so sure about. Slimes are one thing, but if there are dark hounds down here… Well, they aren’t worse than the Kin. We should be able to deal with it.
Rain double-checked his blacklist to make sure everyone was exempt from his attack auras. If they did get surrounded, worst case he could just burn his way out and hope that the dogs would go down before his companions.
It didn’t come to that, at least not in this tunnel. The signal turned out to have come from slimes after all. The tunnel wasn’t wide enough for either of the mages to get a shot off past the hulking form of Carten. The armored man simply squished them into the wall by walking forward with his shields held in front of him. Fortunately for Carten, Rain’s purification aura was still running.
He switched to Detection once the mess was taken care of and did a quick ping for more monsters. He used full power, noticing a small sliver of his mana disappear as he activated the pulse.
“That’s the last of them,” he said, then switched his focus, searching for Tel. His ping came back with several signals. There was one coming from below Carten’s feet, as well as a few from back in the main chamber. “Carten, there’s a Tel at your feet.”
“I see it,” Carten said, setting aside one of his shields and stooping to collect it.
“Right, check the other tunnels, then on to the next level,” Jamus said.
The tunnel was too narrow for Carten to trade places with him, so Rain led the way back to the main chamber. Once there, he used Detection again, collecting two more Tel. He was about to add them to his own pouch, but Carten stopped him with a hand.
“Hey now, those go in here,” he said, holding out a small leather bag. “We’ll split it up when we’re done.”
“Oh, sure,” Rain said, adding the two Tel to the bag. Carten nodded, pulling the string tight and tossing the bag to him. “You hang on tight to that. Wouldn’t want to lose our fortune.”
“How much did we get?” Val asked.
“Three whole Tel,” Rain said with a shrug.
“Don’t worry,” Jamus said, “we’re not even in the lair yet.”
They quickly checked the remaining side tunnels for monsters, finding nothing. Once Jamus was satisfied that the area was secure, they collected Ameliah and Tallheart and proceeded down the large tunnel that led to the lower chamber. Rain searched the walls as they went, tracing his hand along a vein of what was probably coal until he saw some of the grayish rocks he had noticed last time.
“Here, Tallheart, this any good?” he asked, pointing.
Tallheart walked over to him, fortunately not having to bend his neck quite so badly in the larger tunnel. He touched a gauntleted finger to the stone, then frowned. “Iron. Impure.”
“Is that an issue? Can’t you refine it or something? Maybe a skill?”
“Use Detection,” Tallheart rumbled. “Look for tin.”
“Sure, you got it. Why tin though?” Rain asked, activating his aura. He felt several signals coming from around them, but none of them were clear.
“It melts easily.”
“There’s some around. It’s fuzzy, though. I’m not sure what that means.”
“Perhaps it is impure, same as the iron?” Jamus said, peering over Rain’s shoulder to see what they were looking at.
Rain considered this for a moment. “I suppose.”
“Show me,” Tallheart said.
“Well, there’s a good bit of it over that way, maybe twenty meters,” Rain said, pointing directly at one of the walls of the tunnel. “That’s not particularly helpful though. There’s a smaller signal coming from straight ahead. I’ll let you know when we’re close.”
Rain kept pinging as they continued down the tunnel, using Channel Mastery to keep the mana usage in check. Unfortunately, he didn’t find any deposits that were close enough by the time they reached the lower chamber.
As before, they entered cautiously, scanning for danger. This time, however, the area was deserted. Detection didn’t turn up anything when Rain checked for monsters, but he did sense a good deposit of tin only a short distance within one of the walls. “Here,” he said, pointing. “It isn’t that deep. If we had a pick or something, we could probably get to it.
Wordlessly, Tallheart nodded and removed his hammer from his belt. He eyed the wall, then motioned Rain back.
“Um…Tallheart?” Jamus asked.
“Maybe be gentle?”
“Do not worry, Jamus. I will not damage the ceiling.”
‘Gentle’, as it turned out, meant sharp, powerful blows that sent chips of stone flying everywhere and echoed through the entire chamber. It took Tallheart only a few minutes to strike the vein of tin. He reached into the wall and broke off a large chunk of a dark, crystalline looking rock.
“Is that what you need, Tallheart?” Rain asked. It didn’t look like metal at all, but he was no geologist. If Detection registered it as a valid target of his search, then it was probably a safe bet that whatever the mineral was, tin made up a good part of it.
This skill is crazy. I definitely need to play with it more later.
“Yes,” Tallheart said, pulling out a sack from the pack he was carrying. He started filling it, hammering at the wall and sifting through the resulting rubble. “Go on. I will remain here.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to come into the lair with us?” Rain asked, looking for the others, but finding only Ameliah looking back at him. “Wait, where did they go?”
“They went ahead to check the other tunnels. Val said you were taking too long.”
“Typical.” Rain shook his head.
“I will remain here,” Tallheart repeated. “You two do not need to wait for me.”
“But what about light?” Rain asked.
“I will be fine,” Tallheart said. He stopped hammering and reached inside his pack, removing a small, wooden case. He opened it to reveal, of all things, a pair of metal-framed glasses. He settled them onto the bridge of his nose, then returned the case to his pack.
Those are…actually pretty stylish. He looks sort of like a college professor with them on. You know, other than the antlers. And the armor… Ok, he looks nothing like a college professor.
“Magic?” Rain asked.
“Magic,” Tallheart confirmed.
“Rare magic,” Ameliah said, appreciatively.
Tallheart resumed pounding at the wall.
“You sure you’ll be okay alone?” Rain asked.
“I have been alone for many years,” The antlered man said slowly. His mouth softened into a smile. “I thank you for your concern.”
“Come on,” Ameliah said. “We should catch up with the others. I’m not sure I trust them to wait for us.”
Rain started to follow her, but stopped at the sound of Tallheart’s gravely voice.
“Rain.” He lowered his hammer and turned to look over his shoulder. There was a very faint blueish glow shining within the lenses of his glasses. His expression was serious. “Do not die.”