It turned out real spells were more fascinating than he imagined. Kuzari was flipping through Minor Telekinetic Pull with a rapid pace, his eyes darting from paragraph to paragraph and absorbing the information in large chunks.
The base principal of a spell was deceptively simple: mana created specific effects when contorted into various shapes. The specifics were killer; as the forms needed to be cataloged and chained together to produce the desired result, failure could have extreme unknown consequences. Worse is that the effects produced by such glyphs were all situational. A mage user would have to alter the path mana flowed to different preset glyphs depending on the environment, target, distance, time of day, and more. It was why entire tomes would be dedicated to a single spell, to master a single spell the wielder had to learn thousands of variations and be able to understand the mathematical requirements on the fly intuitively.
All that would have been reasonable enough if mana only existed in four-dimensional space-time like everything else. Instead, mana was a potentially infinite matrix, divided up into various mapped regions. These regions qualifying as known affinities. As a consequence, the math to complete one spell would be radically different depending on the exact types and quantity of mana channeled. It was downright mind-boggling.
Kuzari set aside the book and rubbed his eyes. He had been up all night and skipped morning training. They would be leaving first thing tomorrow morning, so he knew he needed to get some rest for the day, but he couldn't help himself.
He set his eyes on a book propped against the far wall from where he sat. He raised his hand and closed his eyes, focusing. He built the glyphs inside his channels just before the meridian in his hand by assembling a thin membrane of neutral mana. The glyphs stacked on top of each other forming a series of lens before the meridian itself. Taking a moment to double-check his work Kuzari channeled mana down and through his internal spell construct. He felt the force blitz out of his hand.
The book he aimed at crashed into the wall next to his head violently, and Kuzari opened his eyes in surprise. He grinned and let out a whooping noise while pumping his fist into the air. His math was slightly off and almost resulted in bludgeoning himself with the book. Kuzari still counted it as mostly a success. He needed more fine-tuning, but it was fine progress.
He repeated the process for several more hours, developing an intuitive feel for the various control glyphs that determined the force and direction of the pull. He had a gut feeling that with some tweaks he could probably turn "minor telekinetic pull" into a push as well, but drastic alterations to a spell by a novice could be dangerous. Nonetheless, he was a hacker at heart, merely using a carbon copy of the same spell everyone else used would bug him, his gut was pushing him to experiment and optimize. An instinct he knew he had to squash down until he could study various spells. He had a feeling there were probably commonly shared glyphs between spells, and some variants were perhaps better than others. He could combine and tweak these glyphs to create his own unique and radical versions. That's the theory anyway.
Kuzari was starting to feel dizzy by the time he finally admitted he needed to go to sleep. He closed the book on spatial magic he had been reading and absentmindedly traced the thin scars on his arm from his knife fight. He was surprised at how quickly they had healed up, and Odai had already recovered from an arrow wound as well. He guessed there was something about magic that was strengthening the bodies natural healing mechanisms. It was convenient if nothing else. If it extended to muscles as well, then exercise had to be close to three times as effective on this planet. More stray thoughts ran through his head as he drifted off to sleep, ideas acting as a chorus to form a sweet lullaby.
Morning arrived, and Kuzari had to practically drag himself down to the entrance hall to find Adara and Odai waiting for him. He was surprised that there didn't seem to be anybody else.
"No one else? You had like two dozen people when hunting down Ralin." Kuzari asked.
"That was a bit different," Adara started, "A lone initiate didn't pose too great of a threat, so the extra manpower was useful for scouting. Sending normal people to fight a group of marauding Mas'Quin would be a waste of life."
"Plus nobody was getting paid. I don't know about you, but Id hate to split the bounty more than necessary." Odai said.
"Very well, I suppose we should get started?" Kuzari asked.
Adara and Odai nodded, and the trio set off. Kuzari was a bit nervous heading out so soon after the attempt on their lives, but he didn't have a choice at the moment. Still, he probably wouldn't ever feel comfortable till he discovered who was responsible.
"What are Mas'Quin anyways?" Kuzari asked after they had left the city limits.
"Small humanoid lizards. They're smart enough to use some tools and hunt in packs, but that's about it. They favor ambushes out here in the dunes, lying wait just underneath the sands till prey approaches too closely," said Odai, the resident expert on the creatures.
Kuzari nodded in understanding. Humanoid lizards? Sounds a lot like kobolds to me. What other fantastical creatures are real out here?
Adara led in front, periodically sending out a pulse of energy to detect any potential creatures nearby. Kuzari wished he knew the technique; it seemed invaluable to him.
The group traveled mostly in silence. Kuzari was nervous and would double check his knives were secured more often than what was necessary. It was late in the afternoon before they had any sign they were on the right track.
Adara stopped the group with a wave of her hand. She held her finger up to her lips to hush the group. They got down low to the ground and peered above the dune they were on. Adara pointed slightly off towards a nearby dune, but Kuzari couldn't see anything. Odai nodded in apparent understanding.
Odai focused for a moment and held a fistful of blue sand. It whirled around and condensed into a hard, cobalt rock. He then tossed the stone forward, and as soon as it left his hand, it accelerated to impossible speeds.
The rock exploded into the side of the dune, blasting blue sand up into the sky. Kuzari heard a loud screech, and by the time the dust settled, he spotted a lizard creature heavily wounded and desperately trying to flee.
It was indeed a small humanoid creature. The snout was long and had four clawed fingers, one of which was opposable judging by the short spear it held in its hands. It was stark naked, and its scales were a dull cobalt color.
Adara gave it no time to escape, launching a fast bolt of fire now that it was exposed. The flame ate into its back, boring a hole into its spine. It had time for one final yell before collapsing dead.
Kuzari found himself slightly disappointed that he hadn't helped at all. He supposed that originally Adara and Odai already planned on taking the mission even without further help. He kept his eyes open just in case any more popped out.
"That was just a lone scout,' said Odai "We should be close to a patrol so stay on guard."
Kuzari followed their lead and stayed quiet. It was several hours before they came across the patrol they were looking for.
A group of ten Mas'Quin moved in a loose pack. Most of them had spears topped with sharp blue rocks, but a few used sabres half their length.
They were fortunate to catch the group transitioning to a new spot, and their targets were already exposed. They briefly debated the best way to tackle the group. Either Adara or Odai could have obliterated them from a distance, but the mana expenditure would be expensive. They made the lone scout look easy, but the truth was that they both had to pour in far more mana to make the kill quick than had it been a normal human. Those scales weren't just for show.
The plan they settled on was simple. Adara and Kuzari would engage directly in melee with Odai providing support. Adara came with a wicked looking sabre of her own that she knew how to use, and Kuzari's current abilities were still more suited for buffing his speed and agility. Odai's earth affinity would let him divide and confuse the group by whipping up irritating dust clouds. If it came down to an emergency, it was agreed Odai would take care of it with one of his most potent spells that would easily wipe the group, even if it made him useless afterward.
It was a rational plan, but Kuzari couldn't help but feel anxious. His previous fights had all been reactionary events were he was on the defensive. This would be the first time being the aggressor. They waited for the group to get closer to the dune they were hiding behind when one of the lizards sniffed the air. It seemed on edge and made a few grunts while waving its spear in the trio's general direction.
Taking that as the cue they had been discovered, Adara and Kuzari rushed forward.
Odai stood up and immediately began waving his arms as he prepared his spell. The spell completed shortly after and sand whipped up around the Mas'Quin. The group of lizards started panicking and slashing around them, not understanding what was happening.
Kuzari funneled shadow through his limbs, increasing his speed. It was exhilarating being able to let loose without worrying about expenditure. Either the earnings would be enough to save him, or he was screwed anyway.
Kuzari ran into the lizard in the lead. The creature was distracted and blinded by the sand, not even facing the right direction. Kuzari grabbed the creature's neck from behind and used the leverage to plunge a knife into its throat, ripping the blade to the side as blood gushed from the wound. He shoved the dying creature down to the ground and moved on to his next target.
Adara was hot on his heels, and her attacks were no less vicious. Her wrist snapped forward and cleaved a lizard in half. She spun in a semi-circle and took the head of another flailing Mas'Quin. It may not have been her specialty, but the strength of a fire infused apprentice was not to be underestimated.
Kuzari got the jump on two more of the creatures before he faced a real threat. His fourth target couldn't see him with the dust, but its sense of smell was acute. It lunged with its spear and Kuzari had to halt in his tracks to avoid skewering himself. He readied his knife and eyed his opponent warily, looking for an opening. The lizard broke from the dust storm and stabbed furiously at Kuzari. It took all his focus to stay out of range of the deadly weapon, and he couldn't see an easy way to close the gap.
Kuzari found himself next to another Mas'Quin and had to evade a wild slash from the monster's scimitar. The blade managed to bite into his arm, blood splattering into the air. Shit shit Kuzari mentally cursed at the mistake. His arm was still usable, but it hurt. He lunged out and stabbed into the creature's shoulders and without missing a beat picked up the lizard with both hands and threw it into the spear-wielding Mas'Quin. The monsters were strong, but their size meant they didn't have a lot of mass.
The Mas'Quin skewered its ally before it could pull the spear back. Its weapon lodged into flesh, Kuzari took the opening to dart in, slamming his dagger into the base of its head, puncturing into the brain. He threw the body out of the way with his free hand and scanned the area.
Adara had already mopped up the rest of the creatures were rushing to his aid. She checked out the wound and winced at the incision.
"Nasty cut, at least we brought some supplies," Adara said, pulling a bandage from her pocket space.
The wrapping instantly made his arm go numb, and he suspected it was laced with some strong medicines. Kuzari's hands were still shaking from the adrenaline. The whole ordeal felt easy, but he knew it would have been a different situation if Odai hadn't been disrupting the entire group.
Odai made his way down to the battlefield and started sifting through the bodies.
"What are you looking for?" Kuzari asked.
"Shaman. Mas'Quin don't get this organized without a shaman backing them. We need to bring back its head as proof of completion. With it dead, the rest will disband in short order."
Odai didn't find whatever signs he was looking for amongst the bodies and the group decided to press on.
They took on two similar patrols before having to bunker down for the night. Kuzari was drained and needed to gather in the cool night to be ready for the next day. Odai likewise was burnt from channeling his debilitating spell over and over. Only Adara was still fresh and reserved her power in the event they faced any night ambushes. They started no fire to avoid the light and smoke, giving their position away and camped out using simple bedrolls. Tents would have made it difficult to get into combat positions if they did get jumped.
Kuzari's nerves were still a bit frazzled from the fighting of the day, but he found himself starting to get used to it. He had to admit to himself that battle had a morbid feeling of fun to it. Riding on that adrenaline rush with your life on the line felt almost addictive. He was a bit worried that he would grow to enjoy it too much. Kuzari had to focus on clearing his thoughts away to calm down and get some sleep.
Unfortunately, none of the patrols they encountered had a shaman amongst their ranks.