Advertisement
Remove
Settings

  “What’s that brown bag you’re holding?” Thaddius broke the silence as we walked under the shadows of a forest canopy painted with the shades of fall. I shuffled the bag of bones in my arms - they weren’t heavy, just awkward to carry. I would have liked to avoid having this conversation by depositing the bones in my interdimensional storage bag, but they wouldn’t fit through the opening. As it was, they were slowing me down. “Do you want me to carry it?”

  “N-no. It’s alright. Sorry for being so slow.” I responded, looking in Thaddius direction. I had only just saved him from the mana contract that had forced him into a life of subservience, and it would be another couple hours before we arrived at Enzirus. These bones were the remains of the time traveller Thaddius, my mentor and magic instructor, and it felt a little too weird to let him carry his own bones to their burial. “It’s a very important thing to me. Like how you have something important you need to do, this is the important thing that I need to do.”

  He gave me an appraising look before nodding sharply. Seems he accepted my reasoning.

  We had agreed to stay quiet until we were out of range of the slaver camp. According to Thaddius, patrols around the perimeter were frequent, and there was also the threat of the ‘hunters’ finding us. The hunters ventured out quite a bit further away from the camp than the normal patrols, and they were composed of veteran fighters and trackers that were used to fighting in rough terrain. The hunters’ excursions around the slaver camp increased in range the longer they set up camp and became familiar with the terrain, and since they had only set up camp that morning, they wouldn’t stray too far from the patrols surrounding the caravan. Thankfully, Thaddius had experience with tracking and was able to cover our tracks well enough to fool any hunters that might catch our trail as we moved along the forest floor. Finally, the young, bearded swordsman assured me we were out of range of the hunters for the time being.

  “My name is Naomi, by the way.” I glanced in Thaddius’ direction. Of course I already knew his name, but I didn’t want to broach the issue of time travel this early. I figured I would tell him eventually, but I’d wait until the time was right.

  “Thaddius.” he declared. “No surname. Not anymore, anyway, but that’s a long story.”

  I nodded at him, agreeing not to bring up what was likely to be a prickly topic. Instead, I wanted to ask him about something he mentioned during our battle.

  “What’s a hedge wizard? You brought it up during our fight, saying that I was a ‘proper mage’ instead, like it was something surprising. Are mages rare?”

  He stopped in his tracks and fixed a wide eyed stare at me. I stopped as well, shuffling uncomfortably under his scrutiny. Finally coming to some apparent resolution, he began walking again, and I hurried to keep pace with him.

  “It makes sense you wouldn’t know about these things way up here in the unclaimed lands. I doubt you’ve had any contact with humans at all. This is common knowledge where I’m from. The phrase ‘hedge wizard’ is what we call people who use the skill ‘Mana Convergence’ to control mana, unlike true mages who use ‘Mana Coalescence.’ I’m far from an expert on the topic, but from what I understand, Mana Convergence uses external, raw mana to cast magic, and Mana Coalescence uses an internal supply of mana.

  Hedge wizards are inferior in almost every way to a proper mage like yourself. Worse, the magic they use is as dangerous to themselves as it is to others. Their magic is so dangerous to use, that sometimes the ideal method of fighting a hedge wizard is just to wait until their own magic kills them.

  Hedge wizards are the most common magic user you’ll find, and even they are rare. Maybe around one in ten people can become a hedge wizard, but most won’t ever try. The ones who do, mostly belong to isolated sapient races like batkin or hoblins that are ignorant or indifferent to the danger associated with that kind of magic.”

  This was the first I’d heard of another kind of skill that could use magic. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering I had already found skills in the system that were evidently redundant, like how scrimshaw and skinning both had an effect on your ability to skin animals. I’m not interested in such a dangerous sounding kind of magic, but the idea of learning multiple ways of casting magic was interesting.

  “If one in ten people can become hedge wizards, how many can become true mages like me?” I briefly considered my previous decision to take the levitating tail ability over the spell deflector tail, but decided that it synergized too well with mana vault to have justified taking deflector tail. The levitation ability was just too good.

  “That’s a difficult question to answer, because it’s largely political. In the kingdom of Seren, where I lived, there were only seven mages in the entire kingdom. Some realms don’t have any mages at all, and they are considered to be weak as a result. Mages represent a significant asset to a nation, and kingdom-wide celebrations are held when a new mage is acquired. A single experienced mage is the match for over a dozen trained warriors, and anyone who fears them is well justified. There are multiple paths a mage can take, and all of them are immensely useful. They can become weapons of war, healers capable of working miracles, enchanters that bring about technological marvels…”

  Thaddius spoke with an uncharacteristic amount of excitement in his voice. Clearly he was very interested in the subject of mages, and his sentiment towards long, informative lectures was no different from the Thaddius I already knew. Still, this was the first I’d been able to learn about magic users in the outside world, and I found it fascinating. Evidently my status as a ‘proper mage’ was more impressive than I had originally thought.

  Thaddius seemed to realize he was rambling at this point and cleared his throat.

  “To answer your question, maybe around one in a hundred could become a true mage, but it isn’t that simple. The problem has to do with training. If there was ever a way to learn Mana Coalescence without using a magical book, it’s been lost to time. And trust me, people have tried.

  There are only two known magical books capable of teaching Mana Coalescence, and they are both held by a neutral party created purely to hold and protect the books in question. Before that neutral party was created, vicious and bloody wars were held with the sole purpose of acquiring a magical book, considering how priceless they are..."

  If I could sweat, I'm certain I would have been drenched by now. I resisted the urge to nervously chew on my claws as I plodded along by Thaddius' side.

  "The books passed through hands frequently with assassins and thieves flourishing in the bloodbath. The amount of blood shed just to gain access to those books was so immense, that the existing nations, even the ones in current possession of the books, came together in agreement that something had to be done to stop the constant warfare, theft and assassination.

  An agreement was struck, and The Order of Mages was made to hold the books. Rather than having to wage war to gain access to the books, a kingdom can pay with a massive pile of gold to get one of their prospective mages a chance at learning from one of the books. Naturally, that means that only the most rich countries in the world get access to mages. Seren is one such country.”

  “Which begs the question,” Thaddius turned and fixed me with an inquisitive stare, “How did you, a lizard in the middle of nowhere, become a true mage?”

  “Well,” I smiled sheepishly at my companion “I have a magical book.”

  Again, he stopped in his tracks with a wide-eyed stare.

 

~~~

 

  The rest of the walk back to Enzirus was lively, to say the least. Fortunately, Thaddius was polite enough not to yell at me, but I could tell it was no small feat of will holding him back from that. He immediately jumped into a lecture on why I should never tell anyone, especially a stranger, that I had a magical book in my possession. He made it abundantly clear that the thick expanse of forests separating me from the human realms wouldn’t save me if they learned I had such a priceless item. Thaddius might have only just met me, but I already knew him well enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to trust him.

  I hadn’t known how truly rare and valuable a magical book on Mana Coalescence was, and I agreed to be very careful about who I told about it. Now that I think about it, doesn’t that mean that the time traveller Thaddius was really incredible for being able to create a treasure like this? I glanced down at the bag in my arms in respect.

  The swordsman was in the middle of a lecture on the depths of human greed when we passed through the last copse of trees and foliage separating us from the glittering crater lake of Enzirus. My companion immediately went silent, and I grinned at him as he observed the floating islands of endless waterfalls. It really was a spectacular thing to see, and even after months of calling this place my home, I sometimes caught myself staring out at the vibrant floating islands in appreciation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this place saved my life.

  “I’ll go pull the vine bridge to the shore. Otherwise you’ll be swimming, and it gets cold at night. Doubly so if your clothes are wet.” Thaddius gave me a small nod, not taking his eyes off the floating islands as I went about my preparations to accommodate a guest. I rapidly climbed to my home island with a series of tail vaults and put away the bag of bones I’d been carrying for later burial. I then found Gwen, and gave her a brief explanation of what had happened and to tell Mudpuppy and Luna not to let slip the real identity of the magical book. I already decided I was probably going to tell him eventually, but I didn't want anyone blurting it out on accident in the mean time.

  With my preparations complete, I climbed down the vine bridge that I’d made by tying together floating stones with vines so that the three kids could climb up to our island without having the ability to sprint on water and tail vault. Since sprint and tail vault are some of the abilities they practice the most, only Luna still needed the bridge to get back up to our home. Not that she leaves our home island much - evidently it’s easier to practice wind magic at a higher altitude.

  I tied off the bridge on the branch of a tree and walked over to where I’d left Thaddius. He’d been staring out at the lake this entire time with a slouched posture and his hands stuffed into his pockets.

  “Something like this… I’ve never seen anything like this before. How are those massive rocks floating like they’re weightless? You live here?” he flicked his eyes over at me.

  “This is the mana anomaly Enzirus.” I stated simply with a smile, “It’s my home.”

  He replied with low hum before turning and walking towards the vine bridge. “You’re pretty interesting, you know that?”

  I grinned in response as I turned to walk with him.

  “You don’t know the half of it.”

 

~~~

 

  “It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Gwendolyn, but you may call me Gwen.” Gwen intoned respectfully, giving a small bow of her head.

  “I’m Thaddius.” the swordsman returned her bow and matched her respectful tone. “The pleasure is all mine.”

  “It’s the first time I’ve ever met a human…” Gwen noted as she looked Thaddius up and down with curiosity painted plain as day on her face. “You’re taller than I thought you would be!”

  “And hairier, too.” Mudpuppy stated flatly from where she sat perched on a rock near the fire pit, the orange flames of a cooking fire glowing against her brown and tan-flecked skin. She snuck a couple curious glances at the bearded warrior when she thought we weren’t looking.

  “Puppy, that’s rude…” Luna complained in a small voice. Thaddius gave her a warm smile and she wiggled in embarrassment, finding herself without a magical book to hide behind. I’d gotten enough hell over that book today that I thought we’d put it away for the night, though Luna protested when I took it away.

  “Hah?” Mudpuppy looked up from where she’d been poking at the orange coals in the fire pit with the point of her spear. “Ah. Sorry ‘thads.”

  “Not at all. I’m not surprised that I’m the first human you’ve met. We don’t normally come this far north into the unclaimed lands.” Thaddius responded as I handed a wooden cup full of hot tea over to him, which he accepted with a curt ‘thank you.’ It was just a simple tea blend I’d made from local leaves, but it had a good flavor and I was pretty proud of it.

  “Why is that, if I may ask?” Gwen took a seat by the fire, but turned her intrigued face over to our guest. “Everything I’ve read of humans indicates that they are the curious sort that love to explain the unexplained and explore the unexplored. Adventurers make their living that way, even. In light of that, much of these northern forests are largely unexplored. How come?”

  “Those mountains to the north.” Thaddius jabbed a thumb roughly towards the jagged, seemingly endless mountain range that stretched across the horizon. Those misty peaks were visible even now under pale moonlight and between the trees. “We call those mountains ‘The World's End,’ the graveyard of dragons. It’s the breeding ground for some of the strongest monsters in the world, and most people wouldn’t want to live near such a dangerous place. Dragons are all but extinct now, but their descendents - Wyverns - still prowl among those heights and sow destruction wherever they lurk.”

  “We fought one.” Mudpuppy chimed in, suddenly looking more interested in the conversation and pointing at the three scarred claw marks against her side with the tip of her tail. “A wyvern.”

  Thaddius’ eyebrows raised in surprise and he glanced over at me for confirmation.

  “Yes, a juvenile Quildora.” I nodded over at Mudpuppy. “She was able to hold it off until I could come and scare it away. She’s tougher than she looks!”

  “I look plenty tough!” Mudpuppy yelped in complaint.

  “Still, a Quildora? It must have been a female. A male would have fought until it died. Not the smartest species of wyvern out there, but very dangerous.” Thaddius folded his arms, and fixed his gaze on Mudpuppy’s thick scars. He seemed to be hesitating to ask something. “How did you… well, how are you still alive?”

  “I have the trait ‘Courage.’” Mudpuppy boasted with a self-satisfied grin plastered on her face. “It lets me survive an attack that would normally kill me and makes me really good with a spear.”

  Mudpuppy grinned at Thaddius, maybe searching for confirmation or praise in his expression, but he may as well have turned to stone. A frown stretched across his mouth as his brows knitted together. He simply stared into the flickering, crackling flames of the fire pit. Several uncomfortable moments passed in silence before he finally spoke.

  “I see. We will need to discuss this. Tomorrow. In the morning. And I’ll see how good you are with a spear myself.” he finally met Mudpuppy’s gaze, but rather than praise, a flicker of something like pity ran through his eyes.

  “A-anyway, we should be getting to bed. It’s getting late.” I interjected, looking to disperse the uncomfortable atmosphere. “I’ll gather the spare blanket for you, Thaddius. Sorry to say that we’ll be sleeping under the stars tonight. At least it’s safe!”

  “Thank you, that’s more than enough.” Thaddius gave an embarrassed smile and nodded at me.

  Having set out the blankets in our normal sleeping spot, I put out the campfire with a quick motion of my water magic. I briefly considered pulling Thaddius off to the side to talk to him, but I ultimately decided to let him rest. I was worried about his reaction to Mudpuppy's trait, but that could wait until tomorrow. Rather than curling up in bed, I had one last thing to do before I could turn in for the night.

  I searched through a sea of stars above me for a specific island high above and shuffled the brown bag full of bones in my arms as I spotted my destination. Setting my tail against the ground, and with a carefully practiced movement, I mana vaulted into the sky.

  Mana vault was a very finicky ability, much too inaccurate to use with any kind of finesse. Compared to a normal tail vault, with which I could control my movement to a certain degree of accuracy, mana vault was like being fired out of a cannon. Terrifying and exhilarating, but severely inaccurate. It would be far too dangerous to use without the ability to fine-tune my fall with the levitating tail ability.

  Rather than slamming face first into the island like the first time I’d mana vaulted to it, I carefully redirected my trajectory with levitating tail and landed gently on the grassy surface. I approached the time traveller Thaddius’ gravestone and set the brown sack full of his remains to the side, retrieving a shovel from my messenger bag.

  I dug my mentor’s grave under moonlight as the wind whistled around me. My arms ached by the time I was done and patting down the dirt with the flat of my shovel.

  This is the final resting place of my mentor, the Archmage Thaddius of Adria. A time traveller that was so loyal that he sacrificed his own life to give his Queen a chance at survival. It’s because of him that I learned magic so early. Knowing what I know now, it must have taken that time-lost queen years to learn magic. I can’t imagine how she survived. I will do everything I can to ensure my mentor’s sacrifice is not in vain. I bowed my head to the gravestone in respect.

  I peered over the edge of the high-flying island at the ground far below. Now that I think of it, wasn’t this the first place I ever allocated my mana focus perk points? Back when I had chosen my levitating tail ability that I use so often.

  I sat with my legs hanging off the side of the island and opened up my status page. It indicated that I had three mana focus perk points to spend, and focusing on that area of my status page brought up the corresponding window.

 

Mana Focus: Salamancer Focus Available perk points: 3
Abilities
Shockwave Shaping: This serves as an upgrade to the mana shockwave produced by physical tail attacks. It allows the shockwave to be manipulated by freeform mana shaping techniques, such as shaping it into a blade or guiding its movement. While producing a tail attack shockwave will not cost mana, shockwave shaping will consume a small amount.

This ability may be modified by future perks.

Perk Point Cost: 2

Distracting Tail: This ability triggers a minor psychic effect on an opponent, influencing them to aim their attacks at your tail instead of more vital areas. Additionally, this effect may cause the opponent to fumble their attack or spellcasting attempt.

This ability may be modified by future perks.

Perk Point Cost: 2

Deflector Tail: This ability allows you to deflect mana-based attacks and spells using the shockwave produced from your tail. There is a chance of failure when performing this ability against a mage that is more highly skilled than yourself.

Perk Point Cost: 2

Ability Augments

Levitating Tail: Augmenting this ability with a perk point will increase the maximum slow-fall effect of this ability as well as allow you to levitate above the ground up to a certain height. Additionally, you will be able to cause a small anti-gravity effect on surrounding inanimate objects.

Perk Point Cost: 1

 

 

  At first, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I had really wanted to take the scythetail ability that I missed out on last time I spent my perk points. There was a very real possibility of violence in the next few days with hostile slavers at my doorstep, and I needed a more potent offensive ability than what my water magic allowed.

  Also, the ‘deflector tail’ ability originally cost one perk point but now it costs two? What gives? Does buying an ability make future abilities more expensive? If ‘augments’ allow you to upgrade abilities you’ve already bought, and abilities get more expensive for each new ability you get… Then it’s almost a question of if I want to have a lot of weak abilities, or do I want to have a small number of very powerful, buffed up abilities.

  In the end, I went with Shockwave Shaping. The idea of having a psychic attack in my arsenal with ‘Distracting Tail’ was intriguing and also served as a counter to other mages, but it just didn’t fill my current needs for a stronger offensive ability and I was unlikely to run into another mage any time soon. Maybe I would take it in the future if it came up again as an option.

  I closed the menus and gave my tail a few experimental swings. I saw the resulting tail shockwave with my mana sense, a kind of sixth sense that lets me ‘feel’ the mana around me. It was a strange feeling to say the least. Normally I could only sense the mana inside of water, as I was a natural water mage, but the mana in my tail shockwave had a very different… flavor?

  Water mana had an innate gentleness to it and was content to stay unmoving unless disturbed. The mana in my tail shockwave was completely different; it wanted to move. Fortunately, my practice with shaping water magic paid dividends here.

  My first instinct was to try and slow the shockwave down so that I could get a better look at the mana I was working with, but the more I slowed it, the faster the mana dispersed until the wave of force dissipated completely. It also didn’t help that the shockwave normally only lasted for around a second before dissipating naturally. I needed to do a tail attack and immediately shape the resulting shockwave.

  If I had to give this kind of mana a name, I would call it motion mana, since movement was integral to its use. It was interesting to work with a kind of mana other than water mana, which is what I was used to.

  After quite a bit of trial and error, I managed to shape the shockwave into a rough blade of force, easily shearing through the tall grass around me. I could tell that the power was much stronger than a normal water blade, but lacked the range of water magic, as the shockwaves dissipated the further they flew. With more practice, I might even be able to compress the shockwave and increase its range or guide it mid-flight.

  I opened the mana focus perk page again. I still had one more perk point to spend and if my theory was correct, I would have two abilities I could augment now, and I wouldn’t be able to afford any new abilities.

 

Mana Focus: Salamancer Focus Available perk points: 1
Ability Augments

Levitating Tail: Augmenting this ability with a perk point will increase the maximum slow-fall effect of this ability as well as allow you to levitate above the ground up to a certain height. Additionally, you will be able to cause a small anti-gravity effect on surrounding inanimate objects.

Perk Point Cost: 1

Shockwave Shaping: Augmenting this ability with a perk point will increase the maximum range and power of shockwaves produced by tail attacks. Additionally, you will be able to attach a minor, qualifying spell effect to your tail shockwaves for an additional mana cost. Only spell effects learned through the Salamancy mana focus may be used in this way.

Current qualifying spell effects: None.

Perk Point Cost: 1

 

 

  I guess the levitating tail ability didn’t qualify as a spell effect that shockwave shaping could use? I mean, it’s a spell that only works on myself, so that could be why. Maybe if I bought the augment for levitating tail, I would be able to attach it to my shockwaves? Pairing it with the psychic attack from earlier was also a fascinating idea.

  Even without any spell effects I could use, the added range and power would be a huge help with using this new weapon. I bought the shockwave shaping augment, bringing me down to zero total perk points.

  I gave my tail a couple more practice swings, marveling at the added range and strength that the augment added, before stifling a yawn. I’d been up here for over thirty minutes just swinging my tail around, and it was already late at night. It was about time I went back home.

  I stood at the edge of the high-flying island and gave my mentor’s gravestone one last glance over my shoulder. With magic swirling around my tail, I stepped off the edge into freefall, confident in my ability to land safely on my home island.

 

Advertisement
A note from Maari

Sorry for the long wait between chapters! I can't promise I won't need another break eventually, but we should be in the clear for now.

Here's some fanart of a baby Mudpuppy, courtesy of my friend Kitty.

Mudpuppy

Thank you Kitty for the beautiful fan art!


Support "Queen in the Mud"

About the author

Maari

Bio: Please notice that Queen in the Mud isn't listed under the action genre. While there is action on occasion, it isn't the focus.

Thanks for reading! =)

Achievements
Comments(82)
Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In