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After some hiccups with security concerns, thank you Poi, the whole group eventually [Teleport]ed to the Thousand Kilometer Ring, a mostly nondescript region of the Crystal Forest where adventurers sometimes congregated, since 1000 kilometers was the maximum range on [Teleport].

The afternoon sun shone down from the western skies, glittering off of 10 foot tall crystal agaves in every single direction. Somewhere in those agaves, probably everywhere in those agaves, were mimics, who glittered just as well as the agaves, but who only fooled the unaware. There was one difference in this part of the Crystal Forest, though: A spire of stone, an obelisk, maybe 500 feet away from where their [Teleport]s dropped them.

A few strangers were standing by the obelisk, fiddling with something at the base. Apparently there was a natural fountain there, but Erick couldn’t see over that distance.

Kiri stood nearby, but not too close, taking pains not to eye the closest person to Erick: Guildmaster Mog.

Mog shouted, “Let’s kill some mimics!”

Draz said, “You didn’t have to come, Guildmaster.”

Oh yes I did! I’ve got a special interest in this one right here—” She laid a broad hand on Erick’s back. “But do your thing, Draz. I won’t interfere.”

Draz turned to the other members of the remedial class. A crimsonscale male kid, maybe 18, named Lowhit. A long-haired blond female orcol, likely also 18, named Waelog. Zimmy Saker, the [Force Shrapnel] girl. And Greenscale Kiri, from the Greensoil Republic, who was probably either a spy, or just really motivated and lucky. Erick still didn’t know which, and at this point, even if she was a spy, she seemed nice enough.

There was also Poi, Mog, and Draz, but those three didn’t count for this hunting party.

Draz said, “Each of you is going to kill a mimic on your own, using tier one spe— normal basic magic, or martial technique. I am going to evaluate each of you, one at a time, and then I am going to fail you, and then tomorrow we’re doing it again, and again, and again, until you get it right.” Draz looked around. “Waelog! Find your mimic! Everyone else, follow Waelog! Don’t help her!”

Erick trudged in the sands several people behind Waelog. Poi stood behind Erick; Mog at his side.

Mog whispered, “This takes me back.”

Draz whipped around to stare at Mog, but said nothing.

Sorry, drillmaster.” Mog smiled, throwing up her hands in mock defense. “I’ll be quiet.”

Draz frowned, speaking to the group, “Treat this as a hunting exercise. Silent, deadly, like we’re in Ar’Kendrithyst and monsters can pop up out of the ground at any moment.”

Erick felt a chill. He whispered, “That can happen?”

Yes, Erick!” Draz shouted, “Constantly! Now shut up!”

 

- - - -

 

Waelog found her mimic and, being 8 foot tall herself and basically a walking tank, as soon as she donned her boxy, solid [Conjure Armor], she grabbed two of the largest spines, ripping the monster wide, then stomped. The mimic never stood a chance. She exposed the rest of her body to countless stabs, but the mimic couldn’t get one attack through her armor, though it did stab some spines between Waelog’s not-metal plates. She didn’t seem to mind; most of the mimic’s counterattack slipped off of Waelog’s boxy armor. After twenty seconds, Waelog stood over the monster’s pulped corpse, holding a shiny rad like a grain of salt between two huge fingers.

Draz said, “Good armor design. You took too much damage. Fail.”

Waelog didn’t look like she had a single scratch on her, even after she dispelled her [Conjure Armor].

She didn’t argue with the drillmaster.

 

- - - -

 

Lowhit flew backwards, next to the ground, staying just out of range of the mimic, while shooting [Force Beam]s at the monster. Eight of the ten seconds of [Force Beam] went wild, reflecting off of crystalline flesh, scattering through the air.

Erick complained, “But… It’s Force, not light?”

Draz took Erick’s complaint as a reason to yell at him. “Crystal Mimics have a natural [Reflection] active at all times, rookie! Even if a force spell manages to hit through its [Reflection], it only hits for a fraction of its original damage!”

Mog whispered to Erick, “Altered force doesn’t get reflected.”

Correct again!” Draz said, “But we’re not using mana altering today!”

Lowhit eventually killed the mimic, but not after scattered beams clipped through the onlookers once, and himself three times, slicing off hundreds of points each time.

Every time that happened, Draz automatically, and enthusiastically, yelled, “Fail!”

 

- - - -

 

Kiri threw a [Decay Force Crash] over her mimic. Like localized acid rain, the spell burst in the air and soaked into the monster, reducing it to mush in seconds.

Draz said, “No rad; Fail. Mana Altered spells; Fail.”

Kiri nodded. “I will do better next—”

I didn’t ask for excuses!”

 

- - - -

 

Zimmy shot her mimic full of [Decay Force Shrapnel], earning an easy victory, but another failure.

 

- - - -

 

Erick frowned. His mimic was a hundred feet away, and it looked perfectly at peace.

Then he remembered the ‘peaceful’ looking walls of Ar’Kendrithyst, and flew into the sky—

No flying!” Draz shouted.

Erick frowned. He looked to Lowhit.

Draz said, “I must be getting old! You’re right! Lowhit failed for that, too. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all of the failures in a single rookie.”

Erick turned back toward his mimic.

Can’t hit it with [Force Beam]. Can’t Mana Alter.

Oh. No. So?

Fuck him?

Right.

Shape X [Withering].

Erick’s slime [Withering] rolled forward across the land like a tidal wave released, slipping across agaves and sand, but sticking to every mimic it found. A shrill keening filled the air in front of Erick, as a small portion of the near-invisible [Withering] held on top of the mimic, and the rest traveled onward. Liquid burst out of the monster as every crystalline leaf cracked open like a broken water main, spraying clear goop into the air. In seconds the monster was dead. Thick air flowed into the sky, transforming the monster’s liquid remains into gasses, or whatever [Cleanse] actually did, as similar scenes played out across the land, each tableau of death too far away to see.

Notifications started pinging. Mog laughed loud.

Draz said, “Mog. This is intolerable.”

Mog was still laughing. She said, “You could have at least tried, Erick!”

You’re entirely right. My bad.” He pointed away from his still-expanding [Withering]. “We can probably find more in that direction.”

Kiri asked, “How many is that killing right now?”

Erick walked away from the expanding [Withering], counting up, “20… 25… 30… a lot.”

Zimmy looked a bit scared. The others looked impressed.

Erick led the way to the next mimic, inspecting his [Withering] as he walked.

 

Withering 9, 1 minute per level, super long range, 500 MP

Purge all water from all monsters in super large area, dealing <damage> every second. Cleanse the land around every monster killed in this way.

Particle Mage Only.

Exp: 4700/5500

 

I’m out here. I might as well level this to 10 and actually make the ooze version.

Erick was learning quite a lot in this class, but it was a slog. Draz didn’t seem to be trying, like, ever. Was this really what one of ‘Mog’s Classes’ that everyone told Erick he should take…

Was this really how it was supposed to be?

Ten minutes later, Erick found another mimic; it wasn’t hard, they were everywhere once you knew where to look. While everyone else waited well away, Erick began [Stoneshape]ing a massive, twenty foot long, ten foot wide, rolling pin of stone. It took twenty seconds to make, and then a few more seconds to shape properly with a few spikes here and there to catch and crunch, and it was much, much too large to actually lift and swing with [Stoneshape]. So he simply took control of what he could, and rolled the stone across the land, charging a suddenly active mimic who had no way to escape.

SquICK!

Erick released his [Stoneshape], letting momentum take the rolling pin another twenty yards past the remains of the mimic’s mangled, flattened corpse. With his Handy Aura, Erick plucked a glittering rad out of the pressed remains.

Mog laughed loud while Draz sighed. Kiri smiled. Poi kept his expression mostly schooled, but the sapphirescale dragonkin couldn’t help but grin a bit. The other three students looked like a deity of Insight had personally come down to Veird and showed them a new way of fighting. Lowhit’s mouth was fully open, his eyes wide.

Mog said, “That used to be a popular technique, but how much Participation did you get?”

Erick looked at the notification box. “95 percent.”

What!” Mog laughed loud, saying, “You should have gotten 30!”

I did all the work!” Erick pointed at the rolling pin. “I made that.”

Mog laughed again.

Draz frowned. “Was that just [Stoneshape]?”

Yes, sir.”

“… You still fail.”

Erick nodded. “I’ll do better next time, sir.”

“… See that you do.” Draz added, “Rookie.”

Mog laughed again, and she wasn’t the only one. Draz seemed to be having a bad day, though.

 

- - - -

 

Jane did not call that night. Erick tried not to freak out. He failed.

He asked Poi, “Is Jane okay?”

Poi looked into the air. A moment later, he said, “She is on a mission and cannot speak. Killzone is with her, and expects no difficulty.”

Erick relaxed. “Good.”

 

- - - -

 

The next day of classes began with a trip to the Crystal Forest, but the whole group only traveled one kilometer out of town, to the north. Mog did not come, but Draz had brought in a specialist, who Erick already knew. Sizzi Zago, daughter of Guildmaster Zago, of the Mage's Guild. Erick suspected they wouldn’t be hunting mimics today.

Erick and company stood on one side of an empty space in the Crystal Forest. Sizzi stood on the other side. Draz stood in the middle.

Draz said, “Miss Sizzi has been kind enough to help us with some training exercises because mimics are too easy and none of you are actually learning anything.”

Actual teaching? How novel! Erick probably failed to keep the sarcasm off of his face, because Draz shot him a miffed look.

Draz said, “Waelog! You’re up first. Prep for normal combat.”

Waelog nodded, conjuring her blocky grey armor along with a massive grey spear. She swung the weapon around once, then thumped the base hard into the sand.

Sizzi lifted her hands to the sky. Pale violet light flowed out of her like streamers of sparkles, hitting something invisible, soaking into nothing, gradually revealing a toothy maw, then a jaw, then skin, then a face leaning against Sizzi’s hands. As mana poured out of Sizzi, a monster was gradually revealed, like flour hitting an invisible man. A menacing face was attached to a short neck and powerful shoulders. Two long arms, one arm made of a dozen tentacles, the other sporting a massive crab claw. A strong torso came next, with a thick waist. Two front legs and two back legs made the violet translucent monster something of a centaur, but instead of hooves there were three-clawed almost-chicken feet. A thick, whipping tail with serrated edges flowed out of the monster’s back end.

The monster was twelve feet tall; built to take a hit and dish out pain.

When Sizzi was done, the monster moved like a tamed beast. It nuzzled against Sizzi’s hands, and she laughed to pet the massive monster. She spoke softly to it, and the monster immediately shifted to attention; ready for instructions, or battle, or whatever.

Erick’s eyes were wide the whole time.

No one else seemed impressed. Zimmy picked at her fingernails with a conjured knife.

Oh, come on! That’s impressive!” Erick said, “What is it, though?”

Sizzi blushed.

Draz answered, “[Conjure Force Elemental]! Sizzi here is on her way to becoming one of the best summoners in Spur! Don’t think this’ll be easy, Waelog. Summoners are almost like Shades; you have to get through a thousand monsters in order to attack the summoner themselves. But you’re not attacking Sizzi,” Draz pointed at the monster. “Your goal is to kill Zog! Ignore Sizzi herself. Get ready!”

Waelog moved like the wind, taking off from a dead stop to rushing across the sands, dirt flying, spear flowing forward, aiming for a direct center mass hit against the monster; against Zog. Sizzi’s monster was still a hundred yards away, but that didn’t seem to matter to Waelog. It didn’t seem to matter to the monster, either, who didn’t move a single limb.

Sizzi rushed away from her monster, though, while Draz similarly evacuated the ‘arena’.

About a hundred flying magenta bunnies appeared out of the ground, right under Waelog, thirty feet in front of the monster. Like suddenly soaring groundhogs, they had always been there waiting for her approach. Waelog repositioned, instantly kicking off the ground, flying left, but not actually flying. She was pure martial power. Meditation didn’t reveal much magic on her at all, except for the armor and the weapon.

Sizzi shouted, “Zog! Dodge and flow! Occupy!”

Zog had moved when Erick wasn’t looking; it was preparing to strike, but instead slipped down a fraction, and leapt away, twenty feet, directly backward, while the—

Sizzi shouted, “Bunnies! Go for the kill!”

Waelog landed away from the bunnies, but they followed. She didn’t charge forward, but instead to the side, guiding the bunnies to attack one at a time, slicing and smashing the flying magenta-things as they attacked, and she curved around toward Zog. The ‘bunnies’, who were not bunnies, and never had been, each vibrated once, as they flew around Waelog, searching for a stray body part to attack.

Each translucent, flying magenta bunny, inverted, into bright, blood-red spike monsters. Too many teeth, too many exposed tentacles and guts, too large of a central eye. They glowed bright red, and then they cackled.

The monsters cackled, and they all sped up.

Erick smiled and laughed. “They’re so cute!”

Zimmy whispered, “They’re ungodly monsters...”

Well, yes. They were ungodly monsters, but this whole summoning-thing looked like the workings of a child who wanted friends, who only had conjured monsters to work with. Erick might have been way off on that guess, though. But kids back on Earth drew crazy monsters all the time. If they had access to [Conjure Force Elemental], Erick wouldn’t be surprised if some of them made creatures like Sizzi’s.

Erick really should pay more attention to the fight.

Waelog blurred. She was an orcol with a ‘fast forward’ button. Countless bunny-monsters ripped out of the air as Waelog smashed and crashed, but she was still surrounded. She zipped out of the melee; the bunny-monsters trailing her. Three stuck to her body with long tentacles, trying to gnaw at her armor, but she was past that distraction. Her spear was pointed at Zog, and Zog wasn’t moving.

Something really fast happened. Erick didn’t see what.

But Waelog was on the ground, groaning. Zog’s crab arm was gone, but its tentacle arm was wrapping around Waelog—

All stop!” Sizzi shouted, “All retreat!”

The monster-bunnies flipped inside out again, hiding the red monster inside, revealing the fluffy pink-violet outside, with big floppy ears and long hoppy feet. Zog leapt away from Waelog.

Waelog stayed on the ground, staring at the sky, defeated. She sighed, more resigned than angry.

Sizzi petted Zog’s flank, while the remaining bunnies hopped around her feet. Sizzi shed violet mana like a tree in fall. Mana soaked into Sizzi’s monster. Zog’s crab arm regrew. 7 bunnies became 10, those 10 became 20, then 30.

Erick looked up [Conjure Force Elemental].

 

Conjure Force Elemental 1, variable duration, close range. 10 MP + Variable

Conjure a Force construct under your command. Constructs operate based on mana.

 

Purchase [Conjure Force Elemental 1] for 1 point? Yes/No

 

Not yet.

Erick asked, “Is this some specialized spell with stuff I’m just not seeing, like [Ward]?”

Kiri whispered, “Extremely. Later ranks of the skill let you infuse your monsters with extra mana and skills they can use at your command.”

Lowhit said, “I can kill them.”

Zimmy said, “I don’t think I could. That’s a lot of bunnies.”

Put up or shut up, Lowhit!” Draz turned to Sizzi. “Ready?”

Yes,” she said.

Draz shouted at the still downed Waelog. “Get up, Failure! Clear the arena!”

Waelog lifted her legs up fast then tucked into a backward roll. She lifted to her feet with subtle grace, then walked over to join the audience, as Lowhit walked into the makeshift arena.

Lowhit started flying.

Four seconds into the flight, he screamed, as fifty pulsing tentacle bunnies reflected his magic back at him like they were all crystal mimics, each using [Reflection].

How come [Reflection] isn’t in the Script when I search?” Erick asked.

Lowhit flew away, trying to avoid the rampaging monsters, testing them with various Altered spells. Decay Shrapnel did nothing; they weren’t organic, so that made sense. He had much better luck with fire Shrapnel, though. The bunnies burned, and knocked into other bunnies, which also burned.

Kiri said, “[Reflection] is not a base spell. It’s from [Ward], and it's very specialized. It doesn't have an option to buy, like how you can buy[Teleport]; you have to get [Reflection] some other way, like how [Polymorph] comes from a Mimic Potion. Some people spend years learning [Reflection]. Aside from Crystal Mimics, you almost never see someone outside of Archmages with [Reflection], and even then—”

Lowhit screamed; a tentacle bunny was attached to his leg, the others were close! He shot out an unaltered Shrapnel, and dozens of the Force shards reflected in dozens of directions; some right back at Lowhit.

Erick asked, “Is it expensive? They seem to have an endless amount of [Reflection].”

Kiri said, “She must have a good version of the spell. Look closely at her; she’s still shedding mana into the ground—”

Erick looked. She was; violet mana dripped from Sizzi’s skin into the ground like tiny drops of water.

Kiri continued, "—The bunnies must be horde monsters, and she’s constantly feeding them new mana through hidden paired bunnies in the sand below her.”

An explosion of fire rocked out from Lowhit, blowing apart twenty bunnies. He had cleared a path to Zog, but he was obviously injured. Blood dripped from his arms. His robes were in tatters.

Sizzi said, “Stand down!”

The bunnies retreated to Sizzi’s side, where she infused them with more mana.

Lowhit shouted, “FUCK! Dammit. I thought...”

Draz slowclapped as he said, “Great job, Lowhit! Bunnies took you down! FAIL!”

Lowhit grumbled, moving off the field, as Sizzi finalized repairs on her monsters. Shrapnel wounds vanished, burns healed over, translucent pink-violet not-flesh returned.

Kiri strode out into the field. She bowed to Sizzi. “Thank you for this opportunity.”

Sizzi smiled, then turned to Draz.

Whenever you’re ready!” He shouted. “Go!”

Kiri took to the sky, straight up.

The bunnies leapt and tumbled, crossing the field and then flying up, straight at Kiri.

Kiri pulsed, bright green, and the air flexed. A wave of fire crashed out of her, cascading down the bunnies, hitting each one on the way to the ground, and then booming sand out, causing a minor crater. One of the bunnies closer to Kiri instantly popped and exploded in fire, burning another one, that then one popped, spreading the fire. Dozens popped, then all of them popped, scattering violet and red remains into the air.

Kiri pointed at Zog, her finger bright, bright green; the world around her seemed to dim.

Zog dashed to the side to avoid what must have been a specialized [Force Beam], because the thin line of light that came out of Kiri’s fingertip came out all at once, not over ten seconds. It did not crater the ground like her other attack; it just went in deep, like a nail from a high-powered nailgun.

Draz said, “Stop!”

Sizzi recalled Zog, and began recasting her bunnies. Kri flew down to the ground.

Draz said, “You fail today because you’ve taken this opportunity to learn direct combat, and turned it into yet another way to avoid direct confrontation. If you hover above 10 feet, you’ve lost the learning opportunity.”

Kiri looked like she was about to say some casual thing, but halfway through, she seemed genuinely mollified. She nodded. “I apologize for wasting time. I will do better if you see fit to give me another chance.”

Draz said, “Back in line, Kiri. Zimmy! You’re up.”

Zimmy stepped forward, and said, “I cannot fight the horde. Please let me try against Zog.”

Draz frowned. “Sure. But that’s a failure, and you’re going against that horde today, or you’re out of the class.”

Yes, drillmaster. Thank you, drillmaster.”

Draz turned to Sizzi. “Okay?”

Sizzi recalled her bunnies to her side. When they were all next to her and still, she sent out Zog, a translucent violet 12 foot tall crab-squid-centaur monster, to face Zimmy, a 5 foot 5 inch girl with large horns. Erick tried not to think about Zimmy being turned to paste.

Sizzy said, “Slow roll, Zog. Attack.”

Zimmy dashed to the side, avoiding a claw grab. Zog hopped around the small girl, 4 feet proving much faster than 2, but Zimmy dodged again, under the claw. She sliced upward, clipping into Zog’s torso. Her tiny dagger dug deep, but there was nothing vital to the construct; it whipped around like nothing happened, trying to grab Zimmy with its tentacle arm. Zimmy [Blink]ed directly onto the monster’s centaur-back, riding the monster like she was a cowgirl, her daggers—

She blinked 50 feet away, immediately, shouting, “Fuck!”

Draz yelled, “It’s a bad idea to jump on most monsters.”

Zimmy went to one knee, groaning. That’s when Erick realized something was wrong. Everyone else realized, too. Zog pulled back at Sizzi’s command. Zimmy fell to the sand. Erick almost ran to her, but Poi and Draz were faster. Poi already had the rod of [Treat Wounds] in his hand.

But Draz got to Zimmy first. He flashed a deep purple magic into the teenager. She groaned, mumbling incoherent words. Draz said something to her as helped her back to her feet. Blood covered Zimmy’s lower [Conjure Armor], like she had wrapped her legs around wet red paint.

What happened?

Zimmy said more quiet things to Draz. Poi returned to Erick. Draz said quiet things to Zimmy.

And then Kiri gasped, in recognition.

Erick turned to her. “What happened?”

Draz said, “Anyone care to guess what that was?”

Kiri said, “Anti-melee [Reflection]!”

Sizzi smirked.

Erick wondered if that was impressive. It must have been, right? And was Zimmy really okay, now?

Lowhit said, “Damn. Now that’s impressive.”

Waelog asked, “That’s what I felt?”

[Melee Reflection] is correct, Kiri!” Draz said, “You will meet many monsters in this world, and none of you are ready for the breadth or depth of what’s out there. Even with tricks and luck, pain comes.” He patted Zimmy on the back. “Best to be prepared with items and others to cover for your inadequacies before you set out into the world.”

Zimmy said, "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

Zimmy looked like someone had given her a bloody beating, but no one else seemed to care, now that she was walking around like nothing was wrong. Erick looked away from Zimmy. He needed to get use to this sort of thing; everyone else obviously was.

Draz shouted, "Start again! from the top!"

What? No.

Erick said, “I want to try against the summons.”

Draz frowned. He sighed. He turned away, saying, “Fine.”

Erick walked into the arena space. Bunnies crowded around Sizzi, hopping back and forth over each other, while Zog stood at her side. She streamed mana into them, topping them all off.

She curtsied.

Thank you for this opportunity, Sizzi. I didn’t know this spell was this good.”

Sizzi blushed dark purple. “Tha— Thank you, Archmage.”

Draz shouted, “Begin!”

The air around Erick shifted as he took control of his space with [Flight of a Thousand Hands Aura], just in time to meet the approaching bunnies. Seeing them bounce around all playful, like magenta fluffballs, was cute, but seeing them flip inside out, exposing tentacles and teeth and eyes, was exactly like seeing the violent drawings of a tormented child come to life. It was scary, but also heartbreaking. Erick did what he had to do, though.

Erick flew backward, staying near the ground, not giving the not-bunnies a chance to surround him; he had seen how poorly that went for Lowhit, and Waelog. Those two had tried to gather them in front of them like this, but only Kiri, and now Erick, succeeded. The bunnies came at him one at a time, and Erick prepared to…

to rip them apart…

Aww. Poor bunnies.

Erick grabbed the first bunny and tore it apart with quick telekinetic slices and yanks. The next one leapt into his aura and found itself immediately dismembered and sliced in half. A few more leapt at him, tentacles snapping, teeth gnashing, but Erick kept them away with gentle brushes from his aura, managing the horde as he saw fit. There were only 40 bunnies after all...

There were only 40 bunnies.

Erick had a thought. He stopped running. He simply grabbed every bunny and held them away from himself, with five hands or ten, it didn’t really matter. There were more than enough hands to lighten the workload. He had control of the situation, and control of every whipping tentacle and gnashing set of jaws, as well. Erick set down on the ground, the bunnies and their tentacles still trying to reach him, but Erick held firm.

Erick said, “Okay. We can just… ignore these guys, then? Sizzi?”

Sizzi cordially nodded. “Bunnies, retreat. You’ve done more than enough, thank you.”

The bunnies stopped struggling and folded back around to their warm and fuzzy sides. Erick set them down one at a time. They hopped and flew back toward Sizzi, as Erick turned to face Zog.

Zog was different than the bunnies.

If Erick was a guessing man, he would think of Zog as the creation of a learned woman, trying to make up for all the inadequacies she had seen over her lifetime. The claw was a nice touch, but it seemed to serve as a distraction from the tentacles, which were likely the real problem, as Erick had just demonstrated with his own ‘tentacles’.

So Erick asked, “Do the tentacles extend?”

Sizzi nodded. “Yes, Archmage.”

Zog’s tentacles extended to what might have been their full length: 20 feet. Zog was suddenly more squid than crab or centaur.

And the tail looks rather wicked, too.”

Sizzi nodded. Zog flicked his tail like a whip and carved a 10 foot long, three foot deep trench, within tentacle reach of him.

Sizzi says, “Zog’s tail was very helpful against Waelog.”

That’s what hit me!?” shouted the orcol.

Erick said, “I can pretty confidently say that I have no way to deal with that, aside from running and throwing lighting, so my choice in a battle like this would be to run.” He added, “But… I gotta try, so. Let’s try.”

Sizzi went slow.

If she had gone fast, Erick would never have stood a chance. The first attack came from the tail, at what must have been quarter strength and speed; Erick saw it coming, thanks to [Swift Movement], but still, his Handy Aura wasn’t strong enough. The tail carved through a hundred telekinetic arms before Erick caught the whip and severed the bladed part.

The second attack was a charge, with the twenty-foot tentacles leading the way. If Sizzi had attacked with her full force, Erick would have lost, but because the tentacles only came in at half speed, and because he was using [Swift Movement], he caught them and broke them all.

Flying above the monster now, and with no way for Zog to attack him, Erick severed both of its arms at the shoulders, ending the fight.

Erick floated away, saying, “If this wasn’t a training scenario, you would have won, Sizzi. Your monster is really good.”

No one said a word.

Erick looked around. Kiri, Zimmy, Waelog, Lowhit, and even Draz, were silent. Kiri was smiling, though. Sizzi was tending to Zog, gently pouring mana into the monster’s violet body like she was caring for a hurt animal, regrowing his not-flesh, treating him like a wounded animal. Which was probably how Sizzi thought of the skill. Poi was simply beaming pride.

These reactions were strange, though. He clearly lost, right?

Erick asked, “What did that look like to you? Because Sizzi pulled all of her attacks.” He looked at Sizzi. “You pulled your attacks, right?”

Sizzi turned to him, smiling, saying, “Zog was limited to about half power, which is as much as I used against anyone else. According to arena rules, you won that fight, fair and square. I could have given them different skills, but that wouldn’t have been good remedial training.” She turned back to her monster, whispering, “You did really good, Zog. Good boy, yes you are. You’re a good boy.”

The monster seemed to smile, as much as a massive jawed, demon-beast of a chimeric creature could smile.

Draz spoke up, “You still failed, though, Erick! Obviously! Still weeks of learning left to learn.”

Erick smiled. “I’ll do better next time, sir.”

SEE THAT YOU DO!” Draz cleared his throat. “Uh. Archmage.”

 

- - - -

 

Everyone did a lot better the second time, including Erick. [Swift Movement] was crucial for all fighting scenarios. In retrospect, this fact was obvious. Moving faster made everyone else slow down, and slower things were easy to deal with, duh. When they broke for a rest on benches of stone Erick Shaped from the ground, Erick learned something else interesting.

You’re a Scion of Focus, too?”

Sizzi said, “Yes, Archmage. I fell in love with [Conjure Force Elemental] before I matriculated, and the only way to make it work right was to have an endless supply of mana.”

Ah. That would explain why I haven’t seen other people use the skill. People don’t like Scion of Focus for some reason.” Erick almost asked her about her thoughts regarding Willpower versus Focus, but he wanted to stay on topic. “So how does this skill work, anyway?”

Sizzi frowned. “Most mages use their little guys to trigger traps. Or even worse, as extra bodies on the field, just to tie up the monsters long enough to gather them all in one spot, and then fireball them all.”

Are your constructs conscious?”

Sizzi stared out across the sands, across the crystal agave horizon. Wind blew across the land, causing the nearby agaves to tinkle and chime in the breeze. Eventually, Sizzi said, “No. They’re not conscious. I wish they were, but they’re not.”

Erick smiled softly. “Ah.” Then he added, “It would be hard for me to send childhood friends against monsters, too, even if they were imaginary. But people aren’t immortal like the mana ocean; maybe the same particles have been through your summons more than once.”

Sizzi paled, then relaxed, then tried not to smile as she sighed.

Draz shouted, “Break time is over!” Then he spoke to Sizzi, “Can you do two more rounds?”

She shook her head. “Sorry, Draz. I only have time for one more.”

That’s fine. Thanks for coming.” He shouted at Waelog, “You’re up!”

When it was Erick’s turn, he utterly demolished every bunny and dismembered Zog, but stopped before he took Zog’s head. [Swift Movement] was truly crucial for keeping himself ahead of Sizzi’s monsters.

 

- - - -

 

After Sizzi went back to town, Draz returned the class back to the sandy arena in the Adventurer’s District, where Erick proceeded to get his face smushed into the sand, quite a lot.

But he might have been getting better. He felt more comfortable using [Swift Movement], even with the constant HP drain the skill demanded.

When the class was over for the day, Erick’s day still wasn’t over.

Erick and Poi [Teleport]ed out into the Crystal Forest, 800 kilometers north-northwest of Spur. It was time to finish off a skill, and build another one. After Meditation revealed no eyes, and a high flight into the sky revealed no people, as far as Erick or Poi could see, Erick began.

Shaped X [Withering].

A slime [Withering] fell to the ground, and expanded to the north, rolling over everything and killing dozens of mimics as it flowed.

Five minutes later, another slime [Withering] flowed south, killing dozens more mimics, and Erick got one more notification.

 

Withering Level up!

 

Withering X, 1 minute per level, super long range, 500 MP

Purge all water from all monsters in super large area, dealing <damage> every second. Cleanse the land around every monster killed in this way.

Particle Mage Only.

 

Erick was pretty comfortable with the skill now, but there were two more steps to take. After seven minutes of Meditation and a flight dozens of kilometers to the east —flying was such a great part about life on Verid— Erick was ready for the first hurdle.

Shaped X [Withering].

As the near-invisible spell dropped to the sands below like a god dumping a bucket of heavy air, another notification appeared.

 

Withering Slime, 10 minutes, super long range, 1000 MP.

Unleash a super large wave of semi-sentient magic that searches for monsters and purges them of all water, dealing <damage> every second. Cleanse the land around every monster killed in this way.

Particle Mage Only.

 

Erick set down on the sands below, next to the dried out sapphire corpse of a crystal mimic. He Handy Aura’d the largest block of blue not-stone apart, then plucked the glittering rad out from the center. He put it in a pocket, then did something slightly new.

Aurify.

[Withering Slime].

The manasphere seemed to realign in some fundamental way around Erick, as a notification appeared.

And the sky rumbled from horizon to horizon.

 

Domain of the Withering Slime, 2 MP per second, aura, super long range

Provide an anchor for the Withering Slime to exist on your world.

Particle Mage Only.

 

Okay!” Erick yelled, as the sky opened up, though it was already a perfectly clear day. “That’s different! But I like it!”

Something vast and near-invisible reached down from the cloudless sky, like a gentle pseudopod, like a giant, silent friend, expanding, expanding. Poi yelled something, but Erick couldn’t hear; he was too focused on the vastness rushing down from on high. It wasn’t really there, but it made a noise like the loudest rainstorm Erick had ever heard.

The empty sky seemed to reach for Veird; for Erick. Erick lifted his hands to the magic, and the magic responded like an invitation granted. An ocean of otherworldly warmth flowed down and through him as it rushed across the sands of the Crystal Forest. White light glowed in the air five feet away from him, coalescing in an amorphous blob. The light flexed, and suddenly Erick was the center of a pale white orb, the center of a twisting intangible sea of mana. Erick was the core of the largest slime Veird had ever seen.

Mimic death notifications pinged.

Poi sent Erick, ‘Are you okay, sir?’

Erick looked around. Poi was gone. ‘Of course I’m okay! Where are you?’

I am about four hundred meters up and away from you, because you’re currently in the middle of a very, very large monster.’

Erick laughed. ‘It’s my aura! It’s not a monster! Though the spell description might beg to differ. Does it look like a monster?’ Erick spoke to his spell, “Are you a monster? No you’re not!”

The spell did not respond, which was okay, but kinda disappointing.

Erick sent, ‘Touch it? It shouldn’t hurt you.’

Poi sent, ‘Uhh… That seems like a bad idea.’

Oh nooOO!’ Erick mocked, ‘I see some assassins out here!’

Poi spoke right beside Erick, “That’s not funny.”

Erick yelped, quickly stepping to the side. He turned to Poi, who was standing in the glowing white ‘core’ of the Withering Slime, looking rather perturbed. Erick frowned; Poi frowned right back.

Thank you for showing up in my hour of need. You’re my hero.”

Poi sighed, then turned to the pale white sphere. It was almost completely translucent, but it was still certainly there. Poi touched the edge of the white sphere. Nothing happened. Poi stepped completely out of the white sphere, into the 'goo' of the Withering Slime. Still, nothing happened.

Poi dropped a shimmering blue [Weather Ward] where he stood. Erick could only tell it was a [Weather Ward] because the Withering Slime expanded away from that space. Poi’s skin stopped shimmering; he must have been wearing a [Weather Ward], too. Poi reached for the edge of his [Ward]…

He paused.

Erick said, “Just touch it!”

Poi stuck his hand beyond his [Ward], into the Withering Slime.

Nothing happened.

Poi sighed in relief. “Mind if I look at the spell?”

Erick handed him the box for [Domain of the Withering Slime].

Poi’s eyes went wide. He dismissed the box. “Are you near Aurify 3, yet?”

 

Aurify 2

Transform an AOE spell into a semi-permanent effect surrounding yourself, based upon the parameters of the Aurified spell. Increase an instantaneous spell to a 1 second duration in order to create an aura.

Able to support 1 aura at a time.

You may choose who or what is affected by your aura.

Doubles the range on an Aurified spell.

Exp: 728,109/1,000,000

 

Not quite yet.” Erick said, “I still got a ways to go.”

Mimic death notifications flicked across Erick’s vision.

Erick looked out across the Crystal Forest. “The range on this thing is pretty huge, isn’t it?”

Poi said, “If you saw it from the air, you would not be so comfortable at its core.”

Erick looked around. “Is it actually a slime core?”

It certainly looks like one, but it’s obviously not.” Poi added, “… Probably.”

Notifications still rolled in.

Erick wondered how far his Domain actually reached.

Notifications still rolled in.

Hmmm…

Erick waited till the notifications slowed, one every ten seconds, then he turned off his aura. Erick watched as thickened air turned thin, the white ‘core’ around him unlayering, like ash drifting into the sky, peeling away with the wind, rejoining the manasphere.

Erick said, “That was all quite impressive. But! It's time to go home...” He looked at his notifications. “… And deal with all these.”

With a blip of white, Erick [Teleport]ed both Poi and himself back to Spur.

 

- - - -

 

When Erick called down the Withering Slime to Veird, he killed every single mature crystal mimic in 10 kilometers. He didn’t see what came after he left, though the crystal mimic life cycle had came up twice now during his nightly telepathic conversations with Jane; he knew what would happen in the space he had cleared.

Over the following hours and days, juvenile mimics slithered out of their hiding spots in the real agaves, to soak up the mana in the air that the dead adults could not, to crystallize a rad from their own dust supplies, and from the mana in the air; to grow. Many matured faster than their counterparts, and thus dominated the absorption of resources in their area. When one of those fresh adults found a dried out mimic corpse, since it was organic and not an agave, they ate it and the rad inside, like beef jerky spiced with rock candy. Those who ate the rads instantly bounced from level 30, to 31; they didn’t have to wait to grow their power on their own.

And thus the cycle of life in the Crystal Forest continued, barely interrupted.

 

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