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A note from NoDragons

I've decided to change the reference to Stats in the last chapter to Runes. It just fits better with the tone of the world and the underlying mechanics to call both the item drop and the stats the same thing.

 

Also this chapter is something of an experiment! If you enjoy talky chapters lemme know in the comments, and if you prefer something faster paced, well, tomorrow is your day.

Goblins are well known as the lowest class of Fae, or locus spirit. Rather than being born from a specific kind of location and serving as its protector, like most fae, the goblin is born when a human tool is left abandoned for a long period of time. Most often they are born from battlefields where swords are left to rust.

Upon being created from the Aether the goblin will share characteristics with its soul-tool - a chipped, poorly maintained sword will birth a violent goblin with chipped teeth and scabby skin, while a scythe might create a more peaceful creature. The practice of purposefully creating goblins, who are known as hobbs, is widely practiced in the outer reaches of the empire.


 

 

They ended the day by a lake at the base of a waterfall, the roaring sound of the falls filling the air over a pleasant background of birdsong and wolfcalls.

It was truly wild out here. Quentin had always lived in the city, but the few times he’d gone on a hiking trail or a camping expedition, even then, nothing could compare to this. On all sides of the trail thousand year-old trees loomed. Wild creatures darted through the spaces between, gazing curiously at the humans. It was entirely possible to believe they’d never seen one before.

Kefra sat behind Quentin, binding his wound in herb-soaked linens. Kay got woozy at the sight of blood, which made the daily change of bandages a convenient time to ask questions that might give Quentin away as an outsider.

Today, it was Runes.

“Runes are the immature form of a Shard. Very few creatures are capable of producing a Shard; they appear only for thousand-year old monsters, Dungeon-spawn, great warriors, master artisans. Runes are relatively common. Shards can be used by anyone, but Runes will only join with you if you already possess an identical Rune.” Kefra explained.

“So getting a Rune will make me stronger or faster, and then I go around killing creatures to absorb theirs.” Quentin summarized.

“Correct. If the Rune is a match. This-” She tapped the slab of crystal he’d won from the Blue-Steel Lions. “Is an Endurance Rune. Quite common, and that’s a good thing. If you develop rare or unusual Runes they might be more powerful at first but you’ll struggle to grow them further.”

“One more thing. Runes are incomplete by nature. When you absorb one, there will be a condition to gain its strength. This one, for instance, is covered with words for hunting and prey, so you’d likely have to kill a number of wild beasts before you fully absorb it.”

“Got it. So I probably want to take a mix of rare and common runes, right?” As the last of the bandages were peeled away, Quentin risked a look. It…

It wasn’t good.

Cautiously, he tried to flex his right hand. It barely moved. All the pink had drained from his skin, leaving the hand as white as a ghost, the fingers shaking constantly.

“Right,” he said. “Just tell me what I need to do to learn Endurance.”

 

Runes, it turned out, were a lot like stats. Strength, Willpower, Charisma. They took your natural talents and multiplied them. Which meant you couldn’t just skip out on training in this world and become magically strong.

They were also, and this was important, a royal pain in the ass to learn. So far he’d just pinballed from one situation to the next picking up Skills, but to learn a Rune, well…

“Arm up!” Ozma called, sitting at the edge of the lake.

You know how martial artists in the movies look all graceful and at peace with nature when they stand under a waterfall and practice?

Nope.

Complete fiction. Standing under a waterfall was like getting continuously punched by mother nature. It was like trying to give a river a piggyback ride while it relentlessly kicked you in the kidneys.

It was like…

It was like…

Look, Quentin’s metaphor reserve was running a little low, on account of being hammered on by a fucking waterfall. The roaring crash of water created swirling whirlpools white froth underfoot, trying to pull him off the slab of stone he balanced on. The air was filled with a fine particular drift of mist that shone like diamond dust in the setting sun.

And to top it off, literally, he had to hold up a big damn rock. His good arm wobbled slightly.

“Arm up!” Ozma called, sending a rock sploshing into the water by his feet.

“Clippy, please, gods, tell me I’m almost done…” He groaned, streams of water rolling down his face and plastering his hair against his forehead.

Clippy paused, and made her grinding modem noise. Apparently lying wasn’t in her vocabulary.

“Okay, that’s it.” When even Clippy wasn’t giving helpful answers, enough was enough. With a huge groan he let the rock fall from his hand and splash into the whirlpools at the waterfall’s base. A spray of water hit his face, not that it mattered when he was already soaked, but it left him blinking and gasping, his good arm aching worse than his bad one.

“I can start throwing knives instead of rocks, if that would motivate you more?” Ozma called out.

Before she could make good on that, Quentin leapt. Tempest Rush! The sudden burst of moment carried him across the lake in a blur of red, gathering up the water underfoot into a whirling current that circled around him.

“Don’t you dare or-”

But it was too late. He was the Chosen of the Gods, and he dared.

He landed with a thunderous splash, the sphere of water dissolving as the scarlet energy collapsed, sending a massive wave rushing outwards. Ozma barely shut her mouth in time to avoid swallowing half the lake.

She was left soaked, her braided hair dripping down around those beautiful gold eyes. The genuine shock took a moment to fade. “Have I not been clear I already want to stab you?”

“I mean, have you? I haven’t been taking it personally.” Quentin was shirtless, stripped down to his pants, and grabbed a rag to clean himself up.

So far he was surprisingly comfortable with the fact he was living in someone else’s body. A lifetime of avoiding gym class and reading in quiet corners had left him out of touch with his own, and now he had lucked into the lean, ripped physique of someone who had lived every day by hunting. To him it was a win win.

But every once in a while he’d forget, and there was a moment of confusion when he reached for something and saw someone else’s hand pick it up.

“What kind of world do you come from, that threatening to stab you isn’t personal enough?” Ozma asked, snatching the towel-rag out of his hands as he paused to stare at them.

“Oh, I dunno. Nice one I guess. No giant dome on the sky.”

“What?” Ozma’s ears twitched on the rare occasions when she actually laughed. It was damn cute. “You’re lying. Everyone would go flying away.”

“Well yeah, but it spun around. Like really, really fast.” Quentin said.

She gave him a doubtful look. Perhaps the most doubtful look, and her history of doubting Quentin started at his ability to breathe and walk at the same time.

“Hey, it was a weird place, but that was the most normal thing about it. This whole flat earth situation you’ve got going on, now that’s weird.” Quentin said.

“Don’t try to tell me yours wasn’t flat. Don’t even try.” Ozma shook her head.

“Well, if we’re being held on the spinning, it wouldn’t matter where we were standing. We could be on the top, on the bottom, and wherever we were, down would still be beneath us. Right?”

“Wrong. Wrong in so many ways.” But she was laughing again.

Quentin slipped on a fresh shirt, and stepped behind a tree to change out his pants. “So, why don’t we stop by your tribe? You could say your goodbyes and-”

There was a sharp thwock as a knife hit the opposite side of the tree. Quentin paused, and carefully considered what he said next. “Sorry. I, uhm… Things aren’t good with your tribe, huh?”

“It would be better if they thought I was dead than serving as some human boy’s lackey.” Another knife thudded into the wood. Thud was good. Thud meant a softer throw and a slightly less pissed-off Ozma. “Gods or no, I was meant to win that fight, Nak.”

Clippy had taken shelter in the collar of his shirt, her wings tickling his chin.

“Let me explain something to you, Nak. A long time ago, there was a Dungeon, and my people were born out of it. It was a time when these mountains were ruled by the savage races. Then humans came.” A third throw, barely a thwang as it impacted the tree behind him. Things were slowly cooling down on the Ozma-Knife scale of anger.

“That boar? That was a Core-Beast. Once every decade or so, one is born. If they ever lived long enough they’d be able to grow a Dungeon around themselves. And we’d be safe. But every time, the humans hunt it down. We don’t even bother to really fight back anymore, Nak. We just send our best warrior to die with honor.

And I got knocked down. By a fucking...” When he dared to peek around the edge of the tree, she was winding up. He ducked back in a hurry. “Boot!

THWOCK.

Four. He counted for throws, and she only had four knives. So now was the time to open his big, fat mouth.

“Well, I’m glad you’re alive. Dying honorably doesn’t sound that different from just dying.” Quentin said.

She snorted. “Would you have spared that idiot too, if he had a pretty face?”

Quentin came up short of a witty reply. His mouth moved, but no sound came out.

“For the record, I would’ve killed you if I’d won. I didn’t know you then.” Ozma said.

“Yeah, I know.” Quentin said, and then paused. “So now that you know me…”

“I'd bury you alive Quentin. In an anthill.”

“Ah.”

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NoDragons

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