An elderly man wearing a black robe approached the platform and the stern-looking woman gestured for the five recruits to follow him. A moment later, they vanished behind a small wooden door to the left of the stairs.
Then she turned her attention back to the hall and said, “Our weapon master and his apprentices will help you in picking a weapon that will suit your assigned role. While you will be tempted to pick something you’re familiar with, do consider their advice because they’ve studied the results of your evaluations beforehand trying to figure out what’s best for you.”
“Most of you probably already have some experience in fighting, but monsters aren’t humans. Never forget that.” A hint of bitterness could be heard in her voice, but she took a deep breath and continued in her normal tone. “Till the top recruits return with their new weapons you’re free to discuss what you learned, but please remain in your seats.”
After leaving the stand, she joined the other council members and they started talking among themselves. Right away, the hall started buzzing with conversations and Ari wished Elijah was back already, even though he was still mad at his careless behavior. To pass the time, he tried to eavesdrop on a nearby group when he heard them discussing some kind of experimental ranged weapon. But before he was able to learn anything useful, the sound of a door being slammed echoed through the hall and all the recruits turned their heads toward the source of it.
The rusty-headed girl trotted merrily down the aisle between the benches and everyone gaped at the weapon she carried over her shoulder. The frightfully large scythe stretched about a meter above her head, its wooden handle black as night. Green runes glowed brightly on the sharp-looking black blade and when Ari tried to focus on them, he recoiled instantly as if he was cut. The girl held the weapon nonchalantly like it weighed nothing and he was astounded by her strength. Wasn’t she classified as a Master? How can she even lift that thing?
“Did I miss anything?”
Ari jumped in his seat, startled when a hand fell on his shoulder. He hadn’t even noticed when Elijah entered the hall. Despite his weight, he moves like a ghost. I couldn’t even hear his footsteps. His friend held a red leather scabbard and Ari wanted to ask about it, but the woman’s voice interrupted him.
“To increase the pace, from now on you will be going to the armory in groups of ten. Recruits in positions from number six to fifteen, it’s your turn,“ she said, but this time she remained at the stand and observed the hall. Ten figures stood instantly from their seats, hurrying towards the platform, but Ari turned his attention to the weapon Elijah received.
Both the handle and its scabbard were deep red, eerily similar to the color of blood. The weapon was longer than an average sword, but not enough to be called a two-handed one. A bastard sword. While he never used one himself, it was his father’s favorite weapon type — only he wielded two of them at once.
Elijah unsheathed the sword and passed it to Ari. The blade itself was rather plain, save for a burning rose engraved above the guard. A faint red glow was visible all over it and he felt the strength of essence condensed inside.
“Woah… It’s amazing!” Ari whispered.
“I know, right?” Elijah replied with pride. He sat straight, his head held high and all recruits around them looked at the sword with greed in their eyes.
“But there’s something else I’ve learned,” he paused as if waiting for Ari to ask about it. But when he didn’t, the chubby man sighed and continued, “Send your essence to the sword, but only a strand of it.”
Ari raised his eyebrow and did as the man requested, but nothing happened and he gave Elijah a questioning look.
The man put a hand on his forehead. “Ah, I forgot. You have to close your eyes too,” he said and flashed a smile.
Ari shook his head and sent another strand of essence into the sword, this time with his eyes closed, and something appeared in his mind.
|Affinity: Fire||Rank: Opal 4|
|Passive: Increases the damage of fire spells by 20%|
|Passive: Increases the essence cost of fire spells by 10%|
|Active: Flames engulf the sword and the bonuses are doubled, but essence is consumed constantly at an increased rate.|
Ari marveled at the enchantment the sword had, but he noticed right away that it came with a hefty downside — while it made fire spells more powerful, the essence cost of using them also increased. This made him wonder if all enchanted weapons had a similar drawback.
“But how is it possible?” Ari asked.
“It’s the necklace they gave us. It’s enchanted too and this allows us to identify items.”
“Really? Why didn't they—”
“Recruits in positions one hundred seventy-six to one hundred eighty-five, please come forward,” the woman said.
“It’s your turn, good luck!” Elijah pushed Ari out of the bench.
Ari glared at him but hadn’t said anything and he hurried after the rest of the recruits, who were already near the platform. He followed them and entered through the wooden door into a narrow hallway, which was bare, except for candle holders hanging on the walls. Ari’s brows furrowed and he wondered why they didn't use lamps like everywhere else. The recruits in front of him already vanished down the staircase at the end of the hallway and he increased his pace to catch up. But he had to slow down when he neared the stairs because of how steep they were.
Finally, he passed a heavy door, stepping into a brightly lit room and he looked around, amazed. Massive ornamented chandeliers hung from the stone ceiling every few meters or so and his nose wrinkled from the acrid smell of hundreds if not thousands of burning candles. There were rows upon rows of racks, filled with every weapon one could think of and Ari felt like he was in a maze rather than in an armory. The other recruits were already approached by men and women in black robes and their voices were full of excitement as they described what kind of weapon they would like to get.
A similarly clothed bald man, with a thick gray beard hanging down his chest joined Ari near the door. There was a large block of paper in one of his hands and a pen in another. He said something, but Ari was too dazed to understand his words.
The man narrowed his eyes and more wrinkles appeared on his face. “Number?”
“Huh?” Ari looked at him, his expression puzzled.
“Tell me your position number in the ranking, kid. There are two hundred other recruits waiting for their turn,” the man grumbled impatiently.
Ari blushed and replied, “One hundred eighty-two.”
He tapped his pen on the block and said in a more neutral tone, “Sadly, there are no unranked enchants that could support someone with a nature affinity. Do you have an element you prefer to use more than others?”
“Water,” Ari answered right away. He didn’t really have a choice since two of his three spells were water-based.
The bald man nodded and led Ari deeper into the room. “You’re classified as Wildcard, but both your roles are support oriented. In that case, I would advise against choosing a melee weapon. Have you ever used a bow before?”
Ari shook his head, “No. I fought with a stave mostly.”
The man tsked at Ari disapprovingly and muttered something under his breath. While they walked, Ari gawked at the racks around him, but none of the weapons he saw was as exquisite as the sword or the scythe and soon his excitement was replaced by disappointment. Even the essence he felt from the racks was much thinner and weaker. Guess there’s a big difference between unranked and opal… I wonder what an emerald ranked weapon looks like.
When they reached the other end of the room, the racks were replaced by cabinets with various staves and scepters. Some were plain, looking no different than a common stick, but others had small colorless gems placed on their top.
The bald man turned towards Ari and said, “Sadly, you’ve got only two choices. A staff or a scepter.”
“But aren’t they close combat weapons too?” Ari mimicked whacking someone with his stave.
The man rolled his eyes, and both the pen and paper vanished from his hand. He picked one of the smaller scepters from a nearby cabinet and aimed the weapon at the ceiling above him. The scepter's gem began to emit a dull light and blue-red lightning bolt shot from it with a resounding crack. His mouth hung open, Ari stared as a fracture appeared in the ceiling, spreading into a spider web of fine lines. Then, a fist-sized stone broke off and he jumped to the side to avoid being hit.
He glared at the bald man, but he just smirked back at him, “Still find it funny?”
Ari ignored him and instead focused on the hole above, wondering how it was possible. If there are weapons who can shoot lightning I wouldn’t feel so useless when there’s no water around… His brows creased, when he noticed the cracks started disappearing and even the hole filled itself with stone. After a few moments, the ceiling returned to its previous state as if nothing happened.
“What…” Ari stammered.
The bald man put the scepter back and looked thoughtfully at Ari. “There are wards placed around the room which absorb every source of pure essence and feed it to the walls and weapons. If not for them, the enchants would be depleted a long time ago.”
So this is why there are no lamps here. Worry crossed his face and he reached to his pocket, searching for one of his chips and he let a breath of relief when it was still glowing.
The bald man laughed. “Don’t worry, they aren’t affected by the wards.” His smile vanished abruptly a moment later. “But you’re not here for a warding lesson and if we won’t hurry, I fear the headmistress will be furious. You already saw what she does when she’s merely annoyed.”
“Headmistress?” Ari asked.
“Islanders,” the man sighed. “That’s what the head of the council in an outpost is called.”
Her. Ari gulped as he recalled the stern-looking woman who subdued nearly the whole hall with her essence. He nodded hastily and asked, “What’s the difference between a scepter and staff?”
The man’s face brightened and all his wrinkles vanished. “Glad someone finally asked that question. The difference lies in the amount of essence you can pour into them. While staff can hold more of it before discharging, it’s harder to control. And with your rank, you will be able only to use it a few times before emptying your reserves. But with a scepter, the essence burst — as we call it — is weaker and you can use it more often.”
Ari’s forehead creased. The lightning bolt was strong enough to destroy an imbued stone ceiling and he wondered how the staff would fare against it.
“I know what you’re thinking. ”The man shook his head. “Sadly, with your rank even if you used a staff, your burst wouldn't look like mine. Not only its form is affected by your affinity, but also its power will be limited by your control over the essence.”
He opened one of the larger cabinets to his left and pulled out a gnarly looking staff. “Here, try it. Just pour your essence into the weapon and see what happens.”
Ari took the staff and gripped it with both hands tightly, aiming at the ceiling. At first, when he sent only a strand into the wood, the translucent gem at the top barely changed its color. But then, something inside of him stirred and a torrent of essence flooded the staff. The gem brightened instantly and a shaft of blue-silver light discharged out of it, crashing into the ceiling.
Dust fell from it, obscuring Ari’s vision, but when it cleared out there wasn’t even a scratch left on the stone and he breathed hard with disappointment. This is useless. He wasted nearly a third of his essence and it did nothing.
The bald man waved his hand, trying to remove the specks of dust from his black robe. “Well, looks like in your case it doesn’t even have a form yet.” When he noticed Ari’s sullen face he added, “You did well. That attack would have instantly killed most of the lower-ranked monsters.”
“Really?” Ari asked with his eyes wide.
The bald man nodded. “Still, how much essence have you used?”
“That’s too much. I think you should pick a scepter for now, at least till you raise your mind attribute to increase your reserve size.”
That piqued Ari’s interest and he cocked his head. It was the first time he heard what one of the attributes did and he wanted to know more. “How can I do it?”
“I’m afraid this is not the time for that. Your team mentor will explain everything,” the bald man said.
Mentor? Ari barely stopped himself from asking what he meant. The man was right, he already spent here at least a few minutes and drawing the headmistress ire was the last thing he needed right now.
The bald man approached one of the smaller cabinets and picked up a small scepter. The handle was made out of some kind of dark metal and the white gem on top had a tinge of blue to it. He passed the weapon to Ari, who raised his brows when he touched it. It’s so cold. This scepter looked different from the rest as if it was made out of higher quality materials and even the essence he felt from it was denser.
“I think this one should suit your spells. You can identify it by...”
But Ari already closed his eyes and the weapon description appeared in his mind.
|Affinity: Water||Rank: Unranked 3|
|Passive: Decreases the essence cost of water spells by 10%|
|Active: Turns the water you touch into ice. Limited area and duration.|
While the passive enchantments weren’t as powerful as the ones on Elijah’s sword, they still would benefit him, especially the cost reduction — to summon the spider he needed to use nearly a fifth of his essence. But when he read the active skill, a frown appeared on his forehead and he asked, “What is ice?”
The man just stared back at him for a few long seconds, before he laughed heartily. “Islanders. I forgot you don’t have snow there at all. But I won’t spoil the surprise and you will have to find it out by yourself,” he chuckled. “Are you satisfied with your new weapon?”
Ari nodded as he recalled the fight with the wolves. With this weapon, he would be able to support his summon from a distance. But… The last wolf managed to jump on Ari and the only thing that saved him was the stave. He doubted that he would be able to hold a monster back with the small scepter, but an idea appeared in his head.
“Can I get a shield too?” Ari asked suddenly.
The bald man folded his arms across his chest and made a thoughtful face. “Usually we only allow recruits with the Defender role to pick a weapon and a shield, but considering your supportive role I think I can make an exception. But we have to make it quick, follow me please.”
They headed back to the entrance and Ari noticed that at least two other recruits were still choosing their weapons. At least I’m not the last one. A small blonde boy, who couldn’t be older than fifteen, was arguing with a plump robed woman. Deep frowns were visible on her forehead and she looked with pleading eyes at the bald man.
But he just nodded at her, leading Ari further to a different section of the room which was filled with hundreds of differently sized shields. He looked Ari up and down and pulled a round wooden shield off the wall and handed it to him. Its metallic boss was black and the Order’s golden snake was painted over it.
“Its quality is lower than the scepter, but it should do the job,” he said.
The shield was sturdy but also lighter than Ari expected. He wasted no time and closed his eyes to check the enchantment.
|Affinity: None||Rank: Unranked 5|
|Passive: Decreases the shield weight by 15%|
It doesn’t even have a name. Ari thought, a bit disappointed. But it’s better than nothing.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling.
“No problem,” the bald man replied, returning the smile. “Now, off you go.” He turned around and started walking toward the pair they passed a moment ago. The blonde boy was screaming at the robed woman now, his cheeks red and he looked like a small angry tomato. She was on the verge of crying, but relief appeared on her face when she noticed the bald man approaching them.
Ari didn’t envy the boy and while he was curious about what would happen next, he dared not linger any longer. He hurried to the entrance, carrying his spoils with pride. During the conversation with the weapon master, he felt like a kid again and he forgot about everything else. Now, with a set jaw and a determined look in his eyes, he walked back towards the great hall.