“What am I missing?” Ari whispered. He sat cross-legged on the floor and stared at the water spider, tapping his finger to his chin like he was deep in thought.
The spider stared back silently. Its eight shiny eyes were set in two rows — the four in the top row were larger while the rest reminded him of little droplets of water. There was sadness in them as if the summon understood his master’s growing frustration.
Ari heard a groan and then a crash behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder. Elijah lay sprawled on the wooden floor. Again. Tasia helped him up, and they took their positions before starting another bout. They sparred against each other for the better part of the hour, and the woman won most of the time.
Tasia insisted on fighting using their weapons, instead of the wooden ones. Ari had to heal them a few times already, but he agreed with her reasoning that sparring without the risk would only get them so far. Still, the woman avoided using the poleaxe, and she had yet to explain what it was exactly. While Ari was curious about the weapon, he understood that sharing a secret doesn’t come lightly and decided not to press her about it. At least for now.
Killian and Roisin hadn’t arrived yet, and it was only the three of them in the training hall. Well, four. Ari sighed and turned his attention back to the spider. He floated some water away from the nearby barrel and formed it into a small ball. The summon's eyes followed the projectile as it splashed against the stone dummy a moment later. He spent the last hour doing that, but it seemed it was not enough for Osmosis to activate.
Earlier, Ari shot a few water projectiles at the spider, but his summon started looking meekly at him even though the water did no damage as its body absorbed it. Still, he stopped doing that, because it seemed it wouldn’t work either.
He also tried to freeze the water but without success. On the bright side, he learned how to melt the chunks of ice he created using the scepter. Thanks to this, his Control Water spell leveled up a few times already.
Ari sighed again and closed his eyes to check the essence sheet.
|Rank: None||Progress: 38%||Affinity: Nature|
|Attributes (0 unspent points)|
|Body: 19||Mind: 19||Spirit (+20%): 24 (20)|
|Rune of Summoning
|Summon Lesser Water Elemental - level 6||Osmosis - level 1|
|Summon Lesser Fire Elemental - level 7||Summoner's Bond - level 8|
|Mental Link - level 4|
|Rune of Spring|
|Healing Touch - level 7||Fast Recovery - level 9|
|Healing Mist - level 1|
|Control Water - level 9|
Ari already spent the five attributes points he received after the last dungeon—two to body and mind, and one into spirit—but the difference was negligible. He felt stronger than a week ago when his attributes were much lower, but one or two points barely changed anything.
Instead, he wondered if something would happen after a spell rose to level ten. In Elijah’s books, the various systems, whatever they were, loved even numbers. And sometimes the skills changed whenever such a threshold was reached. At least that's what his friend told him last night when they talked about them.
“Maybe it’s not working because it’s not a spell.” Elijah’s voice brought him back from his reverie.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Ari asked.
Elijah leaned heavily against his sword, and the rose above the pommel burned with fire. “Your spell is called Control Water, right?” After Ari nodded, he continued, “And you’re trying to teach the summon the water bullets, but they aren’t really a spell. It’s just you using the water.”
Ari pondered this for a few seconds before saying, “I think I know what you’re trying to say, but the summon learned a spell similar to the one the skeleton used. It wasn’t exactly the same thing because he could absorb and use various elements.”
“You know that it was his wand that was enchanted with the spell, right?” Tasia said after she finished drinking from her canteen. “This is why I was searching for it because we could sell that thing for tons of orbs.”
“It was?” Ari’s brows rose.
Tasia nodded. “Not all brands are combat-oriented. Some allow you to enchant items either with random properties or transfer a spell into one.” She gulped another mouthful and wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “Of course, there are various restrictions and rules, but that’s the basics of it.”
“Is your pole—weapon the same?” Elijah asked, correcting himself when the woman glared at him.
Tasia sighed, “It’s something different.”
If it’s not an enchanted weapon, then what is it? Ari wondered, recalling the aura he felt both from Tasia and her weapon. Even the woman’s hair changed after she summoned it. Summoned. The word echoed in his mind. She spoke an incantation before the poleaxe appeared, similar to the ones he needed to say to summon his creatures. What if those two are somehow connected?
He wanted to ask about it, but then the door opened with a click, and Roisin entered the room with Killian in tow.
“Look what I found wandering outside,” the blonde mentor said, play-slapping the archer’s back. She cast her eyes about the training hall, and a broad smile curved her lips.
Killian sighed, walked over to the wardrobe, and hung his cloak inside. Then, he sat on the couch and started oiling one of his bowstrings. Elijah joined him and said a few words, but the archer’s only response was a nod.
“Why the gloomy mood?” Roisin asked when she noticed the frown on Ari’s face.
“I’m trying to make my spell work, but it’s harder than I thought,” he replied. “Somehow, my squirrel received a skill mid-combat with the skeleton. I’m pretty sure that the element of the spell must match the one of the summon, so fire to fire on so on. But now I’m trying to teach something to the water spider, but it’s just not working.” His shoulders slumped after he finished.
Roisin approached them and sat beside the spider. She carefully touched its large rune-marked abdomen, and when the creature turned toward her with its eyes gleaming, she chirped, “Who’s a good little spider?” She continued to caress its body, and the spider’s fangs clattered livelily. “Your stupid master doesn’t understand a spell, and now he’s angry at you. Maybe you should wet his bed next time, that would show him.”
Tasia chuckled at her remark, and Ari scowled and glared at the two women. “You’re not helping.”
“Probably it’s not working because you are the problem.” A piece of cloth appeared in Roisin’s hands, and she wiped the wetness out of them.
“What do you mean?” Ari asked.
“I’ve never heard of a Master who could teach new spells to his summons, but if your squirrel learned it from a monster, maybe that’s the requirement.” When Ari gave her a blank, confused look, she sighed, “An outside source of essence.”
Right. I hadn’t thought of that. But if he needed monsters to teach his summons new spells, this would make things a lot harder. What if… “Do you know anyone with a water affinity?” Ari asked suddenly, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice.
“Why?” Roisin asked, but then realization dawned on her face. “Ohhh. Finally, you’re making use of your brain. I think I know someone you will like,” she added with a slight wince.
Somehow, just somehow, Ari felt like he walked into a trap the woman set, but he had no choice. Osmosis could make his summons much stronger, and he needed to understand the spell. “When can I meet him?”
“Her,” Roisin corrected him. “I will invite her to join us tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? Ari was a little dejected and somewhat irritated. He thought he would be able to teach the spider a spell before entering the next dungeon. He let out a sigh and said, “We would like to enter another rift as soon as possible. We discussed it last night, and we need to start doing missions to gear—”
“Sure, we can go now,” Roisin interrupted him with a wave of her hand.
“What?” Tasia blurted out.
“Why are you so surprised?” Roisin put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side. “You’re doing great, and the last dungeon only showed that. There are already five teams who finished the three dungeons, and one of them needs a partner for their first mission.”
“Partner? For what?” Elijah asked.
“We can’t let you just run off and get a poor merchant killed because of your incompetence.” She paused and narrowed her eyes at Killian. “Or the lack of people skills.”
The brown-haired boy ignored her and kept his eyes on the bow and strings. Roisin shook her head in disappointment as if saying ‘see what I mean?’
She sighed and said, “On your first mission, you will be sent as a team of eight, and two mentors will keep an eye on you from a safe distance. Usually, a mission like that revolves around hunting monsters outside of the rifts. But, enough of this. Gather your things and move your asses.”
While his teammates started donning their cloaks, Ari closed the lid back on the barrel beside him. Then, he placed his hand on it and thought of the word store. When he opened his eyes, the barrel vanished. He repeated the process with the other barrel too, and now his void ring contained enough water for him not to worry about it. With his increased reserve and essence recovery, he was now able to summon his spider at least ten times with the amount of water he had stored.
But there was one problem — with just the two barrels inside, the ring was already at half of its maximum capacity. When he asked about it, Tasia told him that space inside the ring was limited, and larger items took more than one slot. He stored his scepter inside too and turned to face Roisin. “Ready,” he said with a smile.
A carriage waited outside of the outpost, and Ari was grateful they wouldn’t need to walk on foot to the dungeon because the weather was terrible today. Rain poured down from the sky, and the wind howled, penetrating their clothing, soaking them to the skin in a matter of seconds. Ari didn’t envy the driver, who sat atop the cabin. The man wore a big black raincoat and a hat with a large brim. Most of his face was covered with a scarf, revealing only his full of hatred eyes as he stared at the recruits.
The streets were deserted, and only other carriages traveled along them. It seemed that the rest of the town took shelter inside their houses until the downpour passed. They reached the north gate a few minutes later, but there they had to wait for the portcullis to rise. After the carriage passed beneath it, the guards lowered it again and even closed the gate behind them. A frown appeared on Ari’s face when he noticed that.
“It’s because of the Gloomlings,” Tasia said. She sat on the couch opposite Ari, along with Roisin and Killian. This time, the carriage was larger, and they had far more space inside.
“Gloomlings?” Ari asked.
“They’re monsters that appear in this kind of weather and try to use it to get inside the towns,” Tasia said and shuddered. “Nasty little things. You barely can see them, and when you do, it’s often too late. Even opal ranked members need to be wary of them.”
“And we’re leaving the town right now?” Elijah said. His voice quivered, and he sounded a little scared. “What if they attack us?” He paused and glanced at the ornamented ceiling before adding, “Or the poor driver?”
“You wanted it,” Roisin replied with a shrug. “We can always go back if you’re scared.”
Elijah opened his mouth but closed it immediately without uttering a word. His brows creased as he peered out of the window, but Ari doubted he was able to see anything in the weather. For the rest of the ride, nobody said anything, and only the drumming of the rain against the roof interrupted the silence.
Finally, after well over an hour, the carriage came to a stop, and they got off. The drenched driver hid inside the cabin, muttering something about utter fools and locked the door from inside.
The rain turned into a drizzle, but the ground outside was soggy, and after taking a few steps, Ari’s boots were covered in mud. He sighed and looked around. The carriage stopped in the middle of the forest in front of a long-abandoned outhouse. A narrow path meandered beside it, and that’s where Roisin led the team.
Carefully watching their steps to avoid slipping on the wet ground, they ventured down the path. Nobody talked as they observed the trees surrounding them, searching for any movement. Once or twice, Ari almost lost his footing, but he nimbly recovered in time.
Soon, he smelled it. The familiar foul smell of rot, sickness, and death. He knew they were close now. His stomach squirmed, but he suppressed the feeling and focused on the path in front of him.
They reached the first dead tree a minute later. It was rotten and twisted as if something broke out from inside of the trunk. But to Ari’s surprise, there were only a few of them closeby.
The rift shimmered in the distance, and its swirling tendrils spread out far away from it. They tried to grasp at something. At anything. But there was nothing. At least fifty meters in every direction was affected by the rift’s poisonous influence, and all the trees closer to it were just... gone. The ground was blackened as if devoured by fire, and smoke wafted from it.
“Why is the area so large this time?” Ari whispered.
“This forest is a border between Bourfall and Marlow territories, and neither us or them cared enough to close it earlier,” Roisin replied in a hushed voice. The compass-like detector appeared in her hands, and she looked at the map hovering above it. “The rift appeared nearly two weeks ago by my guess.”
“But why would they let it spread?” Elijah asked.
Roisin ignored his questions, and her eyes darted left and right. “I will return to the carriage to guard it. Go straight there when you close the rift. Do you have everything?” They nodded, and the essence around the woman flared. “Good, then follow me.”
The warmth of her aura pushed the sickly-looking tendrils away and allowed them to disregard the rift’s influence. Before they stepped inside, Ari nodded toward his teammates, but he hadn’t said anything. There was nothing to say. They knew they had to close the rift. This was their responsibility now. Gripping their weapons tightly, they took a few more steps and vanished from this world.