Looking over my shoulder, I make my way towards the front of the village.
I was expecting my mother to burst into the house as I was preparing to leave and demand that I stay, but she never showed up. Now I'm paranoid she'll spring up out of nowhere to claim my soul when I least expect it.
The strap of my axe starts to slip from my shoulder as I keep my head on a swivel, and I'm forced to adjust it for the millionth time. It'll only become more annoying after I start my run.
I hear a sudden crashing noise off to my left, causing me to hop in fright like a rabbit.
I’m relieved to see it’s just a villager setting down a heavy crate outside his house. I thought it might have been mother charging through a building at me like a rampaging monster. I chuckle at the idea of mom staring in an old Godzilla movie. Scanning for witnesses, I hope no one saw me jump like that.
“But in all seriousness, where is she?” The smile slips from my face as I near the village’s entrance. I know she’s probably mad at me for using one of my skills on her, but she wouldn’t let me leave the village without saying goodbye, would she?
The thought of leaving the village without saying goodbye to my mother and father leaves a hollow feeling in my chest.
I contemplate turning around and heading home to find them when Sense Mana picks up familiar mana signatures clustered together just outside of the village proper.
Rounding a small bend, I hesitate and reduce my speed when I see mother, father, master, Camden, and his family, waiting for me together in a group. Master is the first to notice me, but it doesn't take long for the rest to see my slow approach.
Seeing everyone’s complicated looks twists my insides into a knot. Many of them don’t want me to leave the village but know I’m the best one to reach Drey quickly without drawing too much attention.
No one says anything as I get closer. I make eye contact with each of them until I lock eyes with mother, who's watching me with a look of cold indifference.
Her lack of anger surprises me so much I can't help but freeze mid-stride.
As soon as I stop walking forward, mother decides to close the distance herself.
Mother doesn’t betray a hint of emotion as she nears me. I can’t help but think this is how a volcano looks before it erupts without warning.
When she's a few feet away from me, I shut my eyes and brace for the worst tongue lashing of my life.
Only, instead of scolding me as I deserve, I feel mother gently wrap her arms around me and pull me into a hug.
“I can be mad at you when you get back. I just want you to promise me you’ll be safe.” Mother whispers in my ear.
My body untenses when I finally realize she isn’t going to yell at me. I bring my arms up and match her hug. “I promise,” I whisper back to her.
I look over mom’s shoulder and see everyone slowly making their way over to us. They all look just as surprised as I am that my mother isn't trying to strangle me right now.
Mother lessens her grip on me but remains glued to my side as father walks over and gives me a quick hug as well. “Do you have everything you need?” He asks.
"I have enough food for a round trip in case I can't get anything in the city. I have my axe, and I borrowed one of your extra knives." Father nods as I assure him I have everything I need.
“Take this,” Camden hands me a piece of parchment with a small seal on the bottom of it. “You probably won’t need it, but it will verify you’re a member of our village if you’re stopped for any reason.” I nod in understanding and secure it in one of my deeper pockets that seals with a button.
Looking around at everyone, I want to lighten the mood with a joke, but I get the feeling it would only have the opposite effect.
If I draw out my leaving any longer, I might not follow through with my own plan. The love and concern that I feel from everyone is a blessing and a curse simultaneously. If I let myself fall into their bubble of safety, I'll never strike out on my own again.
I carefully peel mother away from me to her disappointment and back up a few steps to get a good look at everybody. It's the same group that saw me off to Drey the first time, only the crowd of villagers is missing, and this time master was able to come and see me off with everyone else.
I need to leave now, I repeat in my head.
"Thanks for coming to see me off again," I slightly bow my head in respect to everyone. "I'll be back as soon as I can." I give a quick wave and turn to the forest path leading out of the village before I can change my mind.
"Be safe," I hear everyone say as one.
I take up a running position, and with a burst of Strength, I rocket down the dirt bath, barely hearing the cries of surprise from behind me. I give one last look over my shoulder to see the dust cloud I kicked up. Trees blur past me, and the village disappears from my sight.
I did it!
My heart is beating a million miles a minute as I take off through the forest by myself. No Kervin to escort me and no Reel to secretly shadow me. From here on out, everything falls on me.
“That reminds me,” I pull back on my speed as to not waste my Stamina. I'm still running quite fast, but I'm keeping a good pace that won't take a toll on me in the long run.
I set aside the complicated feelings regarding my loved ones that I left behind and allow myself to lose myself in the run. I’m matching the same speed I was running at when I tried returning to the village by myself. But this time, my Strength and Dexterity have increased by over 10% since then, and my Stamina pool has never been larger.
I dial back Mana Skin to save on mana while I focus my senses on my surroundings. I’m still paranoid after everything that’s happened lately, and I keep Sense Mana stretched to its limits to give me a full 360° view of my surroundings and a decent look at anything hidden in the trees.
The world flashes by as I maintain a speed a horse would be jealous of.
A part of me expected to be ambushed as soon as I left the village but as I pass one hour...
Four hours of running…
The danger I just assumed to befall me never comes.
I don't drop my guard, but I can feel my body loosen up a bit more, and I can better enjoy the fantastic feeling of running fast.
Mother jogs with me every morning, but I can't go all out like this when I'm with her or confine myself to the village.
"The dashing knight Aaliyah sprints to Castle Drey to rescue the fair maiden Sandra and her mount, the mule Richard," I cheer to myself as I leap over a divot in the forest path that's filled with mud.
My first real quest.
It also helps that I'll also be the first to see Sandra and Richard after five years. I wonder if they've changed much since I last saw them? By fifteen, people mostly stop maturing, but a person can change even after their body has typically stopped growing when you factor in a change of stats.
Sandra was studying to be a mage, so I'm sure she's gained plenty of levels, and I don't see Richard allowing himself to fall too far behind his beloved. Average villagers are around level 35, so if the two of them haven't grown at least that much since I last saw them, then I’ll be disappointed.
I can’t wait to talk to Sandra about magic again. She can tell me how she learned new spells, and I can bounce ideas off of her on making engraving ink.
I can’t help but snickering to myself when I think about telling her I’m teaching myself how to engrave runic magic.
Brother got a job as a builder in the city under Salus' friend, and I bet he's learned a bunch. Well, he better have; brother promised to build his girl a mage’s tower, and I won’t see him try and weasel his way out of it.
The thought of finally seeing my friend, and to a lesser degree, my brother again after so long, causes me to subconsciously push myself a little bit faster.
The slight shift in my speed causes me to misstep, and my enhanced senses let me watch as my right foot is about to land straight in a puddle of mud. Even though my light application of Mana Skin will keep me from getting dirty, it won't stop the mud from forming a seal around my protected leg.
I may be strong and agile but getting my foot caught at these speeds is sure to hurt.
In a split second, I realize what's about to happen; I channel my mana down towards my right foot. I reinforce Mana Skin around my right leg to the point it's like I'm wearing a second boot of mana.
My mana clad foot starts sinking into the muck as my left leg extends in front of me. I need to push off with my right foot, but the mud is still holding onto Mana Skin.
Only the bottom half of my boot is stuck in the mud, and in the heat of the moment, I try something new.
I reabsorb the top part of my mana boot and use the mana still underneath my feet as a platform. My last-ditch effort pays off, and by sacrificing part of my mana to maintain the foothold, I'm able to launch myself like I'm stepping on solid ground.
No, it feels more stable than the ground I'm used to running on. I slow myself down and eventually stop. Looking back in the direction of the puddle of mud I left behind me, my brain slowly processes what I just did.
I created a platform out of mana that was more solid than some types of rock, and it wasn't on a solid surface.
A lesser person might think that they discovered a new way to create a better running path and increase their speed, but my 21 first century mind immediately found a better use for this method of running!
I take off back down the road trying to pick up as much speed as I can, my Stamina pool be damned.
“I need to try that again before I forget the feeling!”
Through the trees, I can see the trail straighten out a bit up ahead and decide that's where I'll try it.
I channel a great deal of my mana to my two feet as I round the bend, preparing for what I’m about to try. I have a straight shot forward for nearly a hundred feet, and I'm going to take the opening.
Reforming the mana boot on my right leg, I lightly push off the ground, intending to rise a few feet into the air. I quickly form another mana boot around my left foot and ready myself.
My body arches through the air, and as soon as I feel my body start to sink. I thrust out my left foot and dissolve the top part of my mana boot. In one quick movement, I push my left foot up against the mana skin barrier underneath it and rocket myself higher.
I bring my right foot out in front of me and again push off my mana, allowing me to run through the air!
A sense of euphoria comparable to what I felt when I killed the soul eater erupts from my very being as I realize I’m flying with yet another successful step.
A new skill manifests inside my soul space, and I feel a small rush of experience, meaning a few of my skills must have leveled up at the same time.
"This is the best moment of my life!" I scream out. "Oh shit!" I stumble as my concentration breaks, and in slow motion, I feel myself tumbling to the forest floor below. Grabbing the strap to my axe, I fling my weapon off my back before I land.
I hit the ground hard, and my body naturally starts to roll. I still had a small film of Mana Skin covering the rest of my body, and my 100 Endurance comes in handy as my momentum causes me to roll nearly 30 feet across the muddy ground. My small travel pack comes loose mid slide and goes flying somewhere.
When I finally stop my emergency landing, I flop onto my back and burst out laughing.
I don’t care how nervous I was to leave the village.
I don’t care a voice in the back of my head is yelling at me for leaving myself exposed like this.
All my troubles become meaningless compared to the joy I’m feeling inside.
I quickly pull up my status page.
LV: 72 Experience: 860,390/ 911,219
Status Points: 0
Meditation (LV78), Running (LV76), Blacksmithing (LV69), Hammer Skills (LV57), Axe Skills (LV55), Cleaning (LV51), Chanting (LV50), Mining (LV48), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV42), Cooking (LV39), Dagger Skills (LV31), Wood Carving (LV31), Acting (LV31), Sword Skills (LV31), Sewing (LV24), Pugilist Skills (LV4), Spear Skills (LV2), Alchemy (LV2)
Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV61), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV46), Hammer Arts (LV41), Axe Arts (LV36), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Lower Price (LV20), Increase Price (LV17), Steady Hands (LV16), Dagger Arts (LV12), Sword Arts (LV14), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV3),
Expel Mana (LV62), Mana Manipulation (LV60), Precise Strike (LV40), Double Strike (LV40), Weighted Strike (LV37), Flash Step (LV21), Contract (LV5)
Mental Resistance (LV53), Mana Skin (LV53), Inject Mana (LV52), Extract Mana (LV31), Magic Blacksmithing (LV25), Empowered Spell (LV9), Air Walk (LV1)
Sense Soul (LV38), Soul Manipulation (LV6)
Soul Devourer (LV2)
Increased Skill Levels
Running (LV75-76) 7,550exp
Alchemy (LV1-2) 150exp
Shout of Valor (LV2-3) 500exp
Expel Mana (LV62) 9,300exp
Mana Manipulation (LV59-60) 17,850exp
Mana Skin (LV53) 13,250exp
Extract Mana (LV31) 7,750exp
Air Walk (LV1) 250exp
Sense Soul (LV38) 19,000exp
Soul Manipulation (LV5-6) 5,500exp
Skill Experience: 81,100exp
Crafting Experience: 4,916exp
Fighting Experience: 0exp
Total experience Gained: 86,016exp
I didn't level up, but I don't care.
Other than the couple levels in Alchemy I got experimenting making engraving ink, the Shout of Valor skill leveled this morning, and the levels from my soul scaping, every other skill level I just gained at once just now.
Master and my parents have made me take it easy since I woke up from my extended nap with the gods. Other than figuring out the process for making engraving ink, my skill growth has been relatively stagnant.
But all that changed after what I just accomplished. I managed to run through the air!
And I got the skill to prove it, Air walk.
I even made it through the second Running test at level 75. I guess the system considers running through the air an achievement as much as I do.
The mana skills I used to pull off the feat leveled as one, and Mana Manipulation reached level 60, giving me another skill test I’ll need to figure out how to pass.
I lay there basking in the glow of my success until my heart rate returns to normal, and I remember I still have a job to do.
Standing up, I give myself a quick shake to dislodge any dirt or mud still clinging to Mana Skin. I look around and retrieve my pack and axe from where they landed and make sure both are secure.
A part of me wants to try using Air Walk again immediately, but I'm forced to ground myself for the time being.
I only used the skill four times, but it ate up nearly 150 mana. If I was back home safe in the village, I could practice the skill until my Mana pool nears flatlining, but I can't waste my mana while I'm out here all alone.
I reluctantly continue down the forest path, cursing that I got one of the coolest skills ever, and I can't use it. It feels like someone gave me the best Christmas present of my life, and I was told I couldn't play with it until January.
Well, just because I can't use the skill doesn't mean I can't gush over it. While I gradually pick up speed until I'm back at my former pace, I start crunching numbers regarding Air Walk.
I used roughly 150 mana to activate the skill four times; that's 37.5 mana per activation.
If I have a full Mana pool, I can use the skill… Ummm, carry that over, about 22 times.
But that doesn’t take into account outside factors. If I use Air Walk, I would definitely need to have Mana Skin activated to its max capacity in case I suffered an accident.
So, lower the 22 to 19. No, more like 18 to be safe.
I’m sure the skill’s mana cost will lower as I practice it, but until that happens, I only have a minimal number of steps I could take with the skill.
“How far could I get with 18 steps?” I ponder out loud.
If I were back on Earth, 18 steps would be nothing but with my stats; I could propel myself a reasonable distance if I put everything I have into my legs.
Now that I think about it, I haven't really tested how strong I am now. I usually judge my Strength by how long I can swing my hammer, but that isn't a full-body test of Strength. I already limit myself when I run, if I didn’t, I would kick up dirt like I did earlier today, and that just loses me momentum to the loose soil, costing me extra Stamina for no reason.
It’s hard to say how much ground I could clear if I moved in a straight line, with no obstructions, and the ground could adequately support me.
The only place I could possibly test something like that out would be Drey, but I'm not crazy enough to push my luck with a stunt like that. The local lord or army would snatch me up before my feet would even touch the ground.
Damn, all this thinking of testing my limits has me itching to try out my skill again!
I’m forced to hold back my impulses as I continue my run.
Time starts to fly by, and soon I've been running for almost nine hours. I only stopped a handful of times to give my Stamina a chance to recharge when it reached halfway. With how much distance I've cleared, I'm sure I'm close to nearing the halfway point through the forest.
Even I couldn’t predict I would make such great time.
I don't feel all that tired, and I'm sure I could run for a lot longer before I would need to stop for an extended rest.
If I pushed myself and ran through the night, I could probably make it to Drey by sunrise tomorrow, but that would surely leave me exhausted and would endanger my trip back home.
To think, I've reached the point I can run hundreds of miles in a day and still be able to consider the possibility of running even farther.
Being alone with my thoughts has helped me clarify my goals.
My nervousness about being outside the village has almost completely vanished. My dreams of traveling the world are reinforced, and I promise myself to push my boundaries when I return to the village.
I’ll start with the one place I’ve always wanted to explore since the first time I saw it.
The dense magic region in the forest has always been in the back of my head ever since I saw the boundary during the goblin extermination. If creatures like the chameleon spiders live in there year-round, I can't imagine what else lies in its depths.
I can imagine the place teeming with magical plants and ore samples I've never seen before.
No matter how much my parents complain and try to talk me out of it, I make a promise to myself that I’ll go after I forge my new sword.
I smile to myself, just thinking of the adventure, only to be dragged back to reality when I pick up something funky with Sense Mana in the distance.
I skid to a stop and focus on the space a dozen feet in front of me.
Nothing is there to the naked eye, but my superior mana senses clearly see a kaleidoscope of shapes made from mana slowly moving in my direction. Taking a step back, I observe the weird shifting mana in front of me.
Looking side to side, I notice the mass is shaped in a circle, and it’s moving at a steady pace towards me. The mana is random but appears structured in nature. It doesn't appear to affect the plants its encompassing, and it isn't influencing the free-flowing mana in the air either.
So, what to do when you’re faced with something new?
I wait for the sphere of shifting mana to come towards me, and I try reaching my hand out to touch it.
As soon as my hand enters the invisible mana bubble, I feel a pulse of mana come from the center of the construct. The pulse of mana tries to envelop me, fighting against my mana obscuring magic tool I bought from Mr. Grey for superiority.
The mana's pulse weakens significantly thanks to my magic tool and is further reduced when it encounters Mana Skin. I send my own quick pulse of mana that finally destroys the weakened construct.
And just like a bubble, the mana construct in front of me pops but not before I'm able to trace the origin of the mana pulse to someone 100 feet down the road.
Whatever that was, it must have been some sort of spell. Even when the mana pulse tried to cover me, it didn't feel aggressive. Judging by the area covered, it must have been a detection spell of some kind.
Who would be using magic out here?
The face of my only friend pops into my head.
No way, did they?
I slip into the nearby trees and stealthfully make my way towards the spot I sensed the magic originate from. I draw my axe in case I’m wrong, which would mean I’d be dealing with an unknown person using magic that happens to be heading towards our village.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, thinking of the possibility I might need to face my first mage opponent. I’ve practiced dealing with someone swinging a sword or other weapon at me; on the other hand, I’ve never had someone throw a fireball at me.
Skulking through the woods, I eventually come across a cart being pulled by what I assume is a sick bivol. The thing looks like it’s ready to topple over if a strong enough breeze blew through the trees. While the sickly beast of burden is continuing its agonizing trek forward, it's the couple in traveling robes that grab my attention. They're standing next to the cart, scanning their surroundings and arguing at the same time. I have to hold my hand to my mouth to stifle my laughter at the coincidence of it all.
"I thought you said your magic would detect anything bigger than a bird!" I immediately recognize my brother's voice.
“My spell did detect something, only whatever it was somehow canceled it out,” Sandra retorts him without taking her eyes off of the woods.
“Can’t you cast the spell again?” Brother hurriedly suggests.
"Shut up and let me concentrate; I can't do it just by waving my hands around!"
I wonder if I’m watching their first marital strife. Na, knowing brother Sandra has already put him in his place countless times while living together.
I watch Sandra gather her magic towards her hands, preparing to recast her scanning spell. Brother remains close to her, brandishing a large construction hammer.
Both of them don't look that different since I last saw them. Brother is still a hair taller than me, but instead of bulking up like father, his frame is slightly smaller than I remember. I can tell by how he holds his hammer he's invested points in Strength but not as much as I expected. Did he start focusing on his other stats? Why?
Sandra's raven black hair is positively glowing with Vitality, and while brother looks maybe a year or two older, Sandra doesn't look like she's aged since I last saw her.
That’s the power of gaining levels and investing in Vitality.
When someone turns 10, they gain access to their status and start earning more levels as they look for a profession. Most people gain the majority of their levels between the ages of 10 and 25. Even if someone only invests one or two points into Vitality each level, it provides them with the benefits of looking younger longer.
That’s why mother and father only look like they just turned thirty when they are both approaching forty.
Come to think about it, how long am I going to look like a teenager? My body has stopped developing, and I have a lot of Vitality. I look like a tall, fit, eighteen-year-old back on Earth, and though I'm proud of my looks, I'm not sure how I feel about looking the same for the next twenty years.
While I'm weighing the pros and cons of my body's future, Sandra finishes her spell.
It's interesting to watch her form the magic spell even though I can't hear the words she's using. She holds her hands together like she's cupping a liquid before opening them in a sweeping gesture.
The same bubble I witnessed earlier slowly expands with Sandra at the center. It pauses momentarily when it passes over brother and their bivol, but after two magic pulses scan them, the spell continues to expand.
That's interesting; the spell must use those pulses to bring information back to Sandra when it interacts with an animal of a certain size. If only she were here when we were worried about the chameleon spiders.
The spell slowly grows until it’s about to reach the spot I’m hiding.
I wonder how much information the spell brings back to Sandra?
Let’s have some fun and find out.
I absorb the magic in my mana obscuring tool and smile as the spell reaches me.
Sandra’s Point of View:
Damn it, what could break my spell like that? A magic obscuring tool would weaken the spell, but the only way to counter it is to be able to know that it’s there.
I supply a steady stream of magic into my spell as it covers the trees surrounding us. Maybe it was a fluke, and I'm overreacting?
But we need to be careful. Father's latest note said they hadn't seen any spiders in a while, but there is still a possibility one could be the cause of my spell's failure. It would be presumptuous of me to guess how a spider that can mask itself with magic would react to my spell.
“Anything yet?” Richard asks from my side.
“No,” I hiss through my teeth. It takes a minute for the spell to grow to its full potential. I can vaguely see the shimmer in the air where the boundary currently is, but to people like Richard, my spell appears to have done nothing at all.
I need to focus as the spell expands, but maintaining it is simple enough once it reaches its max distance.
If we're lucky, it might just have been a goblin on the outskirts of my spell. When it failed, I wasn't even able to pinpoint where the cause of the spell's failure was; so for all we know, the threat could be anywhere around us.
I’ll just need to remain…
“There,” I shout and point at a section of the forest.
“What is it?” Richard asks, stepping in between me and the spot I indicated.
"One second," I piece out the bits of information my spell sends directly to my mind. Around six feet tall, bipedal, female, magic quantity… Shit, around 700. "It's a single person; they can use magic."
“Anybody else?” Richard reminds me I still need to check the rest of our surroundings.
My spell finishes expanding, and I don't sense anybody else. "No, just her," I tell Richard.
“Do you have a lock on her?” Richard asks me.
"I do; she's staying in the same spot," I inform him.
"Alright then," he whispers to me. Richard ready's himself and takes a stance that would allow him to swing his hammer quickly. "Come on out; we know you're there!" He shouts towards the person hidden in the trees.
“Only because I allowed you to find me!” I shiver and take a step back on hearing the female demonic voice that comes from the trees. That was an intimidation skill, and it was used by someone who's seen battle.
"Stay behind me, Sandra!" Richard tries to remain calm, but I can see his shoulders start to shake.
"Oh, how heroic. But do you think trying to act brave for your girl will be enough against me!?” We hear a crash and the sound of wood splintering, and we watch as a large tree tumbles over in the distance.
“She’s coming!” I shout as my spell picks up the person nearing us. She must be confident she can take us because she’s moving slow.
“Tremble fools, and answer my question!” We hear the voice originate just outside the tree line. Richard ready’s himself to charge while I drop my searching spell and prepare to chant an attack spell.
“Who’s your sister!?” We both flinch when a young girl steps out from behind a tree.
Neither of us lowers our guards in case this is an elaborate trap.
The girl looks between the two of us and doubles over laughing. “You should see your faces!”
“What do you want with us?” Richard demands in a commanding voice.
The red-haired girl pauses in her laughter for a moment to look up at Richard before bursting into a laughing fit again.
“If you came to rob us, you picked the wrong target!” Richard angrily yells at the girl that’s obviously looking down on him.
The way she’s laughing at him feels so familiar…
I move up next to Richard. “Sandra, stay back,” he protectingly holds his arm out in front of me.
Now that I have a better look at the girl, I’m sure of it. “That wasn’t funny, Aaliyah.”
I watch Aaliyah fall to her knees, holding her sides. "You should've seen your faces," she manages to say, gasping for more air.
“What?” Poor Richard next to me doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on.
I elbow him in the side, "you can put your hammer down; you don't even recognize your sister." I allow a small smile to form on my face when Richard looks at me with a shocked expression when he finally realizes who’s laughing at us.
I watch Richards's face turn bright red as he slowly turns towards his sister that we haven't seen in five years.
"I'm going to kill you!" Richard rushes towards his sister, who's still laughing on the ground, brandishing his hammer in a more threatening manner than a serious gesture.
Aaliyah quickly leaps to her feet and starts running around our cart just out of Richards's reach.
Watching Richard shout every curse word under the gods as he chases his laughing sister is too much for me to handle, and soon I'm laughing just as hard as she is.
I never thought our reunion would turn out like this.