Aaliyah’s Point of View:
My arms tense.
My eyes narrow.
Yelling, I pull back my arms while digging my feet into the forest floor.
Exhaling the large breath I've just drawn in, I swing my new axe in a downwards diagonal strike. This time I won't mess up!
My muscles tense just as my strike is about to hit my target.
When I hear the bark crack from the tree I'm swinging at; I immediately know I failed again.
“Gods damn it!” I swear in frustration.
“Language, Aaliyah,” my mom tells me for the hundredth time today.
Mom reprimanding me is another blow to my pride, but the giggles from my other onlookers are what really kill me.
"I don't see why you're mad about hitting the tree," Sandra pokes fun at me, knowing what I'm trying to do. "Axes are meant to fell trees, aren't they?" She asks sarcastically.
"Now, dear, you shouldn't make fun of her flaws even when they're so obvious.” I can’t tell if Sarette is really reprimanding her daughter or just taking a shot at me like everybody else.
I had to start coming out here into the woods to train with my new weapons because Camden said I was distracting the villagers with all my practicing.
I was hoping to train alone today, but Sandra and Sarette stopped by our house after Mom and I finished our morning run together. My friend and her mom wanted to see how I was doing since I spent a whole week forging my new weapons with my master. Today is my third day off from the forge and the last day before I go back and start working on my armor.
I'd tried to tell them we could talk later in the day after I practiced with my new weapons for a few hours, but I should've known that wouldn't work. And Mother, of course, didn't want to be left out, so she joined the impromptu girls club in the woods to watch me train. Hence my current predicament.
The three ladies have been critiquing each of my swings since I started.
Usually, I'd be happy to show off in front of my friends and family, but this time is different.
I was so happy to practice with my new axe and war-hammer, I spent my first day off from work swinging away with everything I had. That's when I noticed I missed one crucial detail about my new weapons.
Though they are on the heavier side, I can still lift my weapons with my stats. The problem comes when I swing them. Both my axe and war-hammer are top-heavy, and even with my Strength, the momentum from my swings is enough to drag me along with them. Widening my stances has improved my control a little, but not anywhere close to where I need it to be.
That's why I'm practicing swinging my axe at this tree. I'm trying to perform a full swing while stopping my strike before it actually touches the bark of the tree. People think of the axe as a brutal weapon that you just swing with all your might, but swinging like that will just get you killed in a real fight.
I know I could solve my problem by practicing with some heavy armor on, but the armor I'm designing with Mom will at most weigh forty pounds. My armor would need to weigh almost three times that amount to compensate for my weapon's momentum.
All of this has led to me making dozens of minute changes to my stances, trying to figure out a way for me to compensate for my lack of weight. I never thought I would wish that I was heavier.
“Your comments aren’t helping,” I hiss at my onlookers.
“Can I try holding it?” Sandra asks, stepping forward. “I put a few spare points into Strength once or twice.”
"Fine, I need a small break anyway." I hold out the large axe with both of my hands. Sandra firmly grabs the weapon with a smile on her face. I notice she isn't holding it correctly to support its weight, but I'm content to watch how this plays out after all her heckling. "You ready?" I ask, to which she nods her head, and I let go.
“Shit!” Sandra screams. Her entire body locks up, straining to balance the heavy weapon. “How do you swing this thing!?” She grunts.
I reach out and take my axe back before she accidentally drops it and chops her foot off. "I thought you said you put some of your points into Strength," I tease Sandra. Mom and Sarette share a giggle, for once not at my expense.
“I’ll have you know; I have a solid 25 in Strength. I was the strongest amongst my master’s pupils,” Sandra proclaims, folding her arms in front of her.
"That's pretty good," I say in a sarcastic voice. "Now you just need six times that, and we'll be twins." Everyone here is practically family, so I don't mind bragging a little.
“Your Strength stat is 150! That’s ridiculous,” she says in disbelief.
I easily heft my axe onto my shoulder and smile at her. "It's a little higher than that, but yeah," I can't help but flex a little to show off after all the crap they've been giving me since I started practicing.
Sandra shakes her head in a disapproving manner. "If only you focused on your magic skills as I suggested, you'd be as great a mage as my master is."
Scoffing at Sandra’s remark, I increase the circulation of my mana network. Like I’d let Sandra win this friendly debate. “I think I’m doing quite well with my magic studies. In fact, let me show you my newest magic skill.”
“Really,” Sandra gives me a suspicious look.
"Move back to where our moms are," I instruct her. I glance at Mom, "I've shown this to Dad already, so don't be surprised when he doesn't freak out when you tell him."
Glancing up at the top of the tree I'm using for target practice; I pick a branch to aim for. I shift my axe from my shoulder into a proper grip and ready myself to jump.
I hear three gasps as I launch myself into the air and even more exclamations when I use Air Walk to jump a second time even higher into the canopy. Closing in on my target, I stop and use Precise Strike to sever a thick tree branch with one upward swing of my axe.
I'm happy I hit my target, but I'm more surprised that my axe didn't drag me with it this time. I replay everything in my head as I start to drop to the ground with the severed branch. Halfway to the ground, I use Air Walk once more to slow my descent. As my feet touch the forest floor, I'm still trying to figure out what I did differently that time than in my last hour of practicing.
I was soaring up to the branch I wanted to cut; I shifted my stance and stopped when I was in range. What could've kept me from being dragged along with my weapon?
Did Air Walk have something to do with it? I’ve already tested that my skill helps provide a much sturdier surface to interact with. Would that help stop me from moving, though?
No, but I did stop when I reached the branch I wanted to cut. How did I do that? Was it my mana?
I start to piece together an idea of what stopped me from soaring higher. Subconsciously, I must have formed a mana barrier around my feet like I do to use Air Walk. Only this time, I used the mana to temporarily hold me in place so I wouldn't fly any higher, which subsequently kept me from being dragged around with by my weapon!
I can use mana to lock myself in place!
It will take some practicing, but hopefully, I can figure out a way to anchor myself to the ground when I'm swinging my heavier weapons. That way, it won't matter how heavy I am; I could keep using my movement-based fighting style even with heavier weaponry.
A huge grin crosses my face. And to think, if I didn’t try to show off in front of everyone, I wouldn’t have realized this until much later.
I look over at Sandra to thank her, only to see her, Mother, and Sarette staring at me, mouths open in shock. Something happens to your ego when you leave people dumbfounded. Strutting over to the ladies, I feel eight feet tall.
"Like my new skill?" I ask Sandra with a gloating smile. "It might not equate to the many spells you learned, but I'm happy with it."
“That was amazing!” Sarette is the first to find her voice and quickly compliments me.
“You can run through the air now?!” Mom is equally surprised as her friend.
“Yep,” my grin widens.
“That shouldn’t be possible,” Sandra mumbles, leaving me confused.
“I’ll admit it was hard to do, but it’s not impossible,” I tell her.
Sandra shakes her head. "No, I mean, even at your level, you shouldn't be able to use your mana like that. A person's mana dissipates rapidly once it leaves the body. Covering yourself is one thing, but creating footholds to run in the air, that would take a level of Mana Manipulation I can't even comprehend!”
I flinch away from Sandra, who has a crazy look in her eye. "Did you manage to break past the level 40 test?"
“Ummm,” I nervously babble while taking a step back.
"Sandra!" Sarette calls out to her daughter. "Get a hold of yourself. Can't you see you're making Aaliyah nervous?"
Sandra closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. When she opens her eyes again, Sandra has calmed down and has replaced her fevered look with a serious one. "I'm sorry, it wasn't right of me to ask for your skill level like that."
“It’s cool,” I tell her. “You are my best friend after all. I just don’t get why Mana Manipulation is such a big deal. Anyone who plays with their mana enough can get it to level 40.”
Sandra lets out a big sigh. "No, it isn't, Aaliyah. Mana Manipulation is a tier 3 skill, but it levels like it’s tier 4. I practice with my magic every day, including trying to control my raw mana, and I only managed to get Mana Manipulation to level 23. I haven't leveled Mana Manipulation in almost six months. My master wouldn't tell us what level his skill was at, but he dropped hints he was stuck on its test. My master can't control his mana anywhere close to what you can. Is there some sort of secret technique you've discovered that can help me?"
Sandra looks at me with pleading eyes, making my answer all that more difficult to give. "I'm sorry, Sandra, but I don’t know what to tell you. I just kept playing with my mana and trying new things with it as my skills leveled. I mostly focused on my internal manipulation, but my skill started leveling a lot faster once I could cover myself in my own mana. You probably noticed the skill I gained from it."
“The barrier you always keep around you,” Sandra moves to poke my arm only to have her finger stop when it hits Mana Skin.
"That's right," I tell her. "I kept trying to make it stronger and stronger until recently when I realized it was strong enough to walk on."
“I see,” Sandra says, looking like she’s has a lot on her mind. Sandra lets out another sigh after she looks like she’s come to a conclusion. “I guess the only thing I can do is work harder and try to catch up with you. But you did past the first test already, didn’t you?”
“Don’t hate me, but I don’t think I feel comfortable giving out the specifics to my skills,” I awkwardly tell Sandra.
“I understand,” she responds with a smile. “It wasn’t right for me to ask again anyways.”
“I won’t give you the specifics, but I’ll tell you I’ve passed the first test.” Telling Sandra that I’ve reached level 60 in Mana Manipulation might dissuade her from trying to catch up to me. Friendly competition is always a good thing.
Sandra gives me a warm smile, “you didn’t have to tell me that, but thanks.”
“I should be thanking you,” I tell her. “I had no idea other mages had such a hard time with Mana Manipulation. I've could've accidentally said the wrong thing to a mage in the future. I already called the mages helping to melt the snow in Drey criminals."
Sandra face softens as she tries to hold in her laughter and accidentally makes a snorting noise.
“The two of you make such good friends,” Sarette remarks.
For a second there, I forgot our moms were here.
“The best,” Sandra and I echo each other.
Now that that that’s taken care of, I should get back to my practicing. I start walking back over to the tree I was using for target practice.
“You still want to train more!?” Sarette asks me in disbelief.
"Yep, I had an idea that might let me swing my weapon properly, and I need to test it out."
"But I was hoping the four of us could go back to our house and have some tea together," Sarette pouts.
"Sorry, but I still have a lot I want to try out," I politely decline her invitation.
"You shouldn't work so much. Doesn't a tea break sound nice?" Just like my mom Sarette doesn't give up that easily.
I’m about to politely decline her again when surprisingly, it’s Mom who comes to my rescue. “Don’t even try, Sarette. I’ve been telling Aaliyah that for years now. And besides, if we drag her away from her training right when she has a breakthrough, she’ll be moody while we drink our tea. Let’s leave her here like she wants.” I make a mental note to thank Mom later for helping me.
“Oh, all right,” Sarette relents. “Let’s go without her.”
Mom and Sarette start walking back towards the village but stop when they notice Sandra isn’t following them.
"Is something wrong, sweety?" Sarette calls back to her daughter.
"I think I'm going to stay here with Aaliyah and meditate for a bit," Sandra tells her mom.
I can see Sarette's shoulders visibly drop in disappointment. "Fine, be careful, you two."
"We will," I yell back, reassuring her.
Sandra moves over to a nearby tree out of my way and sits down. She closes her eyes and starts meditating while I square off with my tree. Both of us aware that the other plans to seriously practice now that we’re alone. Sandra has her searching spell activated so I can put 100% of my focus into figuring out how to utilize my mana without worrying about our surroundings.
I start by swinging my axe through the air a few times, trying to imprint how I stumble with each different swing.
Then, I surround my feet with large amounts of my mana like I do with Air Walk. However, unlike Air Walk, I don’t dissipate the mana after it’s formed. Instead, I force the mana to almost a standstill, locking my feet in place. The restrictive mana squeezes my feet, and I'm able to swing my axe without me being dragged along with it. But this can only be considered a step in the right direction.
I can walk while I have Mana Skin activated because the mana is flowing freely over my body and contouring to my movements. Mana Skin is made out of my compacted mana like Air Walk but still moves like the blood under my skin.
Locking my feet in place may be a step in the right direction, but it's a step I can't make. Mostly because now, I can't move my feet. The laws of motion apply to everything, even magic. Because the mana surrounding my feet is moving much slower than usual, it takes me longer to focus and get the mana moving again to release myself.
I don’t burn as much mana this way, but I can’t afford to cement myself in place when I’m fighting.
There has to be a better solution.
I stand for a moment, trying to think of a new way to approach this, but nothing practical comes to mind. Maybe I need to take a step back and re-evaluate my resources. Maybe looking at my status page might help give me some new ideas. And besides, I haven't checked the exact growth of my skills in over a week now.
LV: 73 Experience: 80,549/ 956,780
Status Points: 0
Meditation (LV78), Running (LV76), Blacksmithing (LV70), Hammer Skills (LV58), Axe Skills (LV56), Cleaning (LV53), Chanting (LV50), Mining (LV48), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV45), Cooking (LV40), Dagger Skills (LV31), Wood Carving (LV31), Acting (LV32), Sword Skills (LV31), Sewing (LV26), Pugilist Skills (LV4), Spear Skills (LV2), Alchemy (LV2)
Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV61), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV46), Hammer Arts (LV42), Axe Arts (LV36), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Increase Price (LV21), Lower Price (LV20), Steady Hands (LV18), 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 (LV38), Flash Step (LV22), Contract (LV7)
Mana Skin (LV54), Mental Resistance (LV53), Inject Mana (LV52), Extract Mana (LV32), Magic Blacksmithing (LV26), Empowered Spell (LV12), Air Walk (LV6)
Sense Soul (LV39), Soul Manipulation (LV6)
Soul Devourer (LV2)
Increased Skill Levels
Blacksmithing (LV70) 3,500exp
Hammer Skills (LV58) 2,900exp
Axe Skills (LV56) 2,800exp
Sewing (LV25-26) 2,550exp
Hammer Arts (LV42) 4,200exp
Steady Hands (LV17-18) 3,500exp
Weighted Strike (LV38) 5,700exp
Flash Step (LV22) 3,300exp
Mana Skin (LV54) 13,500exp
Magic Blacksmithing (LV26) 6,500exp
Air Walk (LV2-6) 5,000exp
Skill Experience: 53,450exp
Crafting Experience: 14,316exp
Fighting Experience: 0exp
Total-experience Gained: 67,766exp
That's some solid gains for my Blacksmithing skills, which haven't seen any significant growth since I made the general's arrow.
Mana Skin retook its lead as my highest leveled tier 4 skill. And though Mana Skin and Magic Blacksmithing were my only magic skills that leveled this past week, I can feel that I’ve made progress with my other mana related skills just not enough for them to level. Sandra said my skills were already high for someone my age, so I shouldn't get greedy.
Air Walk jumped up to level 6, and based on when I used it a little while ago to show off, I'd estimate it’s mana cost dipped below 38 for each step now.
I’ve done a lot this last week, and yet whenever I pull up my status page, I always realize just how much I still need to accomplish. Alchemy is still stuck at level 2, I have five skills stuck at their testing levels, with another two skills almost reaching their next test soon as well. There are just too many things I still need to work on.
I wish I could split my time more evenly, but certain things take priority. Like figuring out how to swing my weapons without losing control, that is my number one priority.
But now that Sandra has pointed it out to me, I see my mana skills in a new light. I've always been able to feel the presence of mana since I was reborn in this world. Sure, I knew how rare sensing mana is for most people, but I never thought about how much my talent has helped me grow. Even when you factor in that, I've been practicing for fifteen years; according to Sandra, I'm ahead of her master in terms of mana skill, and I’m sure he’s been studying magic for more than I have.
I'm confident my mana skills will help me solve the issue with the momentum of my weapons. I just have to think of something new, something original, that’s where I excel at. Kicking at the forest floor in frustration, I uncover a root of the tree I'm practicing on.
Roots? Now there’s an idea!
Trees have a strong foundation because their network of roots spread throughout the ground. What if I try to spread my mana out from my feet into the ground as trees do?
Let’s try it out.
I gather my mana into my feet and slowly extend tendrils of mana into the forest floor. The process is slow if I lose focus, my mana will dissipate and I’ll need to start all over. Plus, it’s not like I have an unlimited mana pool to work with either.
After twenty minutes of standing perfectly still and focusing on my mana, I've managed to braid my mana together into a tendril and dig it four inches into the ground. At this point, I realize I can't extend my mana any further from my body without losing control over it and having it disperse into the ground.
I test to see if the mana roots help at all by slowly lifting one of my feet off the ground. A smile crosses my face when I can feel a slight resistance keeping me from raising my foot. Once my foot is four inches off the ground, the resistance fades to almost nothing as my mana roots try to grip the mana in the air instead of the ground.
I slowly lower my foot back down and see what happens when my uprooted mana tendrils come back into contact with the earth.
It takes a few seconds and some nudging with my manipulation skill, but my mana roots eventually re-snake their way into the earth below. The mana roots find purchase in the naturally slow-moving earth mana.
Now I need to see how much my mana roots help me to deal with my weapons momentum. I adjust my stance, giving the mana roots enough time to take hold again and swing my axe in an upward strike.
The roots definitely help me, but they're too short to offset my strike's total momentum. I'm not disappointed with the results, however. This proves my idea works. All I need to do is practice more.
“You look happy. Did you succeed?”
I look over at Sandra, who's opened her eyes again. "Yes and no. I couldn't figure out an immediate solution, but with some practice, I should be fine. What about you?"
“I’m trying to maintain control of my mana as it leaves my skin. Let’s see who succeeds first,” Sandra sends me a challenging grin.
“It’s on,” I accept her challenge.
Time to grind some skills!
“You look much better today,” master remarks as I work the bellows of our forge.
"The break was good. I had a little trouble practicing with my new weapons, but I'm working on a solution," I tell him.
"Is that why you brought your sword with you today?" Master motions to my sheathed scimitar resting up against my workbench.
"Yeah, I can't very well bring my axe or war-hammer with me if I can't use them properly. I'll switch which weapon I bring after I work things out." As I'm pumping the billows, I'm mindful of my mana roots stretching out from my feet.
After practicing most of the day away yesterday, I’ve managed to gain some sense of control over them. I can extend and retract the roots much faster now, only needing a split second to retract and redeploy them as I walk. Four inches is still the limit for how far out I can extend them, but this morning I found another use for them.
While keeping pace with Mom, I noticed the ground felt slightly off as we ran around the village. We run the same way each morning, and I'm familiar with each rock, stump, and tree root we run past. It took me a while to figure it out, but eventually, I realized even though my mana roots didn't have enough time to burrow into the ground, they still reinforced my footing slightly.
I now plan to keep my roots extended permanently as I do with Mana Skin when I'm outside. I wouldn't be surprised if I unlock a new skill soon.
"I'm sure you'll get ahold of it," master gives me a few words of encouragement. It's always nice to hear that someone has faith in you. "Did you decide on how you want your armor to look?"
I groan into the forge. "Yes, it took me forever, though. That's why I took an extra day off. Mom helped me a lot."
“Your mother knows about armor?” Master asks, more than a bit surprised hearing that my mother knows anything about armor.
"She doesn't know armor,” I correct Master before he gets the wrong idea. “But she knows how to work hide and leather. She helped me figure out which parts I need to forge and which I'll need to make with her."
“So, you’re sticking to a lighter set of armor then?”
“That’s right,” I confirm what Master already knows.
It took talking to Mother for hours on end before I had any idea of how I would make my first personal set of armor. I've sold a few sets of basic plate armor to Kervin in the past, but I've always leaned towards the weapon side of blacksmithing.
That's because there are many forms of armor in this world, and many don't require blacksmithing to make. With magic beasts out there with hides that can block enchanted steel, not everyone wants to be bogged down with a set of full platemail.
Master taught me how to make armor out of metal, but it was Mom who sat me down and explained the different armor types out there. First, you have defensive clothes woven from magic beasts or animals with strong fur. Next, you have all leather and hide armors, and as the names imply, they're made out of beast hide. You have plate-lined armors made with the previous two materials but reinforced with metal plates to add extra protection. Then last is full-body suits of armor that master is accustomed to making.
I would love to have a set of magic clothing strong enough to deflect arrows and swords, but Mom said those are more expensive than high tier magic items.
We both decided it would be best for me to stick with a leather plated set of armor. I will craft the metal components then stitch them together with Mom.
I explain all this to master while my metal in the crucible properly binds together.
"Metal armor is what saves people," Master huffs. "Back home, if you wore anything else, you’d be laughed out of the mountain.”
“I don’t know master, magic underwear sounds nice,” I joke.
"Then buy your master some, and we'll see how it holds up."
“I’ve seen the dirty clothes in your house, master. No way am I spending good money only to condemn a pair of magic boxers to that kind of fate.”
Master and I go back and forth until the alloy is ready.
Now comes the tricky part. I have to craft twenty-three plates to cover specific parts of my body. I need to craft four plates for each of my limbs, two large plates for my chest, four smaller plates for my back, and one plate for a cap. Everything will be cushioned with leather, but the plates need to cover the majority of my body.
I decide to start with the plates for my back because those will be the easiest. To move efficiently, a person’s back needs to remain limber. The four plates will be evenly spaced out, but there will still be a decent gap between each plate so my armor can contour with my body as I run and dodge strikes.
The four square plates I hammer out are the quickest thing I’ve made in a long time.
Next, I move on to something a bit trickier, the plates for my arms and legs. Each plate needs to be rounded to fit over both sides of my arms and legs. The closer I can match the plates to my body, the more comfortable they'll be and offer me better protection.
I need to mold each peace, let it cool down a little, then hold it up to my limbs to see if I need to adjust it. At the same time, I'm doing all that; I think about what would happen if I just crafted hundreds of small square and rectangle pieces and use those to line some armor. It would offer more protection while retaining its flexibility.
Though now that I think about it the assembly of such armor would take forever. I already have a packed schedule without wasting my time on an experiment that I have no idea if I could even pull off.
Once I have the segments for my limbs completed, I flatten out a chunk of metal and form it into a bowl shape. This plate will be padded the most and used to make me a helmet. I originally wanted to forgo any armor for my head, but Mom argued that I should at least have a helmet in case something attacks me from above.
The last two plates take me the longest to make and will most likely need to be adjusted later. Armor that covers the chest is the simplest to make but the hardest to perfect. Chest pieces aren't like what you see in video games. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I will form the metal to highlight my assets. Not only is that impractical, but it isn't that structurally safe either.
A good chest piece is triangular in shape to deflect arrows and swords properly, this concept applies to both men and women. The skimpy armor I used to see in games had way too many creases and crevices, and if they were used in a real fight, they would have the wearer take more damage than it would deflect.
The trick with chest pieces is that the better they defend you, the harder it is to move. If I tried wearing a platemail chest piece, I wouldn't be able to bend over.
The chest plates I’m making are meant to overlap each other while still giving me a small degree of freedom.
When everything is mostly done, master moves over next to me eyeballing the various plates I made, probably picturing how they’re supposed to fit together. “Finished everything?”
“I think so,” I stretch out my tired arms. The sun was just starting to go down.
“Will you be back tomorrow?”
"I don't think so," I tell master. "Mom has the leather set aside, and it will probably take the whole day for us to get everything fitted. I'll be back the day after to make any adjustments I need to and maybe start crafting some of the weapons I plan on selling.”
“What about the special arrows; you don’t want to start with those?” Maser curiously asks.
"I was thinking of setting aside the materials I need for the arrows and make them last. I'd rather try to raise my skills a little higher before I tackle the most expensive items."
Master hums in agreement. "Then I'll see you in two days with your new armor."
“I think you’ll be impressed,” I brag a little as I put everything away.
"I don't think so; it isn't full metal after all." Master lets out a hearty laugh. Stone kin and their metal. Apparently, some stereotypes are the same across both worlds. If I ever meet an elf, it will probably be in the forest.
"I'll do my best to impress you then," I say in an over-exaggerated manner. Gathering up the twenty-three metal plates, I say goodnight to master. "See you later, master. Remember, when I get back, we'll have another forging marathon."
“Gods help me,” Master shakes his head as he waves goodbye to me.
Walking home, I can’t help but think about what the next few months have in store for me.