A warm glow radiates out of my soul and travels throughout my body. My cheeks turn crimson as I try to remember the last time I felt something like this.
“Are you ok?” Kervin gives me a concerned look that quickly turns to awkwardness as I respond with a goofy smile.
“I’m fine,” I finally say after I compose myself a bit. My cheeks are still red, but that's mainly because I'm blushing now. "I tried an experiment, and it worked out.”
“You don’t have to…,” he tries to say, but I feel the need to explain myself.
“You see, mentally, I’ve been telling myself the arrows wouldn’t be ‘complete’ until I gave them to you. I haven't gotten a single point of experience from working on them until this point. It worked as I wanted it to." That's what I tell Kervin, but that’s only part of the truth. I tried this to see if I could replicate the same feeling I get from using Soul Devourer.
“I can understand that,” Kervin forces a smile. “Everyone likes that feeling, so I can see why you’d want to try and increase it.” I knew it was just an empty platitude on Kervin’s part, but I’ll take it. “I imagine you got a lot of experience for the arrows then?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I smirk, not falling into his trap and revealing my gains.
“Fair enough," Kervin takes a step back and glances at his cart, which is quickly being emptied of my ore. “I’ll leave you to go over your gains; I’m quite interested in my own if you’ll excuse me.”
I watch as Kervin turns around and walks over to his cart. He has a far-off look to him, so I’m guessing he just pulled up his status page. I quickly do the same; I’ve purposely waited to check my status until now, and I'm curious about how much I've grown.
LV: 74 Experience: 510,534/ 1,004,619
Status Points: 0
Meditation (LV79), Running (LV78), Blacksmithing (LV75), Hammer Skills (LV67), Axe Skills (LV60), Cleaning (LV53), Mining (LV51), Chanting (LV50), Drawing (LV48), Trading (LV48), Cooking (LV41), Sword Skills (LV40), Dagger Skills (LV34), Acting (LV33), Wood Carving (LV31), Sewing (LV31), Dancing (LV21), Alchemy (LV15), Pugilist Skills (LV8), Spear Skills (LV2)
Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV65), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV49), Hammer Arts (LV47), Axe Arts (LV39), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV32), Mathematics (LV31), Steady Hands (LV30), Increase Price (LV22), Lower Price (LV20), Sword Arts (LV17), Dagger Arts (LV13), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV3),
Expel Mana (LV63), Mana Manipulation (LV63), Weighted Strike (LV43), Precise Strike (LV43), Double Strike (LV41), Flash Step (LV31), Contract (LV22), Enchanting (LV7)
Mental Resistance (LV59), Mana Skin (LV58), Inject Mana (LV54), Extract Mana (LV37), Magic Blacksmithing (LV35), Magic Threads (LV20), Air Walk (LV18), Empowered Spell (LV14), Ironclad Agreement (LV8), Appealing Deal (LV3)
Sense Soul (LV40), Soul Manipulation (LV17)
Soul Devourer (LV4)
Increased Skill Levels
Blacksmithing (LV75) 3,750exp
Hammer Skills (LV67) 3,350exp
Mining (LV51) 2,550exp
Drawing (LV48) 2,400exp
Trading (LV46-48) 7,050exp
Dancing (LV20-21) 2,050exp
Double Step (LV65) 6,500exp
Measurement (LV48-49) 9,700exp
Hammer Arts (LV47) 4,700exp
Intimidating Shout (LV32) 3,200exp
Steady Hands (LV30) 3,000exp
Increase Price (LV22) 2,200exp
Weighted Strike (LV43) 6,450exp
Precise Strike (LV42-43) 12,750exp
Double Strike (LV41) 6,150exp
Contract (LV22) 3,300exp
Enchanting (LV7) 1,050exp
Mana Skin (LV58) 14,500exp
Magic Blacksmithing (LV34-35) 17,250exp
Magic Threads (LV20) 5,000exp
Soul Manipulation (LV17) 8,500exp
Skill Experience: 125,400exp
Crafting Experience: 191,635exp
Fighting Experience: 4,182exp
Total experience Gained: 321,217exp
That is a lot of experience points!
…But not as much as I was expecting.
Between Tabitha's increased training regiment and all the work I put into those arrows, over twenty of my skills saw some sort of growth.
Compared to the last time I checked my status page, I gained fewer overall skill levels, but the experience I gained from them was still close to that of the last time. But that's just regarding the experience I gained from leveling up my skills. Most of the overall experience I gained was from a moment ago when I finally fulfilled my agreement with Silver Herd.
I put hours of hard work into each of those arrows, even after I technically had them finished. I kept from considering the arrows completed; instead, I examined each arrow almost every day, looking for any minor mistakes. If there were a slight bump, I'd smooth it out. If I thought I could sharpen the arrows further, I did. To compare these arrows to the one I made initially was like comparing day to night. And yet… subtracting what I thought I got from the other smiting I’ve been doing, I only gained roughly 180 thousand experience from them.
I don’t remember the exact amount of experience I got for the first arrow, but I think it was around one hundred and thirty thousand. That’s only fifty thousand more than the last arrow I made, but that's a lot less considering I made nine arrows instead of the one this time.
I figured I’d get at least three hundred thousand this time around, considering I didn’t ask for Master’s help like last time. My shoulders sag a bit.
I want to be happy with all the skill levels I got, but I can't help but feel ripped off by whatever system distributes experience in this world.
Maybe the arrows weren’t that different from the first one?
From what Master has told me, I know you get less experience the more times you craft the same item; I just didn't imagine it would drop off by such a large amount.
But it makes sense, I didn’t have nearly the same trouble I had forging the first arrow, and strife plays a big part in how much experience someone is rewarded. I spent longer making the nine, but there was never any thought that I'd fail.
Now that I’m thinking about it, wouldn’t crafting be overpowered if I got one hundred thirty thousand experience for each arrow I made? No one would choose to be a warrior if crafting gave that much experience. That first arrow pushed me to my limits, but I’ve gained ten levels since then, and I'm not the same person I was back then.
And it isn’t like the experience I got was small by any means. Of course, as people level, they need more experience, but as they do, they can also create better and better products, facilitating further growth.
I’ll need to remember that to not get my hopes up in the future. In the end, I ended up shooting myself in the foot by waiting to claim my experience. If I didn’t wait, I would’ve noticed the diminishing return and wouldn’t have gotten my hopes that high. When I make Reel’s dagger, it will be interesting to see how much experience that gives me. Maybe then I'll be able to guess how much I got for that last arrow compared to the previous ones.
Taking a deep breath, I settle my turbulent emotions. I should feel proud of what I’ve made, and just because I didn’t get the experience I was expecting doesn’t take away from what I did.
Plus, my skills leveling was the real reward.
I finally reached level 75 in Blacksmithing, reaching its second bottleneck. It is also the level that Stone Kin believe to be the starting point for a true smith.
While Blacksmithing hit level 75, Mining and Double Strike passed their first tests. Double strike probably leveled while I was making the arrows, and I'm sure Mining reached level 51 sometime over the past few days. Both Master and I have been working hard in the mine almost every day, so it’s only natural Mining would reach the next level.
While I understood why most of my skills leveled, two gave me pause.
The first was Increase Price. After completing such a huge transaction, I understood why Trading would level, but Increase Price?
I didn’t push for more money even though I could’ve, yet my skill still leveled. Was I given a higher price for my goods without me knowing? And if so, did that make my skill level?
Tabitha told me Pacore bought my weapons from Giovanni as soon as he conquered Blaiton, before inflation became as bad as it has. So if I were paid for what my weapons would be worth now, 28 gold would seem like chump-change.
The only thing I could think of was that Giovanni ordered Kervin to pay me more because of our relationship, even though they didn't have to. That might have been enough to push Increase Price up a level.
Sometimes I wish there was a manual I could consult on what qualified as enough to raise a skill to its next level. But unfortunately, the requirements are more than a little vague, and nobody seems to level the same as the person next to them. Human error, maybe?
And speaking of what it takes to raise a level, my eyes fall to my Contract skill. It was the second skill that confused me because it leveling up also came out of nowhere. But I’m not sure if it leveled because I formed a contract with Sandra or because I fulfilled my agreement with Silver Herd?
Technically, I terminated the Contract between Grey and me, so did I receive experience for following through with it even though the person I first formed it with was dead and the contract was gone? If so, then Contract is as scary as I thought it was. Even with the contract broken, on some level, the world still rewarded me for my part, meaning specific skills had a more profound function than what I initially realized. Skills affect the soul, so I should be careful in the future.
“Excuse me, Aaliyah?” Kervin calls out to me, so I dismiss my status page and leave pondering the nature of skills for later.
“My guys are finished emptying the cart; is it ok if we load up the weapons?” Ever the polite merchant, Kervin asks for permission before he grabs his goods from our sheds.
“Go ahead,” I give him the all-clear. “They’re yours anyways.”
“Right then,” Kervin nods with a smile.
I stand back and watch his men start by loading up all the ingots he bought. One by one, they move the pile of meatal from our material’s shed to Kervin’s cart. The merchant himself stands close by, out of his men’s way, and mouths out numbers as they work, probably taking a mental inventory of everything. It doesn’t take long for Lurte, Ryiba, and Reel to empty everything, even if they periodically stopped to admire my work.
“That’s everything!” Kervin cheerfully remakes after watching the last spear be placed in his cart.
While Kervin’s men move to strap a tarp over everything, I look at our previously full sheds. The pile of steel and iron in the materials shed is half of what it was, and the shed I was using to store my completed works in was now empty. It took me three months to fill it up but less than an hour to empty.
“I want to say thank you, Aaliyah. Silver Herd appreciates your work.”
“I take it you also gained some experience,” I grin at Kervin, who has a massive smile on his face.
He chuckles. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Kervin and I share a small laugh, but that only lasts a minute. Before an awkward silence comes between us, I ask a few questions I have. “I take it, that was the last of the kaglese?” I motion to the pile of ore next to our smelter.
“Sadly, yes. I can see about maybe fining you a different magic mineral, but it won’t be in large quantities like this.”
“Like the samples you used to bring for me?”
“Exactly,” Kervin lets out a sigh. “I would offer you to come back with us to Drey and see what we have, but things aren’t exactly ‘running smoothly’ at the moment.”
I could imagine so; the office building I visited in Drey was huge. I don’t know how big the explosion was, but it should take a while to fix, even with the proper skills.
“Thanks, but no,” I shake my head. “I’m busy enough here already. I’d love a chance to look at new metals, but I don’t have time to experiment at the moment. As much as it pains me to admit.” I clench and unclench my fists.
“There is some good news,” Kervin tells me when he sees my frustration. “Whatever you make with that kaglese will sell for even more next time.”
“Oh yeah, about that. Did you give me more than 70%?”
“You noticed. Because the goods were sold before we got them, Giovanni knew we couldn't pay you what you deserve at the current market price. So, he had me raise your cut to 80% of what he sold it to Pacore for.”
"That's good," I remark, more than a little surprised. Mom told me that crafters usually only get around 50% of what their goods are worth. She drilled it into me that I should always barter with that in mind.
If 80% covered all my debt and all the overpriced materials Kervin brought with him today, that probably means Giovanni sold all my stuff to Pacore for over 1000 gold coins! Just how rich is the old man, or did he use Scholl’s money? I wonder?
But more importantly, Kervin is right. The batch of ore I just got is already paid for, so whatever I make with it will be 100% profit.
“Did Giovanni have any requests for me? Anything specific he needs making?"
“Nope,” Kervin grins from ear to ear. “Pacore has already agreed to buy anything you make. As long as it isn’t farm tools, you can make whatever you want, and it will sell. Even if you make farm tools, I'll buy them from you," Kervin good naturally chuckles.
Both Pacore and Giovanni must have a lot of faith in me if I’m being given this much freedom. A chunk of the ore will go to a new set of armor for myself, and a tiny bit is all that is needed for Kervin’s knife, but the rest is up in the air. Do I stick to spears and swords, or do I mix things up with a different weapon?
I don't have any more dellinium, so more arrows are out of the question. Maybe I should try making a shield?
I should ask Tabitha; if anyone knows what Pacore might need, it was her.
"I take it you'll buy other stuff too, right?" I ask just to make sure.
“If you make it, Silver Herd can sell it,” Kervin reassures me. “Ingots, tools, weapons, building supplies," Kervin glances at my glowing forge and the steel rods lying next to it. "Until there's a proper seize fire between Scholl and Olebert, and the trading routes are once again opened up, we'll buy anything you got."
“That’s good,” I happily remark.
“Everything is secured, Boss,” Ryiba calls out to Kervin as he walks over to us, followed closely by Reel and Lurte.
“Good,” Kervin smiles at his men before focusing back on me and bowing politely. “I’ll be back later in the day to watch Reel get his ass kicked by Pacore’s student.”
“Hey!” Reel snaps.
Kervin ignores Reel's protests. "I have business with the future headman of this village, so I’ll leave you to your work.”
“See you later,” I politely wave the four men off and watch them slowly leave Master’s clearing.
I too, need to get back to work. I'll need to hustle if I want to get everything done before Kervin comes back. Brother said he needed roughly a hundred steel rods before they started digging out the wall's foundation, so I better get to it.
Never a moment's rest.
For once, I stood at the edge of the quarry and not inside it.
I watched as Reel stretched just as I did before each of my sparring sessions with Tabitha. And for the first time, I saw Tabitha do the same.
She already had her weapons drawn and was lightly swinging them around to warm up. Tabitha must see Reel as a real threat; that, or this is going to end really quickly.
"Three copper says Tabitha is going to win."
“What, no way, Tabitha is going to crush him. I’m not giving you my money.” Standing next to me, Frank and Lloyd were just as vocal as ever, giddily awaiting the fighting to start. By their excitement and how vocal they were, you would never guess they’d been working all day.
When Lloyd doesn't rise to Frank's challenge, he turns to the others nearby. "What about you, Boss? You think the new guy can beat Tabitha?”
My brother hums in thought. “I’m not sure. We’ve seen Aaliyah spar with Tabitha, but we’ve never seen this Reel person before. Is he any good?” Brother directs his question towards me.
“He is,” I simply state and leave it at that. If it were just Richard and me, I’d tell him Reel was around the same level I am or that Tabitha is in the 90’s, but I don’t want to give away their levels in front of Frank and Lloyd.
“But he is used to fighting,” Master’s tired voice enters our conversation.
The sun was going down, and everyone should be retiring for the day, but here we all were, ready to watch the fight between Reel and Tabitha.
Brother, Sandra, Master, Frank, and Lloyd stood near me while Kervin, Lurte, and Ryiba made up their own group a few dozen feet away from us.
“It’s starting,” I point out to everyone when I see Reel and Tabitha take up their respective stances.
“First to bleed?” I hear Reel ask the armored woman in front of him.
“Sounds fun,” Tabitha responds with her signature savage grin.
Frank and Lloyd go quiet as the air changes. Reel and Tabitha both release their bloodlust simultaneously, and every one of us is forced to swallow a nervous lump in our throats, even me.
I thought I was used to the pressure Tabitha usually releases during our fights, but this was different. There was a quantitative difference between the Tabitha in front of me and the one I regularly sparred with. The Tabitha in front of me was out for blood! Reel wasn't as bad, but
the pressure he released wasn't that far off from Tabitha's.
Reel felt like a drawn dagger ready to pounce in the face of Tabitha's might.
"Holy shit," Frank mutters, and I see that he and most of our group were trembling. Only Master and I were fine, but I did notice how strongly Master was clenching his fists while my hand had reflexively moved up to grab my hammer.
And then Reel vanished.
There were gasps of surprise around me, but I kept my eyes on the battlefield. I wasn’t going to miss a second of this fight.
I might not be able to physically see Reel, but Sense Mana still let me track where he was. And he was… just standing there?
Reel hadn’t taken a step since he became invisible, confusing me greatly. I’d figure he’d throw a dagger or creep up behind her.
Though the dagger probably wouldn’t be that good of an idea. As soon as he releases his weapon, I doubt it would go very far before it lost its invisibility, and that would give away his position.
“He’s invisible; come on!” Frank loudly complains.
I watch as Reel finally starts to make his move. He moves slowly back and forth, testing to see if Tabitha can track him as I can, but she just stands there, facing forward with a smile plastered across her face. Tabitha doesn’t so much as twitch as Reel slowly positions himself to the left of her.
She holds her shield on her left arm, but dealing with that is better than the sword in her right.
Twenty feet, fifteen feet, Reel slowly closes in on his target, and Tabitha still hasn’t moved from her initial position. Is Reel going to be able to successfully ambush her?
At ten feet, the void of mana that is Reel lunges at Tabitha. Part of me thinks that it might be all just as quick as it started, but the woman who's been training me all this time doesn't disappoint. Tabitha's feet blur at the last second, and she reorientates herself to face the still invisible Reel. I can’t see his expression while he’s cloaked, but I’m sure he must be surprised.
Tabitha swings her sword at the empty air, and a loud clanging noise echoes throughout the quarry. Dirt is kicked up as Reel is sent flying by Tabitha’s strike. Space appears to shatter around Reel as the effects of his magic item are broken, and he is revealed to my shocked companions.
“I should’ve known I couldn’t sneak up on you," Reel grimaces and shakes out his arms. The blades of the two daggers in his hands were ruined from parring Tabitha's sudden strike.
“It wasn’t a bad attempt, but better than you have tried and failed,” she gloats.
“Then I guess I’ll need to do better," Reel rises to his feet in defiance with a cocky grin. He tosses away his useless daggers and draws two new ones. Both serrated weapons are longer than the first pair he used and radiate a higher degree of magic.
Reel rushes at Tabitha, who takes a step forward to meet him, and what happens next is a flurry of strikes between the two.
Sparks fly all over the place as enchanted metal meets enchanted metal. Both are Dexterity-based fighters, and yet they’re both different from one another.
Reel is like me and moves around a lot, while Tabitha prefers short, swift movements. Reel attacks from two angles with multiple weapons, while Tabitha guards with her shield and counterattacks with her sword.
The new daggers Reel is using have to be enchanted for endurance because, unlike his first two, they hold up when he uses them to parry Tabitha's sword. Reel is forced to dance between a very thin line of attacking and defending due to the length of his weapons. He has to get in close, while Tabitha is more comfortable at mid-range.
“Amazing,” I hear Sandra say.
I take my eyes off the battle for a moment to sneak a peek at my friend. Her eyes were wide, but she didn't look as shocked as Frank and Lloyd. Both men are staring into the quarry speechless with their mouths hanging open. That’s a first for them.
I’m a little jealous that they’ve never looked at me like that when I was sparing Tabitha, but more than anyone else here, I can see that the fight between Reel and Tabitha is a step above anything I’ve done.
The way the two anticipate each other’s movements.
The way they predict the others strikes.
The sheer number of feints they use!
This is a true battle between high-leveled individuals.
I can only watch and marvel at the spectacle in front of me like the rest of them.
After trading countless blows in a matter of minutes, the two finally separate, with neither of them so much as scratching the other.
“Another hidden talent in this corner of the world,” Tabitha offers her praise to Reel while ignoring the sweat dripping into her eyes.
“That means a lot coming from you,” Reel pants.
That's all the two say before they rush at each other again like frenzied animals. The two of them were the epitome of an anime fight come to life, which is incredible.
My heart speeds up as time seems to come to a crawl. I had never seen either of them fight like this before, and it was eye-opening. I need to practice a lot harder if I’m ever going to press Tabitha as Reel is doing right now.
Maybe I, too, could be like this if I never took up crafting and devoted all my time to practicing with my weapon, but that’s just not me.
Neither of them is slowing, even though both are starting to get winded. So it was only a matter of time until one of them messed up and allowed the other to tag them. Which would it be? I had a suspicion who it might be.
Suddenly, Reel made his move. He uses Flash Step to appear behind Tabitha. She uses her stance-changing skill to reposition herself, but Reel had already Flash Stepped again and lunged at Tabitha by then. He aimed for the split-second cooldown before she could use her skill again.
Reel thrusts his right dagger at her exposed side, but a flash of light halts it before it can pierce her skin. Tabitha has a manic look on her face as she looks down at a frozen Reel. Tabitha’s shield was glowing and had wrapped her in a cloak of light.
So that’s what her shield does, it produces an effect similar to my Mana Skin, but seeing how it stopped Reel's enchanted dagger, it was probably a lot stronger.
Tabitha stabs at Reel, and he's forced to duck away. But as he ducks, Tabitha steps forward, and shield bashes him, sending him stumbling.
From there on, the fight turned incredibly one-sided. Tabitha kept the pressure on Reel, never letting him recover until she could slice him in between his armor.
Reel didn’t flinch when he was cut or groan in pain; he merely looked defeated. "It's my loss," he admits lowering his daggers. "Truly, the rumors about you don't do you justice."
The light slowly fades around Tabitha. “You weren’t so bad yourself,” she genuinely smiles. She sheaths her sword and wipes the sweat from her face, signaling the fight to be over.
“That…Was…Amazing!” Lloyd shouts while everyone else respectfully claps.
Reel smiles under everyone’s praises before dropping to his knees in exhaustion.
I use Air Walk to hop down into the quarry and offer him a hand. "Well, you survived," I joke as I help him to his feet.
“Shut up; I'm sure you know how strong she is," Reel hisses at me.
For a second, my smile collapses. "I do now," I mumble under my breath. For all Tabitha's been pushing me, she’s never fought like that. I finally saw what she’s capable of, and it pains me to admit it, but I’m nowhere close to reaching that level yet.
"I'm the one who lost; how come you're the one who looks defeated?"
“It’s nothing,” I force a smile and shake my head. “I’m just sad I didn’t get to see her squash you flat like I thought she would. You’re better than I give you credit for.”
“He was,” Tabitha walks over to us and stares down at a limping Reel. “Your talents are wasted here; why not come and work for my Master. Scholl would appreciate your talents."
Reel's eyes widen in surprise, but he chuckles and brushes off Tabitha’s offer. “Thanks, but no thanks. I already serve a man I respect.”
“Humm, pity.” That’s all Tabitha says before she turns around to face the others who were walking down into the quarry.
“Lady Tabitha, you were amazing!”
Frank and Lloyd fawn over the armored woman as Kervin walks over to us.
“You, ok?” he asks, raising an eyebrow at a battered Reel.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Reel groans as he straitens his back. “After a good night’s rest, I’ll be good as new.”
“You know it was stupid of you to challenge her, right?” Kervin asks in a low voice so that others couldn't hear him. “What if you offended her and she decided to kill you?”
Reel scoffs. “Then I would’ve died,” he matter-of-factly says. “She went easy on me,” Reel says with a bit of frustration in his voice. “I couldn’t tell while we were fighting, but seeing how she's nowhere near as tired as I am, I don't think I pushed her as hard as I thought I did.”
Kervin steals a glance over his shoulder at Tabitha, who is nodding along to the people congratulating her on her win.
“I had to try,” Reel firmly states. “I needed to see the gap between me and the next level. That’s the only way I’ll improve.”
Kervin sighs and shakes his head. "You're crazy; you know that?"
Reel chuckles, “It’s the best way to live. You can let go of me now,” he tells me.
I slowly take my hands off Reel, but he seems ok to stand. Part of me wanted to agree with Reel about pushing yourself, but on the other hand, I understood Kervin not getting Reel’s motivation. Some days I want nothing more than to stay in the village and craft my days away, while others, I want to adventure and see the world.
Either way, I'll need strength if I want to decide for myself. There was a genuine possibility that I might die after leaving the village for Scholl. So I have to be stronger.
No, I will become stronger.
I'll reach Tabitha's level and beyond; this I swear to myself.