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"Have ye killed before?"

Kira shook herself as her vision cleared. She found herself standing in the center of a small cave. A clear spring of water gushed from a stone fountain in the back, and several giant blue crystals cast a soft glow over the area. Several feet away, she saw the entrance of a wide earthen tunnel lined with glowing moss.

She was underground in a claustrophobic space for the first time in her life, yet somehow Kira felt relaxed and comfortable.

'Probably because the air is fresh and cool? Or maybe because I'm a Geomancer.' Kira nodded to herself, glancing at a notification in her field of view.

NOTICE
You have entered a new Dungeon Instance. You are now saved to this Instance.
As you are below Rank E, you are granted a complimentary Soul Gem binding.
 
BOUND SOUL GEMS SOUL GEM COOLDOWN FLOOR TOKENS TIME FLOW
1 24 Hrs 0 1:1

"Soul Gem...?" Kira muttered, before realizing Ailsa asked her a question. "Ah! I've. Killed fish? And monsters. Small ones."

"Good. One less thing ta worry about!" Ailsa laughed, patting Kira's shoulder with a heavy hand. "Soul Gems will send ye out the dungeon if ye die, but it's still an unpleasant lesson ta learn, do yer best not ta try it out fer yerself.

"Ye always start inna safe zone when enterin' Dungeons, called a Sanctuary, that always has a source of fresh clean water inside. Sanctuaries have those blue light crystals around the perimeter, wardin' off insects and monsters an' the like. Some Dungeons have many Sanctuaries, while nasty Dungeons have fake ones.

"Now c'mere, hold out yer hands and pay attention, like." Ailsa pulled two rolls of cloth and two small leather pads out of her Inventory, then slowly started wrapping the length of one around Kira's hands, exaggerating each movement. "Wrap it securely around yer wrist, palm, and base of yer thumb, like so. It maintains alignment of the joints, plus compresses and lends strength ta soft tissues durin' a punch. They reduce the chance of sprain or fracture, even if ye punch wrong, and strengthens the metacarpus here. 

"We'll be wrappin' it more around the knuckles and wrist fer support and protection." After two layers of cloth were wrapped around Kira's hand, Ailsa laid one of the small leather pads across the length of her knuckles, then started wrapping the cloth again. "These here, they're knuckle pads. Ye'll appreciate these if yer fightin' with yer bare hands, but even if ye have gloves or gauntlets or the like, they're good paddin'. Remember how the wrap feels pressin' on yer hand and wrist, I don't wanna be wrappin' fer ye again!"

Kira flexed her hands when Ailsa finished wrapping her hand, curling her fingers into a fist over and over. It felt strange in an unfamiliar sense, but the binding wasn't too tight and felt almost comfortable when she flexed her muscles. Following her mentor's instructions, Kira wrapped the other hand herself.

Then again, and again, over and over because wrapping one-handed was a lot harder than watching someone else do it. Ailsa unbound the entire thing each time she made a mistake!

"Are you really gonna have me just... Punching monsters?" Kira muttered once she finally succeeded in wrapping her hands to Ailsa's satisfaction. On the second day of training her mentor asked about Geomancer's class bonuses and her passive abilities, then got really excited once the girl finished listing everything off. After that Kira was too busy to even remember the strange glint in the Bronzen Dwarf's silver eyes, much less ask about it.

"The caster-type's biggest weakness be their physical body. In higher levels ye get defensive and mobility spells, but what about until then? They're slow and weak when cornered up close." Ailsa sighed, shaking her head so that her long tangle of curly auburn hair bounced emphatically around her broad shoulders. "Raisin' a caster takes patient teammates willin' ta babysit, and resources ta supplement deficiencies. Learnin' new spells be hard, often expensive if ye ain't lucky enough ta get books on yer own.

"But!" The Dwarf grinned, tapping Kira's nose. "Those be rules fer traditional caster-types, see? Yer a mage, Kira, sure enough. But yer a combat mage like meself! Our early spells be plain and few, lackin' the flair and flash of other types. In exchange, we get utility. Crowd control, physical combat, spells in the offensive, defensive, and support categories... It takes more work ta train combat casters than any other Class, but if ya got the brains and the determination ye won't lose ta anyone!

"And yer foundation be almost perfect fer it. Acrobatic for dodgin', Triflin' Presence to avoid detection and hostility, Sense for findin' opponents, Keen Aim supplementin' yer mastered Throw Rock. Not even countin' yer monstrous stats, yer a force ta be reckoned with!"

"Monstrous?"

"Ah..." Ailsa froze. A mistake! The Dwarf fidgeted for a moment, then sighed and nodded. Being in a Team meant she could see Kira's base stats, and those terrifying numbers really tested her worldviews. "Aye. Kiddo, a Level 1-F ain't expected ta have stats above 3, generally speakin'. Some be strong from birth, with special stat bonuses to reflect it, but they be uncommon and usually only get one or two stats bumped ta 4. HP and MP hardly ever start above 10 each fer most. Stat growth when gainin' levels be based on yer Level 1-F stats, so... Well, when ye level up the first time we'll see fer sure what kind of monster ye really be..."

"Oh..." Kira nodded in understanding. So when people Scanned her and freaked out it was because they saw her HP and MP along with her pitiful level and knew she was going to be scary in the future? "Hardly anyone starts with more than 2 in the base stats, and 10 for HP and MP at most. In that case, I guess I can see how I'd be considered monstrous..."

"Nevermind, never ye mind!" Ailsa laughed, clapping the thin girl on the back to push her forward with a gentle nudge. "At any rate, let's see how ye fare against some little beasties!"

Kira glanced at the tunnel, then back at the Dwarf. "Um. I'm only Level 1-F, though? This place is Level 5-F at least..."

"Someone with yer stats doesn't get ta complain."

"Ah... Then... Can we wait a moment? I want to see something first." Kira shuffled over to the blue crystals, casting Scan with an excited sparkle in her bright blue eyes. "That glow reminds me of how scheelite fluoresces under shortwave ultraviolet light, it glows a bright sky-blue like these crystals! It looks so pretty!"

【 Sanctuary Safirite 】

A rare mineral infused with strong earth magic.

Sanctuary Safirite is formed when strong mana is infused into corundum over a long period of time.

Creates a Safe Zone using the crystal as the center.

Only found inside of Gates, Dungeons, or rarely Shards.

Cannot be removed or handled without the 【 Earthshape】 skill and a strong affinity for earth-type magic.

SAFE ZONE EFFECTS

Soothes hostility
Repels small insects
Repels monsters (will not affect targets who have already accrued aggression)
Doubles HP and MP recovery rate
Doubles stamina recovery rate
Halves damage taken by periodic effects (Poison, spells, curses, etc)
Halves effects of fatigue and hunger

Overlapping Zones do not increase the potency of active effects. 

SAFE ZONE RADIUS ITEM VALUE
1 cubic meter per 1000ct (carats) 5000 Credits per 100ct

"So she can get excited after all... No surprise it's over rocks." Ailsa chuckled, stroking her chin. After spending nearly a full week with the girl, she'd noticed one thing in particular: Kira wasn't incredibly expressive. For someone her age, she was calm almost to the point of seeming apathetic about her circumstances or surroundings. 

Her expressions of surprise were usually just raising eyebrows and saying 'Ah' or 'Oh'. Her complaining was limited to vocal communications accompanied by a furrowed brow and slight frown, more mild displeasure than anything resembling anger.

Even when training until her body collapsed, the girl just kept getting up and pushing herself harder. Frustration at failure was expressed with colorful swears and a burst of renewed vigor. Sadness... Ailsa only saw it from her once, and even that was just a quiet shaking of her shoulders as the girl lowered her gaze, speaking of her family as though it twisted a dagger in her gut to do so.

Kira was thrown into an unreasonable situation where a stranger was demanding she follow a rigorous exercise routine without even offering a reward or compensation at the end, but all she did was complain colorfully without actually refusing to give her best no matter how hard Ailsa pushed. It was both admirable and worrying.

When they first met, Ailsa kept knocking her down as a test. How much would it take for the girl to stay down and accept defeat? That was an important limit to be aware of during training, and yet...

Kira only stopped getting up when she physically could not move anymore. While it sounded like a point of pride on the surface, it was an enormous flaw. Someone who didn't know when to call it quits would get themselves injured or killed in otherwise avoidable situations.

That first day of Hell Week, the Dwarf pushed the girl to the point of collapse in order to have her understand her own limits. In the end, Kira shouldered it all without learning a thing! Her only real plan for the future was to get stronger, but she wasn't analyzing Ailsa's reasoning for the training beyond what explanations the Dwarf provided of her own volition.

The look in her eyes was one Ailsa recognized well - most people in the world would recognize the signs of someone fleeing their own grief. She didn't examine her actions because she was just going through the motions on a surface level. While the Dwarf felt it was a good thing the girl didn't get stuck in whatever dark shadows lingered in her past, it was still a shame to see her in such a state. Kira was only 14 years old!

"But while she listens ta orders, she ain't opened up ta me at all. Does she even smile at her friends? Does she... Have friends?" The Dwarf scowled, brows furrowed. She really didn't know enough about her new student. Watching a student in multiple environments was good for understanding their personality and motivation, which was essential for tailoring combat training and routines. "Ach, troublesome brat.... I guess I have ta be more direct with- Oi! What are ye doin'!?"

Kira jumped in surprise at Ailsa's sudden shout. "Er... Science?" Bright blue crystal stretched between her hands like pulled taffy. Behind the girl, a deep gouge in the cave wall showed where she removed a cluster of crystal the size of her head.

"Science? Science?! Yer usin' Sanctuary Safirite fer science!"

Ignoring Ailsa's dramatic wail, Kira turned her gaze back to the crystal in her hands. She used Earthshape to mold it, making it seem pliable and soft as putty. She turned the bright blue taffy rock into a poorly molded kitty head, then stashed it in her Inventory. 

"Ye just took it..." Ailsa muttered, covering her face with her hands. "Kira... Sanctuary Safirite be used ta create wardin' totems fer safe camps outside of Dungeons, Gates, or Shards, which have natural safe zones of their own. Aside from that... It's considered a gift from the gods, ye know? Protection! Ye can't just take it without a blessin'!"

Kira tilted her head to the side, then glanced at the gouged out cave wall. "I did, though? It came right out, practically jumped."

Groaning, Ailsa pinched the bridge of her nose. The kid was really not normal! How high was her affinity for the earth element?! Even earth-specialist mages with maxed out Earthshape often struggled to handle Safirite without a natural innate affinity, something which couldn't be cultivated. "Just don't do it in front of others, okay? People would get really... Jealous and greedy, most like..."

"Oh. Okay." Resolving to experiment with Safirite in secret, Kira nodded... And took another chunk of Safirite from the wall for her inventory.

Ailsa resisted the urge to smack the child. "I'll wait in the safe zone, I'm too strong so the monsters won't come out ta play if I'm with ye. Dungeons with Floor Tokens and Instancin' always have Floor Bosses behind intimidatin' fancy doors, so if ye find any fancy doors don't open it until ye explore the rest of the floor! Ye get bonus EXP for fully explorin' a Dungeon floor before killin' the Floor Boss, sometimes even rewards if the map's huge enough. 

"Go, fight, come back when yer done with the small fry but before openin' the fancy door. If ye come back ta rest while there's still beasties runnin' about, I'll double yer daily trainin' startin' tomorra! And make it snappy!"

Gritting her teeth, Kira did an about-face and started jogging toward the tunnel. Once she was out of sight, Ailsa pulled a comfortable folding chair from her Inventory. She sat heavily in the chair, whispering a soft grunt from the impact. Then she held up both hands, making a series of strange gestures in the air before speaking aloud: "【 Spirit Sight 】!"

Several small orange screens popped into view around Ailsa's body, the color of flowing lava before it starts to cool. Each screen displayed a different section of the Dungeon, but because her level was so high compared to the surrounding monsters, and because the floor itself wasn't very large or complex, she didn't get extra EXP for filling out the map data with her spell. She grabbed one screen in particular and dragged its corners to enlarge the view, until it was the size of a large television with the other smaller screens floating freely around it.

On the biggest screen, Kira jogged down a long tunnel, keeping a steady pace to keep from getting tired early. Despite being out of her Master's sight for the first time in almost a week, the skinny girl didn't show any signs of trying to slack off.

Ailsa pulled a thermos from her Inventory and poured herself a mug of steaming hot barley soup. Then she sat back in her chair, and grinned over the lip of the steaming mug as she brought it to her face. "Now let's see what ye can really do."

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About the author

Kruos

Bio: I'm an author as a hobby and write to have fun, so I hope my readers have fun too. I also have a webcomic, and I like to make metal jewelry in my spare time when I can afford the materials!

I'm a sickly person who is often stuck in bed for days at a time, so please be understanding of my sporadic update schedule. I'll do my best!

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