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Everything aches. Maybe if I go back to sleep it won’t ache, however as much as I try I cannot. My entire body is sore and I let out an embarrassing croak of a grunt of pain as I try to right myself and fail to do more than shift my arms feebly.

 

“Errrrnth…”

 

“Hey! Are you okay!?” A voice I don’t recognize calls out from beyond my closed eyes.

 

“...stop yelling, it hurts more…”

 

Throwing everything I have I manage to on the third attempt to roll onto my back and slowly blink my eyes awake. Looking up I see the sole of a boot from Akira as he’s perched on the desk with a knee up and holding a dagger in a reverse grip as he watches the wall intently.

 

Following his gaze to the wall and noting that it was where the voice came from earlier, I pale slightly as I see the two other plant mages terrorized and holding each other against the wall. I bite the tip of my tongue to make sure this is not a hallucination. Nope.

 

Getting up too fast and feeling very light-headed. I manage to reach out to the desk that Akira is perched on to keep my balance before growling at him.

 

“...What did you do to them!?”

 

“Prevented them from wasting your efforts at gaining a skill.”

 

“He would not let us check to see if you were alright or let us go get you help, he’s kept us here on the back wall for hours.” The boy admonishes while the other girl simply stares down at her feet and keeps fidgeting.

 

“I’m so sorry. I’ll make sure he does not do that again.” I reply half-assedly as I look over at Jessica who’s sitting cross-legged, but face-first on the floor. There is a small Violet standing on top of her head, waving her tiny little vines threateningly at the two other mages as well.

 

“Jess…” I try calling out to her and taking a step to go check on her but my leg does not want to support my weight and I’m going to the ground. It is at this time I feel my shirt from behind my neck plucked and pulling me back to a sitting position.

 

“Calm, you are still weak after doubling your mana well. Jessica will wake shortly.”

 

“Can we leave now?” The boy asks again.

 

“Sorry, yes, Akira will not impede you and I’m so sorry again.”

 

I turn to Akira while the other two slowly circle the room to leave and make a hasty exit.

 

“What did you do and where’d you get the dagger?”

 

“I convinced them gently that it would be best if they do not interrupt your training and when they mentioned going to go get someone else to intervene. I simply blocked them from you two and the door with a dagger being visible.”

“You stole a dagger from my father? And you bullied them?”

 

“You fail to realize that your lives were on the line and the dagger will not be missed while I do not have access to my primary swords.”

 

“Your swords?”

“I’ll need to use a lot of mana to open a door to summon them, which will be very bad for you. It was my second mistake after you summoned me and it was the main reason for your earlier poisoning.”

 

“So you could summon your swords if you poison me?”

“Yes.”

 

“But I’ll become sick again.”

“Worse than all the others.”

 

“What about…”

 

“...Mmmmmm…” a tiny whimper comes out of Jessica as I crawl over to help.

 

I help ease her up slowly against the wall, preventing her from bashing the back of her head and Violet against the wall.

 

“It’s okay Jess, I’m here. Violet’s here. Everything is going to be okay.” I whisper, remembering how loud the others were and how much it hurt initially.

 

“I… Feel…. Ow-ful…” She whispers back as she slowly blinks her eyes open.

 

“So did we win… How do we know.” She asks the room and Akira responds to her inquiry.

 

“The skills ought to be guaranteed with what you went through, you will know tomorrow how successful it was.”

 

“Great. When can that be?”

 

After sitting around to rest for another hour to ensure that we are not so shaky on our feet, we drag ourselves back to our homes slowly as the sun is setting and the night encroaches. A quick bite to eat and ensuring that Akira puts dad’s dagger back, I headed upstairs and probably fell asleep as soon as I laid down.

 


 

I wake prior to dawn again and feel as though I’ve had the best sleep of my life just now. I’m practically ready to bounce off the walls in the pitch dark. I light my little lamp and go through my routine.

 

This must be one of those hidden skills that were mentioned by Akira because I feel amazing. Re-evaluating what we had done yesterday, the drawing of the runes was pretty awful and I know exactly how I can resolve that issue.

 

Sitting down at my desk, I grab a pair of river stones on the corner of my desk. These ones I was saving as they are pitch black and I had thought about trying to inlay some silver into a carving to sell at the market. I’ll need to restock on some stones the next time we head out to the lake and one of the inlets has some good stones there.

 

I sit down and organize my tools, getting a couple of different sized rasps, fine point chisels, and carving tools laid out. I begin to quickly work by candlelight, as I engrave the complicated runes into two stones. My every move feels more practiced and precise than ever in my life.

 

I almost ruin the final touches on the second stone as the door to my room bursts open and I’m tackled from behind in a hug.

 

“Found you! I thought you forgot about me.” Jessica jubilantly exclaims to her current captured quarry. Breaking free from her hold to get up I passed her the stone I almost screwed up because of her.

 

“Sorry, I felt amazing this morning and had the idea to make these for us, hopefully, they work,” I say as Jessica grabs the rune stone from my hand and tilts it this way and that to see the engraved rune that is in place.

 

“Wow, this is nice and will be easier. I was so worried that if I messed up, I would possibly become light-headed from a second attempt. If this works and is portable, that could make a huge difference.”

 

“That was my thinking. I’m pretty hungry, let’s go grab a bite to eat.”

 

The two of us rush down the stairs all smiles clutching our rune stones and barge into the kitchen where I see a grumpy dad staring down Akira with the ‘borrowed’ dagger in hand. Grabbing the breakfast loaf and cutting a pair of pieces off Jessica and myself, I turn to dad to dissuade him from hurting Akira.

 

“Dad, don’t be mad at Akira, he only borrowed it to help protect me while he cannot use his sword,” I say as I quickly finish the first piece and go grab a second piece of breakfast.

 

“He told me as much, though if he ain’t lying about summoning weapons, then we are all in a lot of trouble Cara.”

“I’ll be poisoned again if he tries to use that magic.”

“...And what if one of the king’s runts or the king himself demands you hand over a storage artifact that you cannot give them? What then?”

 

“I… I don’t know… We’ll… we’ll say...” I look over to Akira, looking for any help.

 

“Just kill any that ask, tell them they are too weak to use storage magic, or tell them it is a bloodline trait.” He replies coldly.

 

“Let’s avoid regicide and go with that last one, a unique trait that can only be used once a season.” Happy with our new alibi, I grab a third and fourth piece of bread and offer one to Jessica who is all smiles still.

 

Dad looks between me and Jessica and the bread before turning an astonished and slowly darkening visage to Akira.

 

“Boy… You didn’t dare.” My dad starts to hiss out while looking at Akira as though he found something the knife really needed to be used on.

 

“Probably not what you are thinking, the two of them are in a state of mana euphoria. They are high on their own mana.” Akira deadpans to my father who then turns to us with confusion. I pass my dad the rune stone and while retrieving my hand, grab the remainder of the loaf for later.

 

“Akira showed us that rune there. It forces all your mana out and makes it deeper and regenerate faster. Makes you feel absolutely terrible but this morning, I feel better than I’ve ever felt before.” I try to explain quickly as my dad rubs his thumb over the engravings I just finished this morning.

 

“And it worked?”

 

“Yes, absolutely. I won’t forget the feeling of losing all my mana in the blink of an eye.”

 

“How does it work?”

 

“You add blood and place it onto the ground to disperse all your mana into the earth. There are other uses for the completed rune form.”

 

“Would it work for me? And what other uses?”

 

“Yes. Engraved on a weapon that pierces a beast or enemy will disperse their strength. In a pommel in its full form will drain mana that the user can then use. Or more commonly placed in manacles that touch the earth to keep mages and slaves incapable of using mana, traps, and other uses.” Akira tells the three of us.

 

I reach out and take my rune stone away from dad.

 

“We should be heading off now dad, to train some more, we’ll be back later tonight I think.”

 

My dad gets up and hands the dagger handle first to Akira.

 

“You can borrow anything you can carry to keep my little girl safe. But if you dare touch her or Jessica, who’s like a daughter to me, I’ll find many new creative uses for me hammer and you…” he says, as he towers over Akira and slowly places the pommel in his hand.

 

“Do...You...Understand?”

 

I break the tense staredown by putting the remains of the loaf in my mouth and grab Jessica and Akira’s hand as I bolt for the door to the smithy, mumbling a goodbye to my father.

 

Adopting a normal pace heading towards the guild, we stop at a small street vendor to grab some supplies as I’m still famished.

 

“That’ll be 60 Dens, Miss.” The street vendor swindles me for everything I’m worth for two fistfuls of dried meats and a small pouch of the dried fruits and nuts that I pass to Jessica.

 

“Thanks, Cara. Akira, can I ask what we’ll be doing next? What can we learn to protect ourselves?”

 

“You should continue with deepening your mana wells, however, the goal is to resist. If you fail, you will still increase the size of your mana and this will help you learn to hold onto and compress your mana. Compressed mana will help you control and push plants and in the end animals and people beyond their limits to be used for your needs.”

“Wait!” We both yell out at the same time.

 

“Animals and people?” I interject and complete Jessica’s thoughts.

 

“Yes, plant magic allows for the control and alteration of the simpler forms of life, plants, and after continuous training, bugs, and animals of increasing complexity. They take astronomically more mana for more complex creatures or simply tampering with them to ultimately control death.”

 

“I… I… I don’t understand… We can use plant magic on animals and control death?” Jessica asks.

 

“Mastery over one gives mastery over the other. Mastery of fire gives mastery of cold. Mastery of earth for void, water for cutting, wind for reality, and plant or essence gives mastery over death. It is the very reason why in the many states, plant mages are hunted down and killed at almost all costs.”

 

“How long would it take to get to that point?” I enquire remembering that Akira had mentioned that my mana well was similar to the size of a cup compared to an ocean.

 

“It will be a long time in the future. Jessica’s vii-dari will possibly be able to broach them ahead of you because of her natural affinity.”

“Oh, because she’s a plant? Also, you mentioned you’d teach me how to maybe talk to her with the finger signs. Can you show me how to ask if she’s okay?”

 

“Yes, a natural affinity for healing will help her and is why the vii-dari are highly sought after for medicinal purposes. I learned from one of their royals a long time ago.” Akira told Jessica, while also showing his outstretched hand to Violet and twitching swaying his fingers slowly a dozen times in a repeated pattern.

 

“From a royal of her race? Ugh… Why is it so complicated?” Jessica was struggling at the exact sequence and I was trying to mimic it at my side while outside of their view and found it really difficult to try and replicate.

 

“Their entire race uses dance to communicate. However, the royals of their race found that they were ridiculed and treated as performers for the enjoyment of ambassadors and other royals of the other races. Thus, they adopted amongst their royalty this language so that they could stay seated at discussion tables with their peers or supplicants and be treated moderately more seriously.”

 

“That’s just sad,” Jessica said sadly while gently stroking the stem of Violet just under her flower bulb with the back of her fingers.

 

After more practice and finding out what the responses from Violet would look like to a proper question, we arrived at the guild and entered the room from yesterday to the surprise of the other two plant mages, who looked visibly uncomfortable with us entering into the room.

 

Jessica and I start by flipping through a few of the glass slides which have pressed plants and small descriptions. After going through a couple of dozen, trying to commit them to memory, we look to settle in to try our training again from the day before.

 

“So Akira, you said we need to hold onto our mana? How should we go about doing that?” I ask while tracing my thumb over the engravings on my river stone.

 

“You will need to try rotating your mana and pulling it in, while it will fight to rip it from your control. This will train you to hold onto your mana and also help prevent foreign mana from invading.”

 

“Umm… Excuse me?” A shy whisper comes from the entrance door.

 

Looking over, we see a shy blond girl wearing a baggy shirt and pants with rugged boots. She seems similar but I cannot place her initially.

 

“Yes? This is the plant mage area, there’s no senior members or trainers here.” I say to the girl who seems to be fidgeting so much that she might fall to pieces.

 

“I’m sorry…” She whispers. “The healer said that your familiar must have done something to me back in the healer’s hall…” With that hushed statement, everyone in the room snaps their heads to look at Akira accusingly, while he just shrugs.

 

“Ah! Nothing bad. It’s just that healer Larse said that I’d be in the hall for maybe ten to fifteen days to deal with the burns with the medicine she had available and that my healing was maybe because of him and that you had been hit with a backlash to help me...” She quickly replies.

 

*psst* “It is the pervert’s victim from before.” Jessica whispers to me and then it finally all clicks.

 

“I… I… I just wanted to come and thank you in person…” She said while stepping into the room and giving us a short bow.

 

“No need for that. We were happy to help. We were just about to go through some training. Did you find out about your affinity yet?” I ask to be polite and to stop the girl from bowing and try to change the subject.

 

“Oh… Thank you. I did not pass any, but I should have the wind affinity if we go by my family. I just did not want to go to the larger room with a larger group of people just yet.”

 

“You could stick with us if you like, we have a lot of room here. We were just going to be doing some training ourselves. I did not catch your name, mine’s Cara and this is my best friend Jessica, and you already know about my familiar Akira.”

 

“I’m Zoe Brinks, pleasure to meet you all. What kind of training?”

 

“They are expanding their mana to allow them to properly use plant magic and soon how to protect themselves from the attacks like the one you suffered from the kid with black hair.”

 

“Supposedly, with some training, we should be able to prevent the fire mages from ever bullying us.” Jessica chips in.

 

“Do you know who it was that attacked me in such a humiliating fashion? And how can you stop fire mages from doing what they want?” She asks incredulously.

 

“If you are a wind mage, you could simply prevent them from ever forming fire or have it explode and kill them, or you could simply drive them insane with voices or sounds,” Akira mentioned while waving his hand in the air as if it was not a big deal.

 

“How would I be able to do that?” She asks, hopeful but still skeptical about what she is hearing. Akira does not say anything and just looks at me, and waits for something.

 

“Oh! It’s okay Akira. I’d like to help her and maybe help prevent the perverted bastard that attacked her to repeat it.”

 

“Then she could either join you in training to expand your mana capacity so that you can use stronger magic passively or she could practice with trying to make voices or sounds with her mana.”

 

“How does making sounds with mana work?” Jessica asks while fussing with a Violet who’s trying to climb up on top of her head and keeps winding her vines into Jessica’s hair.

 

“With deeper mana wells it becomes easier, however, you could simply start by trying to make a second skin of just mana on your palm and try to make it like a drum. With practice, you can vibrate the drum to make any sound you want. It takes a lot of mana to push the drum away, but with enough, you can push it away with a thin string of mana and make sounds come from anywhere in a room or battlefield. Or possibly listen in on conversations from across a battlefield or in another room.”

 

Zoe looked down at her palm and frowned as she was trying to replicate what she was just told. I try as well, though cannot seem to take the elusive feeling of mana from my core and move it outwards to my hand, it seems to be simply nestled compactly in the core of my being.

 

Being as quiet as we can for a bit, trying to listen for a sound that Zoe might produce, nothing seemed to come of it.

 

“Are you able to show me what it looks like by chance?”

 

“I cannot at present without harming… Cara.” He responds to the frustrated inquiry of the girl who just looks back and forth between us.

 

Zoe becomes frustrated with that exercise and Akira mentions that it is most likely due to not having enough mana and we are able to convince her about how the runes we were using ought to be able to assist with that. Zoe appears to be motivated to really try her best to become stronger with our small group and hunkers down on the ground to try the blood rune.

 

The other two mages excuse themselves from the room, hoping to not be cornered again by Akira and we watch Zoe collapse outright and shiver violently initially after placing her palm over her own rune.

 

“That cannot possibly be healthy,” Jessica mutters under her breath as she stares at her rune stone apprehensively in hand.

 

“The vulnerability and the duration is the reason why plant mages will initially trust their lives and well being to their mentor who will safeguard them through these trials,” Akira responds to Jessica’s mumbling to nobody in particular.

 

Jessica and I prick our fingers and add a bit of blood through my runestone’s engravings and place them on the stone floor. After summoning my courage and getting as comfortably close to the ground as I can, I go over trying to rotate or hold onto that elusive feeling of mana from my core. Once I feel that I might be spinning it I dive right in and after the initial shock that steals my breath away completely, I find myself back in front of my little ember.

 

My little ember seems to maybe be double its initial size from what I remember. The darkness still feels the same, ever-present and ominous. Thinking back to when I tried to hold onto my mana, as soon as I placed my palm on that rune stone, the shock made my mind just blank.

 

Looking at my little ember, I try to take my invisible hands and try to rotate and spin it. I envision it spinning and slowly the little ember starts to become brighter. I push faster and faster and the brightness seems to slowly start to expand like a soap bubble that still carries the ember-like quality to its color.

 

It expands until it seems as though it is the size of two thumbnails and refuses to expand any more. The transparency of it feels a little worrying and so I try to squish it down while keeping it spinning and it complies readily.

 

I continue to play with the little ember, as it is my only lifeline in this darkness and all I feel is warmth from it.

 


 

Fluttering my eyes open, I feel groggy but nowhere near as bad as I had yesterday when attempting to use the blood runes. Jessica seems to also be groaning as Violet is playing merrily in her hair while on top of her head.

 

Zoe appears to be the exact same as before and I find Akira with a stack of the glass slides reviewing them, looks up, and greets us.

 

“Good morning, sleep well?”

 

“Ha, funny. How long was I stuck in that state?”

 

“Just a couple hours. The new girl will still be out of it for another three and will be feeling pretty terrible when she does wake.”

 

Jessica has sat up and is trying to fight with a violet who’s actively fighting her and simply getting more and more entangled before Jessica finally gives up in trying to extricate Violet from her hair. After Jessica concedes, I swear I see Violet pat her forehead with one vine as a consolation prize. If a plant could look smug, she currently does.

 

“So it was only a couple hours? That seems a lot faster than yesterday. Do we need to sleep before trying again or would it hurt us harm us to keep practicing?”

 

“I don’t know how much more of that I can handle… Though I feel like I was pretty close to resisting the initial pull of the rune…” Jessica mumbles to the side.

 

“I’ll guard you and it will be safe, the sooner you can resist the faster we can look at other training.”

 

Taking a few calming breaths, I try to remember the feeling of my rotating ember. I take a steadying breath and hold it in preparation for the shock of touching the rune that takes my breath away. Giving it another attempt, I swear I’m able to hold on for a half a breath before the devourer takes me.

 

Within what I am going to call my mana realm, my ember is definitely larger and brighter. When I initially felt it, it seemed as though it was rotating ever so slowly on its own. Trying to expand it again I see that it is about three thumbnails in size. So definitely growing. Looking at it now, it does not seem to have the same frailty of a bubble and now appears to be more uniform and almost like a very thin sphere of orange light.

 

I continue to play around with the little orb, throwing it and pulling it back like a ball. Imagining a wall that I can bounce it off of. I seem to be able to fully control it and I swear that when it passes through my hand at one point, it appears to may have become slightly thicker or ever so slightly darker. Though the effect was incredibly subtle and does not occur if my little mana orb is not going fast through what I believe to be my outstretched hand.

 


 

Waking up again, I feel a crick in my neck and pins and needles in my left leg. Getting up again, Akira is still present and seems to have moved onto slides from the second bookshelf. Looking around I see that Zoe is still unconscious and Jessica appears to be awake and relaxing while sitting against the wall.

 

Doing a small double-take when looking at Jessica, I see that Violet has calmed down and has positioned her flower head just above her ear and is actually keeping still. Right now it looks as though Jessica has the cutest set of small plant antlers poking out from under her hair.

 

Violet appears to have hidden most of herself under Jessica’s hair and Jessica, in her calm trance appears almost like a small princess of the forest with a small dainty crown of antlers that are angled towards the back of her head and slightly flaring upwards at the tips. Her hair now appears to be combed and not the mess that Violet was initially making.

 

“How long was I out? Jess… Violet… She’s making you look like a princess wood elf from myth and legend. It’s so cute…” And I am jealous beyond belief.

 

“Hi, I only just woke up. She’s so embedded in my hair now that I think I’ll need to go bald before I get her out. I’m just worried that others will maybe target her now as I can no longer hide her in my satchel. How do you feel?”

 

“I was better when I woke up this morning.”

*pfft* “I think we both were, I feel foggy and pretty sore now. Not sure if I want to try that again just yet.”

 

We talk a bit back and forth about what we feel and see while in the void. She seems to see the exact same thing as me though was surprised to find out that I stretched and compressed mine and that she had not tried that. Just focusing on moving it about and trying to direct her thoughts through her ‘dust’ particles that are a light cyan instead of my ember color.

 

After resting a bit and feeling more secure to give our legs a try, we get up and stretch our aching bodies a bit before joining Akira in going through a shelf of glass slides.

 

“I think I remember seeing this plant a bit south of the lake in the forest when I went there with dad to look for some moss,” Jessica said while turning the slide she has in hand around for me to take a look at a desiccated and sickly looking thin stemmed flower with tiny brown bulbs for flowers. The description plate says that they should be shades of red and that the plant [Choking Holus Marcium] is used in creating numbing effects when chewed that can allow pulling of a tooth with complete numbness. Too much consumption can cause the tongue to swell to the point of choking, so care required with doses of the plant.

 

Remembering that I had spent the remainder of my funds this morning, I propose an idea to Jessica.

 

“I don’t feel like attempting the rune training again just yet. Would you like to maybe go and take a look at the requisition board for lead mages and see if there is something we could pick up to maybe get a little spare coin for ourselves?”

 

“Sure! Let’s do that.”

As we go to leave the room, Akira was going to follow before I demanded that he stay to continue watching over Zoe. With slightly unsteady steps from our recent experiments and training, we proceed back to the main foyer and on the east side, we are able to find a ratty cork board with a bunch of slips tacked to it.

 

Looking through them, many appear to be quite demeaning or simply busywork.

 

“Let's see… Weed farms of stinky weeds, find a lost pet, find and clear sewage blockage… Wow, they all only pay fifty to a hundred Dens for terrible work and that’ll only cover like a meal…” I mutter as I read through some. Jessica is also perusing the board and brings my attention to one.

 

“Here’s one, bring caterpillar manes to the fishermen so they can repair their nets. Ten Den per ten adult manes. It says a minimum of thirty, no limit. I guess we could do that and see what else we could get while going.”

 

A single Den for a single bug part? That is an extremely poor ratio. Even terrible street food vendors cost sixty Dens for a small snack, 100-150 for a possible low-quality meal and a stay at an inn can go for 400-800 depending on if a meal or how good it is. Even dad charges a couple hundred to sharpen a blade.

 

“Caterpillar manes?” I ask, not recognizing what is being asked for.

 

“Mom had some for patching some clothes, you get them off of some green caterpillars that will have a small fuzzy neck collar that you can take. They are tiny, but if you dunk the silk in water and swirl the water, you can get a really strong set of threads that will combine into something you can use to patch clothes or for stitches. The only problem is they are small and like to hide under leaves.”

 

Confirming that this will get us out and walking, we plan that it is something we can do tomorrow. We go to the desk that has a bored man reading a book and we have to wait for him to get to the end of the page before he looks at us and what we want to take.

 

“Ouch, you guys want to go bushwack for an entire day for thirty Dens? You two would be better served maybe taking some of the fieldwork, as long as you complete it, you’ll get a good amount more and it is guaranteed. You ain’t guaranteed to find any buggers after an entire day. You sure you want this one?”

 

“Yes please for both of us,” I respond back to the gentleman who’s only trying to help us not waste a day for possibly nothing.

 

“Aye, For both of you? That’s only fifteen Den each and finding sixty of them will be a fool’s errand.”

 

“We’re sure, thank you for the warning.”

He just sighs at us and takes our names to document on his end and goes back to his book. The main foyer is pretty quiet in the early afternoon and we make our way back to the plant room in what is probably the most underutilized wing in the entire guild.

 

Arriving back to our current training room, we find Akira and show him our goal for tomorrow.

 

“Not a problem. Would be easier if we could get you to form your own storage pockets or how to search for things with your mana, but you are a ways away from that.” He mumbles while contemplating things.

 

“Shhh! Never mention storage artifacts out loud!” I hiss.

 

“By the fucking devourer, you will bring the continent down on us with just the rumor that we have something that only royals have. We’d be killed in our sleep by foreign country spies or even our own country, just so that they could take away every possible item in our possession to try and find a storage artifact.” Jessica joins in my reprimand and shushes Akira who just gives us an odd tilt of his head.

 

“Noted.”

 

“Wait, we can learn to do that? With mana? We don’t actually need an artifact?” I ask in a hushed whisper.

 

“Yes, extremely expensive on mana but feasible after some significant growth. An artifact is possibly a stupid way to go about doing it, as soon as the artifact loses all the stored mana within that would be used, it would then lose all your objects permanently. Whereas if you use your own mana, as long as you are alive, you have access to them and they are only permanently lost on death.”

 

“So then how much more mana training would we need?” I must admit I’m intrigued if I could possibly use something that only royals could.

 

“It would be best to learn about compressing your mana first and creating a soul pouch to store the condensed mana within for your future use.”

 

“What is a soul pouch?” Jessica asks.

 

“A soul pouch and a soul book are items so heavily drenched in your own mana that they become a part of you, meaning that others cannot access their contents as it is yours and yours alone. We’d need to find a suitable plant that you would force through many cycles of life and death until it only breathes from your mana and is wholly responsive to your mana and yours alone.”

 

“And how would Jessica and I store mana in this pouch?”

 

“A few more items to learn, but once you have a basic hold on your mana, you’ll practice compressing it into a singular grain of sand. Pure mana. Your pure mana that could be used in the future to overcharge a spell and will be easy to start showing your growth from training.”

 

“And a soul book is...?” I’m confused and there have been so many things we’ve been introduced to in just the last couple days. It is really getting difficult to even know if it is doing anything or if we are just wannabe masochists.

 

“It ought to be a mirror of your soul… Or at least that is the understanding from ancient times and their references to it. It was never sought after by the states as it felt redundant because we could call upon the forces to provide that to us at any time. However, with the forces being blocked in this state it is the only thing I can think of.

 

Zoe all of a sudden starts to stir and groan as she starts to roll her head side to side slowly while resting her forehead on the ground.

 

“Welcome to the land of the living!” Jessica greets her and all too late realizes that she was too jubilant due to Zoe wincing away from the sound of her voice.

 

“Sorry…”

 

After a small duration, Zoe finally manages to roll over and sit up and her eyes keep coming in and out of focus before she finally manages to stop the world from spinning and is able to address us.

 

“The devourer be damned… that was awful and… I feel… like I’ve just been dragged behind a carriage for an entire day… You guys have been doing this for fun?”

 

“Not for fun. You’ll understand tomorrow probably when you wake up. We are planning to go out tomorrow to the forest south of the lake to do a mall requisition. You are welcome to join us if you want to.” I say inviting her politely, probably too late to not scare off this new friend.

 

“I think… I’ll pass… I just might go to sleep for an entire ten-day.” She says slightly slurring her words from sheer exhaustion.

 

“That’s okay,” I say sadly, though I do hope she’ll feel as good as I did this morning if it all worked.

 

“I’ll head home as soon as I feel I can walk the distance, my family is not too far north of the guild.”

 

Discussing with Jessica a bit more, we decide to make one more attempt at the training, as I am feeling more confident in possibly being able to retain my mana.

 

Jessica goes first and I see she’s able to use her rune stone for a solid three breaths before she starts to hiccup and hyperventilate. Trying to keep calm and regain control.

 

*hiccup* *hiccup* *hic hic hic*

 

She gives the cutest stifled hiccup and simply falls face-first to the ground where Violet reaches out from her little antler crown and gently sets her head down before doing a happy little swaying dance as a set of antlers.

 

Steadying myself, I make sure that I lie down with my head in the crook of my right arm. I steady my breathing and reach out with my left hand. I feel the tug, the darkness pulls at me, the earth pulls. However, my inner self is spinning, slowly throwing off the tendrils or hooks of darkness that are trying to pull me down into the very depths of the earth.

 

One breath.

 

More hooks seem to be surrounding my inner self, pulling, there are too many. I try to spin faster. I almost feel as though the hooks are being tossed aside, unable to gain purchase on my inner self.

 

Two breaths.

 

Spinning, faster and faster. I think I’m doing it, I might actually be doing it.

 

 

Oh fuck, I’m dizy. My eyes start to roll up. No! I try to recenter them and keep them focused, however, I only last a single attempt before the darkness consumes me whole.

 

I’m greeted by my little ember that is spinning wobbly and is maybe bigger… I think it is a bit harder to tell now. I’m uncertain, though I’m sure that I managed to fight the hooks of the rune trying to force my mana out of my very being.

 

Damn. I think Jessica managed to sustain longer than me. I didn’t end up in a hiccup fit, but she at least lasted three breaths before hiccup set in. I remind myself it is not a competition as I begin to play with my ember again. I need to really find an effective way to meditate. My only saving grace is that with every attempt the amount of time I was relegated to babysitting this little ember seems to have been cut in half and is perhaps getting shorter and shorter.

 

Boredom sets in and I start to take it out on the little ember. Inventing imaginary obstacle courses for it to have to go through as I wait.

 


 

I’m done with this today. I snap my eyes open and let them focus. I feel cranky and hungry. It is still light out and after sitting up I find Jessica and Zoe chatting quietly together as Zoe is showing Jessica a silver chain with what appears to be a small silver stick on it.

 

It is very subtle and after I manage to sit up and enquire, I find that it is her artifact and it is just a little silver whistle that makes no noise that we can hear, despite her blowing in it to the point her face flushes red.

 

We decide that we are most certainly done for the day. It seems like we were only in that state of sheer boredom for only an hour this time and Zoe is feeling up to walking. We offer to walk her home and after accomplishing that, we go beg our parents for some Dens to go grab a bite to eat.

 

After satiating ourselves on some greasy food for me and some fried vegetables for Jessica, who was having to placate what seemed to be a roiling mad crown of thorns at the frying and eating of some plant kin. We parted ways for the rest of the evening, agreeing to meet up again tomorrow morning to head off south of the lake to search for some items we could maybe try to sell in the market and to find some caterpillar manes.

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Dragonkinn02

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