It was around a campfire that we had made - stopping for the night south of Bilos - that I finally learned what Shatti’s second Class was. To my surprise, his second Class was [Court Mage].
“Why hide it though?” I asked as I warmed myself by the fire during the cold night. “I know that magic is monopolized by the [Priests] in Ra’Sharon, but I don’t think they would harm the [Advisor] of a [Prince].”
Sut and Shatti just chuckled, and explained that magic had a complex relationship with society. The [Priests] of both empires claimed that magic was a gift from the gods, but the common man feared magic and many nobles were suspicious of it. Blasphemous magic was supposed to be an affront to the gods, and witchcraft was considered an evil worthy of death.
“I know that people often fear what they can’t understand,” I poked at the fire with a stick. “But surely magic is no more strange than any Skill, right? I can cause people who I feel are my enemies to hallucinate with only my voice and I know there are Skills with far more powerful effects.”
“But we know where our Skills come from,” Shatti explained patiently. “They are gifts from the System; rewards for our effort and a representation of our lifestyle. The power of a [Mage] might come from elsewhere. Rumors of blood sacrifice and curses are persistent, and they aren’t entirely wrong. [Blood Mages] and [Witches] often commit heinous crimes to further their strength.”
“You would think that people would want their government and protectors to have their own [Mages] to defend against these criminals then,” I reason, but that only earns another laugh.
“Because the masses are so well known for their logic and common sense,” Sut said sarcastically. Frankly, I had to agree with the sentiment. I had lived in a world with the internet and even with all the world’s knowledge in their pockets, people still clung to conspiracies and lies.
“And if I wanted to learn magic myself?” I asked hopefully, “I mean, at the very least it would be something to do while traveling, right?”
“Why would you want to?” They looked at me oddly, and I admit that it was hard to explain why I would still want to learn magic after hearing how poorly it was viewed. I certainly couldn’t say, “because I am tired of waiting for my owl from Hogwarts and I am not sure if they can even find me in another world.”
I suppose the real reason for why I wanted to learn magic was because it was magic. I didn’t associate magic with negative things like curses and blood sacrifice, instead I associated it with one world’s pop culture and positive feelings like wonder and amazement. If someone had seriously offered to teach me magic, I would have jumped at the opportunity as I imagine any other person would have.
“Well, I am a [Scholar],” I say instead. “How can I miss an opportunity to learn? Who knows what is there to be discovered? Just off the top of my head I wonder: if a [Blood Mage] can turn life to power, can another mage turn power to life? Healing that does not rely on [Priests] and the whims of the gods would be a boon when fighting with monsters for sure.”
“My father wouldn’t want me to let you learn,” Sut mused. “But I am not my father, and I don’t believe in restricting my wives, and I have to confess that I like the idea of having more healers. Shatti?”
“Your Highness,” Shatti sighed, rubbing his forehead. “I had hoped we would at least make it to Hasa before making some kind of unreasonable demand, but that was obviously just a dream. As your [Advisor], I cannot recommend that Her Highness learn magic. Her Classes already have an association with illusions and beguilements; we already will never be free of rumors that she controls you, if she practices magic those whispers will become all that much more dangerous.”
“Then why not allow everyone to learn magic?” I think aloud, “create a school for teaching magic and put it under the supervision of the [Priests]. If I am merely one person among many, then I can hardly be picked out as singularly bad.”
“It would be unpopular in many places,” Sut answered, but his face was thoughtful. Then he shook his head and continued, “it would be unpopular among the [Nobles] as well. Allowing commoners to have that much power is dangerous. It leads to rebellions and discontent.”
“My experience in Ra’Sharon is that rebellion - from the commoners - is mostly a matter of economics,” I say this although I am thinking of my history lessons from long ago. “If you give the people bread and circuses to keep them satisfied at home and an enemy to unite against abroad then stability is quite very nearly assured.”
“That is very easy to say, but it is not easy to achieve.” Shatti quickly countered, “In Ra’Sharon, Sharon’An provides a consistent and grand harvest that can be relied on. Outside Ra’Sharon, the harvests are at the whims of the gods and they punish whom they wish.”
“This only provides more reason for why magic should be studied,” I think my argument here is sound, so I make it with confidence. “If you can curse with magic, why not bless with magic? Bless isn’t really the right word here, maybe bolster would be a better descriptor? Either way, who is to say magic couldn’t be used to improve crop yields?”
“It probably could,” he admitted. “But would it be worth it? I am less sure of that.”
“I am sure of it,” mostly anyway. These empires are basically in the bronze age, so it is likely that anything that they know how to do can be done better. For fucks sake, I just left an empire where even an [Imperial Princess] had a pillow made out of wood. “I know there is more to discover, things we could not even imagine now. The faster we start down that road, the quicker we shall arrive at the destination.”
Sut looked at me oddly when I said that, and Shatti looked at me sharply. I had forgotten that both of them had abilities that helped them know if someone was telling the truth. Sut’s Skill wasn’t really all that strong, but Shatti’s was far more powerful and nuanced. Saying, “I know there is more to discover,” would have come across as true, but the “things we could not even imagine now,” was a lie, I certainly was able to imagine the future.
“Perhaps I should rephrase,” I quickly say before they can interrupt. “There are things to discover that you would not be able to imagine, and I would never be able to explain to you.”
I had made it over a decade and a half living in the palace of Ra’Sharon, surrounded by people with Skills that can tell if someone says a false statement, and I hadn’t tripped up. Ten minutes into a conversation where the possibility of magic is dangled in front of me I slip up and make it obvious that I am hiding things.
“Shatti, we would only be risking a little extra discontent among the people and the nobility, yes?” Sut asked, “because if that is all, I have to confess that I am rather curious now to see what will happen.”
This time, it was Shatti’s turn to sigh, and I gained my first magic teacher.
Learning magic turned out to be a massive pain in the ass.
If I remove the parts that I am fairly certain are just superstition, the steps in the process are fairly clear. The first step is to learn how to sense mana, the energy used in magic. This makes sense, because if you can’t sense magic, learning to manipulate it is nearly impossible. The second step is, as I expected, learning to manipulate that mana and I can only describe the feeling as trying to flex a muscle that doesn’t exist.
Shatti’s method of teaching me how to sense mana was pretty straight forward; he just flooded the area around me with mana until I noticed it and then had me memorize the feeling. As we traveled the next day, he had me try to focus on that feeling and try to identify mana in the environment and in myself. It was frustrating and I made little progress as we passed through Bilos to Kadess and got on a boat. It wasn’t until we reached Katnah that I was able to reliably sense mana around me at least fifty percent of the time I tried.
Our next stop on our trip was Ugareet, a place that intrigued me somewhat. It seemed odd to me that Ugareet could be ruled by a [King] who was also subservient to the Hin’Tye [Emperor]. Yet, this is exactly the arrangement for many territories around the edges of the Hin’Tye empire.
To reach Ugareet, we had to stop at a small little dock on the river and head west from there. However, it was immediately apparent that something was wrong when we got close. We could see smoke off to the west, where Ugareet was supposed to be.
The faces of our [Charioteers] and [Royal Guards] tightened, and Sut began barking orders. Preparations to get our horses and chariots off the boat as soon as we docked were going around me. The only question was…
“What do you want me to do, Su?” I asked. In this life I hadn’t chosen a combat related Class, asking to be in the thick of things wouldn’t necessarily make sense. But at the same time, I am not sure where the safest place for myself as a non-combatant would be.
“There is a hill outside the city,” he replied as he prepared his chariot, I wouldn’t be riding with him now. “I will have a couple of the [Royal Guards] with you there while I take the rest into the city.”
“Will you be safe?” I ask nervously. I don’t know much about war, but the idea that chariots wouldn’t do well in a city seemed pretty obvious.
“Of course I will,” Sut replied. “I have the [Champion] Class and Shatti will be accompanying me. To be honest, I am more worried about you. I don’t want you to come closer to the fighting, but leaving you here alone…”
There wasn’t anything else to say. The horses galloped out of the little town, churning up clouds of dust behind them. The desert had given way to scrub, but the ground was still covered in grit. But if I understood the distance correctly, would we even make it in time?
That was answered immediately, when Sut growled out two words: “[Rapid Reinforcement],” and the world blurred around us. We were travelling as fast as we might have if we were in a car! Aj and Sere were screaming, but I was focused on the smoke ahead of us. As fast as we were moving, it seemed to take all too long for the coast to come into view and the city of Ugareet on it.
The city was burning.
The pillar of smoke we had been riding towards obviously implied as much, but it does nothing to illustrate the horror that I saw. Flames sprouted tens of feet into the air, covering entire sections of the city; even at this distance I could hear screaming and see people fleeing the city. In the harbor there were many ships and a few pulled up on the shore outside the city proper, the raiders had come from the sea.
Aj, Sere, a few guards and myself separated from Prince Sut, Shatti, and the main force of our [Royal Guards] here. I felt helpless, standing on that hilltop and watching him ride to the city and entering the open gates. I hated that feeling, but there was nothing I could do. Or was there…?
I had never actually tested the limits of my Skills. If they improved with my Classes and levels, since I have consolidated and advanced my Classes so much, might I be able to do something, even from here? I usually used [Loud and Clear] to whisper, but just how loud could I go?
“I am going to try and use my Skills,” I warn Aj, Sere, and my guards, and then I begin to sing.
[First Prince] Uppilimus Sut of Hin’Tye POV:
I dismounted my chariot as soon as I passed the gates, sending my [Charioteers] to attack the boats I had sighted on the coast outside the city earlier. My [Royal Guards] took up their spears and I drew my sword as we moved into the city. Shatti didn’t have a weapon, but then again, he didn’t need one.
It was absolute chaos. People were trying to flee and smoke was in the air, obscuring my vision. Any part of the city not made out of stone was on fire and I could hear the sounds of screams and fighting not far ahead. I took my guards towards the sounds of fighting running down the street and into what in better times would have been a market square.
Now, it was the site of a desperate last stand. The city’s garrison was outnumbered and at risk of being surrounded by their attackers who fought with wild abandon. Their armor and decorations were not like any tribe or civilization I was familiar with, but figuring out who they were could wait until they were corpses in the ground.
“[Aura of the Champion], [Weighty Charge]!” I activated my Skills as we ran into the fray. The first Skill blanketed the square, filling our foes with fear and boosting the strength and courage of our allies so long as I was alive. The second Skill gave our charge much more weight behind it, so that when our line hit the invaders we crashed them aside like a bull charging through grass.
My sword clashed with one of them, but I outleveled my opponent and was simply able to shove him to the ground where I casually finished him off by putting the point of my sword through his chest. I dodged another attack from the side and unable to retaliate with my blade I chose to slug my attacker in the face, causing him to stumble.
My sword took his arm and then his head.
Around me, my [Royal Guards] were showing their strength and their Strength, but the enemy had numbers on their side. Even if they lacked in quality, the quantity was a power of its own. They slowly pushed back my [Aura of the Champion] with a collection of Skills from many individuals and more of them continued to enter the square to join the fight.
If it was not for Shatti, blasting waves of fire that immolated five or six enemies at a time, we would have been overrun. Despite his seemingly unstoppable power, I knew that the reality was that Shatti was not able to keep up using his magic that much. We would have to pull back, but the garrison we had come to reinforce was disorganized, and probably would not be able to withdraw with us.
If we found a better spot to defend, this city might not be lost, but if we stayed here or lost the [Soldiers] of the garrison…
An arrow struck me in the shoulder and I pulled it out with a snarl, tossing it to the ground. My Endurance and Vitality were high, plus I had the Skill [Heroes don’t Bleed], so the wound was very shallow and barely bled at all. More importantly, they were starting to bring their [Archers] to bear on this fight. If we didn’t retreat now we would die!
I was about to give the order when I heard it. It wasn’t something I had not heard before. No, Hemere was happy to sing for me during our travels and even when she was just talking her voice had a wonderful musical quality. This time was different though, her voice filled the air; I could hear her song easily over the fire and the screams and the fighting.
I felt like I had a bit more energy; like I could think just a bit faster and wield my sword just a bit more flexibly. Hemere must be using her Skills to raise the Stats of every one of our [Soldiers] in the city! And if she had fully and honestly explained her Skills to me…
Yes, now the sound of bells chimed in time with her song, and the invaders became confused. Some struck out at empty air or attacked their allies, and those ones that resisted whatever visions Hemere was showing them seemed hesitant. Their great numbers became nothing but a mass of chaos, and rather than retreat, we were able to push forward.
I struck them down as we moved forward, rallying the [Soldiers] to me. Eventually, the invaders broke and ran. The exhausted defenders raised their weapons in a cheer, but now wasn’t the time to celebrate. I organized the [Soldiers] into squads to begin to sweep the city. There were undoubtedly pockets of both the garrison and the invaders fighting throughout the city. Every group we were able to aid would add to our numbers as we worked to push the invaders back into the sea.
The fighting was fierce, and the heat was even worse than the desert sun of Ra’Sharon. The air was full of smoke, stinging the eyes and choking the throat. Yet I drove my men forward giving Shatti one order in particular.
“Shatti,” I shouted over the din. “Save your strength, don’t use your fire unless you have to. When we get to the harbor, burn their boats out from under them. I won’t let any of these bastards escape.”
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