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A note from CoCop

Word Count: 37152

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Kat directed the water tentacle with her mind, practically feeling it slap into the leaping okkle. The watery blow wasn’t enough to stop it, or even to send it flying, but it did divert its course just enough that it flew past Kat and landed, disoriented, at Kaleeks furry feet.

A downward blow from the desoph’s sword cracked the creature’s shell, but Kat didn’t have a chance to focus on it. Another okkle was storming up from its warren, a series of holes that littered the hillside they were fighting on.

It stormed toward her, head close to the ground as one of her throwing knives skipped off of the armored plates on its back. Kat hopped backwards, taking advantage of her improved agility to keep the distance open between her in the monster even as the water pseudopod extending from her right arm swept its legs.

Unfortunately, the okkle was crouched low to the ground, its stance stable enough that the water forced it a half step to the side but didn’t appreciably slow it. Another throwing knife flashed in the afternoon light, this one burying itself in the back of the okkle’s neck but failing to strike anything vital.

It snarled in pain at the chunk of steel lodged in its neck and tried to barrel into Kat’s legs. At the last second, she hopped into the air, tucking her knees to her chest to avoid the okkle’s snapping beak. It dug its front paws into the prairie in front of it, trying to stop itself as Kat passed over its back.

Before it could turn, she lashed out with her dagger, cutting deep into one of its hind legs. The okkle tried to leap forward, away from where Kat was cutting into its unprotected back only for the pseudopod to snag the ankle of its injured limb. The tentacle didn’t have quite enough strength on its own to stop the creature, but the sudden disruption turned its graceful leap into a disorganized tumble.

It slammed down on its armored back, feline legs pumping in the air as it frantically tried to right itself.

The okkle didn’t have a chance. Dorrik’s twin swords scissored downward, removing its head cleanly in a spray of gore. Almost immediately, an alert popped up in her vision.

You have reached Level 2 in the skill Water I, please select a first tier spell.


Water Jet

Dehydrate

Submerge

Pseudopod

Sheen

Pressure Blade

 

Kat sighed, relaxing slightly but keeping her eyes on the warren. Between the alert from the tower and the five cooling corpses around their team, they’d probably handled the nest, but if she’d learned anything from her time in The Tower of Somnus, it was that carelessness cost lives.

This was her second night fighting with the team, and it was a shock after her time with Arnold. They didn’t expect her to do everything herself. Instead her role changed. Rather than the primary damage dealer, Kat was now supposed to create openings for Kaleek, and take advantage of the openings created for her by Dorrik and Kaleek.

It made sense. The short range on her dagger made killing blows dangerous for Kat. She functioned much better as a threat, capable of precise and crippling strikes on any enemy foolish enough to ignore her.

She worked well with the other two players. Dorrik’s psi abilities could seize an opponent in their tracks, giving her the vital seconds needed to plant a knife in something critical. Kaleek? Well, his very presence demanded an enemies’ attention. Despite the size of his two handed sword, Kaleek handled it like a surgeon, alternating smoothly between swift, sharp feints, and brutal armor rending slashes.

Still, the change unsettled her. Their new fighting style was much safer, but more and more she found herself in a supporting role. Not actually finishing off any of their opponents, but contributing as a member of a team. It was effective, but she’d grown used to being the primary actor on the team.

There’s no way she’d go back to adventuring with Arnold, but there had been something satisfying about carrying the two of them. There had been no question about who the most competent team member was.

Tiredly, she poked the word Dehydrate and felt the spell flow into her. At the moment, their team didn’t have a proper ranged attack, relying instead on a combination of Dorrik and her abilities to hamper and slow opponents. Plus, a genuine magical attack would go a long way toward improving her usefulness to the team.

She didn’t like the feeling of being carried by others. Even if her companions were fine with the status quo, Kat quietly vowed to to do whatever it took to improve. She would not be a burden on them. She simply wouldn’t allow it.

“Very good Miss Kat!” Dorrik walked over to her, wiping the blood off of their swords. “Your control over the Pseudopod spell is increasing. Soon you’ll have a fine enough command of the spell that you’ll be able to do more than simple sweeps and grasps. Then we can really look into where your build can progress.”

“I don’t know about very good,” Kat grimaced. “I set a couple of the okkles up for the two of you, but I didn’t get a single kill. Pseudopod is nice, but it can’t exert that much force. Pretty much everything I try and grab with it breaks free.”

“Really?” Kaleek snorted, his whiskers twitching bemusedly as he looted an okkle. “That’s why you’re upset? I noticed that you’ve been a little moody lately, but I thought it was something personal like trouble with your old teammate.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kat asked, frowning at Kaleek before turning back to Dorrik.

“There’s a reason spellcasters are a bit uncommon at higher levels,” Dorrik replied sheepishly. “At low levels, the abilities available are lacking. Weapon skills and abilities tend to translate better in combat at low level, Flurry or Smash are self explanatory, but until you can get a couple more skill levels under your belt, your spells will be fairly weak. It’s just the way of things.”

“I don’t think I follow,” Kat’s brow furrowed. “I haven’t heard anything about weapon abilities, and as far as I know, skill levels in an element only give me new spells.”

“Ah,” Dorrik’s face lit up, a toothy smile blossoming on their face. “I forgot how little you know about progression and leveling up. While it’s true that there are some standardized basic awards at low levels of a skill, there are a broad variety of abilities granted as you push your level higher, for example-”

“Just show them your character sheet,” Kaleek grunted, rolling another okkle over to see if there was anything salvageable from its shell. “If you let Dorrik get going about leveling theory, we’ll be here for an hour at a minimum.”

“And how do I-” Kat began, trying to ignore the slightly hurt look on Dorrik’s face.

“Just say Status Share and think of Dorrik,” Kaleek didn’t even bother to look up. “The tower is a lot smarter than you or I. It’ll be able to figure out what you mean.”

“Status Share,” Kat felt a slight tingle, like a static discharge run through her body, prickling her skin and causing her to shudder uncomfortably.

Name

Katherine Debs

Class

Elementalist Initiate

Max Level

1

213 Marks

HP

18

Dodge

Insignificant

MP

18/20

Damage Mitigation

Insignificant

STA

19

Strength

3

Agility

4

Fortitude

3

Endurance

3

Mind

3

Reaction

3

Charisma

3

Spirit

3

Spells Known

Gravity’s Grasp

Levitation

Pseudopod

Dehydrate

Skills Known

Knife I - 4, 71%

Gravity I - 2, 95%

Water I - 2, 1%

Perks

 

“Only three skills and at such low levels?” Dorrik clicked their tongue. “Of course you’re underperforming us. Honestly, how did you survive that dungeon? Your skill set seems to be a terrible match for ice sprites and ice golems.”

“I did all right against the quilled rat dog things,” Kat shifted uncomfortably under Dorrik's scrutiny. “Cut my foot up pretty bad kicking one of them, but other than that they weren’t all that hard individually.”

“Barbed hounds?” Dorrik asked, cocking their head before turning to Kaleek. “Did you see any evidence of barbed hounds in that dungeon? I didn’t notice any signs of living beings down there, let alone scat, shed quills or any claw marks.”

“She could have taken a different door?” Kaleek answered uncertainly, wiping his paws on his slick fur before meandering over to where the two of them were talking. “Where did you run into the barbed hounds and how many were there? They’re annoying one on one but they have a tendency to hunt in packs making them an absolute menace.”

“Arnold died triggering the pit trap in the boss room,” Kat sighed, the memory of their fall making her feel strangely anxious. “He got impaled on spikes, but I managed to cast Levitation in time. I still got the honor fighting five of the… barbed hounds is what you called them?”

“Regardless,” Dorrik shook their head. “Your skills are all in the introductory levels of wood tier. If I remember correctly, elementalists gain a limited number of spells compared to wizards, healers, and psi initiates. Only tamers have similar limits on their spells, but that’s because spellcasting is very much a secondary focus for them.”

“As for you Kat,” Dorrik continued, “none of your spellcasting skills have reached level three yet. In your coming skill levels you should expect to gain fewer spells, but instead the spells you already know will get cheaper and become more effective.”

“Wait,” Kaleek frowned slightly as he stepped into the conversation. “Please tell me her weapon skills are higher than two. I don’t think I could forgive myself if we’ve been pushing her this hard at skill level two across the board.”

“Four,” Dorrik grimaced.

“Kat,” Kaleek stared at her incredulously. “You’ve been fighting this entire time without a single combat ability? Not even Penetrate or Bleed? I could have sworn you were using Disable given the way you fight, but if you’re only level four with your knife..”

He trailed off shaking his head.

“I have Knife I?” Kat asked hopefully. “Honestly, I don’t really know what you’re talking about. I’ve only been in the tower for a few weeks, and a good chunk of that time was either with Arnold or entirely on my own.”

“Combat abilities are either dropped as skill stones or earned by leveling up another skill,” Dorrik said helpfully, taking pity on her. “Most melee skills earn an ability at level six and twelve, so you aren’t that far off from your first one. Functionally, they allow you to use stamina points to perform combat actions.”

“I use Fleet Footwork and Heavy Slash pretty frequently,” Kaleek chimed in. “Footwork lets me burn stamina to ignore the weight of my gear for a short period, and Heavy Slash is pretty straightforward. It’s slow, but it hits things really hard. Perfect for armored opponents like the okkles or the ice golems.”

Kat pondered her ability sheet gloomily. Not only did they know more about the tower’s mechanics than her, but both of them were much further along in their progression. At this rate, she’d be stuck holding the ‘weakest in the party’ title for a long time.

Her only option was to work harder. Kaleek and Dorrik were already so far ahead of her, she couldn’t afford to let them slip away. Every minute of every night needed to be focused on improvement. Once her spells were a little stronger or she had a combat ability, maybe then she’d be able to keep up with the rest of the party.

“Are you,” Kaleek cocked his head, whiskers twitching in amusement, “are you moping Kat?”

“No,” she blushed, slightly unsettled that the otter had been able to see through her. “I’m fine, that’s just a lot to take in.”

“Why would Kat be sad?” Dorrik’s crest rippled in confusion as they looked from her to Kaleek. “She has been performing admirably as part of the team. In fact, I’m quite surprised at how well she’s been dispatching monsters given her low skill level.”

She could feel her teeth grinding together. Pity. Somehow that was even worse than them looking down on her. Her entire life, Kat had been the competent one. Doing things that others couldn’t and only held back by her family’s financial standing.

“Of course you wouldn’t understand Dorrik,” Kaleek chuffed, shaking his head. “You’ve excelled at everything from melee combat to tactics. I think I understand a little bit of where Kat’s coming from.”

Kat let out a deep breath, trying to center herself. She was better than this. She might be a big fish in her corner of the arcology, but as she ventured out onto a bigger stage, she was bound to encounter other smart and competent people.

After all, Xander had always warned her that she couldn’t rely on security being lazy and incompetent forever. So long as she only did simple jobs, even the smart corporate security officers were just in it for a paycheck. They didn’t really gain or lose anything by catching a runner, so they didn’t try.

Once she upgraded to the big leagues, things would be different. Executive level employees got actual security. Eventually she’d meet a merc that wanted to finish a job just as much as her, and then, unless she’d put time and effort into preparing for a job, she’d be in trouble.

“Look Kat,” the otter smiled affably, his button nose wrinkling slightly. “I don’t like standing in someone’s shadow either, but sometimes it happens. That said, you shouldn’t be thinking of yourself like that. Right now, we’re all level one. None of us matter yet. Getting upset about falling behind at this stage is like getting angry when both your neighbor and you are building a house, but they have laid down three bricks before you’ve managed to start.”

“Right now,” Kaleek waved his paw, encompassing all three of them. “We are nothing but potential. Dorrik is trying to compliment your potential in their own way. You’ve fought almost as well as two seasoned players with better skills than you. That is something to be proud of. Give it time Kat and work hard. Things will figure themselves out eventually.”

It made sense logically, even if the idea of being dead weight burned at Kat’s soul. Right now, no matter how good she was with her knife, Kat’s avatar was weak. It was a problem, but it was temporary.

She sighed, jealousy didn’t become her. Kaleek and Dorrik had worked to earn what they had, and she would too. It was just a matter of buckling down and putting in the preparation.

“Right,” Kat responded with a nod, determination building in her. “If I’m not as strong as I want to be, that just means that I have to train harder.”

“That’s the spirit!” Dorrik roared happily, clapping their hands together. “Now what do you say we work on improving those skills of yours? There are plenty of okkle warrens in these hills.”

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About the author

CoCop

  • United States
  • Founding Member of the Zard Skwad

Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night

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