– Era of the Wastes, Cycle 216, Season of the Rising Moon, Day 36 –
Terry awoke in the middle of the night when he sensed mana movement nearby.
Terry opened his eyes and peered through the darkness of his room towards the door.
Thena, Clayson, and Emaldine had moved to a nearby place that had been organized by Brynn. Matteo had moved into some Guild quarters. Lori, Jorg, and Terry were the only people present.
Okay, I’m not just imagining things.
Terry quickly stood up and opened his door.
“Eh?” Lori was staring at Terry in surprise.
Shortly after Lori’s exclamation, tumbling noises could be heard from Jorg’s room and then Jorg tore open his own door and dashed to Lori with a terrified face, only to stop short in his tracks as soon as he spotted Terry.
“Okay, what is going on here?” asked Terry. “I’ve sensed your mana signatures in front of my door several times the past nights. At first, I thought I’m imagining things and I did not want to wake the others, but now that the others have their own residence…”
Lori and Jorg wrung their hands.
“We…” Lori bit her lip.
“We just wanted to check that you’re still there,” muttered Jorg. “There is a dungeon near the outpost and we worried… worried that…”
Terry’s expression melted from confusion into affection. He leaned down and hugged his siblings. “I don’t know what happened back then, but I have no intention of disappearing again.”
Terry pretended not to hear the suppressed sniffles in the dark.
“Besides, I made it back, didn’t I?” Terry tried to sound cheerful. “Even if I ever get whisked away again, I won’t stop until I’ve found a way home.”
Like a dog. Terry involuntarily thought back to Lizzy’s comment about Devon. He felt the arms of his siblings tighten some more around his chest.
“I’m sorry I scared you the day before,” said Terry. “I should have told you.”
On that day, Terry had woken up early again and left for the training grounds to practice. He had not thought much about it until he got tackled by the two puffy-eyed wrecks that were his siblings.
Lori and Jorg had woken up and immediately panicked when Terry was not in his room. They were half on their way to mobilize their whaka and the Guardians before Lori remembered to check the signal of the Guardian card.
“You need to sleep,” said Terry softly. “Didn’t we want to pick up our spars again? Then you need to rest properly. I won’t go anywhere.”
Terry, Lori, and Jorg were sitting in Brynn’s crafting room. Terry was mentally going through his plans for the day while Lori and Jorg were whispering to each other. Eventually, Lori and Jorg both turned to Terry.
“You mentioned that you wanted to go shopping later today?” asked Lori. “What are you looking for?”
Her tone is a bit weird. Terry raised an eyebrow.
“New armor…” Terry muttered in thought. The old one has been through enough.
“Spare parts and some orders for new prototypes…” Terry smiled subconsciously. Enchantment!
“I need to find a helmet…” Terry frowned slightly. Perhaps one like Lizzy’s barrier visor? The upsides of going without are not worth having to protect my head when being pelted by projectiles. Dodging individual attacks is fine but a raging storm of shrapnel or icicles is. Not. Worth. It.
Brynn quietly entered the room and nodded towards them. She raised a finger for them to wait a minute. Afterwards, she collected a few items and handed them to her assistant.
“If I can afford it, I would like a magic item that allows shaping metal.” Terry puffed his cheeks. Not only useful for battle restraints. That would be awesome for prototyping.
“Oh and a scent mask!” Terry nodded determinedly to himself. Or a dozen! Never again without a scent mask!
“So, no weapons?” asked Jorg.
Also a weird tone… Terry tilted his head. “No, the inscribed barrier spears are perfect for me.”
“It’s amazing that you can use them,” muttered Lori. “They suck a lot of mana.”
“Downside of dense inscriptions,” interjected Brynn. “One of the reasons why many with weaker mana regeneration prefer imprinted items. The primer charge and primer recovery over time are a big plus from that perspective.”
“More fragile though,” murmured Terry. “And easier to disrupt.”
With a smile on her lips, Brynn observed Lori and Jorg, who were stealing glances at Terry. “Why don’t you two just come out with it? I’m sure Terry will be more than happy that you thought of him.”
“B-but we…” Lori stammered and her voice became very quiet. “...we haven’t completely paid it off yet.”
“Hm?” Terry looked at his two siblings.
Jorg playfully punched Lori’s shoulder and nodded in encouragement. With the support of her brother, Lori retrieved an item from her storage and both of them presented it to Terry. “For you. We’re really sorry about what happened.”
Terry looked at the item. It was one of the inscribed daggers from the dungeon.
“Now, you can use dual dagger techniques with the keen inscription,” muttered Lori faintly.
Terry was at a loss for words.
“This…” Terry smiled. “Thanks… B-but you shouldn’t have. This is too valuable. Besides, couldn’t you use the dagger yourselves?”
Lori and Jorg both retrieved a pair of inscribed daggers themselves.
“Jorg bought the one from Gellath,” said Lori. “I bought the one Elena wanted to sell.”
“Gellath wanted to refuse payment at first, but I wouldn’t have it,” said Jorg. “Sis and I both worked together to purchase the one from Siling.”
“Siling was kind enough to defer payment,” said Lori embarrassedly. “Even after selling the five-point inscription rings, we would have come up short.”
“But with our mission work and selling some crafted items, we’ll finish paying for it soon,” said Jorg cheerfully.
“We can all practice together again,” muttered Lori with a hint of nervousness. “If you want to…”
“I…” Terry nodded hurriedly. “I’m looking forward to it… But can I at least pay for—”
“““No.””” Lori and Jorg protested.
While Lori and Jorg’s faces were turned to Terry, Terry saw a trace of mana flash at Brynn’s fingers and recognized finger runes.
[Terry, even if it makes you feel awkward,] signed Brynn. [It would make them feel better if you just accept it.]
Terry nodded lightly. After replaying their words in his head, Terry turned to Jorg. “Wait, you sold the five-point inscription rings?”
Jorg’s expression turned serious. “Yes, these rings are primarily for dungeon divers, after all. I’m not looking to enter a dungeon again anytime soon. Ma and Pa were right.”
Terry looked at his brother with mixed feelings.
Being more cautious is good, but…
Terry recalled how excited Jorg used to be about dungeon work and could not help but feel a sense of loss.
He thought of Sigille’s words on the dungeon as the first line of defense. ‘Shouldn’t we do our part?’
He remembered Sigille’s words about Samuel’s view on dungeons. ‘Seen through the lens of trauma.’
Terry glanced at Jorg and Lori. He wanted to say something but was not sure how to put his feelings into words.
“Before you go shopping, you should get your finances clear,” said Brynn.
“Right, I don’t have any mana coins anymore,” said Terry.
“More importantly, no one else does either.” Brynn pointed out.
“Uhh…” Terry blinked. Right, the barrier is gone. The mana coins would all dissipate…
“Didn’t you notice on your trip here?” asked Lori.
“I…” Terry tilted his head. “We moved as quickly as possible, camped sometimes, and only stayed at an inn twice. Matteo was doing the talking and the inn did not charge anything due to the circumstances.”
“Arcana’s primary currency has evaporated,” said Brynn. “Fortunately the Council has moved quickly to prevent a complete economic collapse. The Council guarantees all basic necessities. Furthermore, they have declared that they will back the contribution point system at the Guardians as well as the account balances at the Guild.”
“It’s not an ideal situation, but the Council has done well,” said Brynn. “And if you have contribution points, then now may be the best time ever to go shopping.”
“How so?” asked Terry.
“Us crafters have our pride,” said Brynn and winked. “Most crafters don’t have the combat power to assist directly, but that does not mean they’ll just sit idly by in a time of crisis for Arcana. The forges are running non-stop and most crafters are giving sizable discounts.”
Terry nodded. He still had a lot of unspent contribution points from his mission work in Tiv. However, he was not sure if they would be accepted directly in Arcana’s Guardian branch.
Or how my bounty in Tiv will affect me here…
Terry’s eyes opened wide. He had not thought of that before.
“If you need anything, you can also tell me,” said Brynn. “That goes for all of you and your friends. At times like these, it is best for all of you to be properly equipped.”
*Clap* Brynn clapped loudly. “Anyway, crafting is what we are here for.”
Brynn looked at Terry. “I know what the other two are up to, but what about you? What is your current focus? Any troubles? Any works you can show me?”
Terry smiled and retrieved a number of his works to demonstrate his shielding, his chained imprints, and his designs.
“I’m having some trouble with the tools for crystal-based shielding,” admitted Terry.
“Mhmh.” Brynn nodded while appraising Terry’s items. “I can demonstrate them for you.” She smiled at Terry’s works. “Not bad.”
“Oh and I was wondering about cloaking,” said Terry.
That took Brynn’s attention and she put down the metal chain that Terry had covered with chained imprints.
“Aspect inversion and enchantments won’t work for you,” said Brynn. “So aside from mana-absorbent materials, that mostly leaves rune inscriptions and—”
“My bad, I actually meant cloaking my own mana,” interjected Terry while holding his nape with a sheepish look. “I guess that’s not a crafting topic.”
“Okay that makes more sense.” Brynn grinned. “It’s better to ask an orientation instructor at the Guardians. The rough principles are the same, but there is the whole internal mana control angle that is not among my specialties.”
“Right, I also remember that you wanted to show something to me?” prompted Brynn.
Terry nodded and demonstrated the aspecting technique of the aspect archers.
“Oh, so it was that.” Brynn nodded with a smile. “That is actually known here as well. I generally don’t teach it, because the increased speed comes at a price. The non-uniform aspect concentration puts a strain on the material. Depending on the aspect, there is a serious risk of permanent damage.”
Brynn shrugged. “I figure it is fine for items that are mostly intended to be throwaway or single-use, but for golems, constructs, or anything that involves high-end materials or durability requirements, this technique is a no-go.” She smiled. “Still, they have found an interesting niche application with their archery.”
“How about the contraption that saved your life from the phantom?” prompted Brynn.
Terry nodded and retrieved the mana sublimator that Poppy had created.
Brynn received the item and began analyzing the inscribed runes. “Hmm… This weaving here is odd.” Brynn narrowed her eyes. “That place could be linked better… This needs some more intensification… Over here it’s quite redundant— Oh! Fascinating. I haven’t seen such a rune before. What does it do…?” Brynn pondered in silence and then exclaimed: “Marvelous!”
Brynn looked at Terry. “It’s a pity that I can’t meet your friend. You said that she came up with all of that by herself?” Brynn raised her eyebrows. “I’m impressed.”
Brynn looked at Terry warmly. “But more importantly, I’m grateful.” She retrieved a small disk and gently began the process of sampling the mana signature that had inscribed the runes.
“I’ll do my best to make sure that your friends will receive an expression of thanks.” Brynn grinned. “I’m also very curious what your friend may come up with when receiving some proper tools and resources.
“Only I wonder if I should include some books and comments on her work as well, or if she prefers continuing with her own line of thoughts…” Brynn puckered her lips and tilted her head. “Perhaps, I’ll get a new pen pal.”
*Creak* The door to Brynn’s crafting room opened and a tired looking Samuel walked in.
“Can I hide here for a while?” asked Samuel tiredly. “I need a break from Pelliana.”
Terry suppressed a snort.
Brynn snickered. “Careful. Who knows what she’ll decide when you aren’t there?”
“Being in charge of keeping an eye on the city is getting to her head,” grumbled Samuel.
“Who would have thought, right?” quipped Brynn with mock surprise.
“At least she is taking her additional healing duties seriously,” said Samuel. He put a hand to his forehead. “I’ll give her that.” Samuel gave a long sigh that caused Brynn to raise her eyebrows.
“What is it?” asked Brynn. “Something is on your mind.”
Samuel’s expression became pensive. “We still haven’t heard anything new about the magic sovereigns. It is getting suspicious.”
“Does not mean that they are not doing anything,” reminded Brynn.
“Yeah, but…” Samuel frowned. “Magic obliges. The Council has stepped up in full and they have done so visibly and quickly, which makes a lot of sense to me. Their prominent and decisive actions have given some much needed direction, reassurance, and even inspiration to the citizenry.”
“Magic obliges,” repeated Samuel with a grave expression. “I doubt that the magic sovereigns are idle. They have always been solemn and strict in following their duties.
“I just can’t shake the worry that something else is going on.” Samuel cupped his face in his hands and took a deep breath. “Anything that has the magic sovereigns occupied would have to be even worse than what is going on out in the open and that’s…” Samuel let his voice trail off and shook his head. “I just hope the lich kings and whoever else might be watching don’t get any ideas.”
Terry flipped topsy-turvy and used a burst technique to unexpectedly accelerate further. He used the blunt part of his spear to pull the legs from under Lori. He burst his mana again to quickly follow up with his other spear and stopped not far away from Lori’s head.
“Shenanigans!” shouted Jorg from the air.
He was hanging roughly two meters above the earth. Terry had transfixed several pieces of Jorg’s armor. Most importantly, Terry had transfixed Jorg’s elbow protectors, which prevented him from moving his hands to direct mana. Terry chose equipment pieces that were unfamiliar for Jorg to move his mana towards. Together with Jorg’s restrained hands, this immobilized the dwarf completely.
“D-double shenanigans,” muttered Lori before she broke out in a grin. “We yield. Good spar!”
Terry drew back his spear and held out his hand to Lori.
On the sidelines, Gellath was frozen mid-bite with a dumbstruck expression. He had been eating from a bowl of potato chips and observed the match together with Thena, Clayson, Miguel, and Siling.
“What…” Miguel rubbed his eyes. “What just happened?”
“Heh,” uttered Siling and blinked. She had been playing around with Terry’s spirit projection ring that contained the vampire bat spirit, but now her attention was on the combat area as well.
“What?” Thena asked innocently. She looked around. “Aren’t they both Terry’s age?”
“Not much of a surprise then, is it?” asked Clayson nonplussed.
All of the spectators turned to the two with baffled expressions.
“What?” Miguel blurted out. “If it had been Gellath and me hitting the floor that quickly, that would be one thing. But that’s Jorg. And Lori. L-o-r-i! Have you met Lori?”
Gellath slowly continued his potato chip and swallowed. “Miguel has a point. I’ve never seen Lori hit the deck so quickly. Like. Ever. Not even alone against multiple opponents.”
“Right!” Miguel was exasperated. “And this was together with Jorg. I mean Jorg has focused more on crafting and spellwork recently, but he still ranks among the top when it comes to combat…”
Thena furrowed her brow. “But they’re still Terry’s age.”
“I don’t remember Terry ever sparring with someone his age,” muttered Clayson retrospectively. “The closest one would be the pest beetle and Isabella, but even they’re a few years older.”
“Did Terry use to spar with people his own age here?” asked Thena bemusedly. “Instructor Sigille always had him face older Guardians in combat practice.”
Gellath stopped the hand that was bringing another potato chip to his mouth. “Did his aunt not like Terry or something? That sounds rough, almost cruel”
“Don’t speak ill of Instructor Sigille!” Thena spoke with a louder voice than usual and she pouted. “She wasn’t cruel…”
Gellath blinked with a blank expression and paused for a breath. “Okay, I won’t. She was the Divine Hammer, after all. I would never seriously speak ill of the Divine Hammer. I’m sure she had her reasons.” He held out the bowl to Thena. “Chip?”
Thena seemed embarrassed at her earlier outburst and pinched a potato chip. She appeared glad to have an excuse not to talk for a moment.
“Alright, looks like this elf has to step up after all,” said Siling haughtily. She acted as if she was rolling up her sleeves – only that her armor did not really have sleeves. “Lori, Jorg, let me lend a hand in pummeling him.” She continued in a teasing tone. “He obviously needs the practice”
Siling threw the spirit projection ring to Miguel, who shuddered when catching the ring. Miguel had also tested the ring earlier. The additional senses and flying ability sounded tempting. However, actually experiencing the shared senses had quickly eradicated all of his interest. The stomach-churning nausea and head-splitting headache had convinced Miguel that a magic item for flight was preferable. He was amazed that Terry continued practicing with the ring.
In the combat area, Siling summoned her wiremoss tarantula soul spirit.
“Greetings, Princess.” Terry grinned. “Long time no see.” He moved his gaze to Siling. “Are you relying on Pricklybum? Not going to use a new soul spirit?”
“No comment,” said Siling. “You’ll see.”
“Do you want to have a duel first?” asked Lori. “Or three against one from the get-go?”
Siling crossed her arms and tilted her head. “I guess we could try a duel first. All in good fun anyway.”
“I’ll be rooting for you, Siling,” said Jorg with a mischievous look to Terry.
Terry raised an eyebrow.
“What?” challenged Jorg. “You left me hanging, bro. Literally.”
Terry chuckled. “Alright then.” He and Siling took their positions.
Siling was smirking when the match started and in the next moment, she had disappeared from sight.
Huh? This isn’t just camouflage or invisibility… Terry was surprised. He was unable to sense Siling’s mana signature. Furthermore, he did not see any earth disturbances on the floor that would indicate someone standing or walking on it.
Inwardly, Terry shrugged and began emitting low-intensity mana pulses. He dodged several rock spears that were flying his way and he stepped into the air when he sensed the Raise Icicles spell from below.
Terry was surprised a second time when he sensed the Haste spell being cast on the wiremoss tarantula, but decided to ignore it due to the discovery from his mana pulses.
There! Terry burst his mana and dashed towards her.
“Ehh?” Siling’s surprised voice resounded over the area
“W-wait a moment.” Siling hurriedly cast a barrier.
Terry unleashed another disruption discharge before the barrier could completely manifest and he arrived in front of Siling with his spear pointed towards her chest.
A floating Siling became visible. She scrunched up her face and hissed: “Shenanigans!”
“That wasn’t spellwork, was it?” asked Terry. “So you do have a new soul spirit. What is it?”
Siling put a finger on her lips. “Hmm…”
Terry suddenly felt a tap on his shoulder. “Huh?” He turned around.
*Squitt* Terry was blasted with ink.
“Hehe.” Siling giggled and floated away. “Say hello to Peekaboo.”
In front of Terry, a cuttlefish-like creature appeared and waved a tentacle. It was a bit larger than a cloud badger. It had white skin with purple markings and the skin appeared slightly translucent.
Now that the creature did not hide its presence anymore, Terry could detect multiple aspects.
Most prominently: light, air, lightning.
“A fight isn’t over till it’s over, Terry.” Siling teased him while wagging her finger. “Always watch your back.” She giggled again.
“It’s a jumpscare cuttles,” said Siling in a more serious tone. “Comes with vanishing and floating abilities.” Siling raised her fist to the heavens and solemnly declared: “Never will I be luggage again!”
Terry looked back to Prickybum and then to Siling. “You can summon two soul spirits at once now?”
“Yup!” Siling beamed happily. “Peekaboo has a stronger lightning discharge ability than a cloud badger. I’m actually thinking of retiring Sniffles. My soul is ready, but I still need to pick a more combat-oriented replacement. A heavy hitter if I can find one.”
Terry grinned until he looked down at the ink clinging to himself. He heard the spectators snickering. A memory from the dungeon scavenger’s adulthood ceremony flashed in Terry’s mind.
“Thanks for the introduction,” said Terry. He opened his arms wide and looked at Siling. “Care for a hug, old friend?”
“Eh?” Siling blinked and examined Terry’s ink-stained face and armor. “No, no, that’s not necessary.”
“Really?” Terry gave a smile that did not reach his eyes while channeling mana into his bidirectional attraction gloves.
Siling, who had been floating in the air, was pulled towards Terry. “Wait, wait, let’s talk about this. I’m shy. This is inappropriate. I’m not that kind of elf.” She made swimming motions in the air. “I’ll tell Tiana. Noo~”
“This is considered a spar?” asked Clayson from the sidelines with a raised eyebrow.
“Technically, this round is already over,” said Jorg. “Siling knows that as well. She was just goofing around.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Terry play around like this in Tiv,” said Thena with creased brows. “He was basically always training.”
“The two have known each other for a while,” said Lori. “Siling and Calam were Terry’s first companions.”
“Aside from us,” interjected Jorg.
Lori nodded. “Aside from Jorg and me, Siling and Tiana have been working together with Terry the longest.”
“Alright, revenge!” shouted Siling, who was now smeared with ink as well. “Let’s gang up on him!”
Lori and Jorg walked towards the field.
“Gellath, Miguel, are you in, too?” asked Siling.
Gellath paused and examined the potato chip in his hand. “Nah, I’m good. Jorg and I have also signed up to help out as healers at the clinic later, so I’ll need to save some mana. If you need even more goons to beat down Mister Shenanigans, then you can wait for Calam and his jump spells. He should be here soon.”
Miguel looked at Siling. “Fine, but only if I can hitch a ride with one of your soul spirits.”
“The Princess is at your service,” said Siling and grinned.
They all moved to surround Terry. When everyone was ready, the match started and Miguel fired his first arrow at Terry, who was charging towards Siling. The arrow transfixed in the air without ever reaching Terry or causing him to move a muscle to deviate from his charge.
Miguel blinked with mouth agape. “Okay Terry, what the shit?” He shouted exasperatedly and quickly nocked another arrow…
Terry was walking through the Guardian’s crafting stalls. To Terry’s relief, his contribution points from Tiv were valid in Arcana as well.
When Terry had inquired about his situation, he had also learned that Matteo and Emaldine had already given statements on what had happened in Tiv. Their statements had already been corroborated by local Guardian management, who had done their own investigations.
They had ruled that management in the Libra Outpost had been wrong to harbor a criminal with Anand’s history and that therefore, the actions of Sigille had been justified. While they could not completely condone what happened afterwards, they declared the actions of those on Matteo’s side justifiable as well. In their reasoning, the parties had acted under the belief that Willow was an accomplice of Anand and that belief appeared entirely justified. As such, Anand’s crimes applied to Willow as well and it was wrong for any Guardian to stand in the way of taking these criminals down.
Consequently, Guardian management of Arcana City had decided to ignore the bounty within their jurisdiction. Furthermore, they had published their own missives to contest the bounty, to censure the actions of management in the Libra Outpost, and to declare the related bounty void within Arcana territory.
Terry strolled through the area and looked for items that could be of use to him when a sign caught his attention: ‘Urgent need of mana cores! Especially: arcane, light, life, nature. All core sizes.’
Sounds like they would be used for healing-related items, thought Terry.
He remembered the stash of mana cores that Sigille and Matteo had given him. He approached the desk and took out the cores that fit the description.
A Guardian walked over immediately. The woman showed visible relief when she saw the cores. “Oh thank you, we are really running low at the moment. With everyone rushing to the outer zones to repel the Wastes, dungeon work is getting neglected.”
The woman examined the cores. “Perfect! They appear in outstanding condition.” She looked at Terry. “If you’ll hand me your Guardian card, I can immediately add the contribution points.”
“Uhh…” Terry bit his lips. “I was not the one that collected these cores. They’ve been gifted to me, so uhm, accepting contribution points does not feel right.”
“Nonsense,” rebuked the woman. “No matter where you got them, they were yours and you chose to offer them to the Guardians.” She gestured for his card. “If you want to help, then use the reward to equip yourself and find some more cores. We really need them. That arcane aspect is simply too rare to be used as a catalyst in practically everything.”
Terry absentmindedly handed his Guardian card over. His eyes were glued to the sign.
Arcane, light, nature.
Purplemist lynx, shining dropbear and flash geckos, shrub raccoon and seed mice.
Terry clenched his fists.
Sigille’s voice echoed in Terry’s mind: ‘Shouldn’t we do our part?’