Work done for the day, Fletcher engaged in his new routine of doing a Dungeon "sweep" before telling his Da he was heading out for the rest of the afternoon.

Not that he really needed to tell his Da what he was up to at the best of times. He loved his Da dearly, and he was certain that his Da felt the same way, but as long as it didn't impact his work his Da didn't seem to care what he got up to in his own time.

His destination this afternoon was the Adventurer's Arena, set in the same part of town as the Dungeon and the market. He hadn't been back there since he’d failed to qualify for his Adventurer's licence, a memory still painfully fresh in his young mind.

But he needed information and where better than the place that many Adventurers and hopefuls gathered?

Walking briskly, it took him about 20 minutes to reach the Arena, which was more accurately a training ground with a few stands scattered around the edges. Stands where he spotted a potential source of the information he needed.

Old Tobie was a grizzled old man, pot bellied with a thinning pate of tightly curled hair and a pair of eyeglasses that looked far too thick to actually see through. He was also someone who had survived not only as an Adventurer, but had served a lengthy stint in the army before retiring.

And he loved to talk, which is why Fletcher was making a beeline to where Tobie was standing, leaning on a railing with a flagon of ale to keep him company.

"Spit it out, boy," Old Tobie said to Fletcher, who had been standing a few paces away for several minutes, also leaning on the railing and pretending to watch the activities on the training grounds.

Smiling wryly at being caught out, Fletcher turned and faced Old Tobie. "What's it actually like, Sir, the System for Adventurers ?" The Sir wasn't exactly necessary, but he figured it was just the right amount of respect and flattery needed.

"The System, eh? Didn't you already fail your Adventurer's License application?" Tobie replied.

The response was a bit cagey, but it also gave him the perfect excuse.

He tried to look sad as he replied "I did, Sir. But now that I'm never going to experience it for myself I find myself more curious than ever about how it works."

Tobie resumed his idle inspection of the training grounds. It didn't look like he was interested in talking at first, but after a while he took a shallow sip of his ale and started "The System is a harsh mistress..."

Not really the type of information he was looking for. "Harsh? Doesn't it make people better?" Fletcher prompted.

"It makes the great, better." came the cryptic reply.

"The great?" Fletcher asked, genuinely confused.

"Aye", Tobie nodded in the direction where there were some youngsters being put through their paces in a far corner of the grounds. "What do you think they're doing over there?" he asked.

"Training?" Fletcher replied, unsure of where this was going. Training in the arena cost money he didn't have, so he could only go on what he saw.

"Not training. Exercising. Trying to get faster, stronger, tougher, more nimble. Before they turn 17. You know why?" Tobie asked.

I thought I was going to be asking the questions, thought Fletcher. "So that they can pass the tests and be selected for Adventurer's licences?" he hazarded.

"Hmph" came the disdainful snort in lieu of a reply. "Those kids are all pretty much guaranteed to get licences, either by ability or by greasy palms."

Then why? Fletcher didn't give voice to the obvious follow up question, letting Tobie get to his point at his own pace.

"Those kids are exercising so that when they unlock the system, they're at the very best they can be. To make the most of what the system offers them."

"But why?" this time Fletcher couldn't resist asking. "Why go to all that effort if the system is going to make them stronger, faster - whatever - anyway?"

"Because once they get the System, that's it. No more getting better the good old fashioned way. No more running to get fitter. No more lifting weights to get stronger. The only way to improve yourself is through the System." Tobie said flatly.

"So they can only improve using stat points? You make that sound like a bad thing?" Fletcher probed.

“Do you know how interest works, how loans work, boy?” Tobie suddenly asked.

“Uhm. I think so,” came Fletcher’s confused reply. What does this have to do with the System?

“So if you were earning interest, would you rather be earning interest on a gold, or on 50 silver?”

“The gold obviously,” Fletcher frowned, not knowing where this was going and getting annoyed with the topic veering away from the System.

“Well then - and don’t take this the wrong way - you’re the 50 silver. And those kids over there are the Gold. And the System is the one paying interest,” Tobie brought the lesson back on track.

“I’m not quite sure I’m following, to be honest” Fletcher admitted.

“Well then let me spell it out for you. All Adventurers earn Stat points, 5 per level, to distribute as they see fit. But not all Stat points are equal; because they’re based off what each Adventurer puts in. They take whatever you’ve got, and each Stat point increases that specific thing by 1 percent. Go in with enough strength to lift a 200 pound weight? Add 1 stat point and *bam*, you’re lifting 202 pounds. Add another, and you’re lifting 204. Understand?” Tobie finished off his mini speech by turning to face Fletcher.

“I think so. So if I could lift only 100 pounds, after putting in 2 stat points I’d be able to lift 2 pounds more, while the Adventurer that starts off twice as strong gains twice as much?”

“Bingo! And that’s why the Kingdom only hands out licences to those who are already stronger, faster, fitter. By giving the System the best, the Kingdom gains the most in the long run”. Tobie took another pull of his ale and went back to peering out over the training grounds.

“Thanks” said Fletcher, already lost in thought.


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