As it tended to do, time passed. A good deal of it, in fact, passed rather uneventfully. Busier than I’d been since as far back as I could remember, there were no dramatic monster fights or even overly notable social debacles. Frankly, I just didn’t have the time.
In a way, though, it was nice — what I needed. Something with lower stakes just to throw myself into. Something almost passably normal, even.
And it didn’t hurt that, above all else, there was progress. In everything.
“I didn’t say slice, slice, jab; I said slice, jab, slice! Again! Go, go, go!” The bulky instructor whom I’d dubbed “Knife Bear” had us practicing forms against one another. Despite having remembered his words perfectly, I found the weapons feeling awkward in my hands, resisting some of the patterns he was making us learn.
Still, I was hardly going to second guess him. Being taught by an Expert in Small Blades had made the skill grow faster than just about all my other skills. It didn’t hurt that my Watch and Learn ability was also granting me experience just from watching the man, too. As it was, I’d already hit level 9 the other day.
Again. I rushed at my opponent. Slice, jab, slice. I repeated the combo, not actually striking my opponent, but practicing it on their body. Slice, jab, slice. My knives flew through the air, one motion sliding into the next, into the next. Slice, jab, slice.
Huh. That one felt… different? Less wrong. I shifted my grip almost infinitesimally on my knives, lowering my stance almost noticeably. It felt… right. I backed off and then rushed forward one last time, slice, jab, slice, the motions finally forming a single fluid dance.
And just like that, I’d apparently done it. Not from some horrifying boss fight, or some last ditch maneuver where I threw my knives out. Just training. Class after class after class.
The end result was no less sweet.
Small Blades has reached level 10.
Congratulations! You have reached the Initiate stage in Small Blades.
You have gained the standard augment for your skill.
Augment of Sharpness
Any small blades you wield will have their sharpness increased for the duration that you wield them.
Congratulations! You have completed a class quest!
“Hah. Hah! No fucking way!” I stood in my bedroom, testing out my latest toy. Or rather, I floated in my bedroom. I drifted down to the floor, the moment my feet touched wood, jumping back up again. At the apex of my hop, I flared some newfound air mana into my feet. Instead of falling back down, I gently drifted as though carrying a comically oversized umbrella.
In something of an upset, it had been Darken Small Object that had hit the Initiate stage next. Illumination had been well ahead of it, but while summoning balls of light in the middle of class was frowned upon, my hairclip let me train my darkness cantrip continuously, letting it soar upwards.
Its Initiate stage augment was to grant darkened objects “a mysterious, lustrous sheen.” What that meant in practice was that the dark strip in my hair looked especially glossy and healthy. Maybe kind of silly, but hey, it wasn’t like I was planning on using the skill for much else.
As a reward, Archmage Callis had given me the Gust cantrip. It was essentially just a fan, but with magic.
The real treat, though, was the air mana. Weapons flew faster (and in the case of arrows, farther), armor ever-so-slightly deflected blows and projectiles, and sight let me visualize wind patterns and eddies.
None of that, however, was as exciting as the Featherfoot variant of Mana Feet.
“This isn’t even enough, is it? Why am I just jumping up and down?” I could do better than that, couldn’t I? I had to think big.
I rushed out of my room, boundless energy pushing me on. “Suds!” I yelled out.
“What?” a gruff and grumbling shout sounded back.
“Will I get in trouble if I go jump off of buildings?” I could be responsible, after all. No sense in getting the guards called over a little Featherfoot training.
The Chamber Head didn’t even pause before calling back out. “Inner city or Wealth District, probably. The rest, go nuts.”
Yes! “Thanks gramps!” Not giving Markus a chance to pop in and interject, I ran through the house and bolted out the door. Parkour!
“It is unwise to neglect your Drinking skill, PPG! This too is a form of training!” She pushed forward a shot glass full of a viscous, violet fluid that looked like something between tree sap and a melted jello shot. On top of that, it smelled like imbibing it would do more for my Poison Resistance than my Drinking skill.
She pushed forward another of the shots, though thankfully this one wasn’t for me. “And you! Extra training for you as well! You’ll need the experience if you hope to go into the dungeon one day!”
A boney arm extended out from a billowy sleeve to grab the shot. The man who owned said arm threw the shot back immediately, not even wincing as it coated his mouth. I stared in awe.
Noticing my gaze, he scratched his head. “Heh. Tricks of the trade, I’m afraid. I just temporarily grafted my mouth’s nerves and tastebuds onto that piece of chitin I have. Makes just about anything go down smooth.”
I failed to hide my jealousy (and Alara failed to hide her judgment) as I gave into peer pressure and followed suit. Unfortunately, I hadn’t gained any levels in Gag Resistance or whatever the relevant skill was, and I winced, coughed, and grimaced in turn.
Still, it was nice. I hadn’t had a chance to talk with friends much, and in particular, I’d barely spoken with Emin since our first encounter. Considering we were all in the same class together, I’d thought to extend an early evening Tree of Knowledge invitation to Emin and Alara. The two were… different from one another, but in a good way, I thought.
Although if we did it again, perhaps I’d seek another venue. The cozy cocktail bar suited Emin just fine, but from the various glances I was picking up, Alara’s volume was less than appreciated.
“Have you two leveled up your Drinking skill yet? No? Then we do another!”
And so we did.
“I do not believe my claim is so farfetched. All I argue is that anything sold directly to the Chamber of Peace or to Chamber of Peace personnel should be heavily discounted. The budget for the military and the pay for its members come out of levied taxes in the first place. Any reduction in the amount we pay simply translates into lower taxes for the populace.” Warram said it so matter-of-factly, it almost sounded true.
I’d gotten unlucky enough to get placed into a breakout group with him this time around for our ethics course, with today’s focus being on price regulations. What had started as a conversation about food prices, subsidies, and tuition caps had instead veered into some sort of veteran’s discount territory.
Unfortunately, I’d been forced to discover that Warram loved debates. A quintessential philosophy bro through and through, he was the picture that came up in the dictionary when you looked up “devil’s advocate.” I honestly didn’t speak up all that often, but every time he said something, I found it irking me to the point of having to chime in.
“Not sure why the Chamber of Peace would deserve a discount more than any other chamber. If we’re going by usefulness, most of the other chambers would collapse — yours included — without the Commons. That aside-”
I was abruptly cut off with a scoff as the guardsman interjected. “Simple. A discount for my chamber would incentivize more people to become guards and join the military, keeping us safer. A discount to your chamber would make it so people had to work less, hurting all of the other chambers. I apologize if simple economics is not a concept for the Yekkish.”
Pretty sure stabbing is frowned upon in ethics class. Maybe that can be the next topic? “Should you be allowed to stab people during debates.” I’d be in favor!
“As I was saying, that aside, it’s just a dumb policy. Wouldn’t the spots you and all your guards buddies frequent the most go out of business? The stores that made the most money would be the ones that did their best to attract the lowest percent of guards. Plus all the loopholes. Imagine if some guard bought up all the stock from some store at a discount and tried to sell it to people at regular price. Or if merchants in the Wealth District did all their purchases through Peace District proxies. I mean, 10% off from a food stall is one thing, but you want a blanket discount on everything?”
Another student attempted to add a point of their own, but Warram wasn’t feeling particularly inclined to let them. He jumped back in, straightening his body so as to loom above us. “Perhaps such things would be issues for other chambers, but those of Peace are disciplined. Trained. A cut above the rest. We do not misuse our privileges, nor are we prone to abuse or mistakes. It is exactly this that makes us worthy of such rewards.”
Sheesh. Does he actually believe that, or is this some sort of line someone in his family is feeding him? I couldn’t imagine the scion of the main military family in the city would be hurting for cash. A discount wasn’t something that was likely to affect him much.
Still though. Not “prone to abuse or mistakes?” I stifled the full on laugh that threatened to overtake me. “None of you make mistakes, huh? So that time you tried to throw me out of a party I’d been invited to wasn’t a mistake? I could have sworn you said you told the Chamber Head you didn’t do it on purpose, but I’ll let him know you’ve changed your mind.”
For the first time in the entire class, a crack formed in his high and mighty facade, and I watched with no small amount of pleasure as his eyes grew wide with alarm.
“Yes. Well.” His momentary lapse from his elevated persona ended, bringing him back to his normal, obnoxious state. “I suppose even the best of us are human.”
I let the awkward silence permeate the room for a moment, happily soaking it up until another student broke it.
“So. Uh. Anyways. Back to crop subsidies…”
A potion sat in my hand, one of the first things I’d managed to brew in my Herbalism and Alchemy course. A small, unsuspecting rodent sat in a cage in front of me, the soon-to-be recipient of the brew.
Apparently Sylum’s animal testing laws aren’t really up to snuff with back home. Perhaps I would have raised a fuss, but for this particular potion, nothing remotely bad was supposed to happen.
“Let’s, uh, give it a go then?” Emin stood by my side, my usual partner for such things.
Double checking our dosage, we dropped some of the liquid onto a mouse-treat of sorts before throwing it into the cage. The tiny rodent squeaked with pleasure and devoured it in instants.
“Hah! It’s working!” I felt a bit like a mad scientist as I watched the mouse’s coat rapidly change colors, turning from white to a dark blue over a course of seconds. It wasn’t an overly useful potion, but it was a nice, safe, starter brew that was easily made out of local herbs.
My satisfaction at a job well done suddenly vanished, however, as the color from the mouse did as well. The deep blue coat started to recede back into white, as if the mouse had just been coated in paint and was getting a nice scrub.
“What? What did we do wrong?” The potion was supposed to last much longer than that.
Instead of answering, Emin started to snicker. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a few other students looking our way, one of whom was pointing to me.
“It’s- Ha! It’s- I used my power on it. Took away the ‘blue.’” He struggled to keep eye contact with me, and I had a sneaking suspicion as to why.
“Your power doesn’t just take things away, right? Anything you remove from something, you have to give it to something else?” That was at least the gist of what I’d seen so far.
He nodded, not even attempting to hide his mirth.
“All right. So… where did the blue go?”
In response, he fished a small, yellow gem from his pocket, tossing it my way. It was a familiar sight by now, and I channeled some mana into it. The mirror gem lit up, and an image of my face popped up, staring at me as I stared at it.
And it certainly was my face. Just. Very, very bright blue.
At last, Emin failed to contain himself, breaking out into a deep laugh. He kept it up until his volume grabbed the attention of our instructor.
One stern lecture about not playing with our potions later, he returned to his usual meek self.
Mostly, at least. He spent the rest of the course with the sides of his lips ever so slightly curled upwards.
For my part, I silently plotted on how I’d get him back.
A giant fireball rammed into me, overcoming my Resist Magic skill and burning me to a crisp.
You have lost a duel!
A vine sprouted from the arena floor, wrapping me up before I could jet away. Having already used my shower gem pendant in the last hour, I desperately tried to slice it off, but to no avail. It started to encase me, squeezing tighter and tighter.
“Yield! Yield!” I wasn’t going to fight to the bitter end against something like that.
You have lost a duel!
I hit the ground hard, doing my best to pull myself back up. Gravity, however, seemed to have other plans, pulling every inch of me down with vengeance.
Raw Strength won me the day here, and despite the pull, I managed to slowly, slowly get back up.
A mountain barreled into me, tackling me back down to the ground. My vision fuzzed out for a moment as I hit my head, and when I could see again, I caught sight of said mountain sitting on my chest. I knew there’d be no getting up this time.
Knowing the same, the mountain smiled at me. “A good spar, PPG! But it would appear I have bested you this time around. Do not fret! I am sure you will return the favor in time.”
I sighed as Alara continued to use my body as a chair.
You have lost a duel!
“Prepare yourself! I, Daymon’Larin, have trained myself further since our first encounter. Today it will be you who falls!”
You have won a duel!
Exhausted from day after day of nonstop action, I slumped into bed. The upside was that few of my courses had much in the way of homework — there wasn’t much I could do at home for things like mining or even dueling. The downside was that, much as was true for the average worker, students only got one day of rest a week. I’d been using mine largely vegetatively, and more rarely to be social.
Still, I couldn’t complain much. The stream of notifications from the past weeks were proof more than anything that the Academy was doing me well. Markus had helped me pick up a few new ways of interacting with the system, and I made use of one now: I pulled up my notifications, consolidating them, letting me see how I’d grown since day one.
Axes: 3 -> 7
Heavy Armor: 1 -> 4
Light Armor: 0 -> 2
Small Blades: 5 -> 10
Dodge: 3 -> 4
Light Magic: 6 -> 8
Mental Magic: 3 -> 5
Dark Magic: 3 -> 8
Darken Small Object: 3 -> 10
Gust: 0 -> 2
Air Magic: 0 -> 1
Illumination: 7 -> 9
Sense Minds: 2 -> 5
Earth Magic: 1 -> 2
Summon Pebble: 1 -> 3
Herbalism: 0 -> 3
Alchemy: 1 -> 4
Drinking: 8 -> 9
Water Magic: 8 -> 10
Conjure Water: 10 -> 11
Advanced Mana Manipulation: 2 -> 4
Class Points: +4 class points (Small Blades to 10, Learned Earth Magic, Learned Air Magic, Raised Water Magic to 10)
Class Skills: Bind Weapon 3/5 -> 5/5, Bind Armor 3/5 -> 5/5
The list was somewhat astonishing for me, even more pronounced than for the training I’d done back in Drawgin. The constant dueling in particular was doing me a lot of good, even if I wasn’t always winning.
With the experience I’d gained from all the skill levels, combined with the experience from finishing some of my class quests, I was already well on my way to hitting level 12. Even better, I’d finally fulfilled Suds’ annoying requirement of maxing out Bind Weapon and Bind Armor, meaning that all new class points could go towards better options, like grabbing me the gloves I’d been eyeing.
Magic wise, all I had left were ice and death. Thankfully, I was making good progress across the board with my spells, especially with Illumination, so hopefully I’d be picking up one of the two relatively soon.
And that was really all there was to it. For all the man’s… unique qualities, Suds hadn’t been lying when he’d promised to hook me up with a means of getting stronger.
As I slowly nodded off, I couldn’t help but dream of how much higher those numbers would be by the end of the semester.
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