Motes of color danced in the air around Reivyn as he sat in a Meditative trance. The specks of mana slowly coalesced around his body as they formed a whirlpool of mana being absorbed into the top of his head. He could feel the energy coursing through his body fluctuate at a constant up and down pace as he maintained his pace of absorbing the mana around him. His Skill Level in Meditation kept him centered and calm.
With his eyes closed, he could still sense the different elements of mana ever since his Sense Mana Skill had reached Level 50. It wasn't pinpoint accurate, as he couldn't sense individual specks of the mana, but he could make a sort of mental sight map where he could see where the different elements congregated in higher concentrated pockets.
I wonder if I can exert different levels of force on specific locations to further separate the elements? Reivyn thought with a frown of concentration.
He exerted his will on his Mana Absorption Skill. The mana sped up in its spinning, and while he had it accelerated he tried to bear his will down in a different location to try and slow it down.
He relaxed his concentration on maintaining the accelerated spinning and tried again. The Skill refused to change. As he put more concentration into slowing down one portion, he slipped up on keeping it accelerated, and when he focused back on accelerating, the slowing vanished. His Skill was apparently all or nothing, so he allowed the Skill to return to its balanced state of absorption.
Maybe there's something else I can try? What about building a fence out of my own mana?
With that new thought, Reivyn brought a strand of pure mana out. He located a region in the swirling mana where a clump of fire mana was concentrated, and he directed his mana to slice through the region between it and the other specks of mana.
As he concentrated on moving his pure mana into place, his concentration on Mana Absorption slipped and the swirling mass of mana threatened to dissipate. With sweat on his brow, Reivyn refocused his concentration to keep the Mana Absorption spinning. His grasp on his pure mana, though, began to waver as he did so.
I'm able to manipulate my own mana independently of the swirling mass of ambient mana, so that's already a step ahead of what I was trying before. I think I'm on the right track, so I just need to practice switching my focus back and forth in quick succession. I can apply some force like I'm spinning a top to the Mana Absorption, and then while keeping an eye on it but not bearing my will on it directly, I can switch my focus to the mana thread.
Reivyn put thought to action, and he spent the next hour or so practicing the exercise he had come up with. He made some headway on being able to manipulate his mana while simultaneously absorbing the ambient mana, but it was like threading a moving needle.
He had to begin by leading the spinning mana with his own pure mana at a slower speed. Once the pure mana thread got closer and closer to the demarcation of the elements he was focusing on, he had to match the speed of the rotation while attempting to stab the mana thread through the border while anchoring its speed to match the mana whirlpool.
It was incredibly mentally taxing.
Eventually, the mental exhaustion of maintaining swapping concentration got to him. He let the Mana Absorption Skill dissipate, and he pulled his pure mana back into himself. It was time for him to take a break for the day.
He sighed as he stood up from his bed to head into the living room. The new house they had moved into had a different layout than their past house, and instead of walking out of his room directly into the living room, he had to traverse a hallway. His parents had the master bedroom that took up most of the space on the opposite side of the hallway to where he and his sisters had their own rooms, his sisters sharing one.
He made his way into the open space of the living room. Instead of the door being placed in the center between the living room and kitchen area, the door to the front was placed in the living room with the door to the back off to the side on the kitchen side with the hallway being placed in the center between the two.
Reivyn stepped out into the living room to see his mother at work on her loom as she usually was. He could hear the laughter of his sisters coming from the backyard as he plopped down on a couch in a relaxed posture.
"How was your Meditation?" Ameliyn asked without stopping her motions while working the loom.
"It was alright. I tried to do something new, and it was really hard."
"Oh? What was this new thing you tried?"
Reivyn sat up and explained to his mother his thoughts on separating the ambient mana and the solutions he had attempted. Instead of offering tips on how to more effectively split his concentration or thread his mana into the proper place, his mother tilted her head back and laughed.
"Reivyn," she said after a moment to calm down. "I'm right here. You can just come to me to get advice. What led you to want to separate the ambient mana?"
"I thought that if I could separate the mana into their own elements, I could practice my affinity at the same time," Reivyn said.
"Well, you're not wrong," Ameliyn said. Reivyn clenched his fist and nodded with a smile. I knew it! "However, your approach was wrong. Let me ask you this: What did you do to unlock the Ice Affinity?"
"I used my fire mana to suck all the heat out of the mana I was working with."
"Exactly. You took a strand of pure mana, attuned it to fire, and then used it like a magnet to attract all the other fire mana."
Realization dawned on Reivyn and he smacked himself in the head. "So instead of trying to manually separate every little pocket of elements, I need to attract them all to the same spot. I should have realized that considering all the motes of mana that weren't concentrated together. I didn't even think about what I was going to do about those."
"Don't beat yourself up over it," Ameliyn said with a chuckle. "Everybody has to explore and make mistakes when they try to figure things out on their own. That's just how the world works. If you just knew how to accomplish what you wanted every time, then what would be the point of teachers and master-apprentice relationships?
"Anyway, what you want to do for what you're working towards, is create many mana threads and shoot them out into the whirlpool-like spokes to a wheel. In the beginning, it doesn't matter too much if you match the speed of your mana to the speed of your Mana Absorption, just get them out there and moving approximately the same speed.
"Next, alternate infusing each strand with a different element and focus on absorbing it like ambient mana. The real trick to this exercise is to not absorb the ambient mana into your own mana strands but to just anchor it to the strands.
"Once you have all the ambient mana anchored to your mana spokes, you can slowly move the spokes until they all occupy a different quadrant. The mana spokes with all the ambient mana anchored to them will amplify the magnetic pull, and all the other, new ambient mana brought in through Mana Absorption will automatically filter themselves to the proper quadrant."
Reivyn shook his head at how needlessly complicated he had made things. He had already learned how to do what she was describing, and yet he hadn't thought of it at all.
I've always considered myself to be pretty smart, and my Skill advancement seems to back that up; however, a real genius wouldn't have made such a silly mistake as to completely ignore a technique he or she had already used. I still have to work harder.
Reivyn made to get up from his perch on the couch to answer the door, but his sisters leaped up and beat him to it.
"Too slow," Kailey (Riley) said as they ran to the door. They opened it and looked up at the person standing in front of them. Reivyn heard a familiar voice come from the other side of the door.
"Hi, I hear you house itinerant adventurers. We're here to mooch."
Kailey stood there for a moment with her hand still on the door. She just looked up at the person at the door for a couple of seconds, and then she casually shut it in his face. The two girls ran back to their spots where they had been playing on the living room floor.
The twins once again leaped up to race to the door with the exact same level of excitement as before. Kailey opened the door, took one look at the person, and before they could even open their mouth, she shut the door in their face.
"Who's at the door, Kailey?" Reivyn said with exasperation.
"A charlatan," Kailey said.
"A charlatan," Riley mimed.
"He's up to no good," Kailey said.
"He's up to no good," Riley repeated.
Reivyn rolled his eyes as he got up. He shooed the two girls out of the way as he moved to answer the door. He opened the door to be greeted by a smiling Teilon. Kimberly was standing behind him with a bored expression on her face.
Teilon's smile grew wider, and he opened his arms for a hug, and, as he opened his mouth to greet his friend, Reivyn slammed the door in his face. A muffled, "Hey!" came from the other side.
"Yup, a charlatan," Reivyn said with a wink toward his sisters. They devolved into a giggling fit at their brother's joke.
Reivyn opened the door once more and beckoned the two to come in. Teilon stepped across and gave him a big, bear hug. Kimberly simply gave a polite smile with a nod as she entered the house.
The two of them had large packs containing their gear, and Reivyn could see that they had already purchased their armor and other necessities besides food. Kimberly marched up to the two girls playing on the floor and addressed them with hands on her hips.
"I'm a charlatan, am I?" She raised an eyebrow at the two. Kailey and Riley scrambled up and hugged a leg each as they continued to giggle.
"Big Sis Kim! We didn't mean you," Kailey said.
"Yeah, we'll protect you from the bad man," Riley said.
Kimberly looked down at the two girls with a stern expression on her face. Kailey and Riley simply grinned back up at her. Kimberly couldn't maintain her mock expression for long, and she smiled as she bent down and gave the two girls a hug.
"I see you already have your gear," Reivyn said to Teilon as they watched the girls begin to play. "Have you already registered at the Adventurer's Guild?"
"Yup, we took care of all that first thing," Teilon nodded. The two took a seat on the couch. Teilon leaned in and whispered to Reivyn, "Man, I tell you what. That receptionist was pretty cute -"
"What was that?" Kimberly glanced up with a sharp look at Teilon.
"I was saying that the receptionist couldn't hold a candle to my cute girlfriend," Teilon said. Sweat popped out on his brow as Kimberly narrowed her eyes at him.
"Uh-huh," she returned to playing with the twins.
Reivyn and Teilon caught up on the things each other had been up to in the several months since Reivyn's family had moved to Magron. Now that they were here, and apparently well prepared, they could finally move on to the Dungeon in the upcoming days. They still had to travel through the forests and plains, but there was much less wilderness heading towards the mountain range as there was a lot of farmland and farming communities along the route.
The thought of having to travel through some wilderness reminded Reivyn of the flower crowns his sisters had made.
"Hey, Kailey, Riley, do you think you can make some flower crowns for Teilon and Kimberly and induct them into the Flower Knights?" Teilon gave him a skeptical look, and Reivyn replied with a gesture that said trust me. Teilon shrugged and went along with it as he looked at the twins.
"No way!" Kailey said.
"No way!" Riley repeated.
"Big Sis Kim can be the Lady of the Flowers," Kailey said.
"But Teilon will be the Flower Thief," Riley concluded.
Teilon rolled his eyes in exasperation as the twins giggled. Kimberly looked between the twins and the two boys sitting on the couch with confusion.
"Here, let me show you," Reivyn said as he got up. He went back to his room and grabbed the laurel flower crown that was still in pristine condition. None of the flowers had wilted, and they looked like they had just been freshly picked. They were still plump and supple with moisture.
He returned to the living room and handed it to Teilon.
"They made this several months ago," Reivyn said. Teilon accepted it and inspected it. He looked back up at Reivyn with confusion evident on his face.
"It looks like it was picked this morning," Kimberly said as she came over. She looked up at Reivyn in surprise, "You said they picked these flowers months ago?"
"That's right," Reivyn said with a nod. He leaned in to whisper to the two, "I have an appraisal Skill, and when I Inspected this, I gained the ability to Inspect magical items. This flower crown is called The Laurel Crown of the Flower Knight, and it reduces your presence to predators and makes other forest creatures less wary of you."
Kimberly gasped and Teilon widened his eyes at the revelation.
"Hey! No secrets," Kailey said.
"No secrets," Riley repeated.
"We were just praising your craftsmanship," Reivyn said.
"Yeah, it's beautiful," Kimberly said. Kailey and Riley beamed at the compliment. "I definitely want one."
"Sure thing, Big Sis," Kailey said.
"I guess we can make one for the bad guy, too," Riley said.
"Why am I the bad guy?" Teilon complained.
"Dunno," Kailey said.
"We just needed one," Riley said.
"So you're it," the two girls giggled at the pained expression on Teilon's face.
"Fine. I guess I can be the Flower Thief," Teilon conceded.
"Haha, yay!" Kailey (Riley) jumped up and down while holding hands.
The front door opened and Ameliyn and Refix came in from the errands they had been running. They greeted the two new additions to the house and began working on dinner. Ameliyn easily agreed to let the two teenagers stay in their house. Teilon would sleep on the floor in Reivyn's room, and Kimberly would get the guest room on the opposite side of the living room to the hallway.
"I have one final gift for the three of you," Refix said. He got up and went to the master bedroom for a minute. When he returned, he was carrying three large packs. Reivyn frowned at the sight of the new packs that were much larger than the ones they already had. Refix brought them into the living room and set them down.
"Dad, we already have most of our provisions. The only thing we have left to get is our rations, and we're not going to get those until we're on the way out," Reivyn said.
"Uh-huh. These aren't provisions," Refix said with a smirk. "Come see."
The three of them got up and went to the packs. Reivyn lifted the top flap to inspect what was inside.
It was filled with rocks.
"These are for training," Refix said, a twinkle in his eye. "You didn't think you were just going to stroll to the Dungeon, did you? Hahahaha."
Reivyn rolled his eyes with a sigh. He was resigned to his fate.
Sweat dripped down into his eyes as Reivyn struggled to place one foot in front of the other. He was attired in his armor, a laurel crown of flowers adorned his head with his helmet strapped to his pack. The effort of walking along the road under the immense weight of the additional pack his father had saddled them all with was compounded by the struggle of maintaining the same steps as the other two.
"You have to March in step," Refix had said as they were giving their farewells. "If you don't activate your March Skill, then this training is useless. One final point, don't take too many breaks. You need to press through the discomfort." He hadn't elaborated any further than that.
The trio must have made a strange sight to any of the passersby. They were all attired in similar armor, weapons sheathed or stored for travel, and they all had crowns made out of flowers atop their heads instead of their helmets. They trundled down the road, huffing and puffing, but maintained the same step and pace with each other.
"What <huff> is <puff> the <huff> point!" Teilon complained for the thousandth time.
"Save <huff> your <puff> breath," Reivyn gasped out.
Kimberly didn't add her thoughts to the brief conversation. She continued to walk with her head down, ignoring the two boys.
His father had expertly assigned the weight distribution of each pack to provide the same level of effort necessary for the three of them. It had been pretty easy at first, but as the day wore on, and the distance traveled increased, it became harder and harder.
Reivyn was questioning his father's wisdom, his choices, and life in general when he finally received a notification, and the effort required to walk under the weight noticeably reduced.
|New Skill Unlocked!
Forced March (1)
"Guys," Reivyn called out to get their attention. "I figured out <huff> what the point is." He was acutely aware that he had a much easier time speaking than he had moments before. He didn't know if the other two would notice, though, while they were in their own world of suffering.
"What <huff> is <puff> it?" Teilon asked.
"I got a Skill," Reivyn said. "Forced March. It <huff> makes it a lot <puff> easier. Just keep <huff> at it, and <puff> you'll get it soon."
The other two continued their trek with renewed determination. With a clear goal in mind and one that apparently wasn't too far off, they were able to push through their pain.
The trio continued their journey to the confused amusement of the occasional traveler. After another thirty minutes of walking, Kimberly gave a small shout of triumph.
"I got it!" she exclaimed. Teilon just glanced at her with wide, disbelieving eyes. Reivyn could almost see the despair in his gaze.
After another ten minutes, Teilon finally collapsed to the ground. He lay there gasping for breath. Reivyn and Kimberly came to a stop as they turned toward their friend.
"C'mon, Teilon," Reivyn encouraged. "Just a little further. The more you take a break, the harder it will be to unlock the Skill."
"Nah," Teilon waved him off. "I collapsed when I got the notification. I already got the Skill. Let's just take a rest here."
"Alright," Reivyn said. "But let's get out of the middle of the road. It looks like someone is coming."
The three of them looked up into the distance back from where they had come. There was a plume of dust in the distance, and it was slowly getting closer as they watched.
"Yeah, sounds like a good idea," Teilon said. Reivyn and Kimberly assisted Teilon in getting up. Even without being utterly exhausted, it would have been a chore to get up under the weight of the packs he carried on his back.
The three of them stepped a few yards off the road out of the way. They took the opportunity to get a quick bite from their rations and quench their thirst as they took a rest.
As they sat on the roadside, a long troop of cavalry slowly came into view. The sun glinted off of their shiny armor, and there was a standard bearer proudly holding a banner with a large sunburst pattern on a white background.
The three youngsters looked at each other as the cavalry came into view.
"I wonder what all this is about?" Teilon queried.
"Probably something to do with the Dungeon," Reivyn said. "Either way, it's not something that concerns us."
The other two nodded as they continued to recover their Stamina. Reivyn had a strong suspicion that these people were dispatched to investigate the instance of the demon and Revenants, but those things were no longer part of his responsibility.
They were just your average rookie Adventurer's now. Well, maybe not average.