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A note from NoDragons

I've just remembered, I used to thank people for reviewing. That seems like a good habit to get back into.

So I'd like to thank Finyun, Azel Robles, Fool, and Monus for their kind reviews.

“No no, this is a good first effort. You simply haven’t developed your mana enough.” The sorcerer chuckled. “Right now, you have the mana capacity of a newborn babe. Of course you cannot cast a second-order spell right after casting a first-order one.”

“Good thing you didn’t get my hopes up.” Jasper said bitterly. Why couldn’t I have found the nice, chill kind of wizard, who smokes Hobbit pipe-weed and isn’t a blatant dick.

“It’s rarely a good thing to set one’s mind for failure before you even begin.” The sorcerer waved him off. “But anyway, do not be despondent. There is a way for you to cast higher-ordered spells.”

“And what’s that?” Jasper asked, wary about getting his hopes up again.

“Long ago, when the first gods gave Classes to their servants, the ancient sorcerer-kings who opposed them created their own tools. The Blessings. A Blessing is a natural framework to connect Shards, and removes the difficulty of casting by your own will…”

“Of course, there is a downside. Whereas with natural casting, I can take three Shards and cast seven different spells, with a Blessing, only the final spell from joining all three can be cast.”

Jasper was nodding along, and already had his screen open.

 

Jasper Stone


Age – 0

Race – Outsider

Class – Unknown

Mana Alignment – Unknown

Sun – Unattuned

Moon – Unattuned

Shadow – Unattuned

Candle – Unattuned

Ox – Unattuned

Owl – Unattuned

Skills - Performance (9), Hidden Movement (4), Foraging (1), Negotiation (1)

Blessings – The Forefather, the Child, the Knucklebones.


He focused on the Forefather, and it expanded in his vision, a second screen atop the first.

Carved beneath the name was a constellation made of hollow, dark stars, linked together. Three in total. Surrounding them, written in blue light, there was an image of a rune-carved standing stone.

 

‘The Forefather’

Passive

Cannot be used for effects that do not target the self.

Completion

Gain a slight increase to all physical boons.

(3 Links)

Empty – Empty – Empty

 

“Which Blessings have you unlocked?” The sorcerer asked.

“The Forefather…”

“Everyone has that one. It is useful, given to us by our ancestors, but limited.”

“The Child…”

“Hmm?”

“The Child. The System thinks I’m a newborn baby for some reason.”

“Perhaps it is measuring the knowledge in your head. Nevertheless, not very useful for our purposes. The Child only serves as a safe way for children to explore magic…”

The image here was of a baby wrapped in cloth, a star glowing on its forehead.

 

‘The Child’

Passive

Greatly reduces the effect and mana cost of hosted Shards.

Completion

Gain a slight increase to growth rate for all skills.

(1 Link)

Empty

 

“And the Knucklebones.”

“Aha! Now there’s something useful. The lowest order of Blessing, but not restricted like the others.”

The last image was of two dice, both rolled to their lowest face.

 

‘The Knucklebones’

Passive

Gain an instinctive sense for approaching danger.

Completion

Gain an instinctive sense for opportunity.

(2 Links)

Empty – Empty

 

The sorcerer reached down and selected the Fire and Striking gems again, passing them to Jasper. “Press them to your chest and think of the Blessing you wish to empower.”

Jasper followed suit. Pushing a Shard up to his heart, he focused on the image of the knucklebones, the starry dice of ill-fortune. There was an electric tingle and the Shard dissolved, sinking into his chest as little sparks of magic that flooded down into the heart-well of mana.

When he had repeated the process with the second shard, the screen shifted.

 

‘The Knucklebones’

Passive

Gain an instinctive sense for approaching danger.

Completion

Gain an instinctive sense for opportunity.

(2 Links)

Fire – Striking


Ray of Cinders

Unleashes a focused ray of fire at a target within your vision.

 

Jasper examined the newfound mana inside him, looking within. There, he found something had changed. There was a structure, a scaffolding around which mana concentrated like water reserved behind a dam. He focused on the candle once more.

“Cinder ray…”

There was an instant, spine-tingling snap and a beam of flame erupted from a point in the air just between his eyes–

It was brilliant blue with a core of absolute white; the flame was so focused it was almost a solid thing, a piercing lance that spit out sparks as it blasted the candle in half and melted the remaining stub to a puddle. As it ended, sputtering out, a helical coil of embers was left drifting in the air around a thread of smoke.

Jasper abruptly slumped forward, feeling runny bile fill his throat. His eyes stung and his head throbbed and the well of mana in his chest was absolutely empty.

“And that is the first issue with Blessing-cast spells. They can exhaust you easily. If you don’t restrain how much energy they take, they take it all…”

The sorcerer strode back into the house as Jasper sat there, reeling. Long moments passed, sweat dripping down his face, and then the sorcerer was back, kneeling down beside Jasper to offer him…

A candy?

It was a round, rolled blob of jelly dusted with granule sugar. “Eat this. It will help you overcome your mana loss…”

Jasper looked at it suspiciously; so far the sorcerer’s method of ‘teaching’ had been to let Jasper walk into obstacle after obstacle. But he was in pain, and his head was muddy, so he took the jellied ball of fruit and chewed into it. The taste was fantastic. A rich, tart sweetness that burned away the acrid taste hanging to his tongue in moments.

As he swallowed, Jasper felt a pleasant burn begin inside him, almost like the briny heat of liquor. It flooded up his veins and began to gather in the empty mana-well– restoring what was lost.

At the same time, he began to feel threads of mana working their way in from all around him; the cloak of green silk around his armor was drawing in the sunlight and converting it. The feeling was warm and pleasant.

Slowly he stood back up.

“Focus is key. Where casting by your own will requires focus to create the connections, casting through a Blessing-- invocation– requires focus to restrain them. Otherwise you’ll spend all your energy in a single burst and leave yourself helpless.”

“You could’ve–” Jasper started to say, before a sudden jolt of sickness seized him.

“Ah, but you’ll remember this lesson better.” The sorcerer smiled. “Now, reach into your core and push the Shards out. We’ll try a different combination.”

 

— — —



(2 Links)

Water – Protection


Bubble Shield

Coats the user’s body in a thin layer of water that can repel blades. Limited by the ability to hold one’s breath.

 

(2 Links)

Ethereal – Striking


Arcane Arbalest

Creates an inescapable bolt of magical force.

 

(2 Links)

Fire – Light


Companion Sun

Creates a floating orb of fire and light to accompany you. Low mana cost.

 

For the rest of the evening, Jasper tested different combinations of Shards. His lack of slots to fit them in restricted his options, but each new spell was like a revelation, and more than once Jasper broke down laughing at the sheer joy of doing magic.

His favorite was the companion sun. It drifted around his shoulders, scooting away through the air if he tried to touch it, like a skittish cat that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be pet.

At the same time, the sorcerer was drilling him. He refined Ray of Cinders bit by bit. First he took the heat down to a red flame with a white core. Then he lit a candle without reducing it to a molten pile. Finally, he narrowed the flow of mana until nothing appeared but a twisting braid of embers and smoke, harmless and barely touching his mana-well, his ‘core.’

“Your progress is excellent.” The sorcerer said, admiring. “Tomorrow, I’d be curious to discover what kind of Alignment you have…”

“Tomorrow…” Jasper glanced up at the sky, his face slick with sweat. The sun was dipping down towards the horizon.

It was time to return to Amun and the rest.

“Hey, I need to fight tonight. Any chance I could…” He looked longingly towards the Fire and Striking Shards.

“Run off into the desert with my precious treasures. I think not. What if you died, and my prizes were lost in the sands?” The sorcerer’s smile was thin and unamused.

“If I die…” Jasper answered. “Then you don’t learn anything more about Earth. And there’s no finding a second me. So, if you let me borrow the Shards for tonight, you’re really protecting your own interests. Right?”

There was a moment of consideration.

“Fine. But take care. Holding focus during battle is harder than you think; you might only get one shot before exhausting yourself. Make sure to spend it wisely.” Crossing the courtyard, the sorcerer took the Shards in hand, examined them for a moment with a wistful air, and handed them over with a sigh.

Jasper wore a shit-eating grin as he pulled them into his core.

“You know, I still have empty slots in the Forefather Blessing…”

“And you still have legs, to run away with all my Shards.” The sorcerer snapped back. “I could lend you more if you left your feet as collateral.”

“Thiiiink I’m good.” Jasper said, still smiling, sliding towards the door. At the last second he paused– “I didn’t get your name.”

“Sarabas.”

Jasper nodded. “Thanks.”

And he was gone.

 

— — —

 

Jasper caught up with his party as they prepared to head out. A hunting pack was forming at the edges of the town, guardsmen and scrawny, weather-beaten hunters from the deep desert polishing their weapons, fletching arrows, preparing for combat.

Sitting on a black horse was a young woman with black hair tied back in two braids, slung over her ears and weighted with golden bands. She wore a chestplate of fitted leather tooled with twisting thorned designs and a green undershirt, green tights, a bow hanging over her back.

The daughter of Saltboon’s patriarch.

And the center of the hunt. She was supposed to land the actual killing blow, so she could present the spirit beast’s Shard to the temple and claim a class.

Otherwise this whole thing would have been left to the three of them– it was harder to control a fight than to just win it.

Thorn had a new bow, one made from black chitin harvested from the desert’s giant insects. Amun was chatting with the head huntsman, the man’s expression stone-faced, not responding once– but Amun didn’t seem to mind carrying the conversation himself. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice.

Jasper fell in alongside Teysa. “This’ll be my first time against a spirit beast.”

“Oh, you’ll enjoy this then. You never forget your first.” She punched him in the arm affably. “But just stay behind with me. We don’t need to be the vanguard– Amun can do that, and the hunters and Thorn will have his back. As for us, we pick off anything that’s about to flank him. We’re support– and if you play that music of yours, they’ll probably assume you’re doing some kind of battle magic.”

Jasper smiled– with a faint bitter note behind it.

He wondered, really, how long it would take him to forget Big Dog and the others. How long he’d have to adventure with Teysa and the rest before he stopped worrying they’d turn on him– how long before he became one of them.

It would happen, if he let it. Right now their ghosts hung over him…

But ghosts could only hold on so long.

Jasper was good at being angry, but he was bad at holding it. Long-lasting, burning spite, that didn’t come easy to him. Often he’d wished it did– spite got things done long after anger had gone home.

Was this something he should just let go? Let himself be pushed by the tides…

Or stick to his grudges and settle them? Amun, at least, he’d never be friends with. There was no putting aside their differences.

He leaned over and whispered, “So how long does Amun stay that shade of red?”

She giggled.

At that moment, a scout appeared over the dunes and slid down the inner crest, grinding to a halt before them. He was an incredibly wiry man, as if the salt of the water and the heat of the desert had mummified his flesh while he stilled lived.

“We have to go now, or surrender the hunt entirely.” He said breathlessly. “An elf warparty. They’re looking to steal our prize.”

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A note from NoDragons

Some of you might recognize this casting system. Well...

Let's say that author is a friend of mine. A close friend. A friend who's a sock I wear on my hand.


About the author

NoDragons

Bio: Author bios are for the mangy dogs who think they write literature. I write trash, and I am the king of the trash.

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