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“Alright. I’m goin’ in there to hammer things out with Wixxacks.” stated Myr as she tore away from her conversation with the goblin. Ash had heard some mention of deals and numbers passing between them but he’d quickly tuned out the haggling in favour of surveying the store around him.

“Wait, what about the stone thing? I wanna know what that was.”

“I’ll tell you in a bit. For now, just stay here while I wrap up the rest of my business. Should only take a few minutes. Look around the store if you get bored an’ stuff but don’t touch anythin’ without my say so, got it?”

Ash agreed. He wanted to know what the stone had been for but he was patient enough to accept the promise of an answer later. Myr patted him on the shoulder and acknowledged him with a nod before she turned away. “And try not to die while I’m gone, kid.”

He snorted but took her words as coming from a place of concern rather than a jab and told her that he’d be on his best behaviour. The woman strode through a small door-way into the depths of the store with her sack and Wixxacks in tow.

That left Ash alone to peruse the various goods and items on offer around him. Well, not entirely alone, he supposed. He eyed the two goblins watching him from the counter. They were both female from what he could tell, unless goblins had no genders? Who knew.

They both bore the same green skin and green hair of their kind, though one also had what looked like bright pink tribal paint streaking across her face in vivid patterns. He’d seen more than one goblin with similar patterns painted over their skin in bright colours on the way in and took it to be a custom of their kind.

She was the one that was staring at him with obvious curiosity and interest glistening in her amber eyes.

The second goblin looked far less interested. Heck, he’d even say that she looked rather bored with him and everything else around her, and unlike all the goblins that he’d seen so far, she wore clothes painted in greys and blacks and bore no ornamentation or jewellery on her person. It was like staring at a black-hole amidst a sea of colours and he couldn’t help but idly wonder why she was so different.

His musings were interrupted swiftly enough when the colourful little goblin to her side sidled out from behind the counter and swiftly made her way up towards him. She was larger than Wixxacks had been, the top of her head reaching up to his navel where the older fellow had only stood as tall as his waist.

“Hey hey! Hey! You are tall and look strong! Are you a human that can speak to us like trusted human Myr can?”

He was, but no way was he making that known just yet. He smiled and gave her a shrug before gesturing between their lips, hoping that his point was made obvious enough.

“What? You wanna kiss? Hmph, well you’re a little shoddy-looking for my taste.” she said as she looked him up and down, eyeing his crude leather tunic, pants and boots that Myr had made for him.

Not wanting to look like she was dragging a caveman around with her had been her reasoning for the gift, and though it had annoyed him, he wasn’t going to complain.

"Still, I’ve never kissed a human before. Do you kiss the same? No, don’t answer that! What’s life without new experiences? I accept! Bend down though, I won’t be able to reach.” said the excitable little fireball in rapid-fire speech before she reached for his shoulders to pull him down to her level.

Ash sputtered and stepped away, much to her obvious confusion.

“I think he’s trying to say that he can’t understand you.” remarked the second goblin in a dull tone, her half-lidded eyes languidly drifting between Ash and her kin.

The colourful one frowned and wheeled on the other, a pale tinge of green on her cheeks. “I-I knew that! Of course, he can’t! He’s a human after all! I was just testing to see if he is like trusted human Myra, Maxxine!”

“Whatever you say, Soraxx.” drawled Maxxine in response.

Ash sighed with relief and sent out a look of gratitude to the reasonable one, Maxxine, for so swiftly defusing that time-bomb before it’d gotten out of control. She didn’t seem to notice or care but his gratefulness remained nonetheless. He didn’t think that either Myr nor Wixxacks would have taken kindly to him making out with one of the store’s employees, willingly or not.

“Well, you’re tall but boring then.” remarked Soraxx as she turned to face him once again, her shame forgotten as swiftly as it’d come. “Still, lemme show you around! Even if you can’t understand me, you’ll still get to see some of the real cool stuff that father has!”

Father? Ash nearly paled at the declaration. She was Wixxack’s daughter? Was the other one as well? He stared hard at them and did find a measure of resemblance there underneath the superficial difference in aesthetics.

He gulped, a thousand times more grateful that Maxxine had stopped her sister before she'd actually forced a kiss out of him. That hadn’t been just a time-bomb that he’d just avoided. It’d been a thermo-nuclear warhead and he again showered the reasonable sister of the two with a wave of mental gratitude.

“Look. This is the tusk of a bezoar boar! Human Myr killed it a few days ago! Very rare. Strong too! This one was tier two, but there are tier threes out there too!”

Ash was surprised. Myr was strong enough to kill a tier two beast? She had to be tier two at least then. Possibly tier three? What would her level be?

Ash scrunched his brow. How many levels were there to each tier? Ten? Fifty? Hundred? And how did people level up anyway? And the goblins? Did they have the same system that humans did? He assumed so if even a boar had tiers attributed to it.

He frowned. There was still so much to learn about the world around him. It made his limbs twitch with an excitable, impatient energy, though he restrained himself well.

“You are distracted! I am hurt! Dummy! Listen when I speak!”

Ash startled as a little fist slapped against his thigh. Soraxx was pouting at him and despite his nervousness around her kind, he found it hard to be overly anxious around the excitable girl. He even felt a little guilty for not listening. He flashed her a smile and made a gesture of apology. He wasn’t sure if she got it, but her frown faded back into a toothy grin soon enough.

“What’s the point if he listens? He can’t understand you.” remarked Maxxine in a disinterested tone as she idly read through a parchment that was spread wide open on the counter.

“It’s not polite though! He should still pretend to listen!” retorted the firebrand before she fiercely gripped his hand and dragged him bodily across the store. The minutes flew by in that way with Soraxx listing all the various knick-knacks and items available for sale and Ash making a play of pretending that he didn’t understand but remaining interested anyway. The second part wasn’t even that hard, honestly.

Ash was interested to learn about the strange and wonderous items, some of which were obviously of magical origin, that sat on display. It almost made him want to start a collection or store of his own someday.

Maybe. He supposed that he would be in this world for some time yet, so it would bode well to consider a proper occupation for the future apart from just mastering magic. The thought brought a tinge of sadness flooding back to him as he pictured his brother and how he would be adjusting to his disappearance, but he quickly swallowed the thought and focused himself on the loud, rambling goblin before him.

Sadness could come later. The present was what mattered for now.

“Ash.” called a voice from the other end of the store. Ash eyed Myr as she appeared alone from the doorway with a bundle in her hand. “Still alive, huh?”

“Somehow.” he drawled back. “We done here?”

“Nah, got some more stuff to work out. Probably take me a good forty minutes to an hour to work out the rest of the details.”

An hour? An hour of dealing with Soraxx’s chatter would drive him insane!

“Looks like you made a friend, huh.” said the woman with a look of amusement as she eyed the little goblin clutching at his hand who for some reason had gone sheepishly quiet as soon as Myr had approached them. She didn’t seem scared, he assumed. More like... was that a blush?

“Oh, by the way, here.”

Ash grunted as something was poked into his gut. A book? Or a tome, he supposed. It was a small and thin thing, but it was leatherbound and aged and so he thought that calling it a tome fit it well enough.

“What’s this?”

“Tier one spells for your might nexus. Managed to wrangle it from Wixxacks. That stone I’d used on you determined your elemental affinity, and what you got bucko, is fire. It’ll mean that you’ll have an easier time learning spells related to or branched out from fire, and a harder time learnin’ water spells, ‘cuz you know, everythin’ has its opposite. But that’s just a suggestion at the end of the day. The book ought to have spells of all elements so have a look through while I’m doin’ my dealin’, ‘kay?”

Ash shakily nodded, his limbs weak with excitement as he stared wide-eyed at the suddenly precious bundle of magic in his grip, such that he nearly missed Myr switching to goblin-speak to tell Soraxx to not bother Ash until her father was out. The goblin nodded awkwardly and scooted off to re-join her sister at the counter.

Myr left him then to return to her dealing and wheeling and Ash wasted no time in taking a seat on the bare floor to peer through the first few pages of the book. As it turned out, the entire thing was only twenty pages long, and it contained far fewer spells than he’d hoped it would. In fact, most of the space available was taken by the massive amount of theory and magic-craft dedicated to explaining how each spell was formed by cast. It was a massive amount of information.

And by massive, he meant massive. It looked to him more like a series of mathematical equations than it did any kind of arcane knowledge, and it boggled his mind that it took this much theoretical effort in order to do basically anything with mana. How was that possible? How did Myr manage to cast her earth-shields in the blink of an eye when the spell required to cast an ice spear involved chanting and magical formulation using his mana that equalled a solid forty minutes of constant effort?

How could anyone consider the various dimensions and varying factors that the book demanded they understand before even casting so much as a stale fart?!

It made no sense!

How could any magic be useful at all like this? How did battle even work? Did every mage in the world just stand still and hurriedly do the busy-work of forming the spell for hours and hours until one of them finally managed to get a paltry bolt of lightning off?

No, there had to be something else there. A loophole of some kind. Myr’s abilities wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Ash supposed that the only way he could find out was to try to learn one of the damn things himself.

He was not looking forward to it, despite his earlier boundless enthusiasm. To that effect, Ash chose the simplest and most appropriate spell for himself. He had an affinity for fire and Fire Bolt was the easiest offensive spell available according to the book. Of course, it still demanded nearly fifteen minutes of constant theoretical work to cast each time. Ash sighed.

Magic was a lot less hocus pocus and a lot more x is equal to the root of y than he’d have liked, but such was the hand he’d been dealt, and he determined that he’d make the most of it.

The actual formulation of the spell itself felt like trying to write math using water whilst a monkey pounded at his head. It was hard, even with the warmth and cosiness of his inner self soothing his pains as he went. Fortunately, it wasn’t so hard and alien that he couldn’t manage, and Ash somehow managed to finagle his mana in just the way the book wanted him to in order to muster an actual, working Fire Bolt in the palm of his hand.

And it only took four tries. And probably a few hours, though likely not that long in real-time. Time was hard to track in the depths of his inner self, though he was getting better at it.

Of course, the moment he opened his eyes to marvel at the spell, it winked out like a candle in the wind. Ash blinked. That hadn’t been him. He’d felt something snuff out the magic from his palm as soon as he’d cast it.

Ash was about to question it when two abrupt occurrences demanded his immediate attention. For one, a shimmer popped into view before his very eyes.

___________

Spell: Fire Bolt learned successfully!

Ability-slot available. Would you like to learn Spell: Fire Bolt?

____________

Ash goggled at the notification and hurried to accept before he risked losing it. The screen faded away and immediately after, Ash felt something click in the depths of his mind, as if a hurdle had been shoved off and his path was then made free and unobstructed.

Ash would have laughed in glee at the realization that gripped his thoughts if the second occurrence hadn’t caught his ear.

“Why’s he constantly trying to cast that spell?” came Soraxx’s voice that cut through his glee like a knife through butter. “Doesn’t he know that the store’s wards won’t allow for magic inside of it?” questioned the little goblin in what he could only assume was her version of a whisper.

“Don’t know, don’t care. Though, if you’re so curious, why don’t you go and try to figure out how you can communicate with him.” asked Maxxine, her eyes still glued to the parchment before her.

“No!” retorted the fiery goblin with a shake of her head. “The trusted human Myr told me not to bother him, so I obviously won’t bother him.” she stated firmly.

Her sister groaned and Ash smirked, amused by their antics before he returned to his inner self and attempted to cast Fire Bolt again. And this time, it came to him in milli-seconds with a speed truly appropriate to its name. A sudden spark of fire on his palm announced its arrival before the wards snuffed it out with contemptuous ease.

Ash grinned nonetheless.

Ability-slots! That was the answer! That was what Myr had meant when she’d said that he’d understand when he actually tried to learn a spell. Slotting a spell into an ability slot stripped away the chore of actually having to do the extensive formulations and chanting required to cast it, leaving him with something that he could use at a moment’s notice.

That of course brought a whole new dilemma to light seeing as how he only had three ability slots, which meant that he’d be limited to only three spells until he forged his next nexus. Ash sorely hoped that there was a way to increase that number. A prospective Dumbledore like himself needed to be able to cast as many spells as his heart desired after all!

Still, even with that downer lessening a smidgen of his drive, Ash was still undoubtedly enthused to try and fill another slot, and thusly bore into the book in search of his next spell.

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About the author

Dev Pain

Bio: I write and I write and I write and then I write some more.

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