Warm sun on my skin, gentle breeze keeping the temperature just right, and just the right amount of grass to keep me comfy. This is the life, I thought. Much better than being stuck in a stuffy library reading uncountable tedious tomes. Plus, the villagers couldn’t find me here to get their revenge.
It’s not that I’d done anything wrong. I was just trying to learn magic. So people didn’t like getting shocked, how was that supposed to be my problem? When monsters showed up they’d be glad I let them help me train. Sure, it had been a decade since the last monster sighting. Five decades since the last monster invasion. Clearly that meant they were hiding out, building up numbers for a massive undertaking. It wasn’t possible they were actually all exterminated, right?
Or… maybe there would be a war! Peace couldn’t last forever. People always wanted more land and resources. Sure, there were all the lands the monsters had previously made uninhabitable, plus better farming techniques making plots more efficient. All the free mages really did a lot for building up infrastructure inside and outside of cities. But someone had to want to start a war, right?
Weren’t there necromancers or something? The Black Cowl? I frowned. Actually, the Black Cowl were the ones who figured out that they could conjure stone and make stone golems more easily than any form of undead, without getting anyone angry at them. I think they even learned how to use stone to flesh to make corpses, if they wanted them. Someone had to be angry about that, right?
Oh, or the Nizben empire! They were bound to start another war once the new emperor reached his majority. No, wait. He’d signed his throne away and started a ‘democracy’ or some sort of crap like that. They’d opened up their borders for trade and accepted the multicultural societies of those under their rules. A few states had sued for independence but backed out before it could go through, once they realized what the young not-emperor could do for them if they remained.
What else… what else… maybe an orcish horde? Eh… that probably wouldn’t go over well. Humans might appreciate a half-orc fighting on their side, but they’d find it harder to trust a full orc like myself. And most of the orcs had realized that starting wars wasn’t doing them any good.
Okay, what about disasters? No, the other mages could handle that and it wouldn’t involve fighting. I could be a whaler, but I wasn’t good on boats and to be honest a good harpoon was better than anything I could do. Hunting was much the same, and all of the slots were filled by experienced hunters who knew how to keep populations at the right level. I could fight in an arena! But uh, the Bloody Sand Pit really mostly just hosted bards these days.
Being a mage sucked. How was I supposed to learn magic in a world like this? There were so many things I wanted to do, but what I actually could do right now was… limited.
|Turlough (No surname)|
Shocking Grasp +3
Force Armor +4
Mage’s Reach +1
Remaining Points: 1
Level 10. It might seem high, but actually until adulthood level is expected to match age. I stopped counting when the first digit of my age hit 2. It wasn’t thaat long ago. I’m still young. But as for why my level is suboptimal, it’s not my fault.
I didn’t always hate reading. It was nice, learning about what spells did and how they’re used. The math that went into how powerful they were was interesting enough, though it was also just possible to look up huge tables if you weren’t interested in calculating with a formula by hand. I was a good student, diligently studying all the time while the other students alternately studied and played. Then I started to fall behind. Because… I can’t get experience from reading.
|Aspect of the Barbarian|
That’s what it’s actually called, but what it’s called nowadays is Curse of the Barbarian. It’s a curse for everyone- only being able to level up by fighting sounds fine if there’s fighting to do. But there isn’t. I wasn’t entirely crazy in my class choice despite how I came about it. Mages have a lot of utility spells they can do. My storage spell gives me access to an extradimensional space which has the power to hold… a book. Mage’s Reach allows me to reach out with telekinetic forces as if my hand was anywhere within thirty feet or so. And if I could level up more, I would have access to all sorts of cool abilities. I should have at least four times as many points as what I’ve currently used.
… But at least I made it to level 10. Fortunately ‘fighting’ doesn’t require ‘killing’. However, the amount of experience depends significantly on how much of a fight it is. Being level 10 I had done the equivalent of killing 275 people without any levels or about two thousand small animals. Just without actually killing anyone. Or dying. Or getting people angry enough to lock me up. In theory people with higher levels would be worth more, but the problem was people didn’t fight. If they didn’t know how to fight, they didn’t count as higher level. City guards didn’t want to spar with a mage since it just meant getting hard to heal injuries, and the other apprentices had more useful things to do with their time. Like building magic carriages and enchanting tools. Useful stuff. Not like fighting.
To be honest, about half of my experience came from fighting Izzy. Once I could read- and thus figure out I had Aspect of the Barbarian- I picked fights wherever I could, when they didn’t come to me first for being an orc. I completely lost every single one of them, especially since I tried to fight teenagers when I was six. Izzy was just about my size, and she was always up for a fight. We got into scraps regularly but as I grew older and bigger she grew… not at all. I’d assumed Izzy was a kinda funny looking kid, but my first real friend was instead an adult halfling. That led to an awkward moment, an actual fight that didn’t involve fists or magic or anything of the sort, and then Izzy just… skipped town. I wasn’t really that mad, but I didn’t know where she went. Okay, maybe I was mad, but I was a teenager so it didn’t really count. Most of the anger wasn’t at her anyway.
I was cold. Maybe I fell asleep or just got lost in thought, but it was night time. I supposed it was time to go back to the tower. At least Master Uvithar kept a place for me. I helped keep the place swept up and the books properly shelved. He knew about my struggles, and it wasn’t just stubbornness that kept me the way I was. It was just that I had managed to choose my class before I learned to read. And then I spent most of the skill points I’d ever get before I realized I was young and made bad choices. It was last year that I got to level 10, and spending most of the point’s on Mage’s Reach so I could more effectively zap people seemed like a good idea, but instead it meant I had to run more. For some reason nobody wanted to get within ten armlengths of me.
In front of me I saw a familiar face. Blue-white hair with yellow tips, and a terrible attempt at a beard that had patches of similar colors distributed unevenly. Green skin. Tusks. It wasn’t a face I saw every day. I didn’t even own a mirror. But Rordan’s Reagents had a very nice glass window out front, probably made by one of the other apprentices who actually learned a fabrication spell. I’d kind of passed over the opportunities to do so whenever they arose. It’s not like I had spare points available most of the time.
Rordan had a much better beard than me, and his hair was white from age and not from magical crap changing his hair color. “Turlough,” he folded his arms. “Here to incite the town?”
“I don’t know what you mean, sir. I’m just here to pick up some reagents for Master Uvithar.”
“Hah,” Rordan snorted. “I’d bet my whole store that you’ll be chased out of Mossley within the hour.”
It wasn’t a real bet, of course. If it had been, I probably could have stayed on the down low long enough. I could certainly control myself for an hour. If I had another couple points I could learn invisibility and that would cover five minutes on its own, which was a lot of time to reposition. It lasted about a minute per expense, and as a third level spell it cost three mana per cast. Since I was level 10, I had 15 to spend. Over the course of an hour I could regenerate maybe 6 points of mana so probably 7 casts total. Maybe 6 because I’d be a bit short. I could tune the spell down a bit at the cost of less time…
“Are you going to take the goods or just stand there?” Rordan asked.
“Right. Sorry. You’ve been paid already?”
“That I have. Go on and get out. And no funny business.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I said as I turned and left. I left the nearly invisible form of my most recent spell behind me, expending a full three mana for Mage’s Reach. Just as the door was closing I heard a yelp, so I knew my hand had gotten to him. Shocking grasp was a dangerous spell, but I wasn’t going to actually hurt people. If I turned it down to the tiniest form it not only saved mana but it acted just like a tiny static shock. It also required getting very close to people so I could touch them- or a spell like Mage’s Reach that allowed me to touch people from a distance. I yanked the hand with me through the still open door and began walking down the streets.
It was still morning, but plenty of people were up and about. I carried my sack over one shoulder as I cast Force Armor on myself. That cost two mana at base but it lasted almost all day, or until it broke. Since it could handle a hit hard enough to kill some people, that was good enough. Each time it broke, I just thought of it as my life being saved.
People began to take notice of me. Partly because of the yelps as I passed people, and partly just because I was well known. Soon enough, I was running down the main street.
“Turlough!” people kept calling after me. “Get back here!”
Yelling at people like that never worked, did it? Of course not. The nearly invisible hand flicked back and forth to the sides of the road, channeling the power of a Shocking Grasp that used about one percent of a point of mana. Too bad it couldn’t be tuned up, but I didn’t have that much free mana and I didn’t engage in actual combat anyway.
If there was one thing I could be proud of as a mage, it was that I was the fastest runner who had ever passed through Master Uvithar’s tower. I had good endurance, too. I was even pretty good at dodging. When one of the people ahead finally noticed me they tried to grab me, but I basically got out of the way and my magic armor extended far enough for them to slide off instead of getting a good grip. I was pelted by rotten fruit and small to medium rocks people were finding or had stashed nearby, but I kept running.
They wouldn’t chase me beyond the edge of town. Besides having better things to do once I reached the tower they couldn’t come in. They couldn’t catch me before then, so I would be safe. I ran and I ran until I reached the tower door and stepped inside. “Safe!” I pumped my arm in excitement. Then I looked at my status.
281 experience. All of that for one measly experience point? Sure, I wasn’t in lethal danger and I didn’t really hurt people, but I remember the first couple of times I started similar ‘training’ it gave me handfuls. At this rate I wouldn’t even reach 330 and level 11 until next season at the earliest. Probably longer because if I did this every day they’d be waiting and I’d get caught. Besides, I couldn’t be sure if it was even a whole point or just enough bits of experience to push me over to the next whole point.
I climbed the stairs, taking them slowly to catch my breath. Master Uvithar’s study was obviously at the top of the tower. So, despite his age, he was probably the second fastest runner that had ever studied at the tower. Still leagues below me, though. At least without magic.
I knocked on his door. No response. Well, he always had me just leave the bag on his desk. It was unlocked, so I stepped inside. Was it breezy? Did he have a window open? I turned my head as I set the sack down. The windows were in fact closed, but I found the reason for the breeze.
Right there in the room about seven feet tall and maybe half as wide, not quite a proper ellipse but wavy on the edges, was a portal. I’d never seen a portal before but if that wasn’t a portal, nothing was. It was the sort of thing that had demons or elementals or some sort of terrifying invaders from another plane about to pour through it. I couldn’t see into it, instead inside the wavy edges was inky blackness. A one-way portal to some hell or something. So I stepped through it.
The ground beneath my feet was dull obsidian. All around me were buildings of pallid grey stone, so smooth and continuous in their perfection they had to have been conjured by magic. The road in which I was standing- for it was clearly a road- also had strips of white at regular intervals. Those were made of… something new. Probably magic too. The smells were… Tar, maybe? Some sort of oil, and just a hint of refuse. Well, it was a demonic fortress so it made sense.
The sounds were probably the most important. Clanging and clashing metal, as well as the sound of something whooshing through the air. I turned towards it. To my credit, I immediately re-cast my Force Armor to make sure it was in top form. I just sort of forgot to dodge or move at all at the sight of a metal carriage being flung sideways through the air at me.
Statistically it wouldn’t have hit me head on, probably just would have sent me flying, knocking me flat on my back and breaking four or five ribs. Through the armor. However, that didn’t happen.
I saw a tall, olive skinned woman. Six feet? No, at least eight feet tall. Maybe ten or twelve, the way she looked as she caught the metal carriage. The force of it pushed her back shredding the dull obsidian street beneath her as she stopped the momentum of the giant projectile. Then she grew another two feet taller, her muscles bulging out to be proportionately greater than they already were, bulging through some sort of skin tight covering. She chucked the metal carriage back at the thing that had knocked it in my direction to begin with. It was some sort of earth elemental, chunky rock and dirt in vaguely humanoid shape.
The woman in front of me deflated slightly, shrinking back to somewhere closer to eight feet. She turned towards me. Then she shouted something in a language I didn’t speak. It didn’t seem threatening or anything through, since she’d just defended me. It was a few full sentences though.
I did the only thing a sane person would have done in my situation. I shot a firebolt straight into the shoulder of the earth elemental. I’d never had a chance to use a full power offensive spell except against Master Uvithar. Even when I got the rare chance to spar with another apprentice, we reduced the power of our offensive spells. A full powered Force Armor with no upgrades would always withstand a firebolt or equivalent, but the hit after that usually let something through. The lower the power of an attack when a defensive spell broke, the greater available margin of error.
My firebolt struck the shoulder of the creature, melting just a little bit of it. Enough for me to know that doing that 7.9 times would be a terrible waste of my mana. Shocking Grasp has more offensive power and less range, but it wouldn’t be more effective on an earth elemental. Maybe even less. With no other offensive spells, I cast grease at the thing’s feet. An area of slick black formed atop the non-slick black pavement. It was definitely not obsidian, I could tell that as I moved.
The earth elemental had caught the metal carriage, of course, and was preparing to throw it back once more. However, the sudden slippery mess under its feel made it lose its balance and the heavy metal thing dropped on top of it. The large-to-larger woman in front of me took the chance to run forward and smash it’s head under her heel.
I wasn’t able to watch that whole fight because there was much more going on. There were other portals, in the air and on the ground at seemingly random positions. Someone flew in front of me, one arm outstretched like they were in some sort of half-dive into a pool of water. Through a portal across the street from where I had moved came a steady stream of half man sized demons, scrawny little ones with goat hooves and horns but otherwise human in appearance besides their red skin.
Then something kicked one of them. I didn’t really see it- instead I merely saw its head swing to the side. I barely saw flashes of movement, and sometimes I saw the figure of a man for the briefest moment. My eyes began to pick out afterimages of him against the creatures as each time he was in a different pose but had clearly struck them. I thought my eyes were improving, but maybe he was just getting slower.
All around there was a sort of chaos, several more flyers appearing and more monsters. Everyone seemed to have different abilities, and I had no idea what their classes were. Or what their clothes were made of. The whole time, I was just trying to figure out what to fight.
Then I saw dozens of batlike creatures, man sized, pour out of yet another portal in the sky. I was glad my portal had been one of those basically on the ground. I shot a firebolt, catching one in the chest. At least I’d had enough practice with my aim, though I wasn’t confident in hitting them consistently after they spread out and were flying around towards the glass windows that seemed to be all over the buildings nearby. The one I hit charged down towards me, but bats were much more flammable than rocks. It fell out of the sky onto the ground before it got to me.
Mage’s Reach. Shocking Grasp. That was my preferred spell, and I wouldn’t waste the mana if I missed because it didn’t discharge until it hit something. I reached for the closest bat. Lightning was very effective on them as well, stunning them and letting them crash into the ground. I targeted another, and another. One of them seemed to have caught on, but I had one more in reserve. 1.67 + 1.9 + 2.85 + 1.82 + 1.74*3= 13.46. All those years of arithmetic added up, and the fact that I had advanced the spells which reduced their mana costs gave a very slight edge along with weird costs. The bat went down, but then I saw two more behind it. No more mana. Well, crap. I slapped one of them with Mage’s Reach while trying to push out that last half of a Shocking Grasp and was surprised when it sparked and sputtered like it was hit with full power. Enough that I forgot to continue dodging.
Then the large size-changing woman kicked it out of the air. More words, clearly directed at me. I still had no idea what they were. Crud. If only I knew a translation spell. It was too bad I didn’t have any points available. Except… I suddenly had more mana. Had I leveled up? A quick check told me I had. I… probably needed that, right? What was it, third level? Translate. I kind of knew how it worked already. I purchased it, and cast it.
I tried to cast it. Of course, I was still out of mana. Less than a single point remaining, if my calculations were correct. So I skimped. Downcasting worked pretty well, usually.
“What the hell —- — —– is that, ——?”
Ugh, it was missing words. The intimidating woman stood taller and wider than me, even as a full grown orc. I should probably say something. “Don’t speak… good. Tired.” Hells, was that the best I could get out? What a terrible first impression.
“—– —– safe-” she pointed down the street. I nodded. I probably needed to leave. What a stupid mistake. I couldn’t even cast a translation spell properly right now. I was about to pass out from mana exhaustion too. I staggered away. At least she hadn’t attacked me. I had thought a random orc appearing out of a portal would have concerned people more, but there were already so many portals. Ah… she probably didn’t see I came from one. Maybe that should remain secret. Most of the things were aggressive. Though I couldn’t explain anything at the current moment anyway.