“Okay. So, your classes basically define who you are?” said Ethan after a long pause.
“Yes, because each class mainly uses the innate spells or skills granted to them, and those are granted to us by the world,” explained Kothar.
“The system,” Ethan corrected.
“The world, the gods, or what you call the system… no one really knows,” Kothar shrugged.
A massive mind-control spell… that’s what it is, Ethan thought but kept his thoughts private for now. Instead, he asked, “What’s the difference between skills and spells?”
“The difference is in name only. Both skills and spells consume mana to function, although, spells are divided into schools and skills are restricted to their classes and cannot be learnt like spells,” Kothar answered.
“Then what’s the advantage to spellcasting classes?” Ethan wondered.
“Spell specialists gain many benefits from specialisation. Chief amongst them is the Mana Manipulation skill, which allows them to channel more mana as they advance in levels,” Kothar said.
“Do you know anything about the [Harbinger] class?” Ethan asked.
“Huh?” Kothar looked puzzled.
“I’m guessing that’s a no, then.” Ethan was slightly disappointed, although the fact that Kothar did not know of this class meant only one thing: it was uncommon.
“The elders may know of it. We should ask them once they return,“ Kothar said.
According to Kothar, the elders were in a meeting for a long time, before ending it and acquiescing to Ethan’s request for information. They charged Kothar with answering his questions, then completely disappeared with The Matriarch somewhere.
”Were you offered this class after your battle with The Eternal Eye Of Judgement?” Kothar asked after a pause.
“Yes.” Ethan felt that the half-lie was justified. He only told him about the [Harbinger] part, not the ’Of Chaos’ part. His survival instincts told him to do so.
“As a matter of fact, there’s a countdown timer on the offer right now, asking me if I wish to replace one of my classes,” Ethan explained his current predicament.
“Oh, that’s a delicate situation,” Kothar commented.
“Why is that?” Ethan asked.
“Because now you are faced with a gamble. You can choose yes and keep the [Harbinger] class in exchange for an existing class that you will definitely lose, or choose not to accept it and hope it is compatible with one of your existing classes, lest you lose the new class forever. If it is compatible, it will modify your existing classes with an aspect.”
“Can you give me an example?” Ethan was fishing for more details.
“Sure. Let us say there was once this wandering [Warrior] and [Spearmaster] that spent the time learning some basic fire magic away from his tribe. He was offered a [Pyromancer] class, but held fast and chose not to exchange any of his classes. The world still gifted him with an aspect and he became a [Fire-touched Spearmaster] and from that day, no matter what spear he used, it always carried the brand of elemental fire,” Kothar said.
“Did you know this person?” Ethan guessed.
Kothar hesitated. “Yes, that was my father,” Kothar said at last, his voice tinged with a hint of regret.
Ethan wondered what that was about, but pressed on. “Could he have rejected the modification process?”
Kothar looked shocked. “Reject it? Why would he do that…? I have never heard of someone rejecting a new aspect before—it is a great gift!” Kothar exclaimed.
“Is the process always beneficial, then?” Ethan asked.
“Of course it is. It is a very rare occurrence, and I have never heard of someone regretting it,” Kothar responded.
Ethan regretted not telling Kothar everything from the start, but he simply didn’t know who to trust in this situation. For all he knew, a [Harbinger—Chaos] was a sacrilege on the Krell’s kill-on-sight list or something. Just because they approved of his battle with The Eternal Eye Of Judgement did not mean they would accept some kind of agent of Chaos. Moreover, he had no idea what being a [Harbinger—Chaos] would entail. Would it bring him any special powers or obligations?
“Is there a way to know for sure what a class or skill does?” Ethan asked.
Kothar was about to respond but was interrupted by the sound of a loud gong being struck outside. Kothar immediately got up and headed for the tent flap. He stuck his head outside and looked around before turning to Ethan.
“I have to go. The elders are calling for a gathering of the tribes. The guards have already left, but you must stay here until someone comes for you, or you risk your life,” he cautioned before leaving.
Ethan agreed. He did not want to offend their customs again, no matter how curious he felt. Especially with how cordial they seemed to be treating him recently. Besides, he had a lot of thinking to do and was in a race against time. His AI was currently trying to solve a big issue: he currently had no way to convey a decision to the system, with his lack of a complete interface.
Aylin Merza heard the gong sounding from her cage and wondered what was going on. The guards immediately left after hearing that sound. She waited and waited for any sign of them, but there was none. It had been two hours now, and the guards still hadn’t shown up to feed her that vile pink potion that suppressed her magic casting. That had never happened before. They were always on time.
Something very important must be happening.
She waited a bit more, then tried casting a simple light spell and it didn’t fizzle out immediately! She could cast magic! While it was really weak, it was working! Too bad she couldn’t simply break her cage with such weak spells. She had to rest for a while after the mental exertion of casting the light spell, and looked around carefully before trying again. She cast a Telekinesis spell with a target this time—a small pouch left behind by the guards in their haste to leave. It was situated next to the campfire, about ten metres away. It did not levitate over smoothly and she practically had to drag it across the rocky, cavernous floor, but who cared? It worked!
The black leather pouch finally reached her cage. She tried to reach down and get it, but the raised cage and narrow bars proved another obstacle on her way to freedom. Focusing like never before, she poured her soul into the spell and the pouch slowly levitated toward her hands.
Unlike instant spells, which took their cost of mana in one lump sum, Telekinesis was a sustained spell. Sustained spells required an open mana channel between the caster and the target. The caster could ’widen’ that channel to allow more mana to pour through, thus making the effects stronger. In the case of Telekinesis, it would make the spell exert more force on the target.
Come on, Aylin thought. She was determined to make it!
Yes! She caught the pouch and cradled it, like a mother cradling her firstborn child for the first time. She slowly opened the pouch and extracted the precious keys within. This was her chance at survival, and she didn’t plan to let it go to waste. It was time to get away from here.
They were really close now, Talius thought. According to the divination, this was the location Aylin was being kept. He looked back at his men. They were casting nervous glances all around, the long period of silence from the Krell making everybody nervous. It was almost like the start of this incursion. No ambushes, no battle-horns, and no alarms raised. He had the feeling they were walking into a trap.
That feeling was confirmed when they ascended a mountainous path, only to find themselves standing in the middle of an empty plateau. The plateau was where the divination pointed, according to his map.
“Are you sure this is the place?” he asked Jarret quietly.
“Yes, my lord, this is where the divination leads. Do you think this is a trap?” Jarret squeaked louder than intended near the end, and his voice carried to the men.
Talius’ surviving men began loudly arguing amongst themselves. He cursed and tried to shut them up, but it was too late. A group of seven Krell shamans had appeared on a nearby mountain peak. They stood in a circular formation and started chanting, rays of bright red light coalescing in the middle of their formation, then sinking into the mountain below them.
This all happened in seconds, and his archers had no chance to act before the mountain started to shake. The forced earthquake sent everyone sprawling to the ground and scattered their mounts. When it all ended, a big rift had opened in the mountainside and they all heard a roar that made them weak in the knees. His men and the remaining mounts started fleeing in all directions. He could not blame them at all, for it had been the roar of a dragon.
Ethan waited alone in the tent for two hours before they sent someone to get him. When they finally did, he was surprised that it wasn’t a guardsman, but elder Ro herself, who had come to escort him somewhere. Strangely, she didn’t call him ‘Ethan’ or even ‘boy’ like she occasionally did. She now called him ‘Arru Amati’, whatever that meant. She also showed a lot more respect toward him. After a brief exchange of words, she escorted him to another tent full of women, where he was asked to undress.
While he was basically wearing rags by now—his shirt hadn’t survived the battlefield and his jeans were in tatters thanks to splashes of The Eye’s acidic blood—he was very reluctant to remove his clothes in front of complete strangers. That thought evaporated, along with any special status he’d thought he’d garnered when elder Ro snorted and smacked him on the head with her cane. He needed no more motivation and started undressing.
He wasn’t that shy in one-on-one situations, to begin with, having had to change daily in front of both genders when entering special areas of the labs anyway. It was just a little awkward for him to be naked in front of so many people at once. Once they had him out of his clothes, they led him to a shallow rock basin full of hot water. He felt it entering every pore on his skin as he sank into it.
Oh wow, is this a volcanic hot spring? he asked his AI.
<Confirmed. Detecting faint concentrations of sulphur and volcanic minerals in addition to a trace of Mana and heavy Conduit presence.>
“A magical volcanic hot spring?” he exclaimed aloud. The women ignored him and started thoroughly washing his body with scented herbs. They were all very clinical about it as if nakedness was nothing new to them.
<Heavy concentrations of Conduit and Mana with unknown effects are saturating the body of the host. Preventive measures are available. Would you like to activate them?>
AI, do you detect any malicious activity?
<Negative. The concentrated subatomic particles are interacting with the living tissue and expunging toxins from your cells. Recalculating… estimated beneficial long-term effects.>
Ethan relaxed, let out a sigh, and closed his eyes. Finally, something was going well for him.
Aylin Merza was stealthily escaping through the dark tunnels of a massive cave system when she heard a nearby roar. Was that… a dragon? Despite her fears and her weakened state, she paused in her tracks and strained to hear the sound.
A mature dragon! Dragons were thought to be long extinct! The scholar in her soul just couldn’t let go of such an opportunity. Furthermore, she could hear the intermittent sounds of battle going on nearby.
A battle meant a busy dragon, and that meant an empty den. Which meant an open path to the surface, and maybe, just maybe, a hoard of treasures as well. Preferably the magical kind. She didn’t care about gold. She imagined the piles upon piles of ancient magical artefacts and became giddy with excitement at the prospect.
It was her chance to come out of this even stronger than before.
She almost started laughing maniacally right then and there. Then she remembered where she was, and reproached herself for even thinking about making a sound.
She started sneaking closer to the din, her heart thumping strongly in her chest.