Re: Interference Chapter 22- Rank Up

<<So, ready for the big day?>>

I ask the others while we share a quick breakfast before the big event. Retel seems eager to this new prospect, while Marica and Levia do not seem to make a big deal out of it.

Dahl is…well, let’s say he’s feeling the aftereffects of last night. I planned to tease him a bit today, but seeing his sorry state, I desisted.

I expected to find my companions a bit more nervous about what’s to happen. After all, this Rank Up should be a big deal for our party.

Supposedly, we will meet with some Guild representatives in the central building. From that point, what’s going to happen is a mystery, since they’ve kinda been scarce about the details.

Well, I do not think something unpleasant is on the way, so no need to be paranoid about things. I’ve had enough emotional distress during these two day, no point in worrying about even more things.

After breakfast, we all head out. Heod had the good thought of renting a carriage to get there. Much to my surprise, renting prices for a small carriage are not so expensive as I initially thought. Instead, it’s fairly cheap, and used as means of public transportation.

The reason as to why we could afford transportation with such low prices, it’s because we’re registered to the Guild. Not only us as adventurers, but also Heod, since he’s basically being hired as an alchemist for the Guild. Apparently, the transport service is partially covered by the Guild, in a way that merchants, craftsmen and adventurers affiliated to the Guild can use it to move rapidly inside of Sendria.

It is even possible to use outside of the city, according to the coachman’s words, but the transport fees increase quite a bit, depending on how much distance you want to travel.

Still, we’re not planning any trip outside the city soon, but knowing that we can rent transport with low fares is a nice thing.

Instead of walking for almost an hour, we arrive at the Guild’s main building in less than twenty minutes.

As we enter the building, a representative comes forward to meet us.

<<So, you must be the ones scheduled for Rank Up. Pleased to meet you. My name is Dana, and I will be your guide today. Please, follow me>>

We abide to the Guild representative’s words. She guides us through a side corridor that stems from the entrance hallway. In there, several paintings and statues are displayed. As we pass by them, the representative gives us a quick description of the works exposed there.

Most of them are artistic representation of famous adventurers and their gestures.

<<Although, if you really look up the Guild’s records, you will find that most of the people portrayed here were mediocre, but they came from rich or noble families. So, these are basically well painted lies and vanity>>

<<Well, they’re still a pretty view>>

<<I guess so. Still, some of them are the real deal. Like this one>>

She stops for a moment, pointing at a large painting. It depicts a scene of battle, painted with warm tones. A man, almost naked, is fighting bare-handed a lion-looking monster. The painting itself is truly a masterpiece, like those of the Renaissance masters of my…oh well, from the collections of memories I hold.

It kinda reminds me of Hercules’s story, when he fought the Lion of Nemea. Perhaps, the story behind this painting is similar to that one.

Still, we’re not here for a cultural visit. We’ve paused only for some moments to admire the paintings, and now Dana is hastening her pace.

Halfway through the hallway, she invites us to enter inside a room.

Inside, it looks like a small chapel, or temple of some kind. Long candles are lit, their flame wavering, dancing, as it illuminates some statues, perhaps icons of this place’s religion.

All of the statues inside the room represent a female figure with the same facial figures, sometimes holding a baby to her breast, other, the most of them, show the woman holding weapons, or a chalice.

One statue represents the woman as a beast-kin, with deer-like horns and scales on her body. This one is holding a weapon, a trident, and her pose is imperious.

Right next to it, the same face is on a human body, and the woman holds a chalice between her outstretched hands.

If I correctly recall, John mentioned this world’s original God. Skelj, that’s how he called the God of this place.

Kneeling down in front of a small altar, beside a big statue of the Goddess, there is an old man dressed in pure white garments.

Most likely, some kind of priest, devote to Skelj’s cult.

I had hoped to see something less religious and more practical, since I’ve already had my fair share of Gods and their meddling.

Still, this is all in order to make our party progress, so I cannot complain too much for this situation.

Beside the other party and ours, there are a few more people in the room. Judging from their behavior, they must be relatives or acquaintances of the other party’s members. I’m pretty sure that a couple of elderly people that is here with us must be the parents of one adventurer, a girl, since they’re looking at her with teary eyes, full of pride.

The girl herself looks slightly embarrassed by the situation.

As soon as we enter the room, the priest turns towards us. He says that the ceremony will start after some time, in order to wait for the latecomers.

Soon afterwards, the door to the small room opens once again. Telesia and a girl come inside the small chapel, apologizing for their lateness.

As soon as the girl enters the room, Dahl stiffens.

Looking at both of them, I notice some resemblance between Dahl and the girl. She’s obviously older than him, looking like she could be twenty, twenty-five years old. Not a pretty woman, but her physique looks athletic, well trained. More than that, her posture and demeanor are commanding, expressing an air of authority and power.

She comes forward, reaching out to Dahl with her left hand. She strokes his head, messing Dahl’s air in a somewhat awkward gesture.

<<Hello, little brother. Ready for your big day?>>

So, she’s his sister. Dahl grasps her hand, and smiles with determination in his eyes. Then he goes to Telesia’s side, greeting his grandmother.

After that, he moves back to the front seatings. All candidates for Rank Up are seated in the front rows, while relatives and acquaintances are seated in the back. Because the chapel is small, the room feels really cramped, but here, there are no more than twenty people.

Me and Heod are sitting in the last row of seats, near the door. Telesia and Dahl’s sister join us. The old woman makes a wry smile seeing me, seating herself next to Heod.

Seen like this, they look just like a normal couple of elderly people. Well, one of them is a skilled alchemist and a fine cook, the other is the scariest woman I’ve ever met, mind-reader, magician, and Guild Headmaster.

Dahl’s sister is sitting near me. To be sociable, I introduce myself.

Judging from her demeanor, and knowing her brother, I expected her to be cold and formal, but I’m mistaken.

After shaking my hand, she starts a stream of praise towards her little brother, talking so fast that I struggle to follow what she’s saying.

Hell, she speaks even faster than Levia when she’s agitated. The image of a conversation between the two of them pops up in my mind, a scene with words so fast that it could seem like seeing a fast-forwarded video.

I bite my lip, in order to not chuckle to my own silly thoughts.

<<So, care to tell me your name?>>

Dahl’s sister looks perplexed for a moment.

<<Ah! Sorry, I forgot! I’m Valentia, pleased to meet you!>>

Now that I think about it, I’ve already heard that name…from some adventurers, that were speaking out loud in the Dungeon Entrance building.

I could not help but overhear their conversation, since they were talking out loud with excited voices. They spoke about the new record set by the top Dive party, that just fully cleared the sixtieth floor and beat the Guardian, establishing a Guild outpost and a Safezone there.

Even if some parties managed to reach further into the Dungeon, it was the first time that one of the lower fifty floors was fully cleared. An amazing feat, accomplished by a party called Hellhounds. Although their name is a bit lame, those adventurers are a pretty strong party, numbering more than thirty members and led by a woman. Valentia, the Black Hound.

As I tell my considerations to Dahl’s sister, she makes a sad expression.

<<So, that nickname is still being used. Sigh. Oh well,it does not matter. To answer your question, yes, I am the leader of Hellhounds party>>

So, Dahl’s grandmother is Guild Headmaster, and his sister is the leader of one of the most prominent party in the Guild’s roster.

Impressive.

Conversing with Valentia, I make a blunder. I was praising Dahl about his important family, and I had the carelessness of asking about their parents.

Valentia gives me a sad smile, looking down before answering to my question.

<<They were both adventurers, like me and Dahl. And even Grandma, during her youth. But, they passed out two years ago>>

I apologize frantically after that.

It’s a mistake that sometimes happens in conversation with people that you know little about. I did not mean ill, but it makes me feel bad, nonetheless.

The priest’s voice resounds in the room, claiming our attention.

In his hands, a staff made of polished wood, reaching almost his height. The man himself is of large build, his body might have boasted powerful muscles, but now it’s become round and flaccid with age and too much food.

Despite his appearance, the glint in his eyes his sharp, and the priest’s voice is clear, strong.

Navi’s analysis identifies him as a level fifty-four, with many combat-related skills highlighted in his status, so he must be some retired adventurer.

<<Please, stop doing that on people. Especially the priest. Even if he’s continuing like nothing happened, he noticed your analysis>>

Telesia’s words whisper to my mind. She’s right but…isn’t she doing the same to me, reading my thoughts without even asking?

Still, the ceremony is starting. The priest beckons each of the candidates to stand up, guiding them towards the altar.

The first one to undergo the Rank Up is a frail looking man. He’s shaking a bit, taken by the emotion of having reached this goal in his career.

After all, not many people actually reach up to level twenty and beyond, in all their life.

His relatives are squirming from excitement, speaking his name with a soft but proud tone.

The priest makes the boy kneel before the altar.

Placing himself behind the boy, he lowers his hands on his head, muttering a prayer.

As he does, his hands begin to glow. As does the largest statue of the goddess, the one standing behind the altar. From the statue flocks of light, akin to snowflakes, begin to flutter, gathering themselves around the boy’s head. They shine,a weak blue color, pulsing while floating in the air.

In response to the priest’s words, the lights flicker, growing more and more intense as they gather, on the boy’s head.

They form a circle, converging, until they enter the boy. A flash of blue, cold light follows, growing in intensity until it subsides.

<<By the name of our Goddes, the Mother, the Warrior, the Virgin and the Blessed, Skelj, she who gives life. Receive her gift, oh brave soul, and rise in her light>>

The boy stands up, seemingly unchanged by the ceremony. He opens and closes his hands, looking at them, perplexed.

He mutters an incantation, and wind sweeps the chapel.

<<For the Goddess’s sake. Don’t try your magic here, boy!>>

A bit rudely, the priest reprimands him. But, judging from the boy’s smile, he’s pleased by his new power.

Perhaps, the Rank Up increased his magic power, or it allowed him to use magic.

I guess I will have to ask the others, about what changed in them after the ceremony.

The boy, still flustered, clears his throat and thanks the priest, strolling back to his seat.

Next, one after the other, the adventurers kneel in front of the altar in order to receive the blessing.

The ceremony is roughly the same for all of them, the only things that changes is the color and intensity of the light emanating from the statue.

Probably, that light itself it’s the blessing. But, as I see it more and more, I notice that it is just mana.

Powerful, so dense that it is clearly visible even without using a skill, but it’s mana after all.

More than that, I am surprised when I find out where that mana comes from. The statue itself, it’s nothing but a large crystal, similar in structure to the Fire Crystals or Ice Crystals that we found in the Dungeon.

Basically, its structure holds a lot of high purity mana, that is released in response to the priest’s own mana and chants, transferred to the adventurers.

In short, this looks like a religious ceremony, but it’s just a spell. A powerful one, capably of changing in a permanent way those that receive it, but still a spell.

Perhaps, the mana gathered in the statue is from the environment itself, or from the prayer of believers that pray in this chapel.

Finally, it’s my companions’ turn. The first in line is Marica, and she’s already kneeling down in front of the altar.

As soon as the priest starts chanting, a notification pops up in my mind.

[Navi: Warning-External Mana is attempting to overwrite minion “Marica”’s Status. The process will result in a Rank Up, modifying STATS, Skills. It’s possible to stop the process via Dream Navigator. Would you like to stop the process, or continue? (Advice- It will be beneficial to proceed with the process]

Of course, I choose to let the blessing do its work. Still, for me to be able to block the entire process, isn’t it a bit too much?

I tell Navi to not give me any notifications about the process anymore, and set all answers to “continue”. This way, I should avoid hearing Navi say the same line over and over.

[Navi: Hmpf! Well, if Master does not want to hear my voice…]

I simply ignore her, focusing on what is happening here. No time to listen to a disembodied voice’s rambling.

The light gathered around Marica is so intense it makes my eyes hurt. An intense blue color, swirling around her. The fluttering lights gather around her head, forming three circles that lightly pulse.

The priest pauses for a moment, smiling gladly for what he sees.

<<Oh, a Rare Class. It’s been years since I saw a person getting it>>

Curious about the priest’s words, I ask Navi about it. She’s sulking a bit, and I am forced to apologize to her in order to make her talk. Seriously, who the hell has ever been forced to apologize to voices in his head? Perhaps all this is just a bad case of schizophrenia. Yep, that would explain a lot of things…

Marica’s Rank Up is now done. She goes back to her seating, while Dahl takes her place near the altar.

He sends a small glance towards his sister. Valentia nods, and lifts her fingers in a victory pose.

As Marica did before him, Dahl kneels in front of the altar.

The priest himself seems taken back by the intensity of the mana that Dahl is absorbing. Up until now, it was Marica that held the record, but Dahl broke through that.

Dense purple light is gathered around his head, and three circles of fluttering lights are dancing around his head.

If the priest was surprised before, now he’s astonished.

A bit stuttering, he continues the process, until Dahl’s Rank Up is done.

<<As expected of the son of Matellia family…a Rare Class, like his sister. How jealous…>>

<<Yeah, and that light…it was purple, so a hybrid caster/fighter class? Could it be the Magic Swordsman?>>

Softspoken comments are beginning to rise from the audience. Beside the gossip around Dahl, I’ve learned something about the whole process.

The light’s color is related to whatever type of class that is being received, while the intensity is, of course, related to the received class’s power. In short, more light means more power. A red color indicates a melee class, which should be something specialized in combat, like a warrior or something similar. Blue stands for magic related class, while yellow stands for crafting classes, like alchemists. I know this thanks to Telesia’s explanation. Well, I managed to surmise that the meaning behind each color was something related to the specific class received, but I had no idea about the precise meaning of each color. Of course, “hybrid” classes are also present, symbolized by composite colors. For example, Dahl got a hybrid magic/melee class, and his color was purple, red plus blue. Green identifies a hybrid magic/crafting, orange melee/crafting. The circles that form around the candidate’s head were the most intriguing things to see. They are an indication of the class’s rarity. One, it means a basic class. The most common occurrence. Two, it’s an Uncommon class, that few people are able to get. Three are indication of a Rare class, something that happens only in few cases. As the name suggests.

Retel’s turn comes, and he too shows a Rare class, a pure melee one. The last one to go is Levia.

As she kneels in front of the altar, light begins to gather around her.

<<It’s…I’ve never seen something like this>>

The priest is at loss for words. The audience, even. Around Levia, a pure white light is gathering around, like snow blown by a gentle wind. It’s intense, cold and yet blinding to look at.

The old priest drops his staff, his eyes are almost moved to tears as he sees the image of Levia, the light reflecting on the black scales that adorn her skin.

It’s stunning, seeing her like this, she feels more like a mystical creature than a normal girl. Around her head, four circles of light have formed.

<<Please, would you continue with the ceremony? It’s a bit embarrassing, to be stared at like this>>

She beckons the priest to proceed with the blessing, her voice a bit strained by embarrassment.

The old man comes to his senses, and continues his chanting. He’s sending glances between Levia and the Goddess’s statue, and his hands are slightly trembling.

Please, do not tell me he’s gonna obsess over Levia, thinking her some kind of reincarnation of the Goddess.

Although, that would be a nice thing for a story. A Demon Lord traveling together with a reincarnated goddess. I bet there’s some japanese light novel with the same setting, in my…in that world. Hell, I need to drop this habit, of comparing the world of my fake memories with this one.

Setting aside my dumb considerations, four circles should mean some unique class, right? I mean, if even the priest was surprised to the point of almost having a mystical crisis, it should be something unprecedented.

Well, thankfully there weren’t many people inside the chapel, so there should not be much clamor about what happened here. Just in case, I ask Telesia to speak to the priest. Just to be on the safer side.

We leave the room, and both me and Heod congratulate with the others for the successful event.

<<Now, care to share what you all got? I’m dying of curiosity here>>

To my question, Retel laughs, answering with his usual, cocky tone.

<<Man, just look with your Navi thing. Or do you want a proper introduction? Should we do power poses too?>>

Levia lightly smacks his head, as he was starting to assume strange poses, like some kind of action hero.

Massaging his head, Retel is the first to share what changes the Rank Up brought.

<<So, my level did not change. That’s for sure. My stats…well, beside INT, STR and AGI have doubled, while ACC is the same. Hm, let’s see…my old skills grew in rank, I’ve got three new ones that I need to test, and then there’s the one from…oh, I will keep this a secret for a while. Ah, my class has become Guardian. Man, it sounds so cool!>>

Still, it seems like he’s picked up Dahl’s bad habit, hiding his skills from the group. I mean, I could easily see them using Navi, but, I would prefer if he shared them.

Well, perhaps he want to get the hang of them first. I will not pry further into this, since we’ll be avoiding fighting for some time. Of course, if this happened inside the Dungeon, it would be another matter.

Next, Marica is the one that shares her new specifics.

<<Right. Let’s see…Status window. Ah, it reads Elementia as the class. My stats are the same, beside INT that is basically tripled. As for Retel, my old skills have all increased in rank, and I gained a new one, Chantless. Huh, it says that I can cast magic up to intermediate without using a chant, and grant bonuses to magic that involves heat manipulation. Neat>>

Dahl is reserved as ever, only sharing the name of his new class.

<<Assassin>>

He mutters, almost ashamed by the sound of it.

Last, it’s Levia’s turn. She seems a bit hesitant about it.

<<Hm, well, it’s a bit strange, telling out loud. It sounds a bit too…stupid.>>

She sighs, dropping her shoulders. It’s just my impression, or the horns on her head have grown a bit?

<<Come on, don’t leave us hanging! It is something amazing, right?>>

Retel presses her, grabbing his sister’s shoulder and looking her with sparkling eyes.

<<Ok. Please, do not laugh. Please. So, it says…Dragoness>>

Retel swears not to laugh, and we’re forced to do the same.

Of course, Retel cannot keep his promise, and receives a punch on his stomach as retribution.

<<Sorry, sorry…to be fair, I’m laughing at the face you just made, not the name. It sounds kinda cool, in my opinion>>

The only one that looks a bit taken back is Heod. It might just be my impression, but it’s like a shadow passed on his face, for a split second.

He hides it well, however, and he congratulates with Levia and the others. Returning to his usual self, he offers to treat us to a big meal, in order to celebrate what just happened.

And so, we go to the Central Plaza.

Dahl’s sister is tagging along, while Telesia went back to the Guild after the ceremony. We all have the day off from our training today, so we can spend the day with leisure. Tomorrow, the harsh training will start again.

We share lunch in an open terrace, where some stalls are selling typical food from Sendria.

It’s basically a spicy meat skewer, served with mashed vegetables on the side. The food is fairly cheap, although tasty, but the best thing about this place is the view from the terrace.

From it, it is possible to see all of Sendria, up to the Northern Wall and the mountain range beyond it. The weather today is also nice, a clear, sunny day, perfect for a day off. Although, in the distance, some dark clouds can be seen. Perhaps, they will bring rain in the next days.

As I am basking in the view, Heod comes to my side.

<<Pretty view, isn’t it?>>

Judging from his voice, the man seems troubled by something. So, my intuition from before might be true after all.

<<Something troubling you?>>

As I ask him, he looks at me with a serious expression.

His voice is grave, sounds almost tired, heavy.

<<Did I ever tell you about the day when I found those two?>>

He nods toward Retel and Levia, who are still sitting at our table, talking with Marica, Dahl and Valentia.

<<Only few details. Is it something related to the Rank Up from earlier?>>

Heod nods, and continues his tale.

<<Yes, in a way. I…I have not been completely honest with you. So, this is both an apology, and an explanation. Please, bear with this old man’s silliness. Can you look at my status with your Navi?>>

Please, enough with the sudden revelations…I’ve had enough of those during these two days.

Still, I abide Heod’s request.

<<It’s the same as usual. Why did you ask?>>

<<Look again>>

As I do, what I see leaves me speechless.

<<What…what does it mean?>>

He smiles. A bitter smile, surrounded by wrinkles in his old skin.

<<Don’t let the number fools you, Roshal. Even if it is that high, I never had any combat ability whatsoever. Even when I was young, my stats were pitiful, and the only thing I could properly do was alchemy. It was hard to protect them like this, but you would be surprised to see what poison can do, even when the difference in levels is high. Still, that is not what I wanted to show you. Did you see my “race” displayed there?>>

I nod, unable to see where the discussion is going.

<<It says Dragonkin>>

<<Yes. It says so. As you may have wondered yourself, us beast-kin have different trait one from the other. Most human do not notice it, lumping us together as “filthy animals” when they hate us, or just referring to us as lizard-kin or snake-kin when they notice scales and reptilian traits. The truth is, there are many races among beast-kin. And some of them are more common, while others are rare. Mine is such an example. My race is so rare, that the vast majority of people do not even know it exists, and they just lump me together with other races. The fact that even among the same beast-kin race there is a high variability of traits between individuals also factors in this. And I’ve been using this fact to hide myself, passing for a member of a more common race. Do you know why?>>

His question is rhetorical, since there is no way I could ever know something like this.

Without waiting for my reply, he continues the story.

<<Because we’re hunted, Roshal. The kids, they do not know that, but our race, Dragonkin, are persecuted all over this continent. Cities like Sendria, or Nudria village where we lived, they are rare exceptions. But other countries, like Aldora and many others, too many, actually persecute our kind. And it’s not the usual discrimination that more common beast-kin suffer. Oh no, when someone like us is found, they kill us and make displays of our heads. So, that’s the reason why I hide it. Retel and Levia, they think themselves normal beast-kin, but they’re not. They’re the same as me>>

So, that’s the reason that made him react that way when Levia did rank up. As he continues, he explains that, for a moment, he feared that the priest would have recognized Levia for a Dragonkin.

It did not happen, since the priest most likely was just taken back by the unusual display of power from Levia’s rank up.

<<But, it could happen. Someday, someone will recognize them for what they are, and it would happen again. I’ve seen their parents die, Roshal, that accursed day. To avoid them falling to the same fate, I took them, raised them in hiding. Moving from town to town, sticking to those territories where people where ignorant enough to not know about Dragonkin, or they would tolerate them. It’s funny, even though they’re different, and they do think otherwise, Retel and Levia are actually brother and sister. The same Dragonkin blood runs through their veins>>

I swear to my name, to never reveal what the old man told me in this instance. He seems reassured, although I feel that it was not my promise, but having told the “secret” to someone else that lifted a weight from the old man’s mind.

We return to the others, acting like usual.

<<What were you talking about, over there?>>

As Levia asks, I smile to her.

<<Oh, just a bit of history lesson from the old man>>

The day flies by, as we spend it just loitering around, having fun. The old man left us, going to the Guild building to set up his new shop and laboratory.

Valentia also went away, since she would be preparing a Dungeon Dive with her party.

<<We’re supposed to depart in two days, so my schedule is a bit tight>>
She hugs Dahl, messing his hair one more time before she bids farewell to us.

<<I’m proud of you, pipsqueak>>

With a smile, she leaves us, heading towards the marketplace.

<<So, what should we do next?>>

There are still many parts of Sendria that we did not visit. In particular, I’ve caught words of two place that might be interesting.

The first, it’s a Museum. From what I heard, entry is free of charge, and it displays items from the history of Sendria, as well as a section dedicated to nature and monsters.

The other place, is the Arena. Although the name makes you think about gladiators and similar things, it is a place where sports are played. Nothing bloody, only monster-riding races and other team sports.

I propose the two choices to the others, waiting for opinion about where to head next.

In the end, we decide to head out to the museum.

The building is located in the old part of the city, among twisting roads and buildings consumed by age.

In there, the commoners of Sendria live their lives. Children can be seen playing in the narrow streets, while women walk the ways, often carrying groceries or jars filled with water.

Few men can be seen around, most of them still at work in some workshop or out in the fields.

If the richest, central part of the city gives off the feeling of a touristic city, this part of Sendria could be considered the “real”one, where people beside adventurers, nobles and tourists live.

The museum itself is located in a small plaza, in front of an old marble fountain adorned with some statues. A hidden gem of a place, surrounded by old houses.

In an style that greatly differs from the surrounding, the palace that hosts the Museum stands out, with its opulence that contrasts the bland appearance of the other buildings.

We enter inside, greeted by the guide. She’s a young beast-kin, looking slightly older than us. Her cheerful voice accompanies us during the visit, as she explains the objects exposed.

The first hall is dedicated to Sendria’s history, showing mainly statues, paintings and ancient objects of common use, dating back to before the city was built.

From it, the guide leads to another chamber, almost identical in size. In there, the displayed items are almost all related to war. Weapons, armors, even replicas of siege machinery. All of them depicting the past wars that Sendria waged and endured.

All in all, the visit was short, lasting no more than an hour.

After that, we go back to the central portion of the city. We spend some more time around, before going back to our home when the sun begins to set. After all, tomorrow we will all resume our training regime, so it’s wise to not spend too much time loitering around.

On the way back, we witness an unpleasant scene.

In a side alley, a woman is lying down in a puddle of her own blood. A small crowd of people is gathered around, commenting about the sad fate of the woman.

Apparently, she has been the victim of an assault, and the authorities are looking at the scene.

<<Another one. It’s the third this week>>

<<Yeah, but this time, it’s here, in the central quarters. They’re getting bolder>>

I overhear two officers discussing between themselves. This calls to mind what Telesia said about public order in Sendria, that it was rapidly getting worse.

If what the guards said is true, there have been two more victims during this week.

Perhaps, it might just be the work of some maniac, but I cannot shake an unpleasant feeling creeping out on me from that scene.

We leave the scene behind, since there’s no point in us adding to the crowd there. It’s a sad event just like it is, and the curious crowd only disrespects the poor victim, in my opinion.

As we get home, Heod is already there.

We discuss a bit with him of what we just witnessed, sharing our thoughts and preoccupations on the matter.

<<Yeah, I’ve heard some rumors too. Apparently, there are have been some victims even out in the slums. Although, no one cares about them, so the official count only considers bodies found within Sendria. But, from what I know, the total body count is ten. In a week. Boys, please be careful out there. I know you can handle yourself, but…>>

The old man is right in his concern. If a murderer is really on the prowl, that is something serious going on.

The discussion continues during dinner, and for some time after that. I end the day sharing a drink with the old man, before heading to bed early. Tomorrow, John will surely work me to the bone.

As the next day rises, I use the Transfer Stone to reach John’s place. The others have already gone out to their practice, and I was the last one to leave the house.

Well, technically I did not set foot outside of the house, but, whatever…

<<Morning>>

John replies to my greeting with a wave of his hand. To be kind, I brought him some food cooked by the old man.

During the time I spent with my “master”, I’ve noticed that his eating habits are just…terrible.

He’s grateful for the food, but more than the food itself, he is enjoying the wine I brought him.

<<It’s morning and you’re drinking alcohol already? You’re a bad role model for a youngster like me>>

<<Oh shut up, fake. It’s been one hundred and twenty-three years since I had a sip of good wine, so cut me some slack>>

He gulps the bottle, without even drawing breath.

After emptying the wine, he focuses his attention on the food I brought. The quantity of it, it should have been enough for breakfast and lunch for two people, but he messily ate everything. Everything.

<<So, how many centuries did pass from your last decent meal?>>

<<Oh, you have no idea. Man, I would die to have a cooking skill for myself, but I’ve never had such luck in my life. Want to laugh? I actually have the “poison cook” title. Everything I cook, no matter the recipe, turns into poison. Isn’t it great? Well, being a Dungeon Master means that in here, I am basically immortal, but even if the food does not harm me, it tastes bad>>

He’s more pitiful than I ever imagined.

To think that a man like him is the most powerful person I’ve ever met…

Soon after John’s meal, we start the training again. The first time, it was just physical exercises, but now, he’s adding something to the mix.

<<No way in hell I can do it. On the first try? You’re insane>>

<<Then go away, I’ve no time to lose with unmotivated people>>

What he’s telling me to do, is borderline impossible. Inside the high-gravity room, I am supposed to do push ups while chanting a spell.

Now, the push up part is easy enough. Tiresome, but something I can do. But chanting a spell? I do not even know how to chant a spell.

<<Oh, that’s the reason why. Man, all that mana you have, and you never ever gave it a try? Listen, because I will not repeat it. Magic is the easiest thing in this world. Fuck off all the books, delicate chants and so on. Those, are just rubbish. What you need here, is just three things. Mana, and you have well enough,structure and concept. Now, a magician from this world, usually spends two to three years in learning the words and pronunciations necessary to understand the concept they want to express with their mana. For example, if you would use a fire spell, you will need to understand the concept of temperature, and increase it with your mana. Some of the words they chant, they represent the concept of heat, other, the vast majority, give that concept a structure. So, the concept is heat, and the structure is where you want to send that heat, how much of it and so on.

But, that’s just useless my friend. Terribly so. Because, both their concept and structure are flawed. They do not know how reality works. About atoms and molecules, and the forces interacting with them and within them.

So, returning to the example of heat from before, they think it something like a fluid, flowing from hot objects to cold objects. And their concept works, mind you, it’s only highly inefficient. So, they need an overly complex, tiresome and energy consuming structure, to make their concept work enough to have some kind of effect.

Now, both me, and you, we have a far deeper understanding of the concept. The knowledge we have from that other world, even if it is not really ours, it’s something that allows for a deeper, more exact understanding of reality. You know, that heat is vibration of molecules, a way that energy expresses itself, and this energy, this vibration can transfer itself from a high energy molecule, or object, to a low energy one. You know about the different structures that allow or hinder the transfer of such energy. The concept you have, is far more developed and akin to reality than those of any magicians. And, thanks to that, the stucture you need is less complex, to the point of barely existing.

Now, focus, and set the air in your palm ablaze. Think about the concept of heat, and use your mana accordingly>>

I would lie if I told that the process went differently from what John explained. It was so…easy, so natural. I gazed at the flame, dancing in the palm of my hand. For a moment, it was there. I just had to route a bit of my mana into my palm, and control it, making it shake, vibrate, until the same energy was transferred to the air. As the concept was clear, I realized that not fire itself was not only heat, but a chemical reaction. Oxygen and other components of the athmosphere, reacting, producing energy itself, heat in the form of vibration. What I was doing, it was wrong. To produce flames, it would be easier to make the molecules react, rather than provide thermal energy.

And so I did. It lasted for an instant, but the flame was there.

<<Good start. Now, think about how to keep it there. And get on with those push ups!>>

Instead of using my hand, I transferred my mana to a point in front of me. Setting fire to something flammable would be too easy, said John, so I need to focus, invent my own method to set fire to the air in front of me, keeping the flame lit and under control. Too much power, and the gases in the room would all react, turning this place into a scorching inferno.

Too little, and the flame would not even start. Other than that, I need to keep a flux of reagents to the point where the reaction is happening, and thake away the products of combustion.

The notions about what to do, they’re fragments in my head, taken, robbed from whoever knows which human mind, to which people they belonged to in the beginning.

The memory of a filled classroom, where a wizened old man explains redox reactions to a well behaved classroom.

A memory about a professor, explaining to his colleagues his new findings about dymamics of gaseous fluids.

Like John said, all the memories I have are related to some notion about the world. Not enough to be able to change this one, only useful to be combined and used for magic, or skills.

Memories that allow not to build, but to destroy. To win, be it battle or war.

For example, I can easily imagine, and realize, a complex spell that uses electrons to produce a lightning discharge, but as I try to think about a way to harness electricity in a different way, like a motor or some circuit, it all crumbles away.

It’s more frustrating than I thought, the same feeling as when you try to say something, and that word, the one word that makes the difference between a proper sentence and a jambled mess, and you cannot find it, it stumbles on the tip of your tongue, unable to leave your mouth. It’s the same sensation, but with something deep into your own mind. Things that I could clearly think about, even to the point of being able to visualize them when I was thinking of an offensive spel, they fade away when I ponder about how to harness them to make a fuckin electric lamp.

<<Yeah, I know how it feels. It’s terrible, but, there’s nothing we can do about it>>

Still, I try to focus on the training itself, in order to not lose myself into frustration.

The fire spell was fairly simple to start, difficult to maintain. But, I did it in the end. After that, without even a word of praise, John commands me to think about an electric-based magic.

This one, it proves more tricky to use. The main problem lies in the nature of electricity itself. A movement of vast numbers of electrons, one of the basic particles that compose matter.

So, to make a flux of them, I need to take them from some place.

If I take them from myself, I will basically be hurting me in a pretty dumb way. Taking them from the environment seems the best and faster solution, but the first time I try it, I’m the one that receives the shock.

Being dumb as I am, I tried to pull the electrons toward my body, basically using an electric spell on myself.

Luckily, the intensity of it was laughable, otherwise I would have been burned to a crisp. Still, it’s not a pleasant sensation, not in the slightest.

John is still laughing his ass off, while I go on with the second, and third try.

Finally I manage to produce two spells. The first, I surround myself with my own mana, absorbing electrons from air and ground and storing them into my mana.

In short, it’s an electric field, or armor of some kind.

When something comes into contact with it, electricity is discharged.

The second spell is a more classic one. Using the same trick as before, I form a “bridge” of mana from me to the object I want to attack. Then, I let electricity flow into the bridge, absorbing it from the environment.

It’s not very powerful, but it’s something to start working on.

John has stopped laughing. The reason is, I’ve taken a bit of initiative myself. Using these new notions, I’ve applied them to my use of Black Fluid.

I had a temperature-based attack before, and the Vorpal Edge relied on vibrational energy to cut through things.

With the new notions, I improved the temperature based attacks, both cold and hot ones, by adding chemical reactions to the process.

Black Fluid can imitate anything it comes across, and that also means air, and gas substances.

That means, I can now set it on fire.

Strangely, or better, it was to be expected, the flame from Black Fluid burns black.

Well, now that I can use black flames, I only need a pair of red magic eyes and spiky black hair.

Using reactions to produce cold is the most difficult thing I had to do, and it reveals basically useless. Perhaps, the approach that I am taking is wrong.

The next thing I try, it makes me ashamed of myself.

Combining these new experiments with my poison making, I’ve produced a poison that freezes the body from the inside. The same goes with a “burning poison”. These two might be too nasty to ever use them in battle. No they definitely are.

Although, the freezing liquid could be used for some other purposes. Something like liquid nitrogen, it had a lot of uses in medicine if I correctly recall those not-memories of mine.

But, the most interesting experiment I did was with electricity. Using the same principle as the spells, I charged Black Fluid with electric currents. Since my control over Black Fluid is even stronger and more precise than the control I have of my own mana, I am able to precisely direct electricity within structures I make with the skill. I can even store charge in some structures, and release it at will.

It will be useful in battle, but there are many other interesting things that I can play with.

Still, I will need to experiment with it a lot in the next days. Thanks to my tampering with the skill, Black Fluid leveled up to level ten. The message from Navi rings in my head, informing of the new changes to the skill.

Basically, three things happened. First, the quantity of fluid I can now produce is doubled. If before I could produce roughly twenty liters of it, now it’s forty. Second, the quantity will increase proportionally to the mass of monsters absorbed. The increase percent seems a little bit lacking, being only 0.0001 percent of the absorbed enemy’s mass. So, if an enemy has a mass of one hundred kilos, my skill will increase in mass by one centigram. A measly quantity, at first. But, if I absorb large enemies, or a large number of them, well, the math will be different. And, the quantity itself is cumulative, so…

Third, and last, the absorbtion rate is doubled, and the chanche of getting multiple skills from a single monster has tripled.

In short, Black Fluid is rapidbly becoming so ridiculously overpowered that it makes my head hurt. I wonder how would it look, if I manage to reach level one hundred or more. As I think about it, the memory of the Laughing Man laying waste to the Aldora fort comes back into my mind.

I know what the skill could do at full power.

That thought, and that association, make me shudder.

John does not give me much time to think about things, however. He let me play a bit with my skills, to his own words, but now he’s starting to participate in the training.

Using what I have learned, without using my Black Fluid, I have to defeat a creature he summoned.

The level of it is roughly mine, and he assured me that the thing will not kill me. However, there are still risks here. First, the room has John’s spell cast on it, that increases gravity twofold. And next, even if the thing will not deal lethal blows, it will definitely hurt if it catches me.

To John’s signal, the battle starts.

Of course, the thing proves to be a formibable foe.

It moves swiftly, parrying my attacks and avoiding the magic I throw at it. Its thin body is a difficult target to hit, and the four arms on his frame unleash unpredictable attack patterns.

To attack it, I am using a sword an the skill “swordsmanship”. The effectiveness of the skill is highly lowered by the conditions here, and my own inexperience.

I go for almost two hours, unable to even land a single hit on the monster.

Its faceless features suddenly turn into a mocking face.

It seems that John is altering the summoned creature’s appearance. Just to piss me off.

<<Come on, Demon Lord! Is that all you can do?>>

Oh, the standard provocation line. Well, it’s working. You’ve successfully pissed me off.

I charge once again, straining myself in order to land at least a blow on this thing.

The day ends with me sprawling on the floor, unable to get up. The summoned creature is still in pristine conditions, prancing around like a big monkey.

John even added sounds to the abominable thing, and now, every time my attacks miss it or it lands a blow on me, a sound effect like those of a wrong answer in a tv quiz play.

<<There’s also a sound for successful attacks. But I doubt you’ll be able to hear them. Enough for today>>

With a click of his finger, John cancels the spells he cast. Gravity returns to normal, and the summoned thing evaporates into thin air.

<<So, what do you think about today? Satisfied?>>

He asks me with a smug smile. But, as a matter of facts, I am not satisfied by my performance. Not completely, at least. I was beginning to feel smug after my success with magic, but the battle practice actually made me realize that I still have a long way to go.

Before heading back, I ask John some more things about the Dungeon. In particular, I want to know about the trial thing.

If he’s the Dungeon Master, he must be somehow related to those, right?

<<I have not the slightest idea about those>>

His expression makes me almost fall over.

John explains himself with better words. According to what he says, the trials are not something that he decided. They were already set up when he entered the Dungeon, and are some of the few things that the Dungeon Core does not share any information about.

<<I’m sorry, but things are like this. I cannot help you in this>>

It looks like I will have to find them myself.

Out of curiosity, I ask him if he knows something about the other candidate Demon Lord, Leidus.

<<Hm, yeah, I remember that fellow. He was causing a ruckus here, some time ago if I recall correctly. Still, he’s no longer in the Dungeon. Telesia too asked me about his whereabouts, but he basically vanished after those incidents with the Guild. Perhaps, he’s still hiding in Sendria, or he left the city altogether>>

We spend some more time talking, before I head back home.

The others are already there, looking tired, almost drained. I too am in no condition to party right now, and I basically drag myself to a chair and collapse on it.

<<So, you lot had a good day?>>

Heod is the only one with the energies to talk. Almost like he’s the youngster, and we the old farts.

<<Hm, what good conversation partners I have. I am here, fixing you dinner, and you don’t even bother to humor this sweet old man. Ah, youths surely are ungrateful>>

Levia hughs him, kissing his cheek.

<<Thank you, Heod. But we’re soo tired today>>

<<Bah. Thanks the heaven, there’s at least one of you with enough head and kindness to thank me>>

Although he sounds like he’s complaining, the old man is just joking. After all, he understands our situation.

After dinner, I go towards my room. The others already did the same, but…

<<Hey, do you have a moment to talk?>>

Levia steps out of her room, whispering to me.

I will not lie. Seeing her like this, calling out to me with a hushed voice, it made my heart race a bit.

<<Sure. Come in>>

She steps into my room. Now that I think about it, it’s the first time that a girl enters my room in this world.

It should be a joyous event to me, but her serious expression makes me think otherwise.

<<What happened? Is there something troubling you?>>

After a moment of silence, she starts with her tale.

Almost without pausing, she tells about what happened that day. Levia is doing her training with a specialist of the Guild, and in order for them to properly exercise, they have been heading out of Sendria, in the forest beyond the city.

In there, she and her master have been attacked. Luckily, they managed to escape, but…

<<That’s what they said. Death to the Abominations. And they were not referring to me, as a beast-kin. They also targeted my master, and she’s human. The strangest thing about them is that they were insanely strong, but, none of them ever used a skill. Not even spells. Only pure physical abilities, but they were so strong that they pushed back my master, even managing to injure her. I managed to drag her away from there, but she’s gravely injured and she has not…she fainted and does not wake up>>

Her pretty face is beginning to glisten in tears. She’s biting her underlip, from the frustration about not being able to do anything but run away.

That’s what she’s whispering to herself, holding back tears.

But, even more pressing than her breakdown, it’s what she said before.

What she says, it rings a bell. No skills, no magic.

<<Did you see some uniforms? Symbols, anything>>

She took out a small necklace from her pouch.

<<I’ve not shown it to the others. And I did not even tell them the story at all. It’s…I do not want them to worry for me, but, at the same time, I wanted to speak about it. Sorry if I imposed on you, but>>

As I look at the necklace, I recognize the pendant attached to it. Grasping into my hands, I caress Levia’s face.

It’s a gentle gesture, a kind touch for a trobled friend. If there ever was some lewd intention by me when she entered the room, her tale chased it away.

What she went through, it’s something dangerous. Too dangerous to keep as a secret. We need to alert Telesia about it, and fast.

Because that necklace, it represents the symbol of Aldora.

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