Chapter 41 - Home is where the heart is

The Class Evolution window brought the "fuck-all-mages" attitude of the creators back to the fore. I was given an option called "Spell-Maker" with the ability to, well, make new spells. That's all. No hand-holding, no references, no debugging, nothing more. At least, nothing I couldn't do already. And so I chose the only other option I had - Battle-Mage.

Not that I regretted it.

There were three major improvements that I felt immediately. First, my spells were cantrips no more. Merely brute-forcing the amount of mana I could assign to a spell turned what was earlier a static tingle into a current that could fry a monster's bones off. I had only called two functions so far, but I was down from over 4000 mana to high 900s. I was pretty sure I was being extremely inefficient with how I was using it, but I still couldn't believe the devastating power I now held. The "high" level of volume that I needed for magic backlash protection on my robe's Circle and couldn't produce earlier was now the "default" setting. The only downside of this was that my mana was being gobbled up pretty much instantly when forced.

Second, a more subtle improvement came to my perception. While earlier I needed to target something physical - either solid or liquid, to latch a spell on to, now I didn't need anything. I could literally target any point, region, or volume in space and attach my spell to it. I tried this out when I used my Stupefy. I selected a big rock as a target of low potential and the space in front of my hands as that of high potential. Then I immediately insulated both so their charges could build up without external influence, similar to the trick for Lumos. Then after feeding as much mana as possible into the spell, I created channels between the space and rock that behaved almost like super-conductors. And boom! Now that I was not chained to select a physical target, the applications were only limited by my level of creativity.

Finally, the most frustrating of the bunch: I now had access to some environment variables. But I didn't know which ones. I knew that I had access, somehow. And yet the information was being held back from me for no fair reason; another "screw-you" from the System. With a sigh, I pulled up my Status Window for the nth time:

[Novice] Battle-Mage - Level 25

Status Points
Health 1240/1240
Mana 2984/4340
Stamina 198/218
Experience 109/2600
Attributes Points
Strength 26
Vitality 26
Agility 26
Dexterity 27
Intelligence 48
Perception 40
Wisdom 37

Special Effects:

Among the "minor" improvements was the absolute jump in mana capacity and regeneration. I had over a thousand more mana than I expected and my mana was regenerating faster than my stamina!. I wasn't sure I liked this path of glass cannon, but I wasn't saying no to freebies.

I noticed a significant boost to my range as well, about a hundred meters all in all. And now it recognized more magical signatures beyond just Runes. While I wasn't at the point of "sensing mana" as it were, any significant magical object or creature lit up immediately.

That included all the monsters.

When I brought this up to Tyee, he cautioned me not to rely on it too much. Higher leveled monsters could hide themselves from magical scrying.

¤ ¤ ¤

Speaking of Tyee, his weird mood from back then had returned full force. I was torn as to how to bring the matter up again since I was effectively shut down the previous time. I decided to throw a tangent.

"So... you're not married yet I take it?"

That brought him out of his gloom quickly but failed to amuse as I had hoped. His glum look remained.

"No," he replied and was about to go back to his brooding. I dearly hoped I had not poked a sore spot.

"Not found a gal yet? What's your type? Sharp hooves, fluffy tail, some such?" I continued poking.

Now he was staring at me, a mildly confused look overtaking his features.

"I..." he hesitated, but quickly recovered. "It matters not. I have dedicated my life to my path. Besides, now is hardly the time for anyone to be getting married." He muttered at the end.

"Huh?" I wondered why that could be. 'Is there a specific season for Centaurs mating?' "Why not?"

Tyee stared at me for five whole seconds, then spoke as if speaking to a child who has trouble understanding - "Because of the war."

"Ah... Right." To be honest, I had forgotten about it. While the cut-scenes of the incoming horde, the firey camp, and the subsequent attempt on my life were memorable enough, I tended not to dwell on them too much. I was stranded in some random side-quest anyway, so I figured my involvement in the Centaur War was apparently done with. 'Heh, Arya would've given me a long lecture about thinking this a game again.'

The thought of Arya brought the memories of my companions, and that quickly led to the memories of my family and friends back at home. The warmth of the campfire did little to offset the cold that settled in my heart. While I was out and about, numerous distractions called my attention away from these thoughts. But at quiet moments like this, my mind couldn't help but wander back home. A twig broke off of a burning log with a crackle and fell deeper into the smoldering fire.

"Hero," Tyee unexpectedly spoke up in a whisper. I looked up, to see him sitting down awkwardly next to the log on my side. I had never seen him sit down before. I simply watched him, giving him time to gather his words.

"Kai is a great Seer." He stared up at the sky, nostalgic for some reason. "No matter how many times she puts her ancestors up on the pedestal. In fact, she just might be the greatest Seer to ever ride amongst the Centaurs."

"Oh..." I replied. I had no context so I decided to simply listen.

"And she saw what awaits our people. This war..." his beady eyes now bore into mine, "it will shatter the tribes apart. It has already started. Tribes fight against tribes while humans goad, loot, and kill with impunity. No more glory, just unending greed. No more gallantry, simple base violence. Diseases already curse our kin, our harvest lessen every season. More of our warriors have died in the last year alone than ever before."

He took a slow breath, calming himself down. His gaze hadn't left mine though.

"And this is just the beginning. You are a human, a Hero even. A beacon of hope for your species, if not many more. A Master Battle-Mage can rout a hunting band on his own. And I doubt your strength will stop there."

"Oh..." I repeated, this time with more clarity. 'But they won't rope the Heroes into this conflict, will they? We're here to stop the world-ending calamity after all!' Even I didn't believe myself. Tyee stared at me, leaving me to figure the rest out for myself. I was at a loss for words and with his eyes burning into me it didn't feel like the time for lax pondering, so I started monologuing hoping it'd take me somewhere.

"You know, Tyee, the place where I come from? My homeworld?" I started, gazing fondly at the fire recollecting distant memories. "We have no magic there. I mean, not the literal magic like in this world." I glanced at him, making sure he understood. I continued after a while, taking his silence as his assent. "But there is a different sort of magic there. Our species started off by bumping rocks together to make sharp weapons. Now thousands of years later, we taught those very rocks to bring us to the moon." I glanced at him again, hoping he could grasp the sheer wonder of it. I saw his eyes widen a bit. I wish I could tell him about all the insane scientific achievements we've had but he had no background to understand it. "I was one of the many who worked on such... intelligent rocks. They connected our world beyond anyone's wildest thoughts, gave up access to information of a scale never before, opened up countless possibilities to even the most mundane of us that even a century earlier only the very best and most opportune amongst us could scarcely begin to imagine. A million years of violence, after conflicts that would numb even the hardiest of your warriors, and at the end of it, the most peaceful period in human history. I was born in such an era."

I hadn't planned on going on such a ramble, but words simply sprouted unbidden from my lips. Now I fumbled around to make a point.

"Not that there isn't any conflict, that would be a lie. But most of us don't live our lives on the edge anymore like you all do here. Bloodshed is not a daily part and parcel of our lives. That is all to say, I am first and foremost a man of peace. Or rather, I am not a man of war. I have never even been in a fistfight before coming to this world, you know? I just... I was brought here against my will. This place is - well, the magic is nice, but there is no upside to this place. No offense. I was content with my life back home. I miss my dog. I miss my ride. I miss my bed. God, I miss the food so much." I chuckled, "Not to mention everyone and everything I know and love is back there. I've been looking for a way back ever since I've arrived, you know? I would consider my time here a nice vacation at most."

Tyee was silent still. I realized my disjointed exchange had somehow become an outpouring of my feelings. The cozy campfire mood had affected me more than I expected. I decided to shoehorn a conclusion for his sake.

"So yeah. I just wanna go home. This place isn't for me. Seems like defeating whatever this Calamity is, is the way to do it. After that? I'm gone. Not involved in any war or conquest."

He was staring at me still, and it was starting to get creepy. 'At least give a nod, dude.' After a solid minute of me wondering if I should speak up or not, he exhaled a deeply held breath.

"So be it." He said and got up. He started packing his stuff up.

"Tyee?" I got up from my log, wondering what he was up to. "What's going on?"

He did not pause packing but answered nonetheless. "The Rangers, they did not give up their pursuit." He rolled the cleaned but still-raw Dark Bear hide and slid it in one of the bags by his side. "Our gambit failed, and now they are close. We have nowhere left to run. We must split up here, I'll distract them away. You may rest now but leave before dawn and head southwest. You humans have a big fortress upon the mountains. It isn't much further from here."

I stared at him for a second, mouth agape at the sudden change in plans. The thought of pursuers had escaped my mind. "Surely not all of them must be here to kill me? We could just talk to them. If not, we could fight them together." I argued. "How am I going to survive all alone in this monster park? What was the point of us running away if I'm going to die anyway?"

Tyee stopped his packing and turned to glare at me. I glared right back.

"What were you expecting to happen, Hero?" I blinked. I hadn't thought of that either. This place was making me stupid. Or was I not taking things seriously enough? Treating everything as a game subconsciously? "Whether they continued pursuit or left midway, the aim was to bring you to safety. We cannot risk speaking or attacking them either. The fortress is where you will be secure. And I cannot follow you there. Our path was to end like this no matter which trail we followed."

Of course, applying even a little bit of brain would've led me to a similar conclusion. Tyee's gaze softened.

"The humans who seek your death, I was the one who contacted them to set up a meeting between Kai and yourself. I am aware of their connections through another tribe. They plan their schemes from the cities in the east." He dropped an info-bomb that I did not know what to do with. "That is another reason why we headed west." He came close and put his large calloused palm on my shoulder. I looked up to saw a rare smile on his face. "I've done all I can for you. But you are the Hero, after all. And all that comes with being one is yours to deal with alone. Besides, you are a Battle Mage now." He raised his hands and gestured around, smile morphing into a grin. "Out here, on the edge of untamed lands, it is the monsters that should be afraid of you."

He turned around, walking far enough away that the light of the campfire barely constructed a silhouette. "Here and now, I bid a good hunt to you, Hero. I will go back and beseech Nina to take me back in, our tribe cannot afford to turn away the only medicine man we have, given the circumstances." I couldn't see the smile on his face but I could feel it become morose. "I hope for your success in stopping the calamity. And I shall pray that you live to see your home again." With that, he turned away, vanishing into the night.

The previously cozy campfire now had only dread and loneliness fighting for dominance.

Interlude - The Lightning Thief
Chapter 42 - A Proper Mage