48 – New quest
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48 – New quest

In all fairness, despite his pompous declarations the dwarf failed to produce much useful information, enough so that Ishrin was quick to grow restless. He was deep within enemy territory, and making small talk with a weapon seller was not the best way to pass time. The well of useful info had dried up quickly after a couple pointed questions, and Ishrin took his leave to sneak out of the city once more.

Night had fallen in the meantime, the last light of the shortened early winter days enough to make out shapes and blurs of shadow, but not much more. He didn’t feel safer, though, as he knew that any adventurer worth their salt was rife with ways to detect things moving in the dark, lurking in shadows, and trying to sneak around. In fact, this made the night even more dangerous, everyone on the lookout for threats that their weaker eyes could not detect. Several detection webs and spells were in place, and his enhanced eyes and his increased perception could make them out as a tangle of thin, magical lines stretching over the city and the streets. He called it a web for a reason.

He had ways to deal with said web. The first was the subtlest: he used his ability to manipulate fields of force to slightly alter the shape of the strands of detection magic, creating narrow pathways where he could sneak in undetected. His ability to do so came from the ritual Touch from Afar, and following his cultivation ritual—the energies were still swirling mostly undigested in his core—it had become much stronger than before.

It really is great training, both for my concentration and my ability to manipulate forces. Perhaps I should cultivate more often. A couple more times, then a ritual to consolidate my gains and I should be able to rip the mana straight out of monster cores. That will speed things up considerably.

The technique only worked thanks to the wide chasm of knowledge that existed between Ishrin and the average adventurer residing in Noctis. And even with all his advantages, his plan would not work remotely as well without a second step he had come up with on the spot. Using the Tier 3 spell Remote Elemental Light, he manifested a small wisp of pure elemental magic somewhere far enough away from his location that he would not attract people to himself, but close enough so that the distortions in the detection webs could—by an untrained eye at least—be thought as caused by its presence.

Once the diversion was in place, he bolted it, casting a Tier 5 Astral Shield to further hide his tracks and supercharging the normally Tier 3 Brief Stop Time to Tier 5 thanks to his abnormal ability to manipulate spells on the fly, up to two full tiers above his own Tier. It all proved to be overkill, and he was out of town in no time and with no tails. He still circled the nearby fields and forests for a while, recast the time dilation spell to buy himself time for a nap in a secure location, and met with his party at the crack of dawn.

“Lisette, Melina.” Ishrin said as a greeting. “It occurs to me, after our collective near-death experience, that we need to work on gaining more power. Now, I have my rituals, but what about you? What can we do to improve your power?”

He had already explained that, while very powerful, the Death Stealer ritual could not be abused as a way to skip entire tiers of power. Not just because of the presence of the bottlenecks, which already were a big enough nuisance, but also because growing too fast and too artificially destroyed your foundation. Making you unable to advance, robbing you of any further insights into magic, and making you much weaker than you Tier suggested. He was already suffering from this, and his lead on a theoretical fellow Tier 3 peer had shrunk a little and would keep shrinking even more as he digested the energy from the cultivation ritual.

Lisette held up a finger. “We need to train, of course. Fight, and a lot. Beyond that, my teachers always claimed that meditation helped to stabilize your foundation.”

“I always thought insight to be much more powerful than mindless meditation.” Melina interjected. This elicited a bad look from Lisette, who growled under her breath. Especially because Lisette did not know about the sort of mindset shifts the former guild master had experienced, and hearing such declarations from her deviated from the mental model she had built of her.

“They both have their merits.” Ishrin said. “Fight and gain insights, then meditate. Do you both know how to properly do it?”

“Unfortunately not,” Lisette forced herself back into the conversation. “My teachers never shared the deeper secrets of their technique. Nobody outside the sects that practice them, or the noble families who have inherited them, knows how to meditate to the fullest.”

“Assholes. As expected.” Ishrin said. His hand went to his pocket where he expected to find a small pixie to tickle but found nothing.

Melina hummed to distract him. “Without that, we are stuck using inferior tools. Accidental insights, and half-assed meditation. Even I, as a guild master, was not given full techniques but only whatever I needed to ascend to the Tier I was required to be.”

Ishrin hummed in thought. “Well, you remember the book I used when I stole all the magic from the atmosphere, right? I can lend you that. The fight and insight part… we need to formulate a plan.”

Lisette was staring at empty space. “There are other ways to grow, much harder but even more rewarding. Ways to transcend Tiers, to be more like you,” she said. “A quick way would be for me to find the Bracers of Tiamat Azur. They will allow me to control my blades with my mind, as well as making them much more powerful. But not even my teachers know where they are hidden, though I doubt they ever looked.”

“That’s a great start. Melina, you too think about something you could use.”

She looked at him. To her, he was the main source of information about cultivation, a way to put all her doubts to rest once and for all, and now that she had relinquished her position of power and was subject to his whims, she could bear the shame of asking for help much more easily.

“I feel on the cusp of insight, Ishrin. Can I focus on that?”

As the words left her mind, not even the faint emotional weight she had expected to form on her imaginary back was felt. She traced back the possible reasons for that, reliving the last conversations between her and Ishrin, struggling to find a reason. When she failed to do that, she simply shrugged inwardly, instead choosing to simply focus on the good feelings that showing such a vulnerable side to a person she trusted implicitly had elicited in her mind.

Ishrin had assumed a pensive look for a moment, then his expression brightened like the midday sun. Her smile grew wider as he spoke, mirroring the cheery tone.

“That’s great! You’ve been at the peak of Tier 6 and failing to break through for so long, haven’t you? Let’s see if I can recall the bottleneck you need to face…”

He mulled about it, but did not speak of it. Telling someone about a bottleneck was a surefire way to make them dependent on outside insight for the rest of their lives, and only a memory reset was going to fix that. Breaking into Tier 7, as he recalled, required a cultivator to connect the soul imprint they had created at Tier 6 with their body. Not an easy task.

It seemed, however, that the reason Melina had been stuck here was due to a bad insight into Tier 5 and the nature of the Dirac Sea. Expanding her views on that had been enough, it seemed, to push her towards an intuitive understanding of what came next. That was very good, and there was a good chance that Lisette could follow right. Provided she could learn from Melina’s ascension to Tier 7. But for her, the bracers came first.

“We know what to do, then!” Ishrin declared suddenly, and by the way the girls jumped, it seemed that he had been lost in thought for a while. Long enough to lose his previous train of thought. “Melina, you will read the book on meditation and try to understand your insights until you feel ready to break through. As for you, Lisette, we are going to look for the bracers.”

Satisfied nods echoed his own nod at the end of the sentence, and the party seemed to be of the same mind for the first time since disaster had befallen them. The emotional undertones were much lighter, and the conversation flowed like a placid river as they talked and planned. In the end, information about the bracers proved to be nothing more than a rumor, though, which put a dampener to their high spirits.

“I have learned from a merchant that there is a person in Semiluminal that could help me find the bracers. That is all I know.”

“Semiluminal?” Ishrin frowned.

“It’s a neighboring city.” Melina explained. “But we can’t just barge in there—”

She stopped, suddenly looking to the ground as if ashamed. Ishrin did not understand her, and when he asked her about it she was as ashamed as she looked. She had felt like she was overstepping, the guilt and trauma of the dungeon fiasco heavy on her mind. She cursed herself for thinking she could heal from that in just a day, even as Ishrin reassured her that everything was all right. She was just giving suggestions, not challenging his authority as party leader.

“Listen,” he said, “if it makes you feel better, why don’t we vote? Hands up for me being the leader.”

Two hands went up. The girls’. And with a vote of two against one, he accepted his position without comment, leaving the others to wonder what he really thought about it, seeing that he let nothing show on his face. Then, he turned back to the matter at hand.

“As Melina said, we can’t just barge in there. We need some sort of connection in Semiluminal if we want to find this mysterious person. Now, we could try to see if there’s any escort quests at the guild for someone going there who needs protection, hitch a ride with them, get to know them, and fish for information. How does the plan sound?”


“I’ll be right back.” Ishrin said.

With that, he disappeared in a flash of rushing wind. He returned not five minutes later, holding a small slip of paper he plucked from the quest board in Noctis. He was getting the hang of going in and out of the city undetected, each time he did it proving to be easier than the last as his diversions got more sophisticated and his ability to disrupt wards unseen improved.

“Found a quest. It says: needed escort through Nocturnia of the Winds: from Obscuria all the way to Semiluminal. Three days trip. Minimum average party Tier: 4. Pay is 12 gold pieces total plus food and shelter until the city is reached.” Ishrin read. “Is Obscuria close?”

Melina nodded, some of her confidence creeping back in her voice as she spoke about information she was intimately familiar with. “It’s a small merchant town close to the forest, at the foot of the mountains in the east. It’s so small it doesn’t have a proper guild, that’s why you found the quest on the Noctis board instead. If we use magic, I think we can get there before dusk.”

“12 gold is not much, but we are not doing it for the money. Let’s go.”