Side Story: Cindy’s Vacation Part 2
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I cartwheeled through the air dodging another salvo of attacks, my race’s inherent speed shunting me out of the way of danger. I didn’t have the luxury of near bottomless health like monster races, or toughened bodies like the beastkin, so I was forced to dodge the paltry rank one attacks instead of facing them head-on. While I could simply summon a basic shield, dodging out of the way was still the most efficient response.

Access to custom spells gave me limitless potential, but still had its clear disadvantages, the primary one being the inherent cast time of all circle-based magics. I possessed a slew of instantaneous attacks, but the force they could muster was paltry in comparison to spells with only one or two second cast times. Looking beneath me, I considered the best course of action.

I was tempted to rain hellfire from the skies, but after a moment decided that a more tempered attack was in order. It wouldn’t pay for me to waste half my mana on a large AOE attack when I still had myriad enemies to fight. As I was alone, efficiency must be my primary concern.

Contemplating my next steps, I mentally rifled through my spells. While my solo combat experience was lacking, my spell list was bursting at the seams. Whenever I had a spare moment in my office, I would either work on a new spell or attempt to perfect an old one, so I had some freedom of choice. As I spent upwards of fourteen hours in the office every day, that time had added up.

The first spell I cast I named Lesser Mirror Image after one of the many similar renditions in Vic’s books. It created an illusory duplicate of myself, giving enemies a second target to attack. It had moderate mana consumption, but it served as an adequate defensive measure when fighting ranged opponents.

The circle appeared at my fingertips, its two layers and fey script slowly spinning counterclockwise. With a flash of light, an exact copy of myself appeared fifteen feet away. It performed every action that I did making my real body impossible to distinguish, though the duplicate was currently incapable of casting spells.

With the additional target available, I needed to dodge half as many projectiles flying from the trees, so I twisted in the air and dove down, attempting to get below the dense canopy.

I created a small shield before me and plunged below the canopy of leaves under sustained fire. Fortunately, my clone was an easier target, so more than half the missiles passed right through, while the few ones that remained struck my shield, suspending themselves in the air before me.

Taking cover behind a truck, I was able to peek out and get a first look at my opponents.

Turtles. They were big, rocky, turtles.

Artillitortoise (Rank 1) – lvl 22

 

At least they were well named. There were three of the beasts, each one’s shell covered in a tangle of thin needle-like spikes. While they would only come up to my waist in height, their ferocity and long-range capabilities made them a threatening enemy.

As I observed, the one nearest to me fired a cluster of arrow-shaped spines at my clone who stood out of cover. They blasted out of the shell without a sound, impacting the ground dozens of meters away.

Lucky for me, the tortoises were rather slow. Presently they were occupied by my copy and were slowly creeping towards it. Now was my chance to strike.

The spell I had in mind took only a few seconds to cast, but by using my Multicast skill, as well as my Empowered Spell skill, I was able to prepare to kill all of my enemies in one fell swoop. Three small crimson magic circles appeared over my right shoulder; weapons ready to fire.

After a breath, I rose from my cover just enough to peek around the corner of the tree. A split second was all I needed for the spell to activate.

During one of my many brainstorming sessions, I contemplated the nature of fire. Its nature was to grow and expand, burning stronger with the addition of more fuel, but that did not make for precise or efficient attacks. It was useful for wiping out large groups of enemies but was wasteful when it came to damaging a single target.

I appreciated Steph’s ability to fire beams from her hands and wished to emulate the technique. The precision and skill necessary for it were attractive to me, and so I sought to bring that ability into the realm of flame. My early experiments proved fruitless; the best I could do was a small fireball or torrent of heat, but my ideal beam attack was out of reach.

That is, until last Tuesday, when I had a breakthrough.

From my shoulder, three lines of blazing fire scorched across the air, charring three perfect holes in the tiny heads of the Artillitortoise. I marveled as the monsters collapsed, a sense of satisfaction at seeing my spell’s lethality and efficiency. I swiped away a level up notification declaring that I had reached level 22 and moved towards the corpses, searching for suitable materials to collect into my purchased monster pouch.

I dubbed my new signature spell Flaming Lance. An eloquent solution to my precision problem. It wasn’t a laser or a beam; it was a pipe. The spell made use of a tunnel of fire-attuned air that served as a guidance system. After aiming, the spell could be activated, sending a torrent of hyper-concentrated thermal energy into a target. During my initial testing, I was able to bore a two-inch hole through an engine block for only fifty mana.

How I was finally able to accomplish the spell’s creation was far outside the range of what many of my mage compatriots were capable of. I had stumbled upon the technique mostly on accident and practiced forming the spell circle and targeting objects every break I could get. I knew spreading the information on the technique would help many beginner mages improve, but I was loathe to share. I wanted this spell to be my signature attack; my trump card. It was there to surprise enemies when I was disadvantaged, and I resolved to keep it that way, at least for the time being.

The monsters were rank one and were therefore mostly useless to me, but if I could somehow haul them back to town, I could sell them in the bazaar for a couple of silver. Monster parts, particularly ones aligned towards defense, were always big sellers. Unfortunately, there was no way I could carry the large animals alone, and I had no practice dismantling creatures. Instead, I settled for tucking away a few of the needles.

With a sigh, I started beating my wings again, slowly climbing above the treetops. My destination was only a few hours away.

-------------------- ---

Ahead of me, placed adjacent to the border of two zones, was a village. To its right was a field of rock and magma, full of fire monsters, and to its left was a plain of ice and snow, full of icy abominations. Where the two zones met was a small temperate area where grass grew densely, and where trees sprang up unhindered. Within this greenery was a small cluster of 23 post-wave houses, each only large enough to contain two or three rooms. At the entrance was a sign.

The Fleeing.

It was an apt name for a village located where it was. If I had woken up in either a volcanic nightmare world or an icy hellscape, I would run away too. I had read a report from a traveling adventurer about a group of refugees setting up in the area but hadn’t realized their construction had made it so far.

In the center of the house cluster was a well for drawing water, complete with a hand crank. A few people milled around going about their work, so I slowly approached to get a better look at the town. Most people seemed to be farmers or hunters, but I did see a couple of tradesmen; a tanner, a blacksmith, and a carpenter. To my pleasant surprise, there was also a small inn with a few tables and chairs placed outside.

Fighting the stares of the various villagers around me, I sat down outside of the inn. The people gaped at my race, my naturally high charisma filling them with awe, the strange royal aura I projected captivating to those without the wisdom to defend against it.

Before the first wave, I would have found the attention appalling, but because of my race, archetype, and the skills that they presented, I felt only satisfaction. I fought a slight smile. It was difficult to maintain a clear mind and being a higher-tier fey of illusion didn’t help in the least.

Eventually, once people had started to depart, I was approached by a short beastkin. He had the ears and tail of a lion, but instead of the normal yellow, the color of his fur was a deep burgundy.

Race – Flame Lionkin

Job – Village Leader

Class – Farmer

Rank – 0

Level – 14

 

I was startled that someone so weak had survived for this long close to two terrifyingly inhospitable locations. Perhaps there were other fighters in this village that could protect him.

“Greetings. My name is Cindy Shepherd. I apologize for barging into your town, but my flight over had exhausted me, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a nice chair.”

“It’s not a problem Missus Shepherd, we’re glad to have you. The name’s Mat. Mat Rockwell. We didn’t expect any company, or else we would have prepared something for you to eat.”

He had a deep southern accent, and while he looked to be in his early thirties, it was likely he was much older. There was something about his countenance that told me he had been around for quite a while.

He turned, gesturing to someone over my shoulder. I turned to follow his eyes.

“Hey Kelly, would ye mind bringing out some o’ that good iced tea and some food for the young lady here?!?”

The girl he was yelling at, Kelly, was a rabbitkin of some kind. Similar to Mat, she had a strange fur coloration, and the tufts of her ears were a bright baby blue. She bobbed her head in acknowledgment, her ears happily flopping up and down as she moved back into the inn.

This was a rather cheery place considering the strange location. I would think the people here would be somber, but they seemed acclimated to their situation.

Mat turned back to give me a long, hard stare, before joining the table.

“So, tell me, Missus Shepherd, what exactly are ye doing out in these parts?”

Kelly came by and dropped off a glass of iced tea with a smile and a bounce in her step. I took a small sip before speaking.

“I came here to train my levels and class. I live in Austin and heard word of this area through an organization I’m a part of. It’s a perfect place to test my abilities considering my unique race and the magic that I know.”

 He nodded his head.

“I’m guessin’ you’re one of them adventuring types? Well, you’re welcome to stay here. The inn takes cash or coin, doesn’t matter which. You get the honor of being Kelly’s first tenant, so I’m sure she’ll treat ya right!”

It was classic southern hospitality and was a breath of fresh air from the skittish and angry people occupying the inner city.

“So, tell me Mat, why did you decide to build a village here? There’s a good amount of people, and it’s surprising you’re doing so well. How did you do it?”

As I asked, I watched his expression change. He looked thoughtful and sad, but I sensed some pride in his eyes. He paused before answering.

“It’s not a great tale, not really. When everythin’ happened, half of us were in the heat to the north, and the other half were in the cold to the south. The land that our houses were on didn’t get changed o’ course, but everything around them did. On the hot side, all of the houses caught fire. On the cold, they froze under piles of endless snow.

“We were all forced to leave quick like wonderin’ through the landscape. Obviously, where the cold and hot meet they balance each other out. Those in the heat walked south to the cold, and those in the south walked north. We all kind of met each other in the middle. We stayed for a while, expecting the monsters to show up and wipe us out, but they never came. See, the monsters on both sides don’t like the changin’ temperature, so they stay away.

“We all settled in, and using some cut lumber, we started building out some houses. Called the place ‘The Fleeing’ ‘cause that’s just what we did. With the skills un’ things, it all went pretty quick setting things up. Next thing I know, they’re calling’ me leader or some such, so here I am.”

It took some time for me to digest what he said. The information was useful considering that I wanted to train in this area, and it was nice to hear that they were doing well, all things considered. After chatting for a little bit longer, Mat left me to help some of the others. They had decided to try and become a farming village, producing strange cold-weather only or hot-weather only magical crops that nowhere else could make on the suggestion of one of the younger villagers who was a bit more fantasy-savvy

Mat may not talk elegantly, but from what I could see based on the way the people around him acted, he was one impressive natural leader. I would have to give them a hand using my knowledge of the world, and get them connected to the guild; it never hurt to have a foot in the door in case you needed it, and I could imagine this place growing quickly.

From the air I could tell that these cold and hot areas were some of the largest two magic zones I had ever heard encountered and exploring them should prove extremely profitable. A Guild branch in this village would help build the area up and would give adventurers a space to train in relative safety. If Mat was telling the truth, the temperature changes would let hunters flee from monsters if they ever needed to, running north or south to get away from beasts that couldn’t survive the climate.

I decided that I would stay here for a couple of minutes more, then head out to get to work. There was no sense in waiting.

--------------- ---

I summoned a salvo of flaming lances over my shoulder and unleashed them from the air, raining channels of heat through another wave of enemies. Hearing an alert trigger I let out a sigh and descended to the ground. Finally, I had received yet another level.

After five days of slaying monsters, I had reached level 50, my fourth bottleneck, where I would be granted more status points. Because of my rather magically skewed titles, my intelligence had just reached 65, giving me a staggering 650 mana. That might be a high number to many, but considering that my next highest stat, wisdom, was only at 36, I considered myself balanced, if anything else. My racial feature of reducing mana costs further enhanced that, effectively raising my mana pool to 1300. When I started my grinding, I only had 300 mana to work with, so this was a welcome change.

I had managed to increase my stats at levels 20, 35, and now at 50. Each increase brought my previously static stats up to new heights and finally allowed me to feel the inherent importance of titles. It also provided some new insights into the other races, and how they meshed together.

I was always confused by how they seemed to work. Each race had a unique system. It felt like each one was playing its own game like we had MMO players in the same space as tabletop role-players, and they were all competing for resources. All it did was help to increase the chaos of the world. Now, though, I could see that it wasn’t quite the case, that each race was connected in profoundly simple ways.

If my hypothesis was correct, levels were simply power granted by the system. They made you stronger based solely on your accomplishments, and they forced you to strive to make the next bottleneck. If you had more titles, you had better stats, and that’s all there was to it. Anyone could get more titles by increasing their skills to relevant milestones. At the same time, you could also increase your stats using various magical techniques, like Vic’s cultivation manuals, or by simply exercising, so most people didn’t ever need to increase their level.

I, personally, didn’t need levels. My magic was strong enough to get me by, and I could make do with more efficient spells. A deeper mana pool was convenient but was still mostly superfluous. The same, however, could not be said for most people. I was a beta tester with a high starting intelligence, and my race was naturally inclined towards magic, giving me bonuses to my magic stats through skills. Others didn’t have that luxury, and so they could only try and raise their level to bridge that gap. If they were strong enough, they could even reach their level cap and gain a race of higher power and specialization.

The prospect of upgrading my race was rather attractive to me, but it was still a long way off. My race’s current level cap was 200, and if the sheer amount of experience necessary to reach level 50 was any indication, it would be decades before I was able to get to that point. I felt a twinge of jealously towards Vic in that regard; her level was tied to her ranks, meaning it was only a matter of time before she ranked up. For me, it would become exponentially more difficult as I gained power. Though for Vic, her rank being tied to her level presented its own problems.

Regardless, my hunt had been successful, and I had reached my goal. I had spent most of my time slaying ice-based monsters as they were particularly vulnerable to my attacks. I was rather lucky, as well, managing to find a rank two ruin. The powerful snow golem monsters that appeared there once every day granted a mountain of experience, though my leveling speed had slowed down to a crawl.

Now that I had reached this point, it was time to call an end to my brief break. I returned to the village and bid my farewells to the kind inn caretaker and the village leader. I had talked with Mat plenty and shared my ideas that should help the village grow, and we had already agreed that I would send a contingent of adventurers and builders there upon my return to the city. He was a bit skeptical at first, but after a short while was able to understand the benefits that it would bring. As I started my return to the city, I felt a refreshing satisfaction.

I wouldn’t exactly call my short vacation relaxing, but it was far more entertaining than getting buried under a mountain of paperwork. With a sigh, I adjusted my course and began flying in earnest back to the office.

We were starting reconstruction on parts of the city this week, and after seeing the speed of the specialized magic carpenter in the village, I realized I needed to redraft my plans. If a cluster of a few dozen families could build a village in a week, just what could I accomplish with thousands of able-bodied and magic-capable adventurers with a slew of expert craftsmen? I was excited to discover the answer.

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