Chapter 55 – Fire Training
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“Let’s work on your new Fire skills now. From the sound of it, you got classic mage skills, right?” Maximus asked, pacing back and forth in the wooded clearing.

“Right. Along with [Fire Resistance].”

“Ok, first lesson on being a Fire mage: Don’t.”

I tilted my head quizzically at that. Maximus grimaced.

“I wish I had Artemis here to demonstrate. Either way, a pure, stand-alone Fire mage isn’t particularly strong or powerful. It’s not the weakest type of mage – Light probably wins that, although you don’t really get Light mages, just healers – but it’s near the bottom.”

“Why’s that?” I asked, playing along, prodding Maximus to continue his lecture.

“It’s a lack of stopping power. Yeah, fire’s scary. You hit someone low-level, you hit a non-combatant, you hit someone who spooks, and they’ll flinch, or run. Bonus points there. You hit someone scary? They’ll plow right through the flames to get to you, since the easiest way of dealing with a Fire mage is to kill her. Fire burns, but it takes some time to kill someone, to finish them off. Compared to say, an Earth mage, where a stone through the head is the end.”

“Hence, lesson one: Don’t become a Fire mage.” Maximus continued.

“Fire is fantastic when combined with all sorts of other elements. Fire and Wood – flaming projectiles. Fire and Metal – Superheated projectiles, possibly molten projectiles. Fire and Earth – trap someone in an area with limited air, then burn the air out, suffocating them. Fought a Classer once that used Fire and Ooze – would create a sticky substance that burned incredibly hot. Stuck to people as well, no way of getting it off, just burning.” Maximus shuddered at the memory. “Lost two Rangers putting him down. The point is, Fire alone is weak. Fire combines well with all sorts of elements, as long as you’re smart about it.”

“How would it combine with my Celestial Healing class?” I asked.

“Poorly.” Maximus didn’t believe in sparing my feelings at all. “If you were after mass destruction, I’d say, for example, you could start a massive fire inside of the forest, then snap your shield up around you. You keep your air in, your mana regeneration rate is high enough that the fire probably couldn’t burn you out, and everyone nearby burns and chokes to death while you’re safe.”

“The problem with that,” I started, as Maximus finished.

“Is your [Oath]. Yeah, hence Fire being, frankly, a terrible choice for you. Limited utility – sure, making a campfire and keeping us warm is nice, but it won’t do well in a fight – and limited potential in a fight unless you’re quite a few levels higher than whoever or whatever you’re fighting. You also don’t have a second class open to give utility to your Fire class – it is your utility.”

He paused, thinking.

“Everyone has a guide when they’re classing up. Didn’t yours give you any warning at all?”

I looked down and muttered quietly.

“What’s that?” He asked, cupping a hand around his ear.

“I said, I just wanted to have fireballs and to fly! She picked the class on that potential future!”

Maximus facepalmed.

“Elaine, you’re brilliant, and sometimes oh-so-dumb. I sometimes forget that you’re a kid. Gods. Ask for utility next time, instead of guessing at it. You’d get something better.”

“As we mentioned, Fire has a lack of stopping power, and doesn’t quite have the direct damage like Metal or Earth. However, a benefit of a mage, and the Manipulation and Conjuration skills, is you’re only limited by your imagination. For example, while you can’t light someone who has high vitality on fire directly, you can light their clothes on fire. You can conjure flames in front of their face, preventing sight and vision. You can try to get flames into an open mouth or nose - incredibly distracting, no matter how powerful you are, or how weak the flames are. Incredibly high heat - once you get enough levels, power, and control - can disintigrate monsters, but at a much, much higher cost than other elements to do similar amounts of damage."

"That's kinda the point I'm making. You can do a bunch of things with Fire, but some of them will cost a lot more than other elements to get the same result. On the other hand, some things are easier for you than other elements. You don’t need to constantly focus on your flames – conjure them to start, and let them burn. They’ll turn into ‘real’ flames soon enough, fueling themselves. In that respect, Fire goes a lot further than say, Water or Earth. Be creative. Be imaginative. And now, let’s begin our practical lessons.”

Maximus gave me a quick rundown, which basically consisted of practicing making flames, then going through various exercises, making them dance and do different things, and a half-dozen other control exercises.

I focused on the stick, a bundle of dry twigs at the end. Fire. Flames. [Fire Conjuration]. With mana, effort, and focus, the tip burst into flames.

Now, I needed to stop conjuring the flames, and let it burn ‘naturally’. I watched it, meditating, observing, seeing how the flames consumed, the embers burned. I reached out with [Fire Manipulation], feeling myself “connect” with the flames, trying to make them dance to my will.

A pebble came whizzing out of nowhere, hitting my shoulder with a sharp crack.

“Owe, what the hell Maximus?” I asked, healing my shoulder with [Phases]. No need to rub an injury when you could make it go away.

He snorted at me, looking down at me where I was sitting.

“Constant. Constant. Vigilance. That means when you’re meditating. That means when you’re relaxing. That means when you’re playing with fire, and healing. We’re not losing you to a stray arrow, or a random opportunistic ambush. Not when we can prevent it.”

That made me think. “How do you deal with attacks?” I asked. I got a frown back.

“I don’t. If I’m lucky, I’ll see it in time to dodge, otherwise, I need to eat the attack. I have the stats to survive it. If I’m lucky. You don’t. We’ve been lucky so far fighting dumb monsters, but the moment we’re against Classers? Elaine, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but you’re the main target. In a fight against someone with intelligence, they’re going to try and kill you first, and you have no way of surviving. You’re Healer-tagged. As a –“ instead of finishing his sentence, he threw another rock at me. This one I threw my shield up in time to block.

I tried to glare at him, but my heart wasn’t in it. I hadn’t quite realized yet that there was a giant “kill me” sign on my back, but reflecting on it, yeah, made sense. It wasn’t like Kallisto had a skill to force people to attack him or anything – it was all a decision by the person or monster doing the attacking. Maximus’s words doubled my resolve to strengthen myself. To not be a burden. To save those I could.

I went back to working on manipulating flames, to make them dance to my will.

I wonder if I could make a dress out of flames?

It was hard, like I was reaching through thick sludge, manipulating fine tools with heavy rubber gloves.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Manipulation] has reached level 3!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Affinity] has reached level 3!]

At the low level I was at, I both gained levels easily – much more so with [Learning] being such a high level – and felt the effects of the level up much more profoundly. Suddenly, it wasn’t thick sludge, it was more like a hearty soup. The rubber gloves shed a few pounds, and movements that were previously impossible were now doable. I eyed my mana. 2500/2500. I was using less mana than my regeneration rate.

My stick burnt out, and I figured I’d try pushing [Conjuration] to the limits. I aimed up, and threw out as much fire as I could.

A small jet of flames left my finger, going a few inches then sputtering out. It was a steady stream, and I could hear the roaring of flames.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Conjuration] has reached level 3!]

As I got the notification, the flames roared higher, wider, thicker. Yessss. Fire.

 

Then some pieces of the puzzle clicked. I’d need to conjure a lot of flames. Which would take a lot of time. A lot of mana. And a lot of food. Leveling up skills like this, grinding like this, never sounded so unappealing.

But Fire.

And fireballs.

It would all be worth it. I just needed to keep my eye on the prize.

A few hours of grinding later, and Maximus called it quits.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Manipulation] has reached level 19!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Conjuration] has reached level 19!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Resistance] has reached level 14!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Affinity] has reached level 19!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Firebug] has leveled up to level 9! +2 Free Stat, +2 Mana, +1 Mana Regen, +3 Magic power, +1 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]

….

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Firebug] has leveled up to level 19! +2 Free Stat, +2 Mana, +1 Mana Regen, +3 Magic power, +1 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]

 

“I’m impressed,” The too-plain man said. “that you were able to go for so long. I expected you to tire out ages ago.”

“What exactly would tire me out?” I asked.

“Well, your… right, your mana regeneration.” Maximus facepalmed. “Easy enough to remember when talking about your 128 class. Easy to forget when teaching someone at level 8. I should know better.”

His tone turned apologetic. “Sorry about that. Let me treat you to a meal.”

Yessss. Free food. The best.

We headed back to town, and I had more questions as my stomach rumbled.

“What should I do about my free stats? I know Artemis wants me to immediately put them into my physical stats.”

Maximus hummed thoughtfully. “You’re in a safe spot right now. Let’s just leave them there – I’ll let Artemis walk you through distributing them. I’m not getting between her and her project.”

I kicked his shin at being called a ‘project’. My stomach roared, reminding me of my current predicament.

“How do mages normally pay for food? Like, Artemis meditates a ton, and I haven’t really hit this situation before where I’m burning so much mana, although I imagine healers get paid enough to cover their costs.” I asked, tagging along in my ruined tunic. We’d get sooo many looks for this.

Maximus glanced down at me. “Julius didn’t cover this with you?” I shook my head. He turned his head up, looking at the gates. “We pay for your reasonable food expenses, especially when training as hard as you’re going to be. Remind me, when we’re stocking up for our next leg to bring extra for you.”

I felt my heart grow two sizes at the care everyone was showing me.

“Do you know why I didn’t get a skill at level 10?” I’d been looking forward to my first magic skill.

Maximus shrugged. “In theory, no. We’re not sure why you didn’t get a skill. In practice, people that get a bunch of skills when they hit a class – like most mages – don’t get offered a skill for a while, or only get offered skills rarely.”

I wanted to ask more, but we arrived at the gates, drawing all sorts of looks.

“Next.” The bored guard called out, as we stepped forward.

“Hi, we’re the-“ Our jack-of-all-trades started, only to be interrupted by the guard.

“Hold on. Off to the side.” He said, pulling Maximus off to the side. Vigilant itched as a second guard grabbed my shoulders and steered me away.

“Hang on, we shouldn’t be separated!” I said as I was hustled off.

Maximus wasn’t kicking up a fuss, and it was the local guard. I liked the local guard, and my appearance, was, well, concerning would be putting it mildly. Kinda made sense that they’d whisk us away for some extra questions.

I ended up in what I could only call an interrogation room, when a senior-looking guard walked in. Senior-looking by his walk, and by how everyone else was deferring to him.

“Are you ok?” He started off by asking.

“Yup! I’m fine!” I said perkily.

He eyed me doubtfully, looking me up and down.

“You do realize –“ He started. I felt comfortable interrupting.

“That you need to know what’s up with all of this?”

He nodded stiffly, clearly many years away from the last time someone flippantly interrupted him. Ah well, he’d live. More importantly, I’d live.

“Training with Maximus. We’re both Rangers.” Saying that, I took my badge out from my pouch, where I’d been keeping it safe. My pouch was blood-stained at this point, a dark reddish-brown. I eyed it. It was still solid for now, although I’d have to check if bloodstained pouches attracted monsters in the wilderness.

So many things to check!

The guard looked me up and down again, eyebrows near his hairline.

“You’ll forgive me for wanting to check. There’s a Ranger squad in town right now, if you want to change your story, miss….?”

“Elaine. Yeah. See if you can get Julius. He’s the boss.”

“Miss Elaine. You do realize the penalty for impersonating a Ranger is a 5,000 rod fee, which generally means a lifetime of slavery, right?”

“No, I didn’t, but good to know.”

The guard hit the table in front of me with a fist.

“Stop lying! How is a girl like you a Ranger!? How can you claim to be a Ranger, but not even know the basics! I’m trying to help you out here, but I can’t if you keep digging yourself in a hole! Bluffing won’t work.” He yelled, clearly frustrated at me.

Ah. Hmmmm. Yes. Looking at it from that point of view, I did look like Sketchy McSketchface. Well, honesty’s the best policy, and let me try.

“I got field promoted after the fight the other day. I was the short one next to the flashy mage on the wagon, that ran out when the one near the monster got hit. I’m the team’s healer. I got a new skill out of the fight, a shield skill, and we were practicing it. Part of the practice was taking shallow hits, and healing them, instead of blocking. Hence all the mess.” I said, gesturing down at, well, the massive mess.

“I get that it looks sketchy, so I’m happily going along with you for now. But stop trying to do me favors, and get a way to verify who I am. Maximus – the dude with me – should also be verifying.”

The badge was still on the table between us, as the guard narrowed his eyes at me.

“Fine. But I’m going to confiscate this first.” He said, reaching for the badge.

I half-expected him to do something like that, and the warning ahead of time was enough notice. He was faster than me, stronger than me, but not as fast as a skill, as I snapped up a [Veil of the Aurora] between his hand and the badge, a small wedge of shield, giving me enough time to swipe it back as his hand bounced off of the skill.

“No.” I said, looking at him challengingly. Julius had told me to never, ever lose it, and I wasn’t going to cause more problems, not after I’d already been yelled at by Maximus over not splitting up.

I wonder if I was going to get yelled at more for this? Ug. That’d be the worst.

The senior guardsman stood up, drawing himself up to his full height. It looked like things were going to escalate even further, when another guard entered the room. He read the room, then crept over to the guard and whispered something in his ear. I kinda wanted a hearing skill instead of a vision skill right now.

It was like watching a balloon deflate, as the senior guardsman went from “large and intimidating” to “deferential.”

“Ranger Elaine. I apologize. You’re free to go. Have a nice day. Just… try to get on some new clothes, and maybe a bath?”

I briefly considered making them pay for a bath for me, but decided that’d be pushing my luck too far.

“Oh, you better believe a bath’s my next stop! Then a tunic store. This was my last one. I should start buying them in bulk!” I paused, thinking for a moment. What would Kallisto say?

“I totally understand where you were coming from though, it does look bad. I appreciate everything you do to keep the town safe.”

“Thank you for your understanding Ranger Elaine. Could we, er, offer you a bucket of water and a spare tunic…?”

I thought about it for a moment. It’d be nice to be half-clean again, and the guards probably didn’t want me starting a small riot by walking around like something out of a horror movie.

“Yes please, that’d be wonderful.”

Some scurrying about later, and I was cleaner, in a too-large tunic.

“Sorry, it’s the smallest we have, it’s just you’re…”

“Short?” I said, finishing the random guard’s sentence.

“Yeah.”

I finished up, meeting Maximus at the exit to the guardhouse where we’d been whisked away to.

“Alright, you’re all set. Let’s head back.” He said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder roughly in the direction of the marketplace.

My stomach rumbled, reminding me that it’d been horribly abused, and wanted food now. Off to the market!

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 14]

[Mana: 2720/2720]

[Mana Regen: 5170]

 

Stats

[Free Stats: 33]

[Strength: 30]

[Dexterity: 21]

[Vitality: 41]

[Speed: 32]

[Mana: 272]

[Mana Regeneration: 711]

[Magic Power: 282]

[Magic Control: 782]

 

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 128]]

[Celestial Affinity: 128]

[Warmth of the Sun: 105]

[Medicine: 111]

[Center of the Galaxy: 101]

[Phases of the Moon: 70]

[Eyes of the Milky Way: 88]

[Veil of the Aurora: 66]

[Vastness of the Stars: 71]

 

[Class 2: [Firebug - Fire: Lv 19]]

[Fire Affinity: 19]

[Fire Resistance: 14]

[Fire Conjuration: 19]

[Fire Manipulation: 19]

[: ]

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[Class 3: Locked]

 

General Skills

[Identify: 71]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 72]

[Pretty: 97]

[Vigilant: 104]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 105]

[Ranger's Lore: 6]

[Running: 70]

[Learning: 105]

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