“Okay, first of all, let’s set up the parties,” Gray said and snapped his fingers.
Rakna raised an eyebrow at the prompt that followed.
❮ ◈ ❯
Gray Whisles invites you to join his Party.
Do you accept?
❮ ◈ ❯
“Yes,” he whispered and a new icon appeared in his field of vision. A quick mental input showed him the current members of the party, which currently were Gray and him.
“What about you three?” The clown turned toward Layla, Nyx, and Allan. “Normally, new recruits would form a party with the Guild they joined. But there isn’t much good in separating your little group. You’re fine with that, right?” He looked over Vera and Quill.
“I don’t mind,” the beautiful witch shook her head. “At least this way I can make a single party instead of two.”
“I don’t mind either,” Quill replied simply.
“Good!” Gray smiled and forwarded the invitations to the trio who accepted without needing much convincing. “Now, here’s how it’s going to go; we overseers will watch you from the rear lines as you head to your first Trial and if the need arises, we will intervene.”
“Question!” One of the girls from the Wiccan Guild raised her hand. “Where is the Trial?”
“Good question,” Gray nodded. “There are two ways to navigate on a Plateau. Dumb luck and map.”
“…?” Everyone looked at the clown weirdly.
Vera shook her head with a sigh. “Just tell your AI to open your map.”
Heeding her words, the new Hosts mentally prompted their AIs and a System window appeared in front of them; one that they hadn’t seen before.
Rakna looked closely at the image in front of him. In the center, a red light was flashing and was surrounded by five others, though white in color. The window was also obviously depicting their surroundings with the train’s rails being very recognizable. Other than that, the virtual screen had a compass with it and three arrowheads were pointing in three different directions.
“The red dot is yourself. The white dots are the members of your party,” Quill took over for the explanation. “The map will be filled as you explore the Plateau. In other words, a location cannot appear on your map if you haven’t been there previously. But, the most important thing is the arrows; each one of them points you toward a Trial. This is something you’ll quickly get used to as it is recurrent on every Plateau.”
“However, I have to clarify the clown’s words,” Vera continued and Gray chuckled. “Dumb luck isn’t a bad way of putting. Trials are not the only thing Hosts aim for. Dungeons, Exploration Quests, Bounties, World Bosses, Ruins, Treasures… You get it. Many things can be found on a Plateau, and Hosts tend to explore randomly until they find something of value.”
“I guess that means the System has a reset mechanic?” Rakna spoke up, which confused most of the other recruits.
Vera smiled. “You’re sharp. Yes. Every week Plateaus are reset and the natural formations on them are randomly regenerated. Dungeons and Quests are never located in the same place. Though, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the contents themselves change as well. Do you understand?” She asked Rakna as well as everyone else at the same time who simultaneously nodded.
“Splendid. Now, be on your way, greenhorns,” Gray said. “I’m sure all of this explaining has bored more than one of you. Head to one of the Trials and get wild. We’ll be right behind you.”
Rakna looked at his group and they shrugged at each other before following an arrow that pointed roughly to the north. They were the first ones to move and getting caught in the initiative, the rest simply went after them without raising any questions.
Fortunately, the Hosts recruited by Quill were not the type to try to lead in the first place. It applied to Vera’s recruits as well. Those future witches were actually giddy to follow.
After jogging for a few minutes through the tall grass, passing by a few ‘dinosaurs’ which appeared to be peaceful, Rakna sensed something and stopped. He looked at his left, where the beginnings of a forest laid along with very thick bushes.
Before anyone behind him could ask why he stopped, the leaves rattled and something emerged before flopping on the ground before them.
“Really?” Allan uttered as they all stared at the thing. “I mean, sure, this is game, but come on. This just makes me feel like a mob.”
The creature in front of them was in fact a big, round, transparent cyan slime. It had bubble-like patterns inside of it as well as a very small red stone.
Watching from the back, Gray snickered which was only picked up by Rakna who glanced at him with a blank look.
“Don’t underestimate slimes,” Quill said taciturnly. “They are more dangerous than you think.”
As he spoke, more and more slimes started coming out from the bushes, slowly forming a small army of blobs as they approached the parties. When their number got over fifty, some people began to feel apprehensive and what Quill added afterward didn’t help.
“They are near impervious to physical attacks. If they catch you, you will have trouble escaping its grasp. If you attack without a plan, you-”
He was interrupted as five slimes were abruptly lifted into the air and slammed against the ground with a force strong enough to make them splatter and die. Quill stood motionlessly with his arms crossed and the new Hosts all turned toward Flavia who had her hand extended.
“Eh?” She looked around at the people staring at her. “Was I not supposed to attack?”
Rakna snorted and kicked the ground without a word. Barely anyone was able to see him speed up before he arrived in front of the still increasing army of slimes. He whirled the glaive in his hand that no one had noticed him take out and swung it at three slimes.
The creatures were split into two right in the middle where the small red stone was. At the same time, the two sliced surfaces of the slimes first steamed because of Sonata’s heat before turning to ice.
Without stopping, Rakna stepped forward past the dissolving slimes he killed and grabbed one of the others barehanded. Then, with a short pulse of mana, the entire creature froze before it was shattered with a kick.
After getting out of their daze, the others finally decided to join Rakna in fighting the slimes. Nyx breathed out and casually waved her hand. A few shadow spikes impaled a group of slimes in the distance. Among everyone here, her power was probably the most large-scaled. Even if it would take her quite a lot of energy, she was able to take out a hundred of these slimes in a few seconds.
Meanwhile, Allan tried to punch one of them only for the shock of the blow to be absorbed. He scowled and followed up with a kick. It did send the monster away but it hadn’t done any damage. A lot of other physical fighters like him were struggling around him.
Of course, none of them were stupid enough to not notice the red stone inside them but getting to them with fists seemed impossible.
‘That’s what Quill meant by near impervious,’ Allan thought as he fended off more slimes without truly being able to damage them. ‘Magic then? But I still haven’t copied any…’
As he and the others were lost in their thoughts, Rakna spoke up clearly and loudly enough for them all to hear. “Scatter force,” he said indifferently as he cut apart two more slimes with a full spin of his spear. “Flavia did kill them by smashing them against the ground. They can take hits because of buoyancy but it won’t work if the forces are spread. Don’t rail your fist in. If you can’t do it alone, attack two opposite sides in pairs.”
All the while he spoke, his eyes never lost focus on the slimes and their impassiveness. Grabbing them, freezing them, slicing them… He was doing it without even sweating or thinking about it.
The other Hosts widened their eyes in surprise before following his advice. The members of the Madness Guild attacked the slimes in pairs and their bodies were squished from both sides. They failed to hold together their form before bursting into droplets of water.
“Witches,” Rakna continued and the girls from the Wiccan Guild perked up. They had been using weapons such as knives to fight against the slimes. They were unable to use magic just yet after coming out of the Tutorial.
“Stop using those. Fall back. Learn your magic. These enemies are weak. This is as good an opportunity as any other. Close your eyes, concentrate and try to feel foreign movement inside your body. Mana is just like a sore limb. Concentrate and force it to move.”
The girls blinked at each other before also following his orders. It almost felt natural to them as he told them directives one after the other.
From afar, Vera tilted her head. “Ara? How surprising. In contrast with his cold attitude, he has the talent of a leader. It is also amazing that he attained a sufficient understanding of magic to give others advice to control mana. Not even mentioning how easily he freezes those slimes. For some reason, it looks like every attack of his carries ice magic…”
“Indeed,” Quill nodded. “He also grasped the slimes’ physical properties in a short moment. He has an uncanny awareness for someone his age. Though, I have to disagree about the leader part.”
“Hm? How so?”
“That’s not leadership,” Gray intervened with a calm, appraising tone. “That’s commanding. This kid is not leading the others, he’s outright telling them how to fight; how to win. He’s not speaking for the sake of helping them, he’s directing them in order to prevail. It’s almost as if… I’m looking at a general employing his troops in the most efficient way possible. Although I don’t believe it’s as bad as him treating them as tools, it’s not far from the truth.”
“I agree,” Quill squinted his eyes. “I’ve seen others with eyes like his. If it meant surviving or winning, he would probably be willing to go as far as cutting one of his own limbs or even killing an ally without hesitation.”
Vera frowned. “Don’t go too far now. You’re making it sound like he’s a heartless killer.”
Gray cackled and waved his finger. “No, no. He’s not a heartless killer. From what I’ve seen, I think he’s got plenty of heart actually, although concealed. No, what we’re saying is that he can become a heartless killer at the flip of a switch,” he said and rubbed his chin. “I’m curious to know who was responsible for his uprising…”
Back to the recruits’ group. The girls from the Wiccan Guild, after following Rakna’s advice, had all managed to at least feel their mana. Others even had made their Mana-Control skill already.
The first of them to launch magic was the unofficial leader of the small female team, Sena. She had brown hair tied into ponytails and brown eyes that flared with magic energy as a fireball shot out from her hand and completely incinerated a slime.
Rakna glanced at them and grunted positively. He also took a look at how Pronos was faring with his poison. The little snake was doing his own experiments. He first had used his Eion Poison like normally and the slime had started glowing before evaporating.
Pronos followed by also activating his magic and a green aura surrounded him. His azure eyes gained an emerald pigment and within a few seconds, he had enclosed several slimes with a sort of fog. The monsters quickly turned into the same color as the phenomenon and rapidly began to melt as they died.
Other than him, Flavia and Nyx were also testing their magic. Though, their methods were vastly different. The former was openly trying to make gusts of wind and spikes of earth randomly. They were weak compared to what Aquila could do, but it was enough against slimes.
As for the former goddess, she was very subtle about it. She was alone to the side and when slimes approached her, they would immediately get swallowed by a maw of shadows while she fiddled with something in her hand; a small sphere of darkness contained in black electricity.
Then, there was Allan who sadly couldn’t practice his magic which visibly depressed him if the comical dark cloud above his head was anything to go by; even as he pummeled the slimes with his fists.
As Rakna observed all of that, his body was moving on both instinct and habit. Because of that, at some point, he realized a bit too late that he was holding the last slime in his hand.
The monster had encased his hand in its body and true to Quill’s words, it normally would be very hard to get away from it and Rakna could also feel the tinge of pain as if something was actively trying to burn his hand.
He huffed and the last slime froze over in a second before it was slammed on the ground. Rakna sighed and a crystallized breath came out of his mouth. His magic had been surprisingly easy to use and also fast.
Other than the passive 10% Cold damage at every attack, even the ones dealt with Sonata, he only needed to be in contact with a slime and spend a few mana points to freeze it. Granted, those slimes were barely level 5. But it was still a good start in testing his Star Magic.
On top of that, his mana consumption was very low for what he had done. His Soul Core could even thaw the mana costs by 10%. As for his stamina, it had decreased by 5. He was barely winded.
Rakna had no idea how long stamina took to recover or even how exactly its loss was calculated other than from skills, but he knew for a fact that the small amounts of energies he had used in this fight were already coming back to him.
“That was a nice show,” Gray said while clapping, grabbing the attention of everyone. “Though we three would have liked all of you to figure things out purely on your own, following directives is something you’ll have to learn in the future anyway. So, it’s not bad. Now, get a move on! Next destination; the Trial. Hurray!”
The clown stuck his hand in the air only for the Hosts to ignore him and turn around. He groaned as put his hand back on his cane. “I swear kids these days can’t enjoy a bit of comical relief.”
Vera and Quill didn’t comment and walked past him.
“Really? You two as well? Killjoys, the lots of you…” The cyborg grumbled.