“As you hopefully recall,” Rufus said, “there are three elements to improving your abilities.”
“I'm pretty sure the middle step was to eat a delicious sandwich," Jason said.
“Could you take this at least a little seriously?” Rufus asked.
“I’m about to learn magic kung fu, so… probably not.”
Jason had rented a suite room on the same floor as the others, right across the hall. It was smaller, or more accurately, less large. Being on the other side of the building, it didn't have the same ocean view, and he spent much of his time in their suite. They were having iced tea out on the balcony, overlooking the ocean.
“There’s nothing wrong with having some fun along the way,” Gary said. “As long as the work gets done, why be so serious about everything?”
“He says that sipping ice tea on a balcony,” Farrah said. “He turns into a slave driver once the training starts.”
“Even I think it’s a bit much,” Rufus said.
“No you don’t,” Gary said.
“No,” Rufus said with a malicious grin. “I don’t.”
“What’s kung fu?” Farrah asked. “I don’t think your ability translated it.”
“It means a skill developed through discipline and hard work," Jason said. "Anything can be kung fu if you're diligent about it."
“Actually,” Rufus said, “that’s a good attitude.”
“See?” Gary said. “You’re not at Very Serious Academy now, Rufus. Hard work is easier to get through if you find a way to enjoy it.”
“Gary may have fun,” Farrah said, “but you probably won’t. Don’t get carried away, Gary.”
“When do I ever get carried away?” Gary asked.
“Remember Angelina?” Rufus asked.
“Are you ever going to let that go?” Gary said. “How was I meant to know she was evil?”
“The first time we met her she tried to sell us poison,” Farrah said. “We were in a church. And not one of the bad ones.”
"I think we should keep our attention on the task at hand," Rufus said. "Tomorrow we'll do everything together, just for the first day. After that. we'll split up. You won't be able to keep up with us when we're pushing ourselves. Gary will be in charge of your basic physical training, I'll be working on your combat skills, and Farrah will help you with mental training and meditation."
“We had to go out so you could get more clothes today," Gary said, "but normally we'll begin bright and early. For the first week, I'm just going to run you until you can't run anymore."
“I figured it would be something like that,” Jason said. “I was thinking we could run over the bridge and into the Old City.”
Gary looked over at Rufus, who shrugged.
“Works for me,” Gary said. “Doesn’t really matter where you run to, as long as you run.”
All four of them ran from their lodgings to the bridge in the early light. They weren’t the only ones out, with others also running on the Island’s wide, well-paved streets.
“Adventurers?” Jason asked.
“Those are the good ones,” Rufus said. “As with most things, the best results come through diligent effort.”
“On the other hand,” Farrah said, “If you use magic cores to advance, you get to sleep in.”
“Don’t tempt him into bad habits,” Rufus scolded.
There was very little early-hours traffic on the Island, although some tradesfolk were making their way with carts and wagons. These, like expensive carriages Jason had seen, were propelled by magic rather than pulled by animals.
“Not allowed to have drawn vehicles on the island,” Rufus explained. “Makes it more expensive for working people, but they make up for it in prices. On the Island you’ll pay twice, maybe three times the price you would for the same thing in Old City.”
At the bridge, they had to show their access permits. Jason had taken lodging at the same inn as the other three, which earned him a temporary residence permit for the Island. The guard checking their permits turned out to be a familiar face.
“Bertram, right?” Jason said.
“You can call me Bert,” Bertram said. “You meet my brother at the Adventure Society?”
“He helped me with my adventurer registration.”
Crossing the bridge, the streets of Old City were considerably busier. The four stood out, weaving through teamsters and merchants as they maintained a running pace.
By the time they reached their destination, Jason was exhausted. He leaned against a wall, dragging in heaving breaths. The others looked up at the sign over the door.
“Broadstreet Clinic,” Rufus read out loud. “Shouldn’t Broad Street be two words?”
“One word,” Jason said. “It’s the actual name of the street.”
“It’s called Broadstreet Street?” Gary asked.
“Broadstreet Boulevard,” Jason said. “How am I telling you this? You’ve all spent much more time in this city than me.”
“We don’t spend a lot of time in Old City,” Farrah said. “The Island is just nicer.”
“You know someone here?” Rufus asked, nodding at the clinic doors.
“Met him on my way into the city,” Jason said. Having recovered his breath a little, he stumbled in through the doors, the others following after. Inside was a waiting room crowded with people and a reception desk with a young woman sitting behind it. Jason leaned onto the desk, using it to keep himself upright.
“Sir, if you require emergency treatment…”
“I’m Jason Asano,” Jason panted out.
“Ah, right,” the woman said. “Are you alright?”
“I will be.”
The alchemist Jason had entered the city with, Jory, emerged from the back room. He was leading an elderly lady who was carrying a small bag.
“Now, only take the medicine right before bed,” Jory said.
“So I should take it with dinner?” the lady asked.
“No, you’ll pass out at the table. Right before bed. Seriously, right before you climb into bed.”
“So, when I sit down for my evening wine…”
“No, right before bed.”
“Would it be easier if I took it during the day?” she asked.
“I’m just going to take that, for a moment,” Jory said, retrieving the small bag from the lady.
Jory spotted the bedraggled Jason, giving him an odd look as he passed, leading the woman to a middle-aged man quietly waiting in one of the seats. Jason couldn’t hear them talk, although he did hear the man say something about dinner as Jory’s arm, held rigidly at his side, clenched into a fist. Soon after, the pair were on their way and Jory came over to Jason.
“You showed up, then,” Jory said.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “These are my friends, by the way. Gary, Farrah, Rufus. Meet Jory.”
“This is a medical clinic?” Gary asked. “Just alchemy?”
“So far,” Jory said. “I met Jason the other day and he offered to help out.”
Jory led Jason into a back room, then started bringing patients in, one after the other. For each one, Jason chanted out his spell.
“Feed me your sins.”
Ability: [Feast of Absolution] (Sin)
- Spell (recovery, cleanse)
- Cost: Low mana.
- Cooldown: 20 seconds.
- Current rank: Iron 1 (19%)
- Effect (iron): Cleanse all curses, diseases, poisons, holy afflictions and unholy afflictions from a single ally or enemy. Recover stamina and mana for each affliction cleansed. This ability circumvents all effects that prevent cleansing. This ability cannot be used on self.
Jason used his feast of absolution power to remove their diseases, along with a few other toxins like alcohol, which registered to his ability as a poison.
“That’s a good cleansing ability,” Gary observed between patients. “Good way to practice it, too. It really gives you stamina back?”
“Mana too,” Jason said. “Can’t use it on myself, though.”
“I knew there had to be a pretty rough restriction, with a power that good,” Gary said.
“I'm surprised people aren't a bit more wary, with an incantation like that," Rufus said.
“These people don’t care what you chant,” Jory said. “If there’s free healing going, they’ll cheer you on as you praise the god of woe.”
With each patient, Jason’s mana and stamina were replenished, until he was back at full strength.
“You alright?” Gary asked. “You look a lot better, but a bit down.”
“My world doesn’t have magic. We don’t have a way to get rid of some of the diseases I’ve just casually taken away from people today. I cured a dozen people of cancer. Do you know what cancer does to a person?”
“Er, no,” Gary said.
“Exactly. I think about what I could do if I took this power home with me.”
“You’ll get there,” Gary said. “Maybe it’ll take a while, but you’ll get there.”
“You think?” Jason asked.
“When you have some time, go over to the temple district,” Gary said. “Maybe the goddess Knowledge will help you. She probably won’t straight-up tell you how to get home, but she might put you on the right path.”
“Probably,” Gary said. “She makes you work for it, but guiding people to knowledge is kind of her whole purpose for being.”
“Not today, though,” Rufus said. “Today is for training. You’re ready to get back to running, right?”
“If we’re done here,” Jason said.
“You are,” Jory said. “We’ve run out of sick people. There’ll be more tomorrow, once word starts getting around you’re doing this for free.”
“Not a problem,” Gary said. “I’ll be dragging him along every morning.”
Rufus and an exhausted Jason were standing on a training field on the Adventure Society campus. At least Rufus was standing, with Jason sprawled out on the grass. Farrah was nearby, leaning against a tree as she read a book. There were other people around, sparring or practising martial arts forms. Gary had wandered off and was sparring against a pair of locals.
“I don’t suppose there’s a bunch of sick people around?” Jason asked, too weary to stand.
“Afraid not,” Rufus said.
“Should I eat a spirit coin?” Jason asked.
“No,” Rufus said, “Replenishing yourself is good when you need to keep pushing, but you also need to let your body restore itself naturally. Your recovery attribute needs training, just as much as your speed, power and spirit.”
“I don’t feel like I’m ready to learn martial arts right now,” Jason said.
“You’re not,” Rufus said. “Actual technique you can pick up from a skill book.”
“I can?” Jason asked, raising his head. “Great. Let’s do that.”
“Not yet. At my family’s academy…”
“Drink,” Jason said.
“I’ve come up with a drinking game,” Jason said. “Every time you say ‘my family’s academy,’ everyone has to take a drink.”
Farrah burst out laughing.
“Is this the ‘fun’ you were talking about?” Rufus asked, disapproval wrinkling his brow.
“Sorry,” Jason said as he got to his feet. He dropped to a half-crouch, hands on his knees. “I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Good,” Rufus said. “It means you’ve been pushing yourself hard enough. At my family’s academy…”
Rufus glared at Farrah, who was looking innocently off into the distance.
“…we have been refining methods of combat training for centuries, including training with skill books.”
“Isn’t the whole point of skill books to just use them and you’re good?” Jason asked.
“It isn’t that simple,” Rufus said. “For a practice that is knowledge-based, that is more-or-less true.”
“No, it isn't," Farrah chimed in. "Knowing isn't the same as understanding. You've used a ritual magic skill book, but knowing practical applications isn't the same as grasping the theory."
“There’s a similar issue with physical skills,” Rufus said, “but even more exaggerated. The mind might know what to do, but the body still has to learn. First, I will teach you to be receptive to the skills you will learn. How to stand, how to move.”
“A solid house needs a solid foundation,” Jason said.
“Exactly," Rufus said happily. "I'm glad you understand. Learning to fight through skill books is ultimately faster than training from nothing because you save yourself years of repetition to ingrain the skills. There is a danger, however, of not fully comprehending the techniques. By preparing well before using a skill book, then consolidating well after, you avoid developing flaws in your skillset."
“Plus, I imagine there’s quite a gap between learning technique and learning to fight,” Jason said.
“It’s good you realise that,” Rufus said. “It’s the first thing we have to beat out of skill book users at my family’s academy.”
Rufus pressed his lips thinly together as he heard a snort of choked off laughter. Flashing a glare at Farrah, he let out a weary sigh.
“Stand up straight,” he said to Jason. “We begin with footwork.”
Jason had joined Farrah in reclining against a tree. Gary was still sparring against all comers, currently going one against three. Rufus had sat down to meditate.
“You did well with Rufus’ training,” Farrah told Jason. “I was amazed you didn’t complain when he just had you taking funny steps the whole time.”
“I’m not sure how my translation ability will handle the term ‘kung-fu movies,’ but we have these stories in my world. About learning to fight. You always start with what seems weird and pointless, but ends up being the most important of fundamentals. There’s usually a life lesson in there somewhere, as well.”
“Rufus is going to hate teaching you. You are nothing like the students at his academy.”
“Is his school actually that big deal?” Jason asked.
“It really is,” Farrah said. “Kings and Queens have studied there. Some of the best adventurers in the world, too.”
“Did you and Gary train there?”
“Definitely not. Our origins are a bit too humble for that. We all met on the job.”
“Right,” Jason said. “the zombies.”
“We worked together well, and I think Rufus’ grandfather quietly pushed things along. Rufus puts more pressure on himself than anyone else does, and I think his grandfather was hoping we would lighten him up.”
“How’s that going?” Jason asked.
“You should have seen Rufus when we first met,” she said. “He was like a string, constantly pulled taut. It was only so long until he was going to snap.”
She looked around, with a smile.
“Coming out here has been good for him,” she said. “Getting away from everything.”
“He blames himself for you getting captured, though,” Jason said.
“Mistakes are inevitable," Farrah said, "but it was good they happened so far from home. He doesn't have to feel like people are looking over his shoulder as he makes them."
Farrah was wearing the loose, draped clothes in the local style, including a long, coat-robe that made her look a bit like a Jedi. She reached into it and pulled out an awakening stone that she tossed casually to Jason. It was like dark glass, shining with a faint radiance of moonlight. It was cool in his hand.
Item: [Awakening Stone of Omens] (unranked, epic)
- An awakening stone containing the power of destiny (consumable, awakening stone).
- Requirements: Unawakened essence ability.
- Effect: Awakens an essence ability.
- You have 9 unawakened essence abilities.
- You are able to absorb [Awakening Stone of Omens]. Absorb Y/N?
“What’s this for?” Jason asked.
“We haven’t forgotten that you saved us back in that ritual chamber,” Farrah said. “We’ve each gotten you a gift, something to help you start your adventuring life.”
“You saved me too. Even if I’d gotten away, I probably would have died in that desert.”
“Maybe, but saving us took courage and heroics. Saving you took a basic sense of direction. Use the stone; it wasn’t easy to find.”
“High rarity stones tend to be more specialised, right?” Jason said.
“This one is epic. What are you expecting me to get?”
“With luck, an aura ability, although maybe not. That was the rarest stone I could get my hands on that is known for aura powers. Every good adventurer should have a perception power and an aura ability, and the perception power you already have. Once you have an aura ability you can learn to control your aura."
“And that’s important?”
“Very. Anyone who hits bronze rank and can’t manage their aura is a second rate adventurer, and you can’t do that without an aura ability.”
“Well, we can’t have that,” Jason said. The stone sank into his hand.
- You have awakened the sin essence ability [Hegemony]. You have awakened 4 of 5 sin essence abilities.