Chapter 40: Eyebeams and the Ethics of Adventuring
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After finding out Jory had an unused courtyard behind his clinic, Rufus moved the daily training there. It was really just a walled-in dirt yard, but was sufficient for their needs. The day would begin with Gary, who would run with Jason to Jory’s clinic. After replenishing his stamina by draining the sickness from Jory’s patients, Jason was ready for more physical training.

The approach to physical training was startling in its familiarity. Farrah had left a set of barbells from her magical chest in Jory’s yard, covered with a tarp. Gary would alternate between strength training with weights and more agility-based training, leading Jason through all kinds of flexibility exercises.

While instructing Jason, the normally relaxed Gary became a harsh task-master, brooking not even the slightest amount of slack. As he watched Jason’s form during push-ups, sit-ups or lunges, he would lecture on the importance of training.

“When your speed attribute reaches bronze,” Gary said, “you will be faster than you ever were before. If you don’t know how to use that speed, that agility, those reflexes, then you will die to someone that does.”

Sometimes Gary would take Jason out of the clinic’s yard and into streets and alleys of Old City. He taught what Jason was startled to recognise as parkour. Climbing, roof running, acrobatics; in spite of his huge body, Gary was astoundingly proficient.

Jason voiced concern, given the generally busy state of Old City and his own lack of expertise. Gary insisted on a learn-by-doing approach, telling Jason what he did wrong as he did it. Jason voiced them again after he fell from a rooftop and had to pay for the crushed contents of a fruit cart.

“Sorry about that Herbert,” Jason said as he handed over the coins.

“I look at it this way,” the balding, paunchy fruit seller said. “I just sold a full cartload of fruit and it’s barely daylight. And please; call me Bert.”

“I’m not sure this is working out,” Jason told Gary.

“You don’t just start off good at difficult things,” Gary said. “You have to begin at bad and work your way up.”

“That I get,” Jason said. “I’m just not sure about the methodology. Maybe I should try somewhere less crowded until I’m better?”

 “The ability to move with speed and confidence, always aware of your surroundings is essential to an adventurer,” Gary said. “Sometimes you have to run, sometimes you have to chase. You rarely get to choose when or where. You must always be ready always aware. Whatever you’re doing, wherever you’re doing it.”

Once Gary was done with him, Jason would replenish himself again with clinic patients. On the first day, Jason noticed Jory giving him a wary look.

“What?” Jason asked.

“I know you’re helping people and all,” Jory said, “but you’re literally feeding on the misery of others.”

“You want me to stop coming in?” Jason asked.

“Gods, no,” Jory said.

“Alright then,” Jason said. “I don’t suppose you want to help me stich a body together from dismembered corpses and animate it with lightning?”

“That would be disturbing,” Jory said, “if you didn’t so obviously know nothing about actual necromancy.”

Word of Jason’s free healing started getting around, so there were always people waiting each time he arrived. By the time he cleared out the patients, Rufus would arrive for more training.

The training with Rufus was the most tedious part of Jason’s day. Footwork and balance, footwork and balance. Sometimes it was moving around with a forced gait, feeling awkward and inefficient. Other times it was balancing in strange stances on pegs Jory let Rufus hammer into the dirt yard. Whenever Jason’s form was wrong, Rufus would sweep his legs out from under him, or kick him from what he was balancing on.

“You’re breaking your body line. Anyone with even rudimentary skills would put you on the ground in a moment.”

“It feels awkward to move like that,” Jason said.

“That is because you don’t walk, run, stand, lean or sit properly. When it stops feeling awkward, you will be ready to use a skill book.”

“So, I could just lie and we move onto the skill book?” Jason asked.

Rufus’ leg swept Jason’s out from under him with such force that Jason went horizontal in the air, followed by a savage downward chop smashing him into the ground. Rufus stood over him as Jason curled up in the dirt, choking and coughing.

“There will be a test,” Rufus said.

In the afternoons, Farrah would take over. This was the part of his training regimen Jason enjoyed the most. Gary and Rufus’ instruction was classic montage material, while Farrah’s training was something altogether different.

The spirit attribute, Jason learned, governed not just magic strength, but also perception. Farrah subjected Jason to an array of unusual, but often interesting and fun exercises. They would play memory games with cards, or she would make him taste-test things while blindfolded.

“I have no idea what you just put in my mouth,” Jason said, “but you need to tell me what it was. I want to try baking it in a pie.”

Some perception exercises trained practical observation and memory skills. One of the most common was watching people go past Jory’s clinic, with Jason memorising everything he could as fast as he could. He would then close his eyes as Farrah tested him. Other times she would have him read from the Magic Society’s monster records, collected on a magical tablet. She gave him only a short time to read, testing his comprehension afterwards.

The second aspect of Farrah’s training was meditation. Jason and his siblings had been spoon-fed meditation techniques by their mother, and while Jason had long-ago rejected them, it at least gave him a grounding to work with. Those techniques were quite different to what Farrah taught him, but there was enough commonality to pick things up quickly. She soon stopped guiding him, leaving him to take it up in his own time.

The final part of Farrah’s training was aura manipulation. He had gotten lucky, the stone Farrah gifted him awakening an aura ability.

Ability: [Hegemony] (Sin)

  • Aura (holy, unholy)
  • Cost: None.
  • Cooldown: None.
  • Current rank: Iron 0 (00%)
  • Effect (iron): Allies within the aura have increased resistance to afflictions, while enemies within the aura have their resistance to afflictions reduced. Enemy resistances are further reduced for each instance of [Sin] they are suffering from.

Jason was happy with the aura effect, which would make his abilities more reliable while protecting his allies from someone like him. He was also fascinated by it being both a holy and unholy ability at the same time. Sadly, he couldn’t think of a good way to passive-aggressively let Anisa hear about it. He knew she was in the city somewhere, but it was probably for the best they hadn’t run into each other.

As Farrah instructed Jason on the basics of aura use, he discovered that for training purposes, the specifics of his aura didn’t matter. The fundamental aspects of auras were all the same, which she introduced him to in the clinic yard as they sat on woven mats.

“By getting your hands on an aura power," Farrah told him, "you've gained the capacity to manipulate your aura. Like any other skill, it takes practice to do it right. Controlling your aura is important for many reasons, starting with the fact that as you get stronger, your aura will become increasingly energetic. Eventually, enough to be dangerous to the people around you. If you reach gold rank and can't control your aura properly, you can hurt normal people just by going near them."

“So, if you hit gold rank and can’t control your aura,” Jason asked, “do you have to hide so you don’t hurt people just by walking down the street?”

“There are magic items you can use to suppress your aura,” Farrah said. “People in that situation are required to use them.”

“Do you get a lot of people who get to gold without any aura control?” Jason asked.

“No,” Farrah said. “Usually your chances of getting to gold start with a good foundation, which means aura powers and aura training. It does happen, though. I once saw the aftermath of a gold ranker who forgot to put on an aura suppressor before going to a market. People were passed out, bleeding out their ears.”

“That’s not good,” Jason said.

“No it isn’t,” Farrah said. “Which is why the training is important. There are other reasons, too. Anyone with a perception power will eventually be able to see auras clearly, so if yours isn’t under control, they’ll read you like you’re holding up signs. Not just your location, either. If you can’t restrain your aura, they’ll read your emotions, know when you lie.”

“Can you see my emotions right now?” Jason asked.

“No,” Farrah said, “but my perception power doesn’t improve my aura sense until silver rank. Neither does yours, by the way. I looked it up.”

“So, what does your perception power do?” Jason asked.

“It looks good,” Farrah said as her eyes turned into glowing embers. “It also lets me see through smoke and mist.”

“Nice,” Jason said. “Wait, what about my clothes-changing ability. That hides me in smoke. Can you see through that?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Farrah said, not answering it. “You know, if I ever get to diamond rank I can shoot fire out of my eyes.”

“That doesn’t answer my… wait, you’re going to get eyebeams? That’s awesome.”

“I know, right?” Farrah said. “There aren’t a lot of abilities where we know what happens at diamond rank. Rufus thinks that if I actually get there it will be overshadowed by what my other abilities can do.”

“Then Rufus sucks,” Jason said. “He thinks eyebeams won’t be useful? The intimidation factor alone would be amazing. Who’s going to meet your eyes when you can shoot heat-beams out of them?”

“That’s what I said,” Farrah agreed. “More or less. I didn’t say heat-beams.”

“Eyebeams are sweet,” Jason said.

“I think we may be getting off-topic," Farrah said.

“Alright,” Jason said. “So what do I do?”

“Broadly speaking, you can control your aura in three ways, and I’ll teach you them in order.”

“Sounds good,” Jason said.”

“The first two uses are the easiest,” Farrah said. “They are, broadly speaking, projecting your aura and restraining it. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Projecting is pushing your aura out to affect people, and restraining it is used drawing it in, whether to hide it, or just not be rude.”

“Or make people’s ears bleed,” Jason said.

“Exactly,” Farrah said.

“What about the third one?” Jason asked.

“That’s using your aura to suppress the auras of other people. It’s harder than the others, and you should leave it alone until you reach a certain level of proficiency with aura manipulation.”

“Fair enough,” Jason said.

“We start with projecting, because you’re doing it already.”

“I am?”

“You are. Everyone is, until they learn not to. It's what makes people with no aura control easy to read. I'll also be teaching you how to hide your emotions even as you're projecting your aura to affect people."

“Can monsters manipulate their aura?” Jason asked.

“Higher-rank monsters can,” Farrah said. “At your level, even mine, really, the most you’ll find is a few stealthy monsters that restrain their auras to hide better.”

“I think stealth is going to be my thing, too,” Jason said. “I’d best learn to restrain my aura properly.”

“You’re meant to be learning everything properly,” she said. “I'll teach you all the fundamentals. Expanding your aura, narrowing it down onto some people and not others. Once I've taught you, though, it's your responsibility to keep practising. Diligence makes the difference between crudely tossing around your aura and deft manipulation.”

“Then I won’t make my neighbours bleed out their eyeballs?”

“You’re a long way from needing to worry about that,” Farrah said. “A long way. But eventually, yes. More immediately, the skill with which we control our auras is how adventurers make their first impressions on one another. If you can’t do it properly, people won’t take you seriously. Excellent aura manipulation marks you as an adventurer of training and distinction.”

“So, you’re saying if I don’t control my aura properly, I won’t get invited to the nice parties,” Jason said.

“Something like that," Farrah said. "When the rich and powerful bring contracts to the Adventure Society, they add bonus rewards to entice the best adventurers. At your rank, these contracts are usually first-come, first-serve. Once you go higher, clients start requesting specific adventurers. That's when your reputation matters, and if your aura control is sloppy, you won't get a second glance."

“Good to know,” Jason said.

“You’re not expected to have the skills at iron rank, of course,” Farrah said. “That’s the time you’re meant to be mastering the basics, after all. But if you don’t have a handle on it by the time you reach bronze, you’ll find a lot of doors closing in your face.”

“Rufus told me that just being an adventurer opens every door.”

“Yes, well Rufus may not be the best authority on what life is like for the average adventurer.”

“The ones not born with talent, looks, wealth, privilege and influence?” Jason asked.

“Exactly. He grew up in one of the most prestigious adventure-preparatory schools in the world, with kings and the children of heroes as friends. He’s a great guy, but he’s oblivious to what the rest of us go through, sometimes.”

“So, to him, adventuring is just a parade of people telling you how great you are and handing you sacks of cash,” Jason said.

“Exactly,” Farrah said. “I’m not saying the rest of us can’t get there, but Rufus never even saw the low rungs of the ladder. The things we’re teaching you now, he was learning from the womb.”

“Then if I’m going to catch up, we should probably get back to the lesson,” Jason said.

“I like the ambition," Farrah said. "First, let me take you through the process. As I said, we start with projection to learn the basics, then move on to restraining. Once you can do both of these to an acceptable level, we introduce more sophistication. Things like focusing on one person, or hiding aspects of your aura while projecting. That culminates in projecting and restraining at the same time."

“How does that work?”

“Well, for example, just say you’ve hidden yourself, but you want to use your aura. So you blanket the area with your aura ability, but hide your presence within it.”

“Sounds like a good intimidation tactic,” Jason said. “They know you’re around, stalking them, but can’t find you.”

“Or you could just blow one of them up,” Farrah said. “I find that intimidates the survivors just fine.”

“You’re a very aggressive person,” Jason said.

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your work,” Farrah said.

“There is when your work is killing people.”

“I was talking about monsters,” Farrah said, her tone lowering with disapproval. “They’re just globs of magic.”

“But they can still feel fear and pain,” Jason said. “They still suffer.”

“So do the people they kill once they've been around too long and gone berserk," Farrah said. Her relaxed mediation pose was becoming rigid.

"You haven't seen a truly berserk monster,” she said. “It's like they can feel their inevitable demise and want nothing more than to take as many living things with them as they can. Putting them down before they reach that state is a mercy."

“But mercy shouldn’t be fun,” Jason said.

Farrah normally kept her feeling hidden behind a veil of amusement, but Jason’s attitude had stripped it away.

“It’s easy to moralise when you aren’t even an adventurer yet,” Farrah told him, pointing her finger. “You don’t understand the price of what we do. I want to see how you feel a year from now. How many monsters will you have killed with those powers of yours? How many people? Your abilities are all about slow, horrible death.”

She got up, glaring at Jason as she brushed down her pants with her hand.

 “That’s enough training for today,” she said. “Put away the mats.”

She marched out of the yard through the gate in the wall, leaving Jason sitting alone.

“That turned heavy, fast,” he told himself. “Good job, idiot.”

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