Chapter 34: Fourth Rune
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The difficulty of condensing a fourth rune was much higher than the previous runes. This was due to the fundamental change in nature runes had every third rune. The fourth through sixth runes could let people control water and air, bend weapons mid-attack, triple arrows they shot from a bow, and gain access to a myriad of other bizarre and useful abilities. This drastically increased the complexity involved in forming each rune. For the first three runes, I just needed to eat mana using my absorption essence, and my body handled most of the work after that. It was something even an average four or five year old child could do, once their parents helped them grasp the basics. However, for the fourth rune and beyond, I couldn’t just eat more mana and let my body handle the details. I needed to actually concentrate on what kind of power I wanted.

According to my parents and Felix, the most important thing I needed was a concept of some sort. An image that spoke to me, that would resonate with my thoughts and absorption essence and allow me to create my fourth rune. This image would also determine what kind of ability I formed. If I used a mental image of all of the air around the islands as my concept, for example, I would probably get some sort of wind-control related ability. While nobody had perfect control over what kind of ability their rune created, it was easy to control what general direction the ability had, at least. If one wanted to manipulate bones, they could ensure their rune interacted with bones. If someone wanted to heal, the rune they formed would have some sort of use in healing. The exact details were impossible to control, but people never got an ability that was utterly different than what they wanted, even if it often wasn’t quite what they expected either.

And in addition to the unique abilities created by one’s runes, having a fourth rune allowed one to pour their mana into external objects. This was the fundamental property that allowed people with at least four runes to participate in fishing - they poured mana out of their runes into the floatwood their boats were made of, and the floatwood did the rest. This was why getting a fourth rune was so important in the village if one wanted to be a fisherman - one literally couldn’t activate floatwood without a fourth rune.

I was very excited to see what kind of superpower I would get. I had thought long and hard about what sort of ability I wanted. Since my long-term goal was still to explore the ocean, I felt that building my runes in that direction was a good idea. However, there were a ton of logistical hurdles I needed to solve before I even thought about going into the ocean.

First, I needed a way to deal with whatever creatures I might find below the waves. The giant monster that had crushed the ships of the outsiders was probably at the top of the food chain in the ocean, but it was also a warning that all kinds of weird creatures existed beneath the waves. If I wanted to go deeper into the ocean, I needed some way to keep myself safe.

Second, I needed a way to move around. I could swim a little bit, but the ability to propel myself around using water or something would probably help a lot.

Third, I needed a way to breathe and survive the water pressure of the ocean. Asphyxiation and water pressure would eventually kill me if I went deep enough into the ocean, no matter how strong my physical body was. My first three runes made it easier to hold my breath for longer and made my body tougher, but I still needed to breathe in this form.

I had a few ideas for ways to resolve this.

First, I could use some sort of air rune to create a kind of air-pocket submarine around myself, or to at least create a sort of breathing helmet around my head. If I could create oxygen, I would be able to solve the problem of breathing underwater with some practice.

Alternately, I could try to form some sort of healing rune that specifically helped me deal with oxygen and water pressure. As long as I could continuously regenerate my lungs as I swam deeper, I should be able to deal with a lot of the problems of asphyxiation. However, I wasn’t sure if there were other problems with this idea, so I felt it wasn’t quite the right direction.

Or, as my final idea, I could try to form a rune ability that was a bit more generalized. Something water related, perhaps. If I could control water, it would be useful for hunting fish, and it would also solve any mobility problems I might have under the waves.

I spent several hours pondering which idea I felt was best, but I eventually settled on water control. It seemed to be quite relevant for any future actions I might want to take, and as an added bonus, it was the most useful for being a fishermen, the job I wanted in the village. After making up my mind, I pulled out a fish core and began working on forming my rune.

I tried to form an image of water, and began trying to absorb bits of mana with my absorption essence. However, I felt that my mental image was ever so slightly… off. It would work - I could tell that if I just brute-forced my rune like this, I would eventually succeed. But something felt off to me. I frowned.

The next few days were spent fruitlessly trying to figure out what felt off to me. I experimented with a lot of different mental images of water, the ocean, and a lot of other factors. But somehow, things always felt just a little strange. Finally, I found something that resonated with me.

I had started out with a mental image of ordinary water, using a ‘stream’ as my base image and trying to make a rune from that. However, I kept feeling like I could do more. 

So I had started increasing the size of my image. From a stream to a river, and finally to an ocean of water. However, something still felt missing. Finally, I realized what was wrong with my image.

A lot of the images I was using were half-baked memories of oceans and water from my previous world. However, they didn’t perfectly match what interested me. I wasn’t interested in those oceans, with their normal sized fish, still waters, and lack of strange and horrific sea monsters that could destroy boats like toys. What interested me was the ocean in this life - with all of its strange and horrifying abilities and creatures.

Finally, I could feel an image resonating with me. One that I had never considered before, but that called out to me. I thought of the ocean of this world, filled with strange creatures that bent perception and reality around them in small, subtle ways. I thought of the way the waves of the ocean seemed to hypnotize those who stared at it for long periods of time, drawing them ever closer to the waves before dragging them into the dark depths of the ocean forever. I smiled to myself, as I finally realized what my image was missing. 

I wanted a rune that matched the ocean, not just water.

I thought of the glittering sunlight reflecting off of the waves during the sunny season. Of the way the water rose and fell like massive hammers upon the world in response to the stormy season, like a leviathan set loose upon the world as nature raised its head towards the sky. Of the mighty, mind-bending tentacle that had risen from the waves and slapped the water around it when the great sea creature had attacked the boats of the outsiders.

The waters of this world were pure and beautiful, clear and bright – at least on the surface. However, beneath the waves lurked great behemoths and monsters. The giant fish the villages used as their primary food source were one of the tamest species around. I wanted my rune to encompass all of these ideas, and the mana in my body was very ready to cooperate with me. I no longer felt like something was missing when I started to form my rune. 

I would use the glittering, sunlit beauty of the top of the ocean reflecting light off of the waves and combine it with the abyssal horror of the depths of the ocean to create a kind of water rune that fit me.

However, as I kept working, I also started to realize my idea was a bit too big for one rune to handle. The entirety of the ocean in this world had so many strange, unique features - it was hard to fit all of those oddities and abilities into one rune. So I split up my image a little bit. My first rune would focus solely on the glittering sunlight and the surface of the ocean.

I used mana to continuously refine my image of the ocean’s surface. I built the idea of ‘controlling water’ into the rune, because I still wanted to control my movement easily while underwater. Then, I engraved sunlight into it as well. As I thought of the surface of the ocean, unbidden, I recalled the giant fish that sunbathed on the surface of the ocean. Each one was large enough to feed the village for days by itself. Deep within the giant fish, also, there lay a fish core, useful for restoring mana and for helping children form runes. The ocean was the thing that gave life to this village, giving its inhabitants food and making life on these islands possible. Without the ocean, none of these villages would have any ability to continue existing.

The light of the ocean could also play tricks upon the eye, deceiving one’s perception by bending light or working as a mirror.

I spent weeks working with this image, slowly transforming my vision of the Ocean into a rune. Finally, after a month and a half of hard work, my fourth rune was completed. My fourth rune was a deep blue color, and after I completed it, my first three runes also turned blue, confirming that I had completed my fourth rune. I wasn’t entirely sure what ability I had just created, but I now had a fourth rune, and my first rune ability.

I smiled to myself.

Power: Successfully Condense your Fourth Rune

Achievement +400

After that, I walked out of my room and gave my mother and father a big hug. “I did it!” 

They both smiled at me and hugged me back. “Congratulations, sweetie! The fourth rune is a big step for you. I knew you could do it. What kind of ability did you go for?” My father asked.

“Something related to water. I haven’t tested the specifics yet, but it might be a bit...weird. Kind of like Felix’s ability is unusually focused on enhancing his own tools? I still need to test it. I’m going out for a bit.”

“Weird is fine. There’s no such thing as a useless rune, as long as you’re creative enough in how you use it. Be back before it gets dark, and let your mother and I see what your ability is once you figure out the details!”

After that, I went off to find my friends to celebrate, as well as to test out the exact properties of my fourth rune. I had missed the renewal festival this year, since I spent my time working on forming my rune, but I could still see traces of the festival laying around the village. I absently wondered if the children this year had finished their hunts yet, before pushing the thought aside and heading to the water near the edge of the village. I had built my fourth rune out of the idea of the sunlight glittering off the surface of this world’s ocean, and the way the ocean made life in the village possible. Sallia and Felix would probably be able to help me figure out exactly what my rune did, and how best to use it in combat. However, I first wanted to get a basic grasp of what my ability was.

The first thing I confirmed was that I could take water from my surroundings and move it according to my will. However, my ability to control water was weaker than the abilities most villagers with water runes had. If a normal villager with a water rune could break down a wave into a gentle ripple on the surface of the ocean in seconds, I would need a minute or two to accomplish the same thing. I frowned. Why was my rune so much weaker than other people’s rune? Was I using it wrong?

After several minutes of experimentation, I realized that moving water wasn’t really what my rune did, even if I could kind of move water around as a result of my rune’s ability.

Instead, I had the ability to convert water into things. Specifically, I could convert water into light and healing. 

The first facet of my water-conversion ability seemed to stem from the focus on the life-giving properties the ocean had. It granted me a very generalized ability to heal. So long as I soaked a wound in water, I could heal a small cut in a few seconds, and I seemed to be able to restore flesh and blood. I wasn’t willing to test whether or not I could restore a broken bone with my ability, since breaking one of my bones would hurt and I didn’t want to be stuck waiting for a healer if I couldn’t mend bones. I strongly suspected my rune didn’t heal bones, even if I wasn’t 100% sure.

However, I was willing to give myself smaller cuts and bruises to test out how my healing ability worked. Once I had a grasp on what I could do, I felt rather pleased. I could heal a wide variety of injuries, meaning that my ability was surprisingly useful. The speed of my healing was a bit slow, and I absolutely needed water to make it work, but as long as I had water it was incredibly useful. 

However, my ability to convert water into light was much more… odd. It seemed to be derived from my thoughts about the sunlight, glittering off the surface of the waves, and the way water looked under the sunlight. As far as I could tell, the major way to use this ability was to create illusions. This was, by far, the weirdest rune property I knew of in the village. I had never heard of someone in the village being able to create illusions using their rune abilities. And my illusions didn’t have any sounds or smells attached to them - they were purely light constructs. Creating an illusion was also incredibly hard - I simply couldn’t manage the level of detail I needed to create a complex illusion on the spot. Right now, I was limited to creating shapeless blobs of light, although I knew I would get better with practice. My low Intelligence definitely hurt my illusion-making abilities a lot, which was also quite unfortunate. 

At the very least, converting water into light or healing didn’t take much mana, meaning I could use my ability frequently during a fight as long as I had a nearby water source to use. I shrugged, before I decided to just be happy with the rune I had made. Even if my first rune was heavily dependent on water, we were living on an island. Water surrounded us on all sides, so it wasn’t exactly hard to come by here. And if I wasn’t mistaken, the ability to heal my blood and flesh using water would probably solve the problem of breathing underwater, in a somewhat twisted fashion. If I continuously swapped out my blood while drowning, I could probably heal away the effects of drowning, once I had a better hold on how my ability worked. Most importantly, I had a fourth rune, and if I got creative enough I would definitely be able to use it for my long term goals, as well as for the benefit of the village. 

After messing with my ability a little more, I went off to find Felix and Sallia to brag, as well as to challenge them to a sparring match. My control over my abilities was pretty weak, but as long as we fought near the ocean I could definitely perform at least a little better than before, by chucking around balls of light at people’s eyes while fighting. And using my abilities during a sparring match would definitely improve my control. And now that I had a fourth rune, I could finally become a fisherman.

 

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