Chapter 12: Mana
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Once he was deeper into the forest, Chris checked his System Coins total. He was up to 1,600. He’d also reached Level 10, and completed the associated quest.

Quest Completed!

Reach Level 10 (1/1)

Reward: Mana Manual (Basic)

He immediately received a new quest to reach Level 20, he closed it down. Rather than a book, a small crystal appeared in his hand. It reminded him of the Beast Soul Gem that had given him the weapon he couldn’t figure out how to manifest.

He absorbed the Basic Mana Manual. Knowledge flooded into him. He became aware of a pulsing ball of untamed power at his center. He mentally prodded it, noticing how it responded to his attention. The Mana Manual had already informed him he could move it around, but he tried to do it anyway. He pulled strands of mana from the ball, twisting them into pretzels before letting them sink back into his core. He was disappointed at not discovering an ancient pretzel-based cultivation technique, but that was momentary.

That was another thing, cultivation. He could absorb energy from mana-rich locations or treasures, then somehow mobilize that energy within him. Doing so would allow him to use certain abilities, but how he could actually obtain them wasn’t covered by the Manual.

Then was the idea of manipulating the mana inside himself to flow around his body. Doing so would increase his efficiency in using mana, increase his mana regen, and also enable him to use certain skills and abilities. Once again, however, he had no idea how to actually do this. Finally, the Manual explicitly stated that forcing his mana through the wrong meridians too early could damage his cultivation at best, and kill him at worst.

It did give him an idea, though. He doubted pulling his mana to certain areas would do anything bad, and the Manual didn’t explicitly forbid it… so…

He pulled a trickle of mana from his center, connecting it up to the tattoo of the claw-bladed polearm from the hybrid creature he’d fought against.

He released the stream, and, unlike his mana pretzels, it didn’t fall back into his center. The thread of mana remained in place, anchored by the tattoo, but doing nothing else.

Chris pushed at his mana. A long wooden shaft, with a grip of the hybrid monster’s black, seal-like skin appeared in his hand. A thin talon extended from the front, it was curved like a sickle, making it less useful as a stabbing weapon, but it seemed like it could double as a poleaxe and scythe, if needed. It reminded him of a khopesh on a pole.

He gave it a few experimental swings. It was a good weapon: light; maneuverable; well balanced. He aimed it at a branch. The curved blade cut through with minimal resistance. It was sharp too.

Then he felt a sting at his center. His mana was rapidly depleting as long as he had the weapon summoned. He pulled his mana away from it. The connecting thread remained, but the drain vanished at the same time as the khopesh polearm disintegrated in his hand.

It seemed like a good weapon, it just wasn’t one he could use for sustained periods.

He looked at his other quests, he was twenty-two kills through the Undead killing quest. On the one hand, he could finish it now and get an easy reward, on the other, it was from participating in the Beast Horde as best as he could tell; the Beast Horde was gone, however, so he wasn’t sure whether he’d get a similar quest again any time soon, if at all.

It was still mid-morning, despite how hectic the fight through the Undead town had been. Daylight was burning and he had several choices. His toe still hurt from kicking the bone knight, but strangely the pain had diminished. Cuts and scrapes he’d received were gone too, and even the arrow wound in his thigh had closed up, leaving a scar behind. Constitution healing stuff so quickly was weird to experience.

He had a few options. He could hunt some Undead in the forest; they would, no doubt, be looking for people to kill and turn— including humans. The bodies of the Beast Horde monsters were likely still being stripped for bones by the Undead, although those efforts might slow down now that the artisans were dead. Finally, he could go back and harass the rock trolls.

They had to be guarding something. Strong monsters congregating around rare materials and places of power was practically a trope of video games—and this world operated similar to one.

The first seemed random, the second seemed uncertain, the third sounded like a good time, though. Maybe his mana would refill. He wanted to test out his khopesh polearm.

\\\

The boost from his titles were hard to ignore. With the added stats, particularly dexterity, taking down the rock trolls had become far easier. He was already on his seventh rock troll, and no longer needed to hobble the creatures to prevent them from overwhelming him with numbers.

It did raise questions about his earlier fight, though. Originally, he’d thought he’d been some sort of badass, but it might be that his stats were more responsible for that. Put simply, he had a lot of boosts to all his stats. He didn’t know what exactly they all did, but even with the fantasy MMOs he’d played on the diginet, he oughtn’t to be able to beat trained warriors so easily—and everyone knew MMOs were rigged to be easier for players.

He probably wasn’t a ninja warrior. Something was compensating, and stats seemed to be the simple answer. His boosts were completely absurd. He had the all-round attributes of someone his level or higher who’d specced exclusively into a single attribute.

Come to think of it, if there was one thing that was really surprising, it was how much of a struggle it had been, relatively speaking. Three prepared enemies were enough to almost overwhelm him, and the bone knight had been absurdly dangerous—it probably would have killed him if he hadn’t gotten a strike to its bone furnace area.

He might be strong and lucky, but his enemies were actually well trained, and well equipped. They had been fighting for longer than he had, and it did show. It would only get worse as he progressed. Right now, with his stats, he was an idiot savant—gifted in certain areas and grossly deficient everywhere else.

This was only a tutorial zone, and he doubted these Undead were the most powerful or best trained of their kind. There would be real monsters out there—people who had the best titles and the best training. If he didn’t step up his game, he was screwed when he finally met them.

In fact, given humanity’s general underpreparedness, he was skeptical of how effective they would all be against the Undead, even if they had the same levels. Suddenly his little pranks earlier didn’t seem so entertaining. The Starter Protections would hold for half a month, but the first Beast Horde would hit one week in. How did you train people who had never fought for real into warriors who could protect themselves against a horde of ravening monsters?

There was one simple answer. You couldn’t. Not overnight. Not in a week. Not even in a month.

The only hope they had was in the powers they could acquire. The strength they could steal. Training would come later, years down the line, perhaps. Suddenly the purpose of the first in cohort bonuses became clear.

The System didn’t expect them to survive. It expected them to struggle and die, as a few lucky or skilled standouts gained the necessary power to defeat what was thrown at them in the early days.

Well, he was happy to get more strength. Hopefully there’d be something cool from defeating the rock trolls.

He’d been bashing them with his mace for a while now, and except for a couple of incidents where he’d gotten careless, the fight had been relatively uneventful. His mana was also refilling faster inside the glade, indicating something special about this place that he didn’t have the ability to sense further.

Eighteen were down, and there were five remaining.

Chris took a step back, stowing his mace and summoning his Beast Soul Weapon. His mana began draining quickly, so he got to work. He hooked the inside of the curved blade around a troll’s leg, cutting halfway through before the weapon’s momentum halted. Chris vanished then resummoned the blade and took out the monster’s neck with an axe-like blow.

He moved on to the next, continuing until the last troll keeled over in front of him. He let his weapon vanish as he looked around. Nothing special seemed to be happening. He shrugged and began walking away.

Then he remembered his fight with the hybrid, something that felt like it had happened an age ago. He went to get the bone spear he’d stashed nearby; he was running low on mana, so he didn’t want to use his Beast Soul Weapon frivolously, and his mace wasn’t exactly a cutting implement.

He picked it up, along with the shield and returned to the troll corpses, then began getting down to the gristly work of poking them full of holes in order to find out whether they had any crystals stashed on them.

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