Chapter 8

“So, is everyone getting along?” Paige asked loudly to the group as they headed off deeper into the woods. Paige had already decided to test her companions foraging and game hunting skills. Since they were going to have a few weeks of hard travels, it was better to know in advance if her party could manage without supplies. She had already told the party to help Isabella out, if she needed it. Nick had elected to stay at the campsite and Paige agreed; fully knowing that he would have no trouble with this little exercise.

“Aunt, this is the third time that you asked that question. In the last half hour.” Isabella said despondently. “Why not ask something else?”

“Because, little Isabella, our party needs something to bond over.” Paige responded sagely. “A party full of strangers is not a party. That would be a mob. We need to at least get to know each other.”

“What about our subclasses? When can you teach us more about them?” Zenith asked as she strolled through the woods. “Do you have any suggestions on how to use them to our benefits?”

“I have some suggestions, but I need to see you in battle before I offer any comments. My insights will be different than yours since your main class will have the most impact on how you approach a battle.”

Isabella thought that was weird. “Why would that matter Aunt?” ‘A Warrior Class is all about hitting enemies in close quarters. Get close, hit enemy. What else could there be to it?’

Zenith cleared her throat, catching Isabella’s attention. “I have years of training as a Mage, but just five days with a warrior subclass. I’m hoping that we will be able to fight something before we reach Trulton or go behind the frontlines.” Zenith added. “Most experts will say having a good teacher and studying is the best way to learn about practical applications for specific classes. But as a former teacher, I used to teach my students that the best way to learn is in a battle, whether it is a mock battle or a real battle.” Paige followed Tyler down a different path than them, heading into a deeper, darker portion of the forest.

Zenith hopped across a small stream, motioning Isabella to follow her. They quickly found an animal trail and started to follow it. “The reason is because everyone learns a little differently and everyone has their own preferences. For example, some prefer using a powerful skill versus a fast spell, or long spells versus slow skills. A battle will almost always tell you if your thoughts are correct.”

“You see Isabella, the most powerful spell I have as a Wind Magi takes over three minutes to cast. The weakest spell I can cast takes two seconds to cast. Now, which one will I most likely be casting in a battle?”

“The weaker one?”

“It all depends on the situation at hand. Give me a week to prepare for a battle, and I’ll use my strongest move right at the beginning. If I can surprise the enemy, I would choose a fast and accurate spell; If it a warrior or a monster that is not used to fighting mages, I would use a concealment spell or a long-range spell.”

“What happens if they are close to your level, Miss Zenith?”

“Zenith will do just fine, little Isabella.”

“Isabella will do just fine as well then.”

Zenith chuckled. “I’ll stop calling you little when Paige does.” She slowed down a bit, seemingly noticing something up ahead. She started to whisper “if they are close to my level, I probably would not fight them. Some people are not worth fighting.”

Zenith and Isabella stopped as they see a deer up ahead, “Watch. [[Air Pressure: High]] [[Sleepy Wind]].” The deer looked up and tried to bolt away, but ran into a tree, seemingly dazed. “[[Cutting Wind]]” A squirt of blood shot out of the deer’s neck, quickly killing it. “You see Isabella, even though I could have used my new subclass to fight it, or some of my Mage Skills, but even simple elementary spells such as these can be just as effective in a battle.”

“Miss Zenith, why do mages use spells instead of skills?” Isabella asked, trying not to look at the dead deer in front of her. She noticed that Zenith was oddly practiced in processing the deer carcass lying in front of her.

“You see, skills and spells have two very different uses. Every class has certain skills that help define the classes from each other. For instance, a swordsman and a spearman will have the same basic Warrior Skills, but each set of skills will be closely aligned with the weapon. That is why when you get to the high rank, the class simply becomes Warrior.” She separated the deer head with the same spell and started to look for something behind the eyes. Isabella started gagging at the sight.

“Therefore, you can say that skills are almost always class restricted. You would almost never see a Mage with Melee Skills such as [Battlefield Sense], [Rapid Cut], or [Three Second Dash]. On the other hand, a Warrior with [Mana Sensitivity], [Mana Sense], or [Magic Molding] would be rare as well, since most Warriors would not need these magic-related skills.”

Zenith’s eyes brightened as she found a small bead behind deer’s left eye. She threw the head into the bush and looked at the rest of the deer carcass. “Are you okay little Isabella? Is it too bloody for you?”

“Go on, I’ll manage over here.” She noticed that Isabella refused to look in her general direction.

“Now, where was I? Ah, spells. Spells are generally faster, use less mana, and do not depend on your class. They mostly depend on your alignment and natural talents. Some people can only check their status and nothing more. Others can learn only one set of spells, and others can learn every type of spell.” She pointed toward her pale green hair. “For example, the idea that you can broadly define a mage by their hair color is a fact. As the mana becomes more concentrated in the body, it starts to define itself in this way. Thus, the characterizations. You could think of it as green for wind; blue for water; red for fire, white for healing.

“Does that make sense? My Skills define me as a Mage Class, but my Spells define my specialty. Together makes me a Wind Magi.”

“Then what would platinum hair be?” Isabella asked, pointing at her hair.

Zenith frowned, “I’ve never taught anyone that had your hair color, so it could be anything or nothing at all.” she shrugged “It just depends on if your aptitudes. There have been some debates that suggest that some classes can influence mana types, but that has largely been ignored. The gods may grant us our class, but our choices determine who we become. Now come here, I’ll need help carrying dinner to the campsite.”

After gathering her nerve, and her stomach, Isabella gingerly helped Zenith carry parts of the deer back to the campsite. She was relieved that no one else was back yet. ‘At least I can change, and no one will notice me.’ She looked around and started to take off her bloodstained clothes.

“At least go into a tent before you start stripping.” A male voice sounded out behind of her.

“Ah!” She started to scream in panic. ‘Who said that? I was sure there was no one nearby.’ She turned and saw that Nick was calmly sitting on a dead tree stump, not even five feet away from her. “I’m not interested in little girls.” He said dryly. “My wife is the only woman I need. And this is exactly why I did this now instead of after Trulton. A competent scout would have heard that scream from a mile away, even this deep in the woods.”  

He turned and caught a cast iron pot right before it clocked him on the side of the head. “Aim for the body next time, you’ll have a better chance of hitting someone.” He threw it back at Zenith.

“I’ll teach you some spells to detect anything hidden, little Isabella.” She gave Nick a reproachful look. She was about to start cooking when she heard the scream.

“I was sitting here the entire time. I never left the campsite.”

“You should have warned her first.”

“Well I wanted to see what she would do,” Nick said unapologetically.

“Hmph, I’m telling Aunt Paige. Let’s see who’ll get the last laugh.” Isabella said with a scowl on her face.

“Miss Zenith, ah, I mean Zenith, thank you for teaching me.” She turned and saw that Isabella had changed her outfit to something more suited for the outdoors. ‘But…why the cape?’

“Nick said he would help me choose an outfit, as an apology.” She twirled, the mottled green cape floating slightly in the breeze. “He said this was the best outfit to use in the forest.” Zenith stood up from her cooking pot and walked around Isabella. She was now dressed in dark-colored clothing, an eclectic mixture of what looked like a mix of a standard archer and warrior clothing. Her high neck collar was fanned out, hiding her pale neck, and the green cape stopped slightly below the small of her back, a few inches past her platinum hair. The leather bracers on both her arms looked new, and her tight brown pants showed off her childish figure. She had replaced her diamond hair clip with a wooden bow and arrow pendant instead.

“Your welcome little Isabella, I’m just glad my little lessons helped.” she smiled, and the girl ran off; putting the hood on and pretending to be a Ranger herself.

Isabella herself was proud of how she looked. Normally, she would not have the chance at wearing anything other than dresses and the like, and not form-fitting pants. ‘The cape even had a hood! And Miss Zenith said that she’ll teach me spells soon! This is great!’

“Nick, why the cape?” Zenith asked. She noticed that the cape matched Nick’s own cape.

“It’s my extra Ranger cape and pendant,” he said as he pointed toward his own cape. “We had to make do with what we had at hand. Her outfit is pretty good, although at the next village we’ll need to go ahead and get her some boots.” Zenith looked back, noticing that Isabella still had flat, city shoes that were better suited for cobblestones than the irregular forest terrain. They both watched as the girl played in the forest, flourishing her cape dramatically. “The cape and hood will help hide her hair. We should decide tonight what color to dye it though; since you can hardly miss her hair color.”

“If anything can dye it. I’ve tried to dye my hair before; nothing really keeps.” She shook her hair. “My mana has already seeped into my hair; everything I’ve tried so far from the alchemists will only last a few days at best, a couple hours at worst.”

“Have you figured out which way she is leaning, class wise? We both know how important that is.”

“I think she is leaning towards magic based skills and related affinities. I can try a few tests to determine what her aptitude and class are leaning toward, but it will take some time.”

“I talked to Paige before you all left; she says we’re done traveling for the day. I’ll finish making dinner if you can start the preparations.” Zenith eyed Nick warily. “Don’t worry, I’m a great chef. It’s all in the spices.”

“Zenith, what did you find in the deer’s head?” Isabella, quite tired from her playing, stopped and asked Zenith; who was drawing circles into the ground. “And why are you so practiced at cutting animals apart?”

“Some animal species are valuable to a mage. And it is usually more cost efficient to hunt them down yourself than pay for parts.”

She sighed to herself. “It’s said that most people do not like working with mages since it is the one profession that wastes more money than blacksmiths and alchemists combined. The reason is simple, good materials are costly. Honestly, I envy other professions sometimes, partly because they can make do with almost any material. Mages though must be picky, for the one reason that all materials handle magic differently. Look at this glass orb, for instance, the one that I found in the deer this morning.” She pointed to the glass orb in the middle of the circles. “This is the reason the deer panicked this morning. The deer could sense a change in mana in its surroundings. It had actually developed its own mana core.”

She pointed down to her stomach. “Humans and demon mana cores are located near the stomach, while animals or monster cores are usually located in their heads. This is the reason most people will check the heads of anything they kill first. Most hope to get lucky.”

“So how much does this glass orb cost?”

Zenith appraised it for a bit. “Depends on who needs it. I’d probably spend a hundred gold on it.”

“A hundred gold! That could feed a family for a year!” Isabella was shocked. How could such a small bead be worth so much?

“It has the property of detecting mana. That in of itself is a relatively useful function. I’d be surprised if the pendant Nick gave you didn’t have a crushed or embedded core in it.”

“It does,” Nick said from across the campsite. “I have a few different pendants to choose from, each one having a different core embedded in it. That one will heat up if mana is being directed toward the wearer.”

“Really?” Asked Isabella.

“Let’s test it out.” Zenith eyed the girl and cast a relatively harmless spell. ‘[[Updraft]].’ A wisp of wind blew underneath Isabella, catching her cloak and causing it to float like a leaf on a breeze. “Is it getting hot or not?”  

Isabella touched the pendant in her hair, but it did not feel any different.

“Use a Skill or an attack spell,” Nick responded back.

“That seems like a bad flaw.” Muttered Zenith.

Nick could guess what Zenith was thinking. “It is a design choice. That pendant will only detect skills or attack spells targeted at the wearer. It’s more important to know if I need to dodge an attack and how quickly rather than know if someone is casting any random spell in our general direction.”

“What kind of monster has that kind of core?” Zenith asked. She had to admit that was a useful thing to have.

“Secret. Just try an attack. The more powerful it is, the hotter the pendant will get.” He walked up and stood behind Isabella. “Try a slow, weak attack on her. I’ll intervene if she can’t dodge fast enough.”

“Okay. [Wind Shaping], [[Cutting Wind]] ” She focused and used a skill to shape the wind into a disc, coloring the wind a murky, pale green color. She could see her mana floating inside the disc, holding the wind in place. Zenith looked over at Isabella, the girl getting ready to shift her body to the left. She launched the disc, paying attention to the pendant hanging in the girl’s ponytail.

Isabella jumped sideways out of the disc’s path and watched as it tore down a tree her size straight down the middle. Dazed, she looked back at Zenith, disbelief in her eyes. “That was a weak spell?”

“Relatively weak spell. Didn’t you see how murky green that spell was? IF I was serious, it would be a blazing green color and would move much faster. Is it hotter now?”

She had watched the pendant the entire time. and it didn’t show any changes to its appearance.

Isabella touched the pendant and was told Zenith it was noticeably warmer. She looked at it carefully, trying to see how it was made. “Don’t even think about it,” Nick said dryly. “The pendant has been warded to explode if it is tampered with.” Isabella shot him a look of horror. “It won’t catch your hair on fire or anything; just break into a million little pieces.”

She gave up after hearing that it was warded. ‘Can’t do much without a dedicated lab anyways.’ “I’ll go ahead and check your affinity once Paige and Tyler get back, Isabella.” She indicated at the circle in front of her. “Just don’t step on the core or the lines I’ve drawn. Now, let’s go and critique Nick’s cooking.” Zenith said with a smile.

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