The morning of the next day found Noah roaming the village. Before he made any decisions, he wanted to know what this town had to offer, what endeavors it could support. According to the maps he bought, Clive was far away from the nation’s capital, out in the boondocks, but it appeared to have a strong economy, with many professions one might not expect in such a rough area, like a gold and silversmiths. In fact, it seemed to thrive on tourism, but no one would ever come out here on vacation. It was because of the natural resources.
So far, Clive had some farm land and a river for food, as well as the vast forest for lumber, but its top commodity was monsters. As Noah explored the town, he saw numerous adventurers buying food and supplies before going off to hunt and gather. In the early 17th century, the fur trade exploded in Europe, sending countless men out into the wilderness of Siberia and the Americas to find their fortune. Here, the principal was the same. Furs were in demand in the big cities, but most of the monsters had been wiped out around the more populated areas, so adventurers spread out to the countryside to hunt and sell their catch, and where there is an exploitable resource, you can find capitalists looking to prey on people with money burning a hole in their pockets.
His search brought him to the local apothecary, where numerous pots and jars adorned the walls on shelves while different plants were hung to dry overhead. He recognized several plants, but many were new to him. An old woman ran the shop, watching Noah like a hawk through the smoke coming from her pipe. It filled the air, along with several different kinds of incense. No sunlight was allowed in, so as to preserve the plants and potions on display.
“Anything I can help you find?”
“Do you have potions to help restore mana?”
“Yes. I sell them in three qualities at a price of five, ten, and twenty bronze coins, but you have to buy the bottle as well if you don’t have any of your own. Look to the shelf behind you, the blue potions.”
He examined the vials, three cork bottles with blue liquids, each one a different shade. There was no telling how useful they were. He didn’t know how much mana they could replenish, compared to the amount of mana he had within him. And the color shade, was that because of the presence of a specific ingredient that increased its potency? Or were they just watered down?
“What about health?”
“The red ones, above them, and we also sell bandages. However, those are only for showing my wares. Simply tell me what you want and my granddaughter will retrieve it from the back room.”
These potions, how did they work? They were clearly some kind of plant-based concoction, but could there be magic involved? The idea of learning how to create potions appealed to him, but if it required a special kind of magic, then that plan wouldn’t go anywhere.
“I’ll take one of each type, both mana and health. I’ll buy the bottles.”
The woman relayed the order to someone in the back room without ever taking her eyes off Noah. A young girl appeared behind the counter, carrying a tray of six blue and red potions. Noah paid and stowed them away in his bag.
“You know, if you have trouble collecting the ingredients, I could help in exchange for a discount.”
The woman cracked a smile, seeing right through him. “How nice of you to offer! But my son does excellent work.”
‘So, she doesn’t even want me to know the ingredients. Oh well, I have ways of finding out.’
He left the apothecary and breathed the fresh morning air. The sun had broken free of the horizon, and while it was still early, the town of Clive was now fully bustling. He returned to the inn, where Tin was waiting in their room.
“I got the potions.”
“Master, you shouldn’t bother yourself with such tasks. It is my duty to run your errands.”
She was getting clingier, he had been noticing it steadily progressing. When they first met, she hardly said a word, usually only speaking when necessary, such as to acknowledge orders or warn him that something was attacking. As time passed, she got more inquisitive, now doing whatever she could to help him. The smallest tasks, she would try to do before he could, like opening doors for him and picking up anything he reached for and handing it to him. It was starting to get annoying, such as during breakfast, when she tried to feed him like he was paralyzed from the neck down. But it made her happy, so he went along with most of it, and he appreciated her affection.
“I’d prefer to get a read on people before sending you to run errands like this. I’m better at detecting scams then you are. Since I now know the price of the potions, I can make sure that woman at the shop doesn’t try to overcharge you.”
“So what are you going to do with those potions?”
“Now that we’re finally in a safe place, I’m going to begin experimenting with my magic, and I need your help for that. Because there was always the threat of monsters, I never allowed my mana to fully deplete, so now I can start pushing my limits a little.” He pulled out the three mana potions and put them on the table. “I’m going to cast my illusion and not stop until my mana is completely used up and the spell comes undone. I need you to monitor my health during the process.”
“Master, forgive me, but I’m not a healer. I don’t know how to do things like that.”
“It’s easy. While I’m invisible, I want you to hold my wrist and observe my pulse while counting to a hundred over and over again until the spell breaks. If I should lose consciousness, pour one of these potions down my throat and place my hand over my eye to make sure the spell is cancelled. Should my pulse or breathing stop, there is a procedure I’ll have you perform called Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR for short. Lie back on the bed and I’ll show you how it’s done.”
She took the position and he leaned over her, making her breath flutter. He placed his hand on the center of her chest and felt her become tense. “I can feel your heart beating. Should mine stop, you’ll need to press down on the center of my chest in rapid thrusts.” He stacked his hands and gave a few downward shoves. The rhythm of his pushing, the way it forced her deeper into the mattress, it reminded her of something, and seeing the look in her eye, he knew what it was.
“You’ll want to do that thirty times. Then, you’ll need to pinch my nose, and blow air into my lungs.” He lowered his head and kissed her. She replied with enthusiasm, her breath now fluttering, and not because he was pinching her nose. Noah got on top of her. “Of course, when you do it, I expect you not to use so much tongue. You’ll give me two deep breathes, then do another thirty compressions. Repeat the process until you feel my heart start. Understand?”
“Yes, Master,” she whispered with a dreamy look in her eyes.
“Good. Now, to make sure I only use up my mana, I need to completely drain my physical stamina. Care to help me with that?”
To the enjoyment of some and the annoyance of others, the sounds of Tin’s moans could be heard throughout the inn. Not only loud, it was incessant. Aside from some short breaks, her voice continued to bounce off the walls even with the sun now at the highest point of the day and everyone eating lunch.
On the bed in their shared room, Noah was battering Tin from behind with relentless intensity. She no longer had the strength to even remain on all fours, and instead had her face pressed to the sheets, now sticky with their combined fluids. Every slam he delivered would make her cry out in euphoria. She didn’t know how many times he had brought her to climax, nor how many times she felt him flood her body with his seed, but each event threatened to rob her of her consciousness. Regardless, she fought through, doing everything she could to remain awake so that she could continue to please her master.
“Am I hurting you?” It was a question that none of her previous masters had ever asked while they violated her. They didn’t care about how much pain they inflicted on her, unless making her suffer was their goal, which it often was. To hear it from him, such kind words, they nearly made her cry tears of joy. He asked her frequently, each time earning a passionate kiss from her.
He wasn’t hurting her, rather, she had never felt such pleasure, but she was so tired, her body at its limits. She didn’t understand how it was possible for him to go so long and exert so much force. He was far too young to have amassed this kind of experience. His intensity even frightened her. He acted so that she was assailed with only pleasure, but if she angered him, if the demons of sadism possessed him, could she even survive?
How had this all started? What was the reason he had given? She could barely remember, it felt like so long ago. Oh, that’s right, he called it exercise. He had asked it of her, but had he demanded it instead, invoked his authority as her master, she would have been no less excited. It fulfilled her, to finally be able to show her dedication in the only way she could. He was depending on her, trusting her to fulfill his expectations, and she was ready to devote her body for that. Her muscles begged for rest, but her soul didn’t want it to end. She wanted to wrap around him like a snake so that he could never leave, and instead continue using her until the end of time.
At this point, Noah had fully immersed himself in the act of passion, aware of nothing but the physical world. The feel of Tin’s body, her wetness and soft flesh around his cock, the taste when their tongues curled around each other when they kissed, the smell of her womanly essence as he brought her to climax, the sight of the sweat glistening on her body as he made her writhe and moan, he bathed in those sensations. They quelled the ancient maelstrom in his mind, let him shut off his brain and truly feel again. His soul, so starved and without baring, it was like cracked desert clay now becoming fertile with the spring rains.
His physical stamina, something that Tin was ready to label as inhuman, was just as much mental as physical. With so many lifetimes’ worth of experience, he knew how to work through the pain. He had felt the anguish of exertion enough times to learn how to ignore it. He couldn’t perform any dramatic feats of strength like some kind of superhero, but he knew how to properly oxygenate his blood for the maximum output and knew how much strength his muscles could exert without suffering detrimental damage. He was digging down deep for strength and harnessing every calorie and spark of energy, and while he wasn’t on the level of a bodybuilder, he had built his physique through a workout that he had mastered over several lifetimes.
He shuddered as he emptied himself into Tin, once more filling her womb with his seed. After all this time, he couldn’t imagine having any sperm left. His soreness was approaching unbearable levels, but even though his erection was fading, he didn’t give in. He grabbed Tin by the shoulders and pulled her against him, his lips joining hers. She was nearly delirious, acting as if on muscle memory when she swirled her tongue around his mouth. His hands went to town on her, massaging her modest breasts and stirring up the cum in her pussy. Tin was so tired and her throat was sore from moaning, but the way Noah tickled her clitoris and bullied her nipples, it still made her whimper in bliss.
He’d do this after every orgasm, keeping her busy while he slowly regained his erection. However, his manhood had thrown in the towel as his stamina hit zero. He let go of Tin and she fell back onto the bed. Her eyes were blank from exhaustion, but she rolled onto her back and spread her legs, putting herself on display and letting Noah see the semen overflowing from her womanhood.
“Master, I can keep going. Please, keep using me. I’ll do whatever you want me to.”
“No, that’s good. You were perfect. I can’t even work up the strength for a single thrust.” He reached into his bag and pulled out the weakest of the three healing potions. Even that task was almost beyond his reach. He might as well have just won the Tour de France. “Here, drink this.” She was too tired to move, so Noah put the bottle to her lips and let it trickle down her throat. She was soon revived, her body no longer trembling.
‘So, blue potions restore magic stamina and red potions restore physical stamina.’
“If you’re hungry, eat fast. I need to begin performing this experiment immediately.” As he spoke, his own stomach roared like thunder. He fell back on the bed, dizzy from exhaustion.
“Master, what about you?”
“I can’t, yet. I need to measure only my mana, and if I eat or do anything to recover my physical strength, it will skew the results.”
“Are you sure you want to do this? The more you describe it, the more dangerous this seems.”
“It probably is dangerous, but I don’t know how my mana reserves compare to an average magic user my age, and this is fastest way to increase it. Now, don’t let go of my wrist and start counting as soon as I become invisible. If my heart stops or there are any signs that my health is deteriorating, give me both a mana potion and a health potion, then perform CPR. Remember: thirty compressions and then two breaths. You got that?”
Noah put his hand over his eye and disappeared in front of Tin. However, Tin could still feel him, feel his wrist in her hand and his warmth, and it comforted her. Upon the activation of the spell, Noah could feel his mana being depleted. It was a strange fatigue, like he was bleeding to death. All of his mental focus was put on restricting the flow of mana to just his body, so that nothing else would get caught in his illusion and waste mana. It was why he left the job of timekeeping to Tin.
From his experience so far, he could maintain the illusion for about five minutes before his motor functions declined too far for him to fight. He didn’t know if that was good or bad, but in time, he could sense that line being crossed. From there, his thinking and physical strength began a rapid decline. Noah fought with everything he had to stay conscious, even when he could no longer keep his eyes open. His consciousness soon sank into a rift where he could feel his mana continuing to deplete but couldn’t feel his own body.
Then, he began to feel his mana regenerating, without any sign that it was being used up. His consciousness started to bubble back to life, and he soon opened his eyes and looked at Tin, whose own were filled with relief.
“Master,” she whispered, clutching is hand.
“So, the spell came undone. How long did I last until that happened?”
“I managed to count to a hundred almost four times. Then when you became visible, I gave you the potion. Your heart slowed, but it didn’t stop, and you kept breathing.”
“So, while with my physical stamina completely drained, I can maintain the spell for about five minutes before I pass out. At full strength, I can maintain it that long while still being able to fight. This is good, I’m in perfect condition to get the best benefits for stressing my mana, and since my heart and breathing didn’t stop, I don’t need to worry about suffocating. Either that potion will wear off or it’ll manage to replenish all my mana, but whichever happens first, I’ll start again immediately after.”
He gave himself time for the mana to recirculate through his body. He checked his reflexes, physical strength, and mental processing. True, he felt half-dead from exhaustion and sore all over, but he knew what real damage would feel like. Complete mana loss felt just like bleeding to death, so there was always the possibility that being drained of it for too long would have similar effects to his body, like blindness or muscle death. There was no telling if the health potions could mend those kinds of injuries.
Nothing appeared to be wrong, so he returned to the bed. “All right, we’re going to keep doing this.”
They repeated the process over and over again. Noah would expend all of his mana through his illusion, Tin would wake him up with a potion, he’d check himself for damage, and then they’d start all over. He sent Tin out multiple times to buy more potions for him, and they even experimented to see how much they could water it down while still providing sufficient rejuvenation.
As the day rolled on, Noah’s body begged for food. The rumbling of his stomach and his disorientation concerned Tin, but he refused any kind of sustenance, and for good reason. Each time he performed the process, he noted his mana reserves increasing. He didn’t know what mana was or how he produced it, but without physical stamina to soften the blow of depletion, the source of his mana was being stressed to its limits, and was reaping the benefits. There were a lot of things about mana and magic that he didn’t understand, such as how fast an individual could strengthen theirs. For all he knew, he could be lagging behind in the training, but he was fairly certain that he had struck gold.
As night fell, Tin once more arrived at their room, despondent. “Please forgive me, Master. The herbalist had closed down her shop for the night and wouldn’t even open her door.”
“For the best, I imagine, considering how she started throwing stuff at you last time. We’ve probably bought up all the supply that she’s willing to sell us.”
“So what now?”
“Now we have dinner. I think that if I pass out again, we’ll have to resort to healing potions to wake me up.”
“I can have it brought up to us.”
“No, let’s go downstairs. I’m rather sick of this room and need some fresh air.”
He tried to sit up in the bed, but even that was almost beyond him. How long had it been since he was this drained of strength? There was that time when he starved to death… When was that? Even his mind was on the verge of shutting down. He tried to get dressed, but his body wouldn’t obey his will, and to his shame, Tin had to help him. It reminded him of all the times he was in hospice, when the nurses had to do everything for him while he waited to die.
“Sorry,” he said.
She smiled, something she was doing more and more frequently. “You need not worry, Master. While I was never the servant of any great nobles, I heard that this was a duty that their maids often performed. Simply imagine that you are a great viscount, or even an earl.”
“What about a duke?” he asked with a chuckle.
Having helped him put his shirt on, she leaned against his back. “Yes. I’m sure you will someday even become a duke.”
Now fully dressed, he was helped to his feet and they left the room, though he had to lean on Tin for support. From upstairs, they could hear the rowdiness of the guests in the dining room, singing songs and knocking their mugs together. Yet as the teens appeared and made their way to their table from the previous evening, that clamor went died down, with all eyes on them. There was some hushed muttering, several people whispering to their friends to inquire as to the silence. Noah and Tin took their seats, the bar as quiet as a graveyard, then the innkeeper showed up with their dinner. It was chunks of meat carved from a wolf, and Noah’s portion was larger than anyone else’s.
“I’d say you earned it,” the large woman said coyly.
That appeared to be some kind of sign, because a man at the bar with a beard down to his belt raised his mug. “Hail to the young king! He who could make even a succubus beg for rest!”
The bar practically exploded, with people of all ages swarming their table to pat Noah on the back, congratulate him on his skills, and beg him for advice. Many women approached, flirting with Noah and inviting him to join them for the evening. Noah even saw one female adventurer holding back her friend who was trying to approach with a hungry—or rather “thirsty”—look in her eye and a wide smile on her face. Tin also got plenty of attention. Everyone wanted to know who was struggling to keep up with who, which of the two was the insatiable one. The women who could not ensnare Noah would turn to her, asking for details while voicing their jealousy. In the background, the guests began singing songs of wooing women and romantic tales, with the normal activity of the bar becoming a raving party.
Noah simply sat there with an awkward smile, annoyed that his plans to keep a low profile had gone of up with smoke, but amused with the situation nonetheless. Tin, too nervous and embarrassed to say anything, simply hung her head while her face turned red as a tomato.
It was close to midnight, and Noah, having regained his strength, made his way to the dark apothecary. He carried a lantern with him, but its flame, like Noah, was invisible to anyone and anything, and the road remained as dark as it would be without his presence. He had shrouded it in his illusion as a way to test himself. If his mana slipped, light would escape. After the day’s training, the mana expenditure was next to nothing. He had already passed the five-minute mark and felt only the tiniest shiver of fatigue. At the rate of expenditure, he might be able to maintain the illusion for an hour or more.
He reached the store and went to work picking the lock while sending his mana into the door. Wrapped in his illusion, the door made no noise, even when he opened it. There were a few guards patrolling the town, but they wouldn’t have noticed him, even without being invisible. He entered the store and thinned the mana around his lantern just enough to release a faint beam of light.
There was plenty of valuable materials to steal, but Noah and Tin’s suspicious behavior would have left an impression on the old woman, and she’d assume they did it. Instead, he searched the shop for books and potion recipes, though none could be found. They must have been hidden elsewhere. He did find plenty of compounding equipment, which he memorized in order to replicate. Noah moved beyond the store and into the woman’s home.
She lived, as everyone else did in this world, rustically. All light was natural or flame-based, any food that could go bad was salted and kept in jars, there was no running water, and all the tools were pre-industrial. It still reeked of potions and herbs, but that smell was probably difficult to confine to the shop.
He came across a large wooden chest set against the wall, and after picking the lock, got it open, revealing his prize. The old woman’s whole library was kept neatly arranged, all the answers Noah needed. In this world, information was as important for survival as food and water, so until society managed to invent the printing press, books were worth their weight in gold. Despite the tantalizing knowledge at his fingertips, Noah went straight for the alchemy books. He looked up the recipes for basic health and mana potions, memorizing the ingredients and processes.
Finding satisfaction, he removed all traces of his visit and left the apothecary.
The arrival of the next day brought Noah and Tin out to the woods to gather herbs and hunt monsters. Buying all the potions yesterday had taken a big chunk out of their finances, so Noah wanted to gather some materials he could sell. He had asked around the tavern the previous night and managed to find out the most valuable parts of monsters. He also found out some interesting facts.
“Summoned by magic?”
“Yes sir,” said the bartender as he used a dirty rag to clean a glass. “If you’re really lucky, you’ll manage to see it happen. There are magic circles scattered across these lands, absorbing mana from the air and using it to summon beasts. About a quarter of each monster race is created by magic. And not just monsters, woodland animals as well, from the deer to the birds. Shouldn’t you know that by now if you’re going to be an adventurer?”
Noah remembered his fights in the forest, the monsters that seemed to be shrouded in mana. “Huh, my country didn’t have anything like that.”
Despite it being true, it was used as a lie. Ignorance of basic facts would give him away and make people suspicious, so he was hesitant to ask about anything involving magic. He couldn’t expect much from this world’s level of education, but a man with no knowledge of magic would probably stand out like a man in the 21st century that had never seen electricity before. At least claiming to be a foreigner would excuse most errors. He just had to hope he didn’t meet up with any international merchants before he got more information.
“Where do these magic circles come from?”
“According to legends, there was a war between the gods and the spirits of nature. The spirits used their magic to summon armies of creatures, so that the minions of the gods could never walk the earth, and that magic remains to this day. Some believe that it is a weapon being used against mankind, to halt our expansion and exploration into new lands. Many believe it to be the work of troublemakers that got their hands on some kind of illegal magic, spreading the magic circles to create havoc.
Many times in history, areas have been declared monster-free, only for the creatures to spontaneously return. Even islands get plagued with monsters despite being swept clean. It’s why many turn to adventuring; the steady income from hunting monsters and the reliable food source.”
As Noah thought back to the conversation, he heard movement nearby. Bursting from the undergrowth, an adolescent wolf lunged at Noah and Tin. Noah was quick on the draw and managed to slash the monster on the shoulder with his longsword. It landed behind him, slightly limping but showing no signs of giving up. It flashed eyes full of bloodlust while it snarled and foamed. Tin hurried behind Noah, as per his orders, while he stared it down. If he cast his illusion, he could easily kill it without it ever seeing the attack coming, but today, he was sharpening his combat skills and refining his swordplay, so he needed to face his enemies without hiding from them. Besides, monsters that lost track of him often turned their attention to Tin.
Noah made the first move, charging while swinging down at the wolf’s other shoulder. It jumped to the side to dodge, but Noah widened the angle of the slash as he brought it down, turning it into a diagonal attack. Chasing the wolf with his swing, he managed cut into its flesh. The wolf, infuriated by pain, pounced from a high angle, aiming for Noah’s head. The angle was tricky, Noah sidestepping out of the reach of its claws, raising blade, and delivering an executioner’s chop to the back of the neck, severing its head.
He didn’t drop his guard and scanned the area, searching for any other wolves in hiding. He could detect none. “Clear.”
That was his signal to Tin. With Noah keeping guard, she went to work on the wolf, removing the valuable parts like the skin and certain muscles and organs. It was messy work, but worth the effort. Everything was stored in her backpack and several other pouches and bags, along with Noah’s bow and other adventuring supplies. Since Noah was doing all the fighting, the job of pack mule fell to her, or rather, she insisted on it.
Once she had gathered the best pieces, they set off again. Many might disapprove of letting so much of the monster go to waste, but the race couldn’t go extinct and something else would come along and eat it, so Noah didn’t feel too bad. Minutes after they moved on, Noah caught sight of something ahead, zooming between the trees.
“Tin, step back.”
Noah readied himself, his sword raised as the blur approached. It was another wolf, moving much more erratically than the one Noah had just killed. It lunged for him and he sliced off its head. It was rather easy, as if the creature’s mind was scattered. Perhaps it was rabid? But as he turned to examine the corpse, he realized he had broken a cardinal sin. There was an arrow in its hind leg, meaning that this beast had already been claimed.
Two young women appeared, having apparently sprinted a great distance and now gasping for breath. Noah had seen them before at the inn. One of them, a blonde archer, had attempted to talk to him the previous night, but her friend, a brunette with a staff, stopped her.
“Sorry about that, it seems I took your kill.”
Neither women responded, both leaning on their knees and looking like they were about to collapse. Noah looked to Tin and nudged his head towards them. She got the message and approached with a water skin.
“Here, drink this.”
The blonde gratefully took the water and drank deeply, then handed it to her friend. “Thank you, both of you. We were so close to giving up.”
“I kept trying to grab it with my magic, but it was fast, even with an arrow in its leg,” said her friend.
The archer looked at them and gained a wide smile. “Oh, I know who the two of you are!”
Tin blushed and averted her gaze. The magic user looked at them and sighed. “Good God, not again.”
The archer extended her hand to Noah. “I’m Beth and this is Mira, very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Noah shook her hand. “I’m Noah and this is Tin.”
“You took care of that wolf so easily! With skills like yours, we would love to team up. What do you say?”
“Sorry, but I’m still refining my skills and gaining experience, and I feel it works better when I fight the battles alone, but maybe in the future we could team up. Have you two been adventuring long?”
“Kind of,” said Mira, “but not against monsters this large and fast. We each came from areas where the fighting was a lot easier and numbers were thinner, but we weren’t making enough money and decided to try moving out here for a while.”
“You said you tried slowing the wolf down with magic. If you don’t mind me asking, what kind? I can’t use it myself and I don’t know much about it.”
“Oh, well I’m a mage, so I can use elemental magic to conjure and control things like fire and water. My talents lie in controlling the earth, like this.” She turned away and looked into the distance. Rings of sandstone-colored light appeared around her wrists like halos, and Noah could see diagrams and runes of an unknown language. “Earth Bind!”
She raised her staff and then slammed it into the ground. There was a pulse, and the ground came undone like there was an animal tunneling just under the surface. It shot across the forest floor, and thirty feet away, there was an eruption of earth, with hard-packed soil forming jagged shapes that converged like a closing flower. Anything caught within it would surely get held in place, even stabbed if they moved around the wrong way. The displaced earth used to create the spikes produced a pit, just in case anything tried to duck.
“Yeah, I can see why it wouldn’t work in this case.”
“Well we’re in the forest. The ground is riddled with roots holding it together, so it takes a lot of time and effort to gather the soil and form it into those spikes. Also, you’re going for fast prey with good reaction speed, so as soon as they sense the attack, they’ll move before it fully activates. I assume your strategy was for Beth to injure it with the arrow, keeping it from moving while you cast your spell?”
“That’s right,” said Beth.
“And then you finish it off with more arrows, right? It’s a good strategy, keeping your distance from the enemy to minimize risk. However, in this kind of environment and with this target, you’d need to change it up a bit. I suggest using poison arrows, or at least some kind of paralytic agent. That way, even a low-damage hit will slow it down. I’d also suggest using a larger bow for more penetration.
Mira, do you know any other spells?”
“I can create a dust cloud and send stones flying.”
“But nothing close-range? That’ll be a problem if there is more than one enemy or they get within striking distance. Mira, I suggest you work on learning a spell for melee combat, and Beth, get a sword. You also should find another member to join your party, sorry I couldn’t be that person. They’d have to be able to pin down the enemy in one location for your arrows and magic to be able to hit their mark.”
Beth and Mira swarmed him with desperation in their eyes. “Please reconsider joining us! We need someone like you, desperately!” Mira said.
“You can even keep most of the money! And if that isn’t enough, I can pay you extra in nighttime fun!” Beth added.
Noah hadn’t expected them to get so worked up and wanted to back away, only to realize Tin was standing behind him. She was tugging on his shirt, giving him her basset hound eyes, though he couldn’t tell if she was trying to convince him to change his mind or telling him that they were better off on their own.
“Sorry, but I can’t. I’m really trying to focus on training. I’m sure you can find a struggling swordsman who’s desperate for a party to join and would fit right in with you two. Tin and I have to get going. You were first to injure the wolf, so the body belongs to you. We’ll see you later.”
He and Tin set out, waiting until Beth and Mira were out of earshot to talk.
“Was Master… interested in those two?” Tin asked.
“Well, the idea of forming a party is appealing, and their long-range abilities would definitely help out. However, I’d prefer to operate away from prying eyes for the time being. I didn’t sense any evil intent in them, but there is no telling if they can be trusted or not. But I’m glad we ran into them, it gave me a chance to study elemental magic a bit.”
They continued through the forest, hunting for monsters while trying to avoid other adventurers. Along with battles, they also stopped to collect herbs. Noah was always playing through the potion recipes in his mind. Then, when noon arrived, they stopped for lunch by the river. Their food was slightly better than the stuff they ate before reaching Clive, in the sense that the bread wasn’t quite-rock hard and the meat actually had flavor. It was still disappointing compared to a hot meal. Their water came from the river, first filtered through a survival straw that Noah made.
Once they were done eating, Noah pulled out all of the plants they had gathered. He picked three different plants out of the pile; branches of blue strawberries, several feet of a vine with square leaves, and an orange moss. “Of the recipes I saw, this one is the easiest and doesn’t require any specialized tools. Even if it doesn’t work, it will still be good practice. We just have to grind these up with a ratio of 5:2:7 and mix them together with some water.”
They gathered stones from the river to use as makeshift mortars and pestles and went to work. Working side by side, Noah noticed a small smile on Tin’s face. “This reminds me of making lye at the waterfall,” she said.
“Hopefully it won’t have the same effect.”
They mixed the ingredients together and poured them into the three potion bottles from the apothecary. They added some fresh water and Noah could see the concoction glowing as the potion was formed. Whether or not this potion contained mana or simply sped up the natural rejuvenation process, it appeared the necessary chemical reaction was taking place.
“Good, now to test it. I think this will be the perfect opportunity to see what my next spell is.” It was very slight, but Noah could see Tin’s excitement. “You should move back. If this second spell is anything like my illusion, you probably won’t be in danger, but it’s better to be safe.”
Tin moved back twenty feet, and Noah, after taking a deep breath, put his hand over his right eye. The effect was instantaneous, his mana being drained twice as fast as his first spell, and this time, he could actually feel something happening to him. His body, it felt weightless, and his limbs, they were just moving of their own accord like jellyfish tentacles. His vision, it was almost blurry, like he was seeing doubles. It felt, of all things, like he had just taken a hit of some high-quality pot.
If his concentration broke for even a second, he felt like his limbs and head would just float on their own. Noah dropped his hand and staggered, nearly falling just like the first time he tried it back in the woods. It was like every movement he made had to be performed while walking on a tripwire, or else he would fall. He was shifting from side to side, struggling to remain in control. While this would be a great thing to do while attending a concert or watching a funny movie, it was far from useful in battle.
“I’m definitely feeling something. How do I look? Can you still see me?”
“Uh… I think so. How… are you doing that?”
“Master, look at your hands.”
Noah, through great difficulty, raised his palms and looked them. He blinked and squinted several times, trying to see through the afterimages floating around them like an aura. Had he touched some bad mushrooms and then breathed in the spores?
‘No, wait a second…’
These afterimages, they weren’t some blurry silhouette; they had crystal-clear details. They were like exact copies trying to occupy the same space. He moved his arms around, watching the copies follow the originals. They were illusions! He stopped moving his real arms and tried to move the copies. He thought about it, he envisioned it happening, but only when he gave up and tried to bring up his real arms did the copies obey and fulfill the action. It was only for a second before they returned to their original place, but he had gotten them to move.
It took several minutes of repeated attempts before he figured it out. Halfway between thinking of moving his arms and actually harnessing the physical strength within them to create that movement, there was a point where he could move the copies. He was soon moving the illusionary arms however he wanted, with Tin watching at a total loss. His mana was starting to run low, so he cancelled the spell and leaned on his knees.
“Master, what was that?”
“An illusion. It appears that my left eye can conceal my real body, while my right eye can create a fake. I can control it similar to how I move on my own, but it requires a lot of focus. Hand me a mana potion, will you?” He downed one of the potions and then lied down on the ground and reactivated the spell. “Watch this.”
Tin could immediately see it on his face, the exertion and focus he was putting in, but her attention was immediately drawn elsewhere, as a second Noah seemed to rise from the body of the second like two cells dividing. For Noah, it almost an out of body experience. The illusion stood up, every movement that Noah would have made being performed. It was difficult beyond words, leaving him drenched in sweat and gasping for air. Every muscle involved in standing up had to be acknowledged, from the muscles supporting his head, all the way down to the muscles under his feet as they tried to grip the ground for balance. He had to visualize not just the movement, but the sensation of moving.
The clone stepped forward, every movement clunky and unnatural, like a cheap robot. The clone turned to Tin, who was completely bewildered and even frightened. The clone opened its mouth. It started out sounding like radio static, but Noah managed to speak through the illusion.
For the next three weeks, Noah and Tin worked out a routine of expanding Noah’s mana reserves and going out to hunt, one day inside and one day outside. Everyone in the inn became aware of the pattern, as every other day, from breakfast to lunch, Tin’s moans filled the building. It became quite the story around town, many people coming to the inn just see if the rumors were true. Tin would rob Noah of all of his stamina and they’d perform the drain and replenish process with the mana potions. The next day would be spent gathering herbs to make more potions and materials to sell, and continue cultivating Noah’s combat abilities.
To deplete his mana, Noah experimented with his second spell. For the first week, he focused on perfecting the clone’s movements and speech. He tried to get it as normal looking as possible, having it walk around the room and imitate various actions. Unfortunately, since it was just an illusion, it couldn’t actually touch anything or affect its environment, and while he could speak through it, he couldn’t see what it saw or hear what it heard. Unless it was in sight at all times, he was piloting blind. Strangely, Tin said that the clone had the same smell as him, while when he was invisible, his smell was concealed. These spells, they were more than just bending light.
He spent the next week learning how to move both his real and fake body at the same time. He started out small, first with finger movements, then limb movements, then upped it up to having it walk around the room while he stood by the bed, which was surprisingly difficult with all of the muscles required to remain standing upright. By the end of the week, he and the clone could walk simultaneously.
In the third week, he added his first spell to the mix, moving the clone around as he performed a task while invisible. The mana expenditure was massive, so much so that the rate of his reserves increasing was slowed, and it became more difficult to tell how much progress he was making. Despite that, they proved to be a golden combination. The clone could act as a perfect decoy, while Noah would attack in his invisible form. It felt like these two spells were actually halves of a single spell.
When he wasn’t training, Noah went around town to gather information about the country, magic, and monsters. In a little backwoods village like this, the results were far from bountiful or even reliable. He would have to move to a bigger city to get better-quality information. The Utheric capital would be his best bet, but it was two weeks travel and preparations had to made for a trip like that.
Try as he might, it was hard to remain unnoticed. Rumors about him circulated through the town, with people he had never met knowing his name. He would walk down the street and women would wink and blow kisses, even trying to seduce him. Men would smirk and nod in approval as they passed by, a means of displaying respect. Even the old lady at the pharmacy would tease him. When Tin went out, she’d wear a hood to conceal her identity. It wasn’t an ideal situation. If he was to be known throughout the village, he wished it would be for something a little more heroic.