“Remember, report back to me once you arrive, and daily after that,” Thomas said. The morning was chilly, the sun was only just starting to climb above the horizon.
“Yes, I will do so Master,” Oswald said, he was fully dressed for travel. Packed as well.
“I am sorry I can’t teleport you, but the Shift has cleared all my records. So you will have to travel to Koblin kai. Once you reach them, I am sure they will have reset the bigger destinations. They’ll be able to send you to Maruza.”
“I know, my own locations are gone as well. I will need to reset them once I find some time,” Thomas said with a smirk, a slight jab at his master for running him around like this with no rest in between.
“I know it is hard,” Thomas said with a smile. “But things are happening Oswald, big things. And I think something bad is about to go down. I just want to make sure we did everything we could to prevent it.”
“I know master, and I agree.”
Thomas smiled, squeezed in Oswald’s shoulder and then turned around, walking back to the keep. Leaving Oswald alone with Jennifer. She was sulking.
“Don’t be dumb, okay?” She said.
“I won’t, you know me.”
“And that is why I say it. You are thick-headed Oswald, you are slow to adapt and change your mind. Don’t be dumb and go straight ahead like you always do. Think. I am not there with you this time.”
“I know,” Oswald sighed. “But I won’t. Maruza is a second home to me Jennifer, my people are there. I will be okay. I am just there to do research and ask questions. That is all.”
“Asking questions is a great way to get yourself killed Oswald. And they are not your people, they are just people who share a faith with you. That doesn’t make them your friends or your kin, don’t forget that.”
“I know, I know. Bad people are everywhere, master makes sure to embed that into our heads. I promise you Jennifer, I won’t take risks and I will make sure to stay safe.”
“Good,” Jennifer was looking worried. Actually worried, that was new. For both of them.
“Besides, I will report back daily after I reach Maruza. You’ll know right away if something happened.”
“And I will tear that place apart if I have to, to find you. And any silly priest that gets in my way as well.” Her eyes flared with fire for a moment. Oswald chuckled.
“I have no doubt, but it won’t come to that,” Oswald put his hand on one of her shoulders and looked at her, just smiling. “I’ll miss you,” He said softly.
“Don’t be sad and pitiful,” She said back. “But I’ll miss you too. So just come back as soon as you can, and in one piece.”
“What is the matter?” Oswald asked. “It isn’t like you to talk like this, or be worried like this. So what changed?”
“You did, we did,” Jennifer said, blushing slightly as she took his hand and squeezed it. “And, I don’t know Oswald. Master is giving me weird vibes this time, there is something on his mind. Something he hasn’t told us yet. And it makes me feel as if all of this is much bigger than we think it is. Much more dangerous as well.”
“Don’t worry, he’d never send us on a mission he doesn’t think we are ready for.”
“But he doesn’t know everything either Oswald. We almost got ourselves killed in that factory, with that Asher fellow. There are always unknowns.”
“And we both know that is the risk of this life.”
“I know, but I dread the thought of losing you.”
“Oh?” Oswald smiled, Jennifer and him had gotten closer over the years. But more recently, their friendship had become more than just friendship. Neither of them had spoken it out yet though. Or shown it. “What do you mean Jennifer?”
“Hmr,” Jennifer groaned and glared at him. Then slapped his sides. “Shut it, you know what I mean. I am not saying it.”
Oswald laughed. “Very well, we’ll talk when I get back then. Once we have the time for it. Now, I have to leave.”
“I know, just, report when you arrive at Koblin kai okay?”
“I will, no worries.” Oswald smiled at her, hesitated for a moment and then hugged her. A long, tight hug. His arms shook a little bit, revealing how anxious he too was about all of this.
“Bye,” Jennifer said softly, with a broken voice.
Oswald smiled and turned around, starting to walk. Jennifer stayed, watching him until he disappeared in the distance. It would take him three days or more to reach Koblin kai, three days or more she wouldn’t know if he was still there. She bit her lip. Softly whispering.
“Please stay safe Oswald.”
“Ah, you are ready then?” Thomas asked as he entered the training room. Finn was patiently waiting there. Thomas put the two tomes on a table. One he turned towards the side of Finn, the book of the Spell Swords. “Here, read. Start with the first three chapters, then see if you get it. If not, ask me.”
“Yes,” Finn said, then added a bit later. “Master.”
“Good, I will be here, reading my own book,” Thomas said with a smile, patting the book of bonds.
Finn nodded and then started reading the book. The first chapter was a little more than an introduction. Introducing to the reader the author, some man of renown in the group that existed before the Circle. It was called the Kinship back then. He called himself Martin Colvex, and his title was Great Sword. A rank that was supposedly in the upper echelons of the Kinship. Martin talked about the Kinship, about it’s one hundred and fifty members, how they were divided into ranks (You had initiates, apprentices, journeymen, adepts, masters and then eight Great Swords and two Master Swords. The eighth and two ruled the Kinship.), how they operated and where they were based (mainly Europe and parts of the middle east). It was a bit dry and Finn struggled through the dozens of references that he did not understand. (what on earth had been the Battle of the Galactamat? Or what was a Vintbeast?)
The second chapter was more accessible and Finn found himself quickly immersed in it. It talked about the sword. Different types, different ways to fight with one. Different styles and techniques. It became quickly clear to Finn that the Kinship used styles and techniques both from the mundane world as the Player world. Some things he remembered from his History classes and documentaries, other’s were clearly Player things. Techniques that used Channeling for example. Finn thought back to the few times he had seen it, how efficient and deadly it could be. And this book was telling and showing him ways to further hone that skill and make it even more deadly. He shuddered when he imagined at how fearful a foe these Kinship spell swords must have been. The chapter was rather short, more a summary of what was to come.
The third chapter went into the exquisite detail of some exercises that were expected to be mastered by students and was intended to be used by even Masters, in a daily regimen. Some of these exercises focussed on controlling one’s mana, controlling its flow through the body. Finn recognized it immediately as an exercise to grind the Channeling skill. One he hadn’t under control yet, he had just unlocked it really. The text did not really go into detail on how to start the process of channelling, it assumed for the reader to have that knowledge. Finn frowned but kept on reading, he would figure that out later. Or ask Thomas about it. Master, he corrected himself in thought.
The text then went further in adding additional exercises with a heavy sword, using both sword techniques as well as the Channelling exercise from before. This was supposed to train both his Channelling skill and his muscles. So another grinding technique, but more diversified when it came to skills. Finn was moving quickly through the chapter, absorbing all the information. The text was old and it showed, talking about these things in a folklore style, adding symbolism and meaning to most things. Finn read it all and translated it in his mind to stuff he knew. Skills, grinding and levelling. But it made sense, he supposed, that to people living a few centuries ago, to add other meanings to the system. Ones that they understood and were closer to life for them.
It took him about two hours to go through all the chapters and then more slowly focus on the third chapter. When he knew the exercises from memory he started to focus on his Channelling. He knew the basics, of what he was supposed to do. Moving the mana around inside of himself. He also knew where to ‘find’ the mana. When he cast spells, he could feel the energy flowing out of him, coming from deep inside of himself, somewhere underneath his plexus, above his stomach. From there the energy would flow through his arms, to his hands and the spell fog. Giving off a warm, tickling sensation. He tried to look for that source of power now, the warmth. The tickling. It took him twenty long minutes before he finally found it. The whole ordeal felt like one of those moments where you lost something, your keys or your phone and you keep looking for them. Looking over the same spot ten times, but only the eleventh time you will see them laying there. It felt just like that. Once he found it, it was remarkably easy to focus on it again and again. Finn tried it out for a bit. Letting go of his focus, as if ‘looking away’. And then bringing his focus back on the source, on his mana pool. Eventually, he even started to visualize his mana, as a white-blue, milky mass that glowed and emanated heat.
But after this, progress came very slowly. No matter how he tried or what he tried, he was simply not able to move his mana. It did not budge, it did not move. He failed to make a single ripple on the mass. He strained himself, calmed himself. Tried everything he could think off, see it in different perspectives. It mattered not. He was unable to channel his mana. After an hour of sitting still like this, meditating and focussing inwards, Finn let out a frustrated sigh and jumped up. Walking around in a large circle in the room while huffing. Sweat had formed on his brow and he rubbed it off roughly, swearing under his breath.
“Having a hard time, hmm?” Thomas asked, looking up from the Book of Bonds.
“No!” Finn exclaimed, then sighed. “Yes, I found my mana.”
“I just can’t move it. Like at all! Nothing I try works!!”
“Well, what did you try?”
“Everything!” Finn threw his arms in the air. “I tried pushing it, imagining pushing it. Imagining luring it along, I tried blowing, pulling. I tried everything. Nothing I imagine or do works.”
“Well, that is because you aren’t supposed to do that,” Thomas said with a chuckle. “I really don’t know why you would try to imagine doing all of those things to it. Why would that work?”
“I don’t know, why wouldn’t it work?”
“Fair point, but you don’t need to do those things.”
“Then what do I do?”
“You simply move it.”
“That does not help at all!”
Thomas chuckled. “Oh, but it does. You are overthinking it. You do not need to think about it at all. You just need to move it. Channel it.”
“But how!!!” Finn was starting to sound desperate now.
“Well, how did you find your mana pool? Did you find it right away?”
“You had to look for it right? And it was frustrating and annoying, right? But once you found it, it seemed so simple and easy you felt really stupid, right?”
“Yes,“ Finn said slowly.
“Well, this is just like that. All I can say is, don’t focus too much. Don’t think too much. Forget about the how and why. Just do it. Just move it. Just channel it.”
Finn sighed but say down again, closing his eyes. He focussed on his mana and immediately visualized the warm light inside of himself. He tried to visualize moving it again, but then stopped himself, seeing as it still did not work. Instead, he just observed the mana. He thought about what Thomas said, how it didn’t make any real sense. He thought about he wanted to do this, just have the mana move. He thought about having it in his hands. He sat there for a while pondering, observing, thinking. And eventually, he managed to move the mana. The first time it barely moved at all, and the feeling was so odd and quirky he quickly let go of it. But now that he knew how, he started again. Each time moving the mana further, gaining better control. He spent another hour or so playing around with it. Trying to see how he could move, what he couldn’t do. He quickly discovered though that moving his mana like this exhausted him quickly, it also made him feel like utter shit. When he finally opened his eyes again Thomas was squatting in front of him, grinning, which startled Finn and made him fall back.
“Did I scare you?” Thomas asked chuckling.
“No,” Finn said as he rubbed the back of his head. “Just startled me.” Finn’s glare told exactly what he didn’t dare to say. ‘Why the hell where you sitting there like that?’
“I can see you are wondering why I sit here like this, well I wanted to wake you up just now. But then you did it yourself.”
“Because you were getting in dangerous territory there, stuff like this, you need to take it easy and slow at first.”
“What do you mean? How was I in dangerous territory?”
“Well, you have been Channeling for about an hour now. Pretty crude, clunky channelling, nothing of real worth yet. But channelling nonetheless. So either you are rushing things or you haven’t read everything in the book.”
Finn looked at his master with a bewildered glare. He had no idea what he was talking about. He did read the book and he didn’t feel he was rushing anything. He was just happy that it finally worked so he wanted to make up for his lost time and focus on training the channelling, perhaps he had pushed himself a little but-.
And then it suddenly dawned on him. The spell rot. He had forgotten about it entirely. They had told him about it before, the book had specifically mentioned it as well. And he had just ignored it, forgotten entirely about it.
Thomas laughed as he saw Finn’s facial expression change. “So you caught on, good.”
“I forgot all about the spell rot!” Finn exclaimed frustrated.
“You did, although spell rot is perhaps not the right term for it here.”
“What do you mean?” Finn asked, standing up and stretching his legs.
“Well, many call it spell rot, but there is a difference. Spell rot is what happens when you cast spells and channel magic through your spells. It is residual energy that is left behind after the refinement of mana. You could call it slag. What you have now, the shite feeling, it is also due to residual energy. But it is different. When you channel, you move pure mana through your nervures, your nervures are like veins, but for your mana. They are most often empty unless mana is moved through them. Most of your nervures are unused, and only two of them are used when spell casting, these two are sometimes called the Casting nervures. The important thing here is that they are rarely used. So they are narrow, shrunken. Very solid and not flexible at all. When you start out with your channelling you probably noticed that you can not freely move your mana, that is because it has to follow your nervures. Eventually, you’ll learn how to visualize and see them but over time you won’t even need to, you’ll just know where they are. Like your arms or legs. Now, you never really used your nervures, aside from your casting ones. And you have spent the last hour and a bit rushing mana through most of them. Pure mana, and in it’s purest form, mana is very energetic and raw. By forcing it through your nervures, you have widened them, this hurt them a little bit. The raw mana hurt them a bit more as well. But when you move mana through your nervures like that, a little residue is left behind, that is why channelling always results in a loss of mana. You are not only moving it, but you are also losing small amounts of it as well. This residue stacks up in your nervures, where it slowly fades away over time. Now, because these are small amounts, the mana will turn ‘bad’, and in the little time it remains in your nervure system, it will hurt it further still. When it turns bad, it is much like the slag left behind by spell casting. It is generally bad for you. Your damaged nervures will require energy from your body to heal and strengthen themselves. And more energy will de required to get rid of the bad mana in them. That is why you feel like shit right now. Your body is trying to cope with the abuse you put it through the past hour.” Thomas smiled as he got up too.
“Damn… that wasn’t in the book at all.” Finn said, taking it all in.
“No, not many Players really care about this, you’ll most often learn about it all yourself as you play around with Channelling. And most Players don’t care to differentiate between this and actual spell rot either. But I like to be correct.”
“So what is this then? What do you call it?”
“Well, there is a lot of names for it, but in the Circle, we call it mana burn. Although what you have right now is a very slight one.”
“This is slight mana burn? What is severe then? Or even moderate?” Finn said in a huff.
“Moderate would be where you feel so sick that you can’t really move anymore. Your nervures would be so damaged that the pain resonates through your entire being, crippling you with each pain wave. It takes quite some resolve and will power to move through that. Now severe, severe is what most people would call ‘burning up’. You really don’t want to do that.”
“Why? What is burning up? You get a fever?”
“Oh no,” Thomas said, chuckling. “You burn up your nervures. Or well, burn out. I don’t really know the best way to say it like that but basically, when you push so much mana through your nervures, they will ‘heat up’ under the abuse. The first signs of this will be light. As in, your nervures will light up, and you will see them shining through your skin. When this happens, stop channelling. If you don’t, it is only a matter of time before you burn them out. And then they are broken. And this is something we can not fix or heal. If this happens, you can not channel anymore. You can’t even cast spells anymore. Anything that uses mana is off-limits for you from that point on. So never, and I can’t stress this enough, never push your channelling to that level. It is not worth it unless it is a matter of life and death. And even then, without magic, this world will swallow you whole. In most cases.”
“Wow…,” Finn said, looking at his hands and arms. He couldn’t see any light anywhere. “Thanks, master, for the knowledge.” He eventually said. “The book did not speak of any of this.
“I know, in general, these are all things you’ll find out about eventually. But it does happen sometimes that apprentices burn their nervures out. It cripples their progress as a Player and is often a death sentence. So, you know. Take care of them. I need you to have them as my apprentice.” Thomas winked and patted Finn on his shoulder. “Now, I will retreat to my chamber and focus on this book. No more training for you today. You can go and see Jennifer and Sam, and ask Jennifer about how to treat your mana burn. She will show you. Treat it, and then rest. I am sure Sam is at her wit’s end by now as well.”
And with that Thomas left, leaving Finn alone in the room. Finn sighed, he really felt like crap. His body hurt, in places that he couldn’t really put his finger on yet. His nervures probably. With another sigh and a groan, he stretched himself again and then left the room as well, heading for Jennifer and Sam.