tagSci-Fi & FantasyDream Drive Ch. 07

Dream Drive Ch. 07

byOver_Red©

Author's Note:

All aspects of the story are fictional. All characters that participate in sexual activity are over the age of 18.

Edited by Expoh and AnnabelleFalls13.


****



Strength - 100 +10 (+10%)

Vitality - 185 +19 (+10%)

Agility - 43 +2 (+5%)

Compulsion - 0

Persuasion - 0

Spirit - 40 +10 (+25%)

Health -- 248.00/248.00

Essence -- 123

Carry Weight -- 28.4/59.0


****



"Now," Hanta said, "I've said this before, with other words. But the reason a spear is good is because it is long."

"Analyze," Jackson murmured.

A transparent screen blossomed in front of him.



Name: Hanta

Status: [NPC]

Factions: People-Under-the-Mountain, The Windseekers

Talents: Strength, Agility

Notable Skills: Spears, Shields, Knives, Archery, Grappling, Hunting, Weapon Crafting, Tool Crafting, Leatherworking



Hanta's stats were revealing, but expected. Jackson wondered if there was a way to see more detail. Maybe it was just something the game wanted him to play by ear.

"Jackson, are you listening?"

"Absolutely," Jackson said. He reached up and tapped the box closed. "Just killing two birds with one stone."

"This is important," Hanta said. "Focus."

"Sorry."

"Well," he said, "I suppose I can't complain after the shield you had Shaka make me." The leather disk was strapped to the stocky man's back. Jackson could see the glint of the essence crystal that Shaka had embedded in its center, surrounded by several runes. He recognized them all on sight.

Protect wielder from harm. Return magic unto source. Deflect weapons. Great Great Great Strength.

It made him feel a little better about his own crude healing magic. Runes were more flexible than they seemed; they weren't particular about grammar. It was more about the feeling of the words and the intent of the writer. In fact, the biggest factor when it came to enchantments was probably the spellcaster, not the spell.

"She did a pretty good job," Jackson said.

"Better than good," Hanta said. "There won't be a warrior that can stand against me on the battlefield."

"It looks like it has different enchantments," Jackson said. "Four of them."

"So it does."

"I thought you couldn't use magic. How do you pick the right one?"

"Well," Hanta said, "Shaka told me that when I use it, it will know what is needed. It won't draw magic from the crystal unless my body and soul acts."

Jackson wasn't sure if he'd trust an automatic enchantment. It sounded convenient, but what if the crystal ran dry of power while Hanta was doing something risky?

Living things were easier to work with, but aside from growing plants and healing, it was a limited aspect of magic. Jackson could apply an enchantment to his weapon or his clothes, writing on it like Shaka did, but to use it, he'd either have to burn his own essence or what he'd stockpiled in gemstones. And it was even trickier for someone like Hanta to use an enchantment -- without a natural magical talent, you had to use a raw essence crystal, which were dangerous to acquire. The last time Jackson had been around enemies which dropped them, he'd almost died.

"There has to be a better way to enchant things," Jackson said.

Hanta looked skeptical. "This is already beyond me, Jackson. How could it be improved?"

"I don't know."

"And neither does Shaka, or she would have given me that!" Hanta chuckled. "Come. We aren't here to ponder the mysteries of Shakhan, but the spear, yes?"

Jackson found himself pondering. Shaka was an experienced shaman, a true medicine woman -- but that didn't mean she knew everything about magic.

Vuntha sighed. Hanta's son was sitting on the grass next to Jackson, leaning back on his hands. "I tire of talking," he said. "Let's spar again."

"Patience," Hanta said. "Jackson's magic requires him to absorb knowledge this way, so that is how it must be."

"We can spar in a second, Vuntha," Jackson said. "I'm almost there."

"I don't understand your scar, or your powers," Vuntha said, "but if you say so."

Vuntha looked up at the mountain. And then, together, Jackson and Hanta did the same. When one person looked at it, everyone always followed suit.

The great black rise towered to their left. Looking up at the mountain was like leaning back to look at a skyscraper. It just went up, and up, and up, ending at some distant pinnacle that seemed infinitely high. The sky seemed small in comparison.

Now that they were at its foot, Jackson could appreciate how abnormal it was. Aside from a long shoulder that stretched around a few foothills, the mountain jutted out of the plains all by itself, a lone stalagmite leaping from the endless green flats. The sharp slopes at its base consisted of a brittle, crumbling onyx that looked ready and willing to cut into bare feet. It gathered in mounds at the base of the cliffs.

The mountain was not natural. It was an anomaly. The only thing that came close to being normal was the fact it was the source of two of the rivers that wound across the plains, one running from either side of the slopes. It was the origin of the creek that they had been following on their long trek.

There was something about the mountain that Jackson couldn't place, something eerily attractive. It was an obelisk erected in the name of something ancient and unknowable. A dark monolith magnetized to the human heart.

Jackson could feel it pulling on him. It felt like a rope slithered into his body through the scar. It dove into the mark on his hand, ran through the inside of his arm, coiled around his torso. And it sat there, squeezing slightly. The pressure on his chest didn't hurt, but it damn sure didn't feel comfortable to have a lump sitting under his skin.

They'd reached the mountain four days previous. He'd grown accustomed to the sensation, but it still bothered him. He had trouble relaxing at night.

His gaze dropped. He didn't look at the peak for long; his eyes were drawn toward the base of the thing. That was where the rope pulled - under the mountain, beneath the spear of black rock.

The three of them had walked a half mile from the camp of the gathered tribes. That put them on the other side of one of the foothills, which offered a bit of privacy. Many of the other warriors that were going to participate in the games used a similar strategy to prepare themselves in relative peace.

Vuntha was still itching to spar. Jackson didn't blame him. Their plan was simple enough, but it had been a long wait. Anything to bleed the nerves away was welcome.

But, for the time being, they were sitting in the grass and listening to Hanta.

Like before, Jackson noticed that his passive Spear skill increased when he sparred -- but it tended to jump in leaps and bounds when Hanta lectured him. They'd trained constantly for the past few days; when they were tired, Jackson sat and listened to what Hanta had to say. His skill had risen to level 97. He expected to hit 100 by the end of the day.

100 was an important number. Within the context of Isis as a video game, Jackson figured there were two possibilities. There was a chance that nothing would happen, and he'd continue to level up past 100. Alternatively, he might cap at 100. If he did, he might unlock something cool.

This was not Jackson's first time playing an RPG. Passive skills were extremely important. They were foundational. His special abilities were useful tools, but overuse would transform them into permanent crutches. More importantly, they burned essence. Essence spent on Attributes were permanent investments that would follow him forever. Essence burned on active skills were one-use flares. Handy in a pinch, important to keep in mind, but not a good long-term strategy.

At the moment, he didn't have a good way of acquiring essence. The plains were relatively empty; no monsters to slay. He supposed he could kill some horses or a few bison if he really had to, but the People-Under-The-Mountain took only what they needed from nature, nothing more.

Even without essence, he could still improve himself if he worked on his skills. He didn't have enough time to become the master of the universe, and, from what he'd learned so far, his investments had decreasing returns. He had to specialize.

While his spear had more or less fallen into his lap by chance, it seemed as good a tool as any, and he'd already leveled his skill with it up quite a bit. A sidearm would help -- he still had his knives - but his current goal was to get as high-ranked in spears as possible.

Jackson looked at the spear resting on the ground next to him. What he really wanted to do was to go out there and get more essence, but there wasn't anywhere to get it from.

Wait.

Essence. Chaki and Shaka could gather essence. That essence could be put in gemstones. Shaka had said gems could be used by anyone with the natural talent to use essence.

What if he had Chaki put essence into a gemstone, and then drew it into himself?

There had been an endless essence fountain walking next to him for days on end, and he hadn't used it.

"Holy shit!"

"Jackson," Hanta said, "do you wish to participate, or not? If not, get back to camp and find Shaka. I'm sure she can put you to some form of hard labor."

Jackson looked at Hanta, then at Vuntha, then sat back down. "Uh, my bad."

"Clearly," Hanta said. "What was the meaning of your outburst?"

"Something I realized about magic," Jackson said. "I'm sorry, Hanta. Please continue. Even if I'm right, it can wait for a bit. This can't."

Hanta shrugged, nodded. "It's fine."

Jackson eyed his status screen. He'd learned he could shrink and slide his status tabs around to the edges of his vision -- his HUD was fully customizable. With that, he had a constant view of whatever skills he liked. His passive spears skill sat in the bottom left corner, opposite his minimap.

Spears: Skill in using spears. (Modifiers: Agi, Str)

- Level: 97

- Progress: 96.2%


He still wasn't sure what modifiers meant. Clearly, some attributes worked in favor of certain skills -- but what was the precise relationship?

He could investigate later. Right now, he needed to focus.

With the mountain as his backdrop, Hanta gestured. "The spear is greatest amongst weapons because it is long, but not so long as to be unwieldy. Perhaps this seems overly simple."

"No, you explained well earlier," Jackson said. "Winning a battle is about speed. In order to strike an opponent, you have to reach him. Therefore, speed equals distance. So, a spear is fast."

"And you learned well," Hanta said. "There is hope for you yet."

Jackson's passive skill flicked. It jumped to level 98, with a few percentage points of progress.

"Today," Hanta said, "I want to teach you three stances."

"Stances?" Jackson asked. "You haven't mentioned those before."

"That is because you were learning the basics," Hanta said.

"Basics, he says," Vuntha muttered. "I haven't won a sparring match in three days."

"Your mouth keeps flapping," Hanta said, "but I can't make out the words."

Vuntha snorted and waved a hand.

"First," Hanta said. "The wolf." Hanta shifted himself sideways. His right hand gripped the spear at the end of the shaft; his left hand cupped it near the blade. "The body is turned sideways to minimize the target presented to the foe. This style extends your reach and maximizes power. You are ready to step forward." Hanta did just that, shifting his weapon out in a basic thrust. "But another technique." He went back to neutral; then, he pushed off his back foot, swinging his leg across the front of his body. He planted it forward and extended his spear.

Hanta returned to his original position. "The second move takes more time, but what you lose by telegraphing your motion, you gain in reach. While I had to step across myself, I gained almost an additional full length of a spear."

Jackson nodded. "Okay. Good at a distance."

"Yes, but I wouldn't recommend it in a melee, or if your opponent is aware and ready to defend. It risks your balance." Hanta brought his spear up to his shoulders, holding it like a baseball bat. "A quick change to another attacking stance. An enemy will hesitate to close the distance when a spear might come down on his head. Remember, a spear has much the same prowess as a staff, if it is sturdy."

"What's the second stance?" Jackson asked.

"The stone," Hanta said. He brought his feet closer together. Rather than hold the spear low, at the waist, he choked up and brought the weapon higher. The shaft crossed in front of his chest. "Like so."

Jackson looked at his feet, then back up. "Doesn't that give up a lot of your reach? I thought the whole point was the length of the thrust."

"True," Hanta said, "but when facing an enemy of unknown skill and talent, with a strange weapon, it is better to observe than risk everything. The spear does not lie; it thrusts. Everyone knows this. Therefore, you must be cautious." While holding the spear mostly vertical, Hanta made quick swipes with the weapon, as if smacking away invisible attacks. "While you have lost reach, the arms are closer to the body. This gives you more leverage, more power, quicker. It presents a barrier to weapons, shielding you from sweeping blows. A defense as strong as a stone."

Jackson leaned forward and nodded. "Right. So what about the last one?"

"The fang." Hanta drew his spear back -- far, far back, so his right hand gripped the spear in the center, and his left was all the way near the point. "When an enemy manages to close the distance -- often, they might be using a shield -- you must be prepared to fight without your greatest advantage of reach. But truly, the spear is never at a total loss. From here, the point becomes a stabbing knife that can change angles." Hanta used his left hand as a fulcrum; his right hand moved about to change the position of the blade. "And at a moment's notice, distance is regained." He shot his right hand forward, extending the spear in a long thrust.

"You know," Jackson said, "I think I see why you have those little wingtips on your spear. They're good for fighting close, right? Catching other weapons."

Hanta smiled and tapped the small crosspiece under the blade of the spear. "Exactly. It can knock things aside, or scoop them in, like a hook. And when fighting short, it prevents the hand from sliding up the handle and into the blade."

"I think I'm gonna need one."

"We can tie one to your spear," Vuntha said.

"You see, Jackson," Hanta said, "the advantage of the spear is that everyone thinks they know it."

"...well, don't they?"

Hanta laughed. "Of course not! But how easy it is to think yourself the master of a piece of wood with a point at one end. It is simple, is it not? The spear's single attribute it its reach. Its main attack is a thrust. This is obvious. This is clear. The spear cannot lie. It can only be a spear. That is what they all think."

"What are you saying?" Jackson asked.

"Versatility," Vuntha said.

"You are indeed my son!" Hanta said.

"My confidence in defeating Boonta is assured with such grand words of encouragement."

"Don't make me whip your hide," Hanta said.

Vuntha huffed. "For someone who makes so many poor jokes, you take them poorly enough yourself."

Hanta turned to Jackson, ignoring his son's last comment. "Yes, the spear is versatile. It can be a knife!" He drew it back into the fang position, holding his left hand just a bit below the wings. "It can be a staff!" He crossed the spear over his body, and then swung it back and forth. The shaft blurred as it gained speed, turning like the arms of a windmill. "It can be the hand of death!" Hanta stepped forward, and the last rotation of his weapon transformed into a thrust. He held there for a moment, and then straightened. "The spear cannot lie, no. But it is the most articulate weapon!"

"...heh."

"What?" Hanta asked.

Jackson shrugged. "Talking isn't my thing."

"Then let your weapon speak for you. The master does not separate the spear from himself; rather, the spear becomes part of the body. It is an extension of the spirit -- the third arm that strikes your enemy."

"I've never put any stock in martial arts mumbo-jumbo," Jackson said, "but I guess that kinda makes sense."

"Don't think," Hanta said. He leveled the spear at his waist, and then thrust it forward. "Act." He brought it back, shifted his back foot forward, and thrust again, putting his shoulders behind it. "Move."

A tone played in Jackson's ears. Three notes of a trumpet, rising in a cheery fanfare, and ending with the tap of a few drums.

You've reached level 100 in Spears!

- Active Spear Abilities cost 10% less essence.

- Spear and Polearm damage increased by 5%.

You have unlocked Spear Expertise.


Three diamond-shaped icons flashed into place on the left side of Jackson's vision. Each one showed the silhouette of a spear. The first was red, the next blue, and the last was yellow.

You have learned Spear Stances. These are accessible while a spear is equipped as the main weapon.

Aggressive Stance [Tier 1, 0.00%]

- 12% Attack Bonus

- 5% Defense Penalty

Defensive Stance [Tier 1, 0.00%]

- 10% Defense Bonus

- 4% Attack Penalty

Short Stance [Tier 1, 0.00%]

- 10% Agility Bonus

- 5% Attack Penalty

- 2% Defense Penalty

You have learned your first stances!

Note: Stances are specific to each weapon type and require an Expertise-level passive skill to use. Stances provide passive bonuses to their associated weapon. Each stance comes with a drawback. With practice, stances can be enhanced. Expertise in various stances can lead to unique combat styles. Find one that suits you!


Jackson shot to his feet again. He expanded his passive skills window and scrolled down.

Spears: Skill in using spears.

Modifiers: [Agility, Strength]

- Level: 100 [capped]

- Capped Bonuses:

- Active Spear Abilities cost 10% less essence.

- Spear, Staff, and Polearm damage increased by 5%.

Spear Expertise: The expert use of spears.

Modifiers: [Agility, Strength]

Amplifiers: [Power, Reflex, Dash, Technique]

- Level: 1

- Progress: 0.5%


Jackson pumped his fist. "Fuck yes, cheaper abilities! Emil, I love you!"

Hanta and Vuntha shared a look. "Jackson?" Vuntha asked.

"Ten percent cheaper!" He jumped in the air and landed with a stomp. "This fucking rocks!"

Jackson settled back and took a breath. He needed Chaki - needed essence. Spear Expertise had the same modifiers as the base Spears skill. Would there be extra bonuses for the attributes that had doubled up, Strength and Agility?

And what the hell were Amplifiers? He only had six main Attributes: Strength, Vitality, Agility, Compulsion, Persuasion, and Spirit. He scrolled through his list of passive abilities again, but he didn't see any other abilities with Amplifiers. Maybe they only worked with second-tier abilities. But even with that information, he still had no idea what they did, or even what they were.

Jackson sighed. He would sell a kidney for an Isis guidebook.

"Alright, Jackson," Hanta said, "since you apparently have no need to sit and observe, it's time to spar."

Jackson blinked. Hanta stood, watching him, his back to the mountain. His face usually held the smirk of a man that was ready with sarcasm; now, he looked serious.

"...are you sure?"

"Something happened," Hanta said. "Your scar flashed."

Jackson looked at the star-scar embedded in his left hand. "I didn't notice. Did you hear the music? Trumpets?"

"Music?" Vuntha asked. He shook his head. "No."

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