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15 "Do you know what's an Immortal?"

Ah, how I miss women from the capital. Even in town there were some ladies easy on the eyes, but the ones from the capital, well, those had a different flavor. They seemed to have a body made of fire, and then she…

Lying on a straw mattress, Vidio was flooded with memories of the young girls who had made his head spin so many years before. How many delightful nights he had spent in the company of those girls…

But he had dared too much. He associated with women that he should have never even thought about… And these were the results. Now, he had to go back to the capital, since Floralivory City had been razed to the ground; at least according to the Rangers' report.

He wondered how he would settle business with the old guy… That dude was over three hundred years old and he was an expert in holding a grudge. Maybe he would have sent him on the other side of the world again, to waste his life on kids and idiots?

It was really difficult to find real talent in small towns. Helial was the exception; it would have been impossible to meet another Helial.

Vidio had long dreamed of entering Helial in the tournament held in the Capital for kids up to 18 years old. It was one of the biggest events in the Nation. It was held every year and only young people up to 18 years of age could take part. Vidio's plan was to train Helial until he could fight at the best of his abilities and then enter him in the tournament. With his talent he could easily classify in the top 100. He had never seen him fight for real, since he wanted to hone his already exceptional Mana Control first. People that had a better control over Mana than him could probably be counted on one hand, in the entire Nation.

That boy always refused to show me his Mana Seed. Maybe he was ashamed… After all, he didn't listen to me and condensed it on his own. He must have condensed a very weak one. What a shame. However, this doesn't mean much. Even though he could have never become the best warrior in the Nation, his control was a talent worth cultivating.

Vidio was really sorry. He regretted losing the boy. He was his ticket to the official gallery in the tournament…

***

Helial picked up some coins and a pair of torn pants from the Goblin that he had just killed. The objects were all low-level. Goblins could not be expected to go around with expensive equipment.

He approached the other body. Nothing valuable on that one.

Helial's right hand was covered in blood. Using Mana Pistol twice in a row put his body through a lot of stress. If he had lowered the impact of the blow, however, he could not take out even an Infantry Goblin.

He sighed. He was weak, too weak. In spite of that, the corners of his mouth curled up in a smile. He was still free. He could decide his own destiny.

Many people believe that one needs power to be in charge of their own destiny, to be in control of their actions. Helial was convinced that these people were mistaken: to be free you just needed to be up for anything.

He walked back and picked up the Longsword with all the strength he had left, then left that place one step at a time, bent down by the weight of the weapon.

While walking, he kept flowing and reflowing the Mana inside his body. The constant tearing up and healing of the muscles were awarding him with Stat points.

He had earned two more Strength and Vigor points. He could clearly feel his muscles being remolded that burden was forcing him to make a ridiculous effort. Despite that, the regeneration of the muscular fibers was ensuring not only to regain but also to build up more strength.

Helial drew a conclusion: pushing his body to the very limit, and then healing it, could have been extremely beneficial. No one knew exactly the extent of the influence of Strength Points on the overall physical potential of the person. Theirs was a still unexplored world, despite all of the research conducted over the years.

During the Ancient Wars, people had found many more answers than in the present times; that valuable knowledge, however, had been lost in the destruction of war.

At 150 Strength Points, before reaching the First Phase, the arms had a strength of 300-400 pounds. As said before, this was not a general rule. If Helial still had had his old Stats, he could easily have picked up the Longsword. But now that he had the same Strength as Lumia, he could barely drag it around. Those four Strength points had helped lighten the burden, but it was still hard work.

While deep in thought, he had reached the cave.

He moved the rocks that covered the entrance almost completely . He left only some small openings to let light and air go through. Now it was almost dark. Helial and his sister did not dare to light up a fire, for fear of attracting the Goblins.

"Lumia, it's me, I'm back. I think I've found a place. We'll go when you're ready", said Helial with a sigh, entering the cave. He was completely drenched in sweat. Even though he was not physically tired, his mind had been put through a lot of stress. He could not keep those Skills always activated.

"Idiot, this Breathing Technique is not bad at all. I earned several Stat Points today, almost ten!" cried Lumia excited, finally starting to feel useful.

Helial smiled. Lumia though was giving her back to him and did not see the kind smile that appeared on the brother's face. Helial's short and badly cut hair, dark as coal, were full of dirt and framed a face that did not look his age. His brow frowned constantly, the eyebrows knitted together. luckily, his sister could not see him…

But suddenly a thought crossed his mind. I never really tried to level up the other Skills, I never sought to force them to their limits. Today I want to see if the same principle I use with muscles can be applied to Skills.

Helial clenched his fists. He had to become stronger fast and he had to start now.

He decided to start from Perception. Right now it was one of him most valuable Skills. Despite being one of the first Skills to be learned, it was easy to get good results from it. Most people could not even take it to Master level.

Skills had 20 basic levels, the highest of which was the Master level; but there were many other above it. Helial was far from reaching even the middle of the basic levels.

Let's check…

Skill Activated:

Perception

Lv: 3

Exp: 20.6%

Cost 70 Mana/Sec

Effects:

You can clearly detect every Aura within a 1000 yd radius.

Helial kept the Skill window open, before activating it. Meanwhile, Lumia had fallen asleep. She was exhausted. Moving such huge amount of Mana was taxing on the mind and the Soul. No one had ever reached the sky from earth in just one leap.

Helial relaxed his muscles, then sat down cross-legged.

Skill Activated:

Perception

He could perceive all the Mana around him. He could clearly sense a feeble Aura at his side. It was Lumia. Her Mana looked calm and placid, majestic in its tranquillity.

Helial fell deep in meditation. But after about ten seconds…

Skill Failed!

He had run out of Mana.

Shit. Damn Curse. More than Curse of the Demon, it should be called Curse of the Shit. AHHHHHH I can't wake Lumia up. It's going to be hard to level up Perception if I can't devote all my energies to it. I also need to keep Communion with Mana activated…

Skill Activated:

Perception

Skill Activated:

Communion with Mana

The Skill weighed down on the mind, not so much as to damage it but it was still taxing. The higher the number of Skills activated at the same time, the more difficult it was to control them. Up to that point, Helial had only used one Offensive Skill at a time. If he wanted to use two, he had to flow Mana in different Meridians at the same time. He had been able to keep the same intensity while using two Mana Pistols at the same time, but just because it was the same Skill. The body is symmetrical and he just had to flow mana in the same Meridians right and left.

Actually, the most powerful Skills did not allow that. They could be used only one at a time, since they involved the use of one-sided Meridians, not present both in the right and left sides of the body.

Helial emptied the mind from useless thoughts. There was only him, his Mana and the two Skills. Breathing deeply, he amplified the radius of Perception as much as he could.

700, 750, 800…

Despite the maximum radius being one thousand yards, it was difficult to analyze the maximum distance of the radius. The farther it went, the more difficult it got to perceive the Mana resonance. He could feel some blurry presences – probably some animals. Helial had not yet reached the level where he could clearly distinguish animals, and even inanimate objects.

***

Floralivory City, two years earlier

"Master, how come some people can detect inanimate objects using Perception?" asked a young Helial, scratching his chin. His eyes were too deep wells of boundless curiosity. He would have listen to Vidio talking for days on end. The talkative Vidio enjoyed bestowing his knowledge upon that boy. Helial was like a gigantic sponge, absorbing Vidio's every single word.

That boy can do everything I explain to him. He's amazing… but he should stop lying. He told me he has taken Perception to the second level and that he can reach a 700 yards radius… I know he wants to impress me, but the maximum one can do at that level is 50 yards. What kind of unthinkable control one should have to achieve 700 yards at the second level of Perception? He could reach that distance maybe at the tenth level. Once reached the Intermediate level it can even go as far as 4 miles.

"Boy, the ways of Mana are infinite. Do you know what's an Immortal?" asked Vidio, the corners of his mouth curling in a mischievous grin. Obviously, that boy from a village forgotten by God could not know that, and Vidio would have had another chance to boast his vast knowledge.

"No…" grunted Helial, rolling his eyes. He was fed up with that act, "Bestow on me your boundless knowledge, oh Master."

"Ungrateful brat", sighed Vidio, "you should be thankful. Do you know how much money I would make as the private tutor of some wealthy little kid?"

"Then go. I'm going back to my sister, I have to make her dinner", declared Helial, standing up.

"Where are you going?!" blurted Vidio, who still felt like chatting. "Ahhhhh, sit down and listen to me."

Helial halted. After a moment he sat down cross-legged in front of the Master and smirked. He had already learned how to play the famous Master.

They were sitting on the stone floor in Vidio's private quarters, made of a special material that amplified the Mana contained in the room. Even though it was not of the same quality of the platform for Mana Seed Condensation, it was still very powerful.

Helial felt reinvigorated just by sitting there. Flowing Mana in that place must have been a real treat.

"An Immortal, as the name indicates, is a person that can live forever…"

"WHAT? Aren't those just legends?" Helial cut him short, disbelief clearly painted on his face, convinced that the man was kidding him.

"Let me finish, insolent brat! Immortals are people that reached a perfect communion with Mana. They are extremely rare and hold the highest positions in the Nation. Despite that, they don't take much interest in mundane affairs and stay secluded for thousands of years, focused entirely on their training… But this is a world you shouldn't worry about yet, boy. We'll talk about it some other time. I indulge in chit-chat and now I lost my train of thought. Uhm, uhm, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, Perception…"

***

In the present, inside the cave

850, 900, 950…

The higher the Skill, the more living things one can detect. Nevertheless, the level of a Skill is not everything. The degree of Mana Control influences greatly the effectiveness of the Skill. Two people both with level 10 Perception could present great differences in terms of radius ad Mana perceived. In spite of that, it was difficult in real life to find two people with such different control. Control was a Hidden Stat, so it did not appear in the Stats window.

In ancient times, several methods were discovered to reveal this Skill. At present, only empirical tests could carried out. The most common was to compress a sphere of Mana; but this was usually done only from the First Phase onward. It is almost impossible to manifest the Seed's Mana in a sphere outside the body. Once surpassed the First Phase, many Meridians went through changes and new ones were created. Actually, before the First Phase, it was improper to state to know one's Mana. Even manifest a Skill like Mana Pistol before having reached the First Phase was nearly impossible, and that was why Vidio had never taught Offensive Skills to Helial.

Vidio was indeed lazy and carefree, but if he had had any valuable Skills to teach Helial, he would not have thought about it twice. He could have taught him some Autobuff Skills, but he was convinced to not have one at Helial's level…

950, 960, 970…

Beads of sweat covered Helial's forehead, his face contorted by a grimace of pain.
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