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6 Black seed

Helial took his sister in his arms and flattened himself against the trunk tree, trying to hide.

Skill Activated:

Perception

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

Cost: 70 Mana/Sec

He could clearly sense the presence of a Goblin. Judging from the density of the Aura, it was probably a Goblin at level 20. Helial gritted his teeth. Four levels. If it hadn't been for that bastard I could have done it easily.

A difference of a couple of levels wouldn't have been a problem during a fight. Even more than a couple would have been fine.

It was when two people were in different Phases that things got hard. Every sixty levels one could advance to a new Phase: 60, 120, 180, 240… and so on. Once advanced to a new Phase, the body would undergo a radical change: every Phase allowed to develop new Stats and to easily learn new more advanced Skills, and especially the new Phase would unblock the Phase-restricted Skills, available only to people that reached a certain Phase.

The First Phase was called Beginning, shocking right? It stood for the beginning of the Dao of Mana. The most important thing in every Phase breakthrough was the change in Meridians. Every Phase brought by a radical change in the Meridians, creating new ones and allowing an ever better flow of Mana.

In order to master some Skills or to create Stats, like Affinity with Nature, it was necessary to have Meridians modifications that could let Mana flow in a more suitable way.

That was why, even though the difference between level 59 and 60 sounded insignificant, in reality it was as distant as heaven and earth.

All in all, a fight between people at different levels was possible, but at different Phases it would have been a sheer utopia. How many people in the whole continent could pull that off?

The Goblin was getting dangerously close to the tree where Helial and Lumia were hiding. Lumia kept quiet, even though she had a general idea of how strong her brother was. She had often see him come back exhausted from the woods and one time she even convinced him to show her his Stats, after promising to not reveal them to anyone. She wasn't very worried, at least until she noticed the expression on her brother's face. Helial was covered in cold sweat and panicking. He had no way to attack, he didn't know any Skills and his Strength was basically down to zero, thanks to the Curse. If he had tried to attack head on, the Goblin would have likely defeated him in a couple of exchanges.

Ordinary people thought that Goblins knew very little of Mana and Magic. Rumor had it that Goblins liked to use strategies that mainly relied on brute force and big numbers. Basically, they were a miniature version of the Orcs, just a tad smarter and swifter.

The Goblins forged weapons similar to those of men, and although their mastery of that art was still unable to content with the latter, the weapons they produced were still far better than those of the Orcs.

If only they possessed an Offensive Skill generated by Mana…

The hideous beast that the Goblin was riding was getting closer and closer. It looked like some kind of old mangy nag, with pointy teeth and a bloody mouth. It looks like that mouth just ad a taste of human meat…, thought Helial.

But the biggest threat was the thing riding that deformed horse: a Goblin just over 5-feet tall was holding the reins with one hand and a long thin scimitar with the other.

"Hey boy, are you ok? Where's all this blood coming from… you still sick, uh", sighed the Goblin.

Helial could feel the Goblin just fifty yards from where they were hiding. He sighed, He noticed us. Damn it.

A window popped up in front of Lumia.

You have been invited to join the group of Helial.

Do you accept?

Yes | No

Lumia wasn't clear on what his brother had in mind, but she didn't ask.

You have accepted the invitation of Helial!

Now you are in a group together.

The experience is shared and distributed according to whom kills the monsters.

***

Some years earlier

Vidio cleared his throat while ogling a beautiful waitress at the tavern.

"Master? Master!"

Vidio turned grumpily towards the boy in front of him. "What?"

"What are we talking about today? But more importantly, why are we in a fucking tavern?"

"Ahem, we needed a… crowded environment, because… today we are talking about groups!"

Helial stared at Vidio with an unconvinced look, while the dirty old man kept staring at the waitresses.

Coff coff

"Groups are generally formed when going in a Dungeon or hunting together. Even if inside the group, experience is not distributed equally but according to each member's contribution to the hunt." said Vidio.

"That said, every member always receives a small fixed percentage, but it's really insignificant if one stays still and doesn't participate."

Vidio got momentarily distracted and Helial ran a hand on his face, helpless before the man's indecency.

"Whoever kills the monster usually receives most of the Experience, but even who acts as support of long-range damage receives a good amount of Exp."

"Master, so a person can get through the various Phases without moving a finger?" asked surprised Helial.

"No boy, a Phase breakthrough requires more effort than you can imagine. A lazy person would probably die… But we will go into that another time."

***

The Goblin had already stopped cantering and was now walking in their direction.

40 yards… 30… 20…

Helial was about to jump out of their hiding place and face him head on, so as to give his sister time to run away. He didn't want to get her involved. Because of his mistake, he had lost the Stat that he had gone through such pains to grow. He didn't have any Physical Damage that could save him and Lumia.

He was not scared of dying, if not of the thought of Lumia in the hands of those monsters.

Could she run away on her own?

Helial made a decision, convincing himself that everything would have been alright. He bent over Lumia to tell her to run, but… Suddenly, they both heard screams in the distance.

The Goblin turned his face covered with scabs of rotting filth in that direction, then he spurred the equally disgusting steed and rode away.

Helial could not believe he was so damn lucky. They now had a chance to get away.

The Goblin was far enough to not be detected by Helial's Perception.

Helial hoisted his sister on his back and began to run. Lumia was quite worried, her brother was very silent and looked scared to death by a single Goblin.

"Silly, why were you so scared? With your Stat…" tried to say Lumia, but she got cut off immediately.

"I got a 0,05 multiplier on my Strength Stat", answered curtly Helial.

Lumia knew very little math, but enough to get even more worried about her brother.

She always saw him come home late, always focused on his secret training and the various jobs he had to do to feed her. And now it seemed he didn't have Strength points anymore.

She kept quiet. She knew how much her brother cared about being strong and she didn't want to rub it in. She rested her head on his shoulder and stayed silent.

"From here it will be difficult to reach the City before nightfall. Very difficult, too difficult. We will have to stop somewhere for the night", groaned Helial, after running for a couple of hours. They had outdistanced the vanguard, but there were still twenty miles to the city and he was exhausted. He had never stopped to rest and now it was late afternoon.

Travelling at night would not be a smart move; Helial knew that area, but not well enough to move without directions and points of reference.

They looked for a place to stay, until they found an empty cave. It must have been some animal's den in the past. They settled down, getting ready to spend the night.

Lumia looked dejected. "Lumia, what's wrong?" asked Helial.

"Those people that the Goblin went looking for are dead, aren't they?" asked Lumia.

Helial couldn't help frowning. "There's no way to know", he replied, even though in his heart he knew what was the most likely answer.

The villagers were all at a very low level, no one reached past twenty. The Goblin had probably killed those people stupid enough to get noticed by the monster. Yet Helial should have been grateful, because in a way, those people saved their lives.

He sighed and looked at the sky, as a savage flash shone in his eyes.

"If you had gone to them…" whispered Lumia.

"Then we would have all died", cut short Helial, pulling out the Longsword from the Inventory. "This thing reduced my Strength to the bone. I can't face a Goblin. I don't have Skills that only rely on Mana, actually I don't have any Offensive Skills. There's nothing I could have done."

He didn't feel any pangs of guilt. If there was something he could have done, he would have. Lumia was still young and there were things she couldn't understand.

Unfortunately, in his long fifteen years Helial had suffered more than any other kid his age, and all because of his despicable brother. What could I have done? Risk my life and that of Lumia for some strangers? For what I know they might… they might have even run away!, he thought trying to convince himself.

Helial sighed. He was aware of his limits and he would never risk endangering his sister's life for strangers. He would never engage a Goblin in a fight, now that all his strength had disappeared. He fiercely gritted his teeth. He needed a Skill.

They ate some stale bread that Helial had in his Inventory. They were going to leave at daybreak, to reach the city as quickly as possible.

Helial arranged some old rags on the hard ground, so it wouldn't bother his sister much. Then he went outside the cave.

He couldn't relax knowing that he would have been helpless, if any threat arose. He had to get himself a skill. After all, apart from Dragon's Breath, he had always created his own Skills. Perhaps one night was not enough to create one from scratch, but that was all he had.

He walked five hundred yards away from the cave, until he reached a huge oak.

I need something simple, but that will let me defend myself. The best thing would be try to use Mana directly as a weapon. At the moment, I have very little Strength, it wouldn't be wise to create a Skill that required weapons or specific movements.

He decided to use Mana as a weapon. The simplest method was to channel it through the right Meridians, condensing it on the fingertips and then let it go in a blast.

He started to slowly flow the Mana. He had to probe which Meridians were more suitable for the new Skill.

Soon, he found the Meridians where the Mana Energy was seething more fiercely. He felt a peculiar sensation, as if he had just entered a small new world.

The Mana there was much more violent than the one he absorbed through the usual Meridians, which was mild and caressed the Mana Seed. Now the Mana seemed to go crazy every time it flowed through those specific Meridians.

Helial carefully thought it through, he could not afford to make big mistakes. He had to avoid getting seriously injured, or the next day he wouldn't have been able to run. He continued feeling the presence of that angry force inside his body. He noticed that, when he focused on those specific Meridians, his Soul would slowly get into a frenzy.

You discovered the Destructive Meridians!

In these Meridians, Mana is flowing more recklessly and is more difficult to command. However, thanks to these paths you are able to use Offensive Skills.

New Branch of Skills: Destructive Mana.

Helial exulted. That was the first step towards a new Fighting Skill. But his excitement was short-lived. Suddenly, Curse of the Demon emerged from the Inventory. The Longsword was casting a black light, shining unnaturally in the darkness. Actually, more than shining, it seemed like it was attracting all the shadows. The weapon was becoming the center of all darkness.

It started to levitate slowly, until it reached Helial's chest, then a ray of pure black light burst out of the point of the Longsword and pierced his breastbone.

Shit. What was happening?, wondered he, worried that the curse could have some new weird effect of his body. The ray of light plunged straight to his soul, completely engulfing the Mana Seed.

Helial had no idea what was going on, but he notice that his Mana Seed was slowly changing color, from White to Black. "NO!", he let out a scream. "It can't be!"

He began bringing forth all the Mana he possessed, trying to protect his Mana Seed, but it was all in vain. He could not hope to compete with the force of the light beam.

In a very short time, Helial found himself with a Mana Seed that had turned completely Black.
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