Sam lay sprawled out on his back for several minutes. Taking in gulps of air, he did his best to catch his breath. He had just finished climbing to the top of a ledge that stretched 400 feet into the air.
The length might seem insignificant but in truth, he had to not only exhaust his magic on the climb but exert his already tired body with a few extra hundred pounds of earth rope strapped to his back.
A small puddle of sweat collected around Sam and he could already feel his body starting to spasm as Mana fever crept its way in. Trying to sit up proved difficult and so he remained laying down as he closed his eyes and meditated. Sensing earth energy all around him, he calmed his breathing and allowed his Mage core to take over.
Without him doing anything, Sam’s Mage core began to pull at the earth’s energy and absorb it. The twisting of his muscles and flesh slowly ceased as a pleasant feeling of power sunk into his core. Lying there for several more minutes Sam’s entire body relaxed and he felt his mind starting to drift.
*Ba bum ba bum ba bum*
Sam’s breathing synced with his heartbeat and a new sensation ran through him.
He could feel something within him on the verge of breaking loose.
As a cool breeze glided across his skin, the sweat that clung to his body felt even colder and sent a chill up his spine. Sam’s eyes suddenly shot open and he sat up in a daze.
(What was that feeling just now.)
Sam had felt he was close to something but the feeling of the wind abruptly threw him out of it.
(It was almost like the world was…)
Sam couldn’t even finish his current thought. As though it were a dream, he forgot about it before he could fully grasp it.
Sam forgetting what he was doing for a moment suddenly remembered his actual purpose and shot to his feet.
Investigating the ledge he stood on, it was very spacious. Its length was around 100 or so feet and its width was nearly 70. It would be an ideal spot for Mei and Tsura but there were no clear signs of them being there. The ground was untouched and covered in debris and there were several of those jagged rocks lying around all over the place. If one wanted to stay here they would first need to clear all this trash away.
(This isn’t the place.)
Sam peered over the edge. He wanted to use his rope ere and tie it off on something nearby and descend with ease but it would be a waste of rope. He needed this rope for when he found Kimi and Danny. He didn’t doubt he could carry the two down by himself but in case something went wrong it would be much easier to have this rope just in case.
With a good amount of his magic recovered, Sam carefully started to make his way back down. Applying his same method as before, he made a bit of rock armor over his palm and fingers as well as his toes. Grabbing the first jagged rock, Sam noticed something.
(My armor, has it gotten stronger?)
Beforehand, every time Sam grabbed one of these jagged rocks, his armor would have a few cuts in it but looking closely at it now, his armor only had a few scrapes. Not only that, Sam could feel that his armor wasn’t using as much magic energy as it was before.
Climbing down another 50 or so feet, Sam was really clueless as to what had happened.
(What is this? It really isn’t my imagination, my armor has become tougher and my magic isn’t falling as fast as before. Was it because I actually got a little rest up there? No, that shouldn’t improve my armor. I don’t get it but, I feel that my body as well has gotten a bit tougher as well.)
Sam couldn’t figure out what was going on but, he wouldn’t argue about it either. Instead, a confident feeling arose from within him and he descended at an even faster rate.
It took him less than 20 minutes to make it to the top and it took him only 10 to come back down.
Shin was already waiting at the bottom for him.
“Whoa, that was fast. Did you discover anything?”
Sam shook his head no before he paused.
“There is something though.”
Sam told Shin about his armor becoming stronger by a small margin but Shin had no clue how it happened either.
“Maybe Nunully or Ryuta might know something about it.”
Sam looked at Shin oddly.
“Why would Ryuta know?”
Shin shrugged his shoulders.
“He just seems to know stuff sometimes. I guess he figures things out pretty easily. He must have gotten great grades all the time the way he thinks.”
Sam flashed a rare smile.
“Ryuta have good grades, not on your life.”
“Hmm, really? That’s odd, the way he thinks it seems he’s a few steps ahead all the time. Maybe he was just playing the fool back on earth. You know, like in a movie or show where one of the characters doesn’t show what they are truly capable of until they’re put in an extreme scenario. I guess being summoned to Gordonia is Ryuta’s extreme scenario.”
Sam’s expression went back to normal but his thoughts were anything but.
“Maybe your right.”
Back at the edge of the forest, Nunully and Asuna were still resting, while Sam told Kazuki about the empty ledge as well as about what he went through.
Kazuki pondered it for a minute.
“OK, one down only two more to go. Do you want to take a break for a while or are you ready to head to the next spot now?”
Sam didn’t press Kazuki’s thoughts on his body’s changes. Since Kazuki didn’t mention anything, he assumed Kazuki didn’t know. He would just ask Nunully later on and see if she was aware of the cause.
Shin, though, couldn’t sit still and was curious.
“Eh, that’s it? Are you not surprised at all about Sam’s changes? Do you really have no idea or thoughts of what could have caused it?”
Rubbing his chin, Kazuki pretended to think deeply on the matter.
“It’s not that I don’t have a guess but I figured we could discuss this after all this is over.”
Shin grabbed Kazuki by the shoulders and began to shake him.
“Dude, no way, I wanna know, so tell me. Tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me.”
Kazuki slapped Shin’s hands away.
“Enough!, I got it, so stop shaking me before you give me a concussion. I guess we’re taking a break now right, you probably need one anyway since you have to climb a few more ledges.”
Everyone started to recover their strength as Kazuki gave his “Guess”
“I’m not quite sure but do you remember the lesson Garn gave us back in Treia. He said the first mage rank was called Zhichi. We all entered the first stage the day Garn unlocked our Mage cores. If you recall, this stage allows us to tap into our Mage cores and with a magic tool, we can use magic. Well, do you remember what the second stage was called.”
Shin shrugged his shoulders.
“Dude it feels like a million years ago since Garn taught us about all that. There’s no way I remembered. What about you Sam?”
To this question, Sam simply remained quiet. Kazuki wasn’t bothered by it though. Garn had only explained once and then one terrible event after another followed, so there was little time to absorb information.
Kazuki though remembered what he had learned from his childhood.
“The second stage is the Elemental stage. At the second rank, your body starts to absorb your element’s magical energy from all around. Your skin, muscle bones, etc start to take on magical properties.”
“Wait wait wait wait, I thought our bodies were already absorbing magical energy, am I wrong or did I miss something?”
“Shin, when you use your magic where are you drawing it from?”
Shin slapped his forehead.
“My Mage core.”
“Right. In the first stage, we use the power from our Mage cores along with a magic tool to use magic. Mage cores store energy but have no physicality whatsoever. Our bodies don’t physically have magic energy within them. However, in the Elemental stage, our body can actually absorb magic. Not only does this extend our life by upwards of 30 years but it also increases our magic’s power. You told me your armor increased in toughness. That is one of the effects of the Elemental stage. Not only does our power increase a bit but in the Elemental stage you should be able to activate your armor slightly faster and the amount of energy you use is also reduced due to your efficiency going up as well.”
Although Nunully and Asuna had their eyes closed, they were merely meditating instead of sleeping and heard all of this. Joy flitted across Asuna’s face and she jumped up and hugged Sam. With her strength, she easily lifted hi off of his feet and spun him with glee.
“Sam, you did it. Out of all of us you’re the first to reach the second stage!”
Kazuki’s next words dumped a bucket of cold water on her celebration.
“Maybe but we can’t say for sure. If so he should feel a constant flow of energy around him as it’s slowly absorbed into him. This would not only help him recover magic slightly faster while he’s meditating but it should help wash away a bit of physical exhaustion as well. At least that’s how it should be right? Otherwise, Nunully wouldn’t have been able to keep up with us for so long.”
All eyes suddenly focused on Nunully.
Shin couldn’t contain his voice at the moment and blurted out.
“That’s right, Nunully is a second rank Mage, how did I forget.”
Not just him but everyone else besides Kazuki had let that slip by them.
Nunully felt a little aggrieved.
“Did you guys really forget. How else did you think someone who doesn’t have an enhanced body like you all is able to somewhat keep up. I may not be able to match any of you in strength nor speed but because of my recovery speed, my stamina and endurance are refreshed at a much higher rate. If I had absorbed a blood orb like you all had, my prowess would be even more spectacular.”
Nunully didn’t feel that this was bragging but was simply the truth. Being in the Elemental stage she could technically outlast them were it to come down to endurance.
Nunully could see that she had put a bit of a damper on Sam and Asuna.
“Ah, don’t worry though, Sam, since you all have absorbed the blood orbs, your bodies, even without training, will naturally step into the second stage in time. Since you’re already half a foot in, it should be sooner rather than later.”