Tuesday, April 7, 2015

SURVIVAL QUEST by Vasily Mahanenko (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3. The Pryke Mine. Day one.

I sprang from the bed, looking around in a panic: what, who, where, how? A fire! I have to run! My ears were ringing from the horn that came out of nowhere and my feet were giving way under me. All I knew was that I had to do something to save myself and so started to dart around the bed. Strange, my brain seemed to be working fine, but my body was moving all of its own accord. So that's what Panic is like! Even my eyes were failing me. The other prisoners continued to dress themselves calmly, seemingly oblivious to this terrible ringing.
"Sit down, close your eyes and try to relax. It will pass," I heard a voice next to me say. "They probably forgot to warn you about our alarm clock. It only affects the newcomers. Once you learn to wake up at the right time, you'll stop hearing it. For now try to calm down - the more agitated you are the worse you'll feel."
'So here they are - the undocumented details of my imprisonment! No need to mention them; leave a surprise for the prisoners instead,' I thought angrily, then sat on the bed, closed my eyes and tried to relax. I didn't make a good job of it I was still very tense, my head was splitting and the ringing in my ears could rival a bell tower in volume.
'I need to distract myself in order to relax,' I thought. This means I have to force my brain to work. What was the first thing I needed to do? I had to create a plan of action for the next day, week and year. So then, if any planning is to be done, it should be serious and long-term.
Let's think. Today I will need:
1.  To get acquainted with the local customs and people.
2.  To determine my capabilities as a Shaman.
3.  To be certain to achieve the daily quota.
4.  Optional: try to exceed the daily quota even a little and assess money-earning possibilities.
I think thats enough for today. Next comes the plan for the week:
1.  Evaluate the prospects of improving my capabilities and understand how quickly these will develop.
2.  Find a change for my striped clothing.
3.  Earn 20 silver coins in order to unlock the Jewelcraft trade.
Then there is the plan for the year. This is simple:
1.  Survive and dont go crazy.
2.  Find a Precious Stone.
3.  Optional: leave the mine for the main gameworld.
Having made a plan of action for the near future and put my thoughts in order, I opened my eyes and saw another prisoner sitting on the bed next to mine and looking at me intently. The human and it was definitely a human or I understood nothing of races had a remarkable resemblance to a dwarf: he wasn't tall, was of a stocky build and had bright, penetrating eyes. And, as I noted to myself again, there was no aggression in these eyes. There was an interest, some sympathy anything but aggression.
'Something is wrong with the prisoners here,I thought to myself, Maybe they're digging up the wrong sort of ore.'
"Have you recovered?" he asked and from his voice I understood that he was the one that helped me deal with the local alarm clock. "Get dressed, we should go and get the food." You won't be much of a worker if you don't eat. And take your pick and bag too, you'll not be back here until the evening.
"Th-thank you, Kartalonius," I said with some effort as I read the man's name, which was glowing faintly above the player. I quickly dressed in a clean robe (it seems imprisonment had at least some advantages - the clothes cleaned themselves; nice!), grabbed the pick and followed after Kartalonius.
"Just call me Kart," he laughed, looking back and slowing to my pace. "A bit of a chore to say this tongue-twister every time, so Kart will do. I've gotten used to it now after all, it's my eleventh year here... And I still have four more to go..." he added sadly, after a brief pause. "Well then, let's not dwell on the negatives... We'll have to live side by side, so let's get off on the right foot from the start. You're not too excitable, I hope? You were racing around the bed so much first thing this morning you'd think you've been hitting your feet repeatedly with your pick. You were screaming too: 'Fire! Save yourselves!'"
I felt my face begin to color involuntarily. Had I actually been screaming too? From outside, my darting around must have looked stupid. With a heartfelt curse at the smart asses who thought up such a wake-up call, I had a look at Kart. So the "little guy" was far from simple. You don't get fifteen years for nothing you would have had to try really hard to be given that.
"You shouldn't worry so much," smiled Kart, seeing my reaction. "This is a unique mine, where they don't send just anyone. Here we mostly have fraudsters and embezzlers, we even have one kidnapper. But we have no violent sorts here. At least - so far. Did the governor tell you what happens when you break the rules?"
I shook my head, ticking 'the NPCs in the mine are real bastards' box in my mind.
"The rule is quite simple." As soon as you cause anyone intentional damage, irrespective of what you use - a hand, a pick or a stone, your Energy quickly falls to zero and you hit the floor, totally drained. At zero Energy you lose 1 Hit Point every 5 seconds, all this while no Energy regeneration takes place. So if you are not immediately given some water to drink, in a couple of minutes - you're dead. And I can tell you right away - death is a very unpleasant experience, especially since on death you lose all the skill levels that you managed to acquire. So this is what's special about our mine. For many residents this is worse than death, because crafting at a low level of skill is a tedious undertaking. Also levelling up costs quite a lot."
Crafting? What's he on about?
"Its just as well this is the case. I myself stick to the rule that if no-one bothers me, I don't bother anyone. But tell me, why I haven't met a single hostile gaze at the mine so far?" I asked, pointing to a gnome who walked past us and cheerfully winked at Kart. "You get the feeling that the people here are not criminals, but ordinary workers, who have been hired to do a job and soon would be going home to sit in a comfy sofa, take out some cold beer and... Blast! Daydreaming aloud here. But in any case, things don't normally work this way! This might be virtual reality, but the people here are real and every last one of them a criminal, and they look at you like dancers at a ball with interest, almost enthusiasm. I've not seen such looks in real life, while this is prison, whichever way you look at it. So, what's the secret?"
"Well done, got to the heart of things right away!" noted Kart, standing at the end of a queue, lining up for the food.
 "Look here, this is Altarionus, or simply Alt," he slapped the man in front of us on the shoulder. "Hi, Alt, have you managed to buy some green paint for the canvas?"
Despite such an unceremonious greeting, Alt turned around and instead of starting an argument smiled in greeting.
"Oh, hi Kart! No, I haven't bought it yet. The darn thing costs almost five gold, but I have just over three. Here, you can work as hard as you like, but you wont earn more than ten silver coins in a day. So the governor will only get his new painting in a couple of weeks. Hells, my hands are already itching to complete it. I'll be climbing the walls if I don't finish the work soon! And I tried to approach Rine this way and that tried to get him to gift it to me or give me a discount, to appeal to his softer side by saying that I only have ten percent to go to level five Artist, but the dwarf is stubborn. It's true when they say: its easier to bargain with a wall than a dwarf. And you, young man, what is your profession?"
And then it finally hit me. The luxurious interiors of the administration office, the absence of hostile looks from other prisoners (creative people cannot look at others like that) and Kart's words that "this is a unique mine, where they don't send just anyone": I had ended up in a mine for master craftsmen: those who were given a profession when their sentence was passed. This is why it's so quiet here and why Kart is quite friendly with me and why Alt is readily talkative. If you've spent the past ten years in creative crafting work, you'll lose your negative attitude sooner or later. So you get some sort of a zone for prisoner rehabilitation and re-education instead of a mine. What a place to land in!
"I'm a Jeweler," I muttered, somewhat at a loss, now seeing other prisoners in a different light. The mine contained about a couple of hundred living souls - humans, gnomes, dwarves and even one orc. As Rine said, there were Sculptors, Glaziers and even a Woodcutter here. The Woodcutter was most probably the orc that stood not far down in the queue and was turning around some piece of wood in his hands.
"Oh! You have quite a rare profession!" Kart exclaimed enthusiastically. "We've not had any Jewelers in my time here! A piece of advice for you, lad (and don't look at me so suspiciously, I wont give you any bad advice): pull yourself up by your bootstraps, forget tiredness and exceed your quota. Your aim is to earn money and unlock your main profession. And when you level up in that profession then... But no, I'll not tell you youll see for yourself. By the way, the more you make of something, the more money you get, and more money means an easier life here. Ain't that true, Alt?"
Alt nodded in agreement.
"And what are you? Whats your specialization?" I asked Kart, already figuring him for a Sculptor.
To my surprise Kart remained silent and grew gloomy, then turned away altogether and started to examine some distant mountain top in the distance.
"Did he spot a dragon there suddenly? Or did I ask an unpleasant question?"
"Our law-enforcers played a cruel trick on Kart. His profession is even more rare than yours; he's an Informant," Alt replied for him. "Kart didn't tell you, but I will. You see, the higher the level of the main profession, the more we get how shall I put it? pleasure, if you like. Satisfaction. This is why everyone at the mine tries to level up. Everyone except for Kart. In order to level up he has to inform on us to the camp governor. If you take into account that in ten years of imprisonment Kart's level of Informer is still zero, you can see how often he engages in that activity. When you increase your Jewelcraft at least to level 1, you'll understand what he's been deprived of."
"I'm sorry Kart, I didn't know," I mumbled, somewhat lost.
"That's all right, I'm used to it now. But then I'm level eighteen in Chattiness: there is such a stat, would you believe it. That's what keeps me going. By the way, from our talking today, I increased it by 0.5 percent, and we didn't even talk properly yet. So in the near future, you'll find it hard to get rid of me."
Now I got the reason for Kart's interest in me. And I had been so naive and thought that it was all pure goodness and mutual help. Far from it it's all totally mercenary, give and take relations.
As we talked we didn't notice how the queue arrived at the place where food was handed out. I failed to see it yesterday, located as it was right behind the smithy, by one of the entries to the mine. And the food place could hardly be called a place; all it contained was a meter-high vat standing on the ground, from which one of the guards was ladling food out to the prisoners. That's all there was to the "place". No fires, tents, shelters or anything else. Clean plates were lying in a large pile right on the ground in front of the cauldron and the prisoners took one and came up for their portion. Spoons were attached to each plate by a string. Like a child's rattle of some sort. And where did the dirty dishes go? There was no collection point in sight. All right, I'll see what Kart would do with his and copy him.
When I was given my plate of food, my first thought upon seeing it was 'No way will I be eating THIS. Not going to happen.' You just could not call what the overseer handed me 'food' under any circumstances. It was a muddy homogeneous mass of pale-green color, with bubbles slowly floating to the surface. Although the food looked liquid, it did not flow, but froze in an ugly mass on the plate. It was a good thing that it completely lacked any smell, or I would have thrown up there and then.
"Take it and shove off," said the overseer with a smirk, seeing my long face. "It's no resort here: you eat the porridge or starve to death. Well?" he thrust the plate at me once again.
I took it, walked away and glanced back. To my surprise the prisoners were all calmly eating it, taking no notice of the appearance of the food. 'Either they've gotten used to this out of hopelessness or I simply don't get it,' I thought, perplexed. So that's what choice is like to lock your sense of revulsion into some distant corner and eat THIS, or enjoy the unforgettable pleasure of your own stomach eating itself. Those developers were some bastards!
The strange thing was: when I played as a Hunter I never noticed that the character started to feel bad without food. If you didn't eat for a long time, you gradually became sluggish, less mobile, you gain experience more slowly, but there were no catastrophic consequences. And not even in my worst nightmare could I imagine the stomach digesting itself. Another undocumented feature of imprisonment? Or do normal players play under simplified settings, while here you end up with extreme version of hardcore? Or perhaps everything I've been told was a bluff and nothing will happen to me? My head started to ache from this avalanche of thoughts. Now I had the chance to regret not checking out this detail when I was preparing for imprisonment.
Whether I wanted to or not, I had to make a decision. Was I prepared to take a risk and verify the information that one can die without food? Though I was ashamed to admit it, but I was not. Even if this was a game, I wasn't psychologically ready to die, even in a virtual sense. In all my 87 levels as a Hunter I only died a couple of times, before I gained the ability to control my opponent at level 30. From that time on I'd been playing like Koschei the Deathless. I even smiled at the thought: on account of Marya the Wise (Marina) my Koschei (my Hunter) was destroyed. Moreover, when I was free the sensory filters were turned off and death simply meant disconnection from Barliona for a couple of hours. 'Well, well... So I have to eat', I thought, and gave my plate a look of hatred, as the porridge continued to bubble. I overcame my aversion and slowly started to eat, carefully watching those around me. At first I felt light tingling in my mouth, as if I was eating a fizzy sweet. Then to my surprise I discovered that the porridge had a taste and that this taste was a pleasant one. When the tingling in my mouth gave way to euphoria in my whole body, I quickly finished the entire portion before I knew it. The pleasure was so great that I wasn't even surprised when I saw the message about receiving a buff:
Buff gained: Strength +1, Energy loss reduced by 50%. Duration - 12 hours.
As soon as I read the message, the plate disappeared from my hands. Great: only if such things happened in reality - you eat and dirty plates vanish forever! Putting my pick over the shoulder I joined the flow of people moving towards the mine. My first day of work awaited me.
The site greeted me with graphic dust effect, lack of wind and the burning sun.
I had only 1 level in Mining. This meant that, irrespective of how much I increased it today, I had to gather 10 pieces of ore. The quota was calculated on entering the mine and not on exit, or at least that's how I understood Rine. Keeping in mind that I should beat my quota, I had to gather 20 pieces today. So, let's go! With this thought I threw the bag on the ground got a good grip on the pick and started to hit the stone pile.
'Not too strongly or too weakly, aiming between the stones rather than at them' - thoughts flew through my head as I worked. 'I must watch my breathing and Energy level....Strike right between the rocks...  "Isn't it funny How a bear likes honey?  I wonder why...?"' Striking between the stones... I wonder, did Rabbit really put everything he had on the table for him, or did he leave something for himself for a rainy day? Must watch the Energy level...  Damn it, swinging this blasted pick is so hard... '
In approximately an hour I decided to take a break. The durability bar on the Copper Vein had stopped at 60%; so I had to hit it for another 2 hours at least. At this rate I'll be able to get through 3 veins at the most today. Not a flippin' lot! I must speed up!
The Energy level showed 43 units, Hit Points fell to 35, so I decided to get some water to restore them. I would also find out how things work at the local watering hole.
The water supply was right at the centre of the mine and consisted of a twenty-meter square site, similar to those in which the prisoners worked, with one difference: there were no piles of rocks on its borders. It contained six small wells, about half a meter wide and deep. They had no lids: just a simple hole in the ground with stones set around it. At the same time there was only one cup for drawing water. It was carelessly lying on the ground. How unsanitary! It's just as well that microbes don't exist in a virtual world. That's harsh. One little bowl for six small wells - for two hundred prisoners. It seemed inhuman. There were no prisoners at the watering hole, so I took the cup and leant over a well, dipping it in the water. What smart ass came up with the idea of putting only one watering hole in such a large mine? And so inconveniently placed too. Having drank the water, which didn't taste anything like the one that Rine offered me, I restored the lost Energy and Hit Points and saw a strange debuff text in front of me:
Water used. Duration expires in: 6 hours.
I had no access to the properties and description of the debuff, so I decided to forget about it and return to my section.
In the next hour I single-mindedly worked on destroying the vein. Only 40% of durability remained now, and soon it was 20%. A little more, just a bit! I bit my lip and inflicted a frenzy of blows with my pike. I wondered whether I would have been able to work at such a pace in the real world or would have already dropped from tiredness. Now only 10% left... Suddenly the pick dropped from my hands and I fell to the ground.
You are tired. Current level of Energy: 10 of 100.
Your Hit Points have been reduced by 30. Total: 10 of 40.
Well bang my copper! How could I forget about Energy? I went to the settings and set up a message that would flash as a warning if my Energy fell below 30. Now, the main thing was to crawl to the water and not kick the bucket on the way! The strange debuff did not disappear, but the timer in it changed:
Water used. Duration expires in: 4.5 hours.
As soon as I got to the water, I took the cup and drank a couple gulps. Feeling the tiredness recede from me, I stared blankly at the text that appeared before my eyes:
You used water for the second time in 6 hours.
Penalty incurred: the number of skill points reduced by 10%. The next degree of reduction: 20%. Attention: You have not yet earned any skill points, total penalty: 0
You restored your Hit Points. Total: 40 of 40.
You restored your Energy. Total: 100 of 100.
Despite regaining my Energy, I was too dispirited to curse or express my emotions in any way. I got up and, downcast, headed off in the direction of my site: the daily quota had to be met one way or another and I had to wait another 4.5 hours before I could drink again. Now it finally began to dawn on me that the place where I ended up really was a prison and not a recreational work and leisure resort.
The vein only had 5% of Durability left. I automatically took the pick and methodically started to make blow after blow, completely switching off to everything around me.
A few minutes later the Durability bar of the vein flickered one last time and the pile of rocks disappeared, leaving six pieces of ore on the ground behind it. I quickly glanced at the message that appeared before me and waved it away, gathering the ore into the bag and starting on the second vein.
Experience gained: +1 Experience, points remaining until next level: 99
Skill increase:
+ 50% to Mining. Total: 50%
+ 10% to Strength. Total: 10%
+ 5% to Stamina. Total: 5%
They give just 1 experience point for a vein... Blow.... I need to break 99 more veins to gain a level....  Blow....   3-4 veins a day...  Blow... At least a month until I can gain a level... Blow... I'll die here... Blow...  What's left of my spirit will, for sure...
In the hour that I spent on the second vein, its Durability went down to 65% and my Energy level to 30. The water debuff showed me that I could not drink for two more hours, so I lay down in the shade cast by the vein to get out of the burning sun. I closed my eyes and imagined myself swimming in cool water, it running down my face, slowly drinking the sweet, cool, invigorating moisture...
A quiet squeak sounded next to me like a thunderclap on a clear day, drowning out the piercing ringing of the picks, making me jump up and glance around wildly.
A huge Rat, coming up to my knee in height, stood on one of the veins of my section and looked at me. I stared at the Rat, stupefied, and for a while we engaged in this 'staring contest'. What was a Rat doing here? There were only rocks in this place. What's there to eat for them here, after all? Were the prisoners themselves on the menu? These questions remained unanswered, but one thing was clear: the Rat was there and it was looking at me. Appearing to come to some kind of a decision, the Rat snorted and, jumping off the Copper Vein, disappeared from sight.
For some minutes I stared at the space that was just occupied by the Rat.
A Rat in a stony mine! This is impossible! This is... This is free Experience! A source of Experience that did not depend on ore gathering! And if I gained a second level, I will put all my points into... Right, I must definitely go on a rat safari inside my section. After taking the decision to hunt down the Rat, I remembered Kart's words that dealing damage to someone leads to Energy falling to zero and then I bite the dust. Blast! Does this rule also apply to Rats? I must find this out so I don't end up in a pickle.
To my surprise in the time that I rested and daydreamed of a rat safari, my Energy rose to 80, my Hit Points were completely restored and the water debuff indicated less than an hour until expiry. I grabbed the pick and decided to bring my Energy down to 30, then wait until the debuff wore off and go to the watering hole, where I would ask (from the overseers if it came to it) what the punishment was for killing Rats.
Either the inspiration from the coming hunt increased my physical strength or I got the hang of the work process, but by the time I was down to 30 Energy, the Durability of the vein was only 15%. The water debuff had completely expired and, aching all over, I ran for the water.
The watering hole was quite crowded it seems that the debuff had expired for many people. Having refreshed myself, I started to look for Kart, but to my disappointment he was nowhere to be seen and the same went for Alt; so, having weighed up all the 'pros' and 'cons' I went to an overseer. 
'I wonder,' I thought as I came up to the guard, 'where did the developers find the template for such a despising stare? After all, it's not something that can be contrived - you'd have to be born with a stare like that. You feel as though the guard is looking at you like a piece of something small and indecent. Well I'll be... this really is quite unsettling...'
"What is it?" barked the overseer and it seemed to echo around the whole mine.
"Is there a penalty for killing Rats?" I quickly asked my question, thinking that politeness would be wasted on a guard.
"Rats? Ha-ha! So, you've decided to become a Rat hunter, have you?" laughed the guard. "Aside from the fact that it will make a nice snack of you, there are no penalties. In any case, you'll never catch it with those stubby legs! It can only be hit from afar, but what will you hit it with? A stone? So quit drooling over Rats and get your ass back to work!"
Right. Aside from the stare they also gave this law enforcer an angelic temperament. But at least I got all I needed out of him a Rat can be hunted without fear of punishment. And if there's no punishment, I should make use of this opportunity.
"Halt!" The guard shouted after me as I began to head off. "If you do somehow manage to kill a Rat, you could claim a reward for it from Rine. They get on his nerves even more than you get on mine. Don't forget to bring a Rat tail as proof."
Message for the player!
If you kill a Rat, bring the Rat tail to Rine and claim your reward: 10 Copper coins and
+2 Reputation with the Pryke Mine Guards for each Rat tail.
After I returned to my site, I decided to finish off the second vein quickly, make a start on the third and then, once Energy had again fallen to 30%, go on a hunt for the Rat. After all, this gave me an additional opportunity to earn money and raise my reputation! I must make use of it. In my mind I was already at the hunt, so I did not notice the moment when the Durability bar flickered and the vein vanished.
Experience gained: +1 Experience, points remaining until next level: 98
Skill increase:
+50% to Mining. Total: 100%. Mining increased by 1. Total: 2
+10% to Strength. Total: 20%
+5% to Stamina. Total: 10%
I quickly glanced at the message that appeared and waved it away so I could gather up the ore and start on the third vein, and then...
A light, virtually weightless, pleasure, like a glass of cool fresh beer that you drink after a hot sauna, engulfed me from head to toe. This was so unexpected and at the same time so pleasant that I wanted to jump, sing and hug someone. Where are you, Rat? I love you!
The euphoria did not last long, but left a deep mark in my soul. Yes, this makes slaving away for 12 hours a day well worth it. I could not even imagine what I'd be feeling when I levelled up one of my stats or my main profession. So there are some advantages to having the sense perception in the capsule turned on. And Alt was right, it is an unforgettable feeling.
I had another 6 pieces of Cooper ore from the second vein, which allowed me to forget about the daily quota and opened my road to money-earning. So, what did we have: Energy: 95, vein Durability: 100%, Mining: 2. There are about 5 hours left until the end of the day. Here goes!
The message that I added to the settings for monitoring Energy popped up after about an hour of work. I sat on the ground and was pleased to note that with the second level in Mining working became more enjoyable and after approximately the same hour of work, only 45% of the vein Durability remained. And I wasn't even trying that hard!
Now I just have to decide what to do about the hunt. I can't run after the Rat, since I don't have enough Energy and Stamina. Agility would be of little use: with a score of 1 in this stat I will only hit my own legs instead of the Rat. Should I perhaps put down some traps? Looks like I have my work cut out for me...
The Rat population in my lot turned out to be quite healthy I counted around five of them. Like all animals in starting locations, the Rats were not aggressive and had 30 Hit Points. These nimble beasts constantly darted to and fro between the stones and only rarely entered open space for a few seconds, which made all my grand plans crumble before my eyes. Having selected one of the Rats, I examined its properties.
Pryke Mine Rat. Description: this darting animal appeared at the Pryke Mine right from the time it opened and has been a troublemaking headache for its administration ever since. There is a reward allocated for killing Rats. Hit Points: 30. Attack: 10. Armor: 2. Magic resistance: 2.
As no clear solution was forthcoming, I automatically began to go through my stats and skills, continuing my intense search for possibilities.
Race: Human. The first race in Barliona. The Capital: Anhurs... Looking further... Mining - character profession, enables the gathering of ore. As the level of the profession increases the rate of Energy loss slows down... Next... Class: Shaman. A spiritual mentor, who is able to communicate with Spirits and call them to his aid. The summoned Spirits help the Shaman to defend himself or to heal wounded comrades, and strong shamans can... Next.... Stop! Backtracking!
Shamans can work with Spirits! Why am I so slow? Didn't I make a special note to myself this morning to get to grips with the Shaman class?
It took me a bit of time to understand how to open the spell book, which I then selected and began to study. I only had two spells in the book, but these spells were really something!
Summoning of the Lesser Healing Spirit: You appeal to the world of Spirits, summoning the Lesser Healing Spirit, which gives part of its essence (life force) to the injured person. The strength of the summoned Spirit and the amount of the essence given is determined by Intellect. Kamlanie (casting) time: 2 seconds. Cost of summoning (before initiation as a Shaman): (Character level) of the summoner's Hit Points, Cost of healing: (Character level)*4 mana. Restores (Intellect*3) Hit Points.
Lesser Lightning Spirit Strike: You appeal to the world of Spirits, summoning the Lesser Lightning Spirit on your opponent to take away part of his Spirit (life force). The strength of the summoned Spirit and the amount of life force taken from the opponent is determined by Intellect. Kamlanie (casting) time: 5 seconds. Cost of summoning (before initiation as a Shaman): (Character level) Hit Points of the summoner. Cost of attack: (Character level)*4 mana. Damage: (Intellect*3) Points. Range: 20 meters.
Phew! I had to read this text several times to make something of it. They didn't exactly make it simple. And they were clever about it too. It is possible to summon Spirits before becoming an initiated Shaman, but you pay for it with your own Hit Points. At the same time the higher your level, the greater the cost. A bit cruel, really. But I still have to figure out how to use all this, especially as the very word 'kamlanie' remained a mystery to me, as I heard it for the first time. What is it and why did I have to spend 2 seconds doing it? All right, let's test it out. I looked at the area of my plot where the Rats were darting around and saw one of the rodents sitting on a pile of rocks and looking at me. Did I remind it of cheese or something? Well, you just keep sitting there and I'll...
"Spirit Strike!" I shouted and aimed my hands at the Rat.
My shout made the Rat's whiskers twitch, it turned its nose this way and that, but continued to sit as if nothing happened. What a flop!
"I call upon the Lesser Lightning Spirit to smite this Rat! Attack!" I pointed my hands in the direction of the Rat.
"Spirit! Summon! Drop dead!" I kept trying, but it began to dawn on me: something wasn't right here. Usually things like the use of spells, and especially summoning of Spirits, were explained during the initial training, which prisoners did not have! And the only magic that a Hunter, which I played before, could use were the spell scrolls. Blast, if only I could read the Game manual, but who'd give me access to that now?!
Maybe the problem was with the spell book itself? I carefully touched the pictogram drawing of the Lesser Healing Spirit, thinking that nothing bad would happen if the spell actually worked. Suddenly my hands contained a glowing projection of a cross. It was small, weightless and seemed to be stuck to my hand: when I opened up my fingers, the cross remained in my palm. I even shook it a little and the spell did not detach. Well, that's something. But how do I activate it now? I clenched my fist and tried to crush the cross and immediately saw a message:
Do you want to add the spell of Lesser Healing Spirit Summoning to the active section?
Yes, I do, now what?
The spell of Lesser Healing Spirit Summoning has been added to the active spells section. To activate the spell pick a target for healing, activate the Summoning with your thought and perform the shamanistic ritual (kamlanie) in the course of two seconds. Until you are initiated as a Shaman, you can use any object instead of a tambourine for the ritual. Attention! Due to the limitations imposed on this location, summoning Spirits to heal yourself is FORBIDDEN.
Available slots in the active spell section: 7 of 8.
Kamlanie has to be done with a tambourine? Does this mean that in order to heal or inflict damage I have to make a dance with a tambourine or even some 'tambourine stand-in' until I become a real Shaman? Now I get why this class is so unpopular: few people want to look like some dancing, muttering idiot. When I played as a Hunter, I saw mages, quietly standing there, stretching their hands towards the enemy, and firing lightning, fireballs and ice darts. No tambourine-accompanied dances in sight. That was real magic. And here... I was crestfallen. I remembered the Shamans I've seen before: it was true, dancing and muttering idiots was exactly what they looked like. And I can't even heal myself, they even stitched me up in this. Hit Points were lost as Energy fell, so a nice bonus like self-healing would have been very welcome. Dreams, dreams... Oh well, I still had the Spirit of Lightning!
Touching the icon of the Lesser Lightning Spirit Strike, I was ready to see its projection in my hand, but a message suddenly popped up:
Due to the imposed restrictions, using the Lesser Lightning Spirit Strike spell on the territory of the Pryke Copper Mine is only possible if your reputation with the Pryke Mine Guards is Friendly or higher. Current reputation: Neutral.
I slumped to the ground, entirely disheartened. How could this be the bonus is there, but using it is 'out of bounds'? Why did they even leave it in then? 'Well, Mr. Rat, now you can celebrate! Your life will be long and peaceful,' I thought bitterly. Goodbye reputation and goodbye money. And happiness had seemed so close...
With a deep sigh I got up, put my pick over the shoulder and went to the shade to have a rest and restore my Energy. From disappointment and dashed hopes, as well as the annoying gaze of the Rat, which continued to stare at me, I mentally selected the Rat and grabbed my pick, pressed the icon of the Lesser Healing Spirit in my mind and imagined dancing around myself, banging on the pick like a tambourine and muttering the first song that came into my mind:
 - The Shaman has three hands, o-o-o....
Take that, you grey-furred beast, drop dead and quit laughing at me.
The Rat gave a strange squeak and ran off making some weird sounds, but I took little notice of all that. My attention was held by the message appearing before my eyes:
Skill increase:
+10% to Intellect. Total: 10%
Your Hit Points have been reduced by 1. Total: 29 of 40.
The happiness that engulfed me (I found another method for levelling up!) was so great that I did not notice how something grey and incredibly fast jumped at me from behind the pile of rocks.
Damage taken. Hit Points reduced by 4: 10 (Rat bite) 6 (armor). Total Hit Points: 25 of 40.
Attention! It is recommended that you turn off the detailed description of damage during fighting.
My leg was pierced by a terrible pain. Damn Rat, have you gone completely nuts? I give you healing and life and then you attack me for it? 4 Hit Points for a bite... Blast! It could bite me to death at this rate! Forgetting my pick, I kicked the Rat with full force. Its Hit Points did not fall by much, but the Rat bounded away from me, giving me the chance to catch my breath. I grabbed the pick with both hands and prepared for the next attack. So you want war? I'll give you war!
As a Hunter I levelled up mainly by killing mobs, so I didn't panic now and I had a clear idea of what to do with the Rat. I may not have a bow, but I do have experience, which is not so easily lost! The Rat quickly recovered from my kick and instead of biting my leg again, jumped, aiming straight for the throat. This is more or less what I expected of it. I swung the pick, caught it in mid-jump and made it fly off again. Critical hit! The Rat's body flickered and it was already a weightless rodent-shaped cloud that I sent flying; it quickly dissipated. Only my loot hit the ground in place of the Rat.
Experience gained: +4 Experience, points remaining until next level: 94
Skill increase:
+20% to Strength. Total: 40%
+5% to Agility. Total: 5%
+10% to Stamina. Total: 20%
That's some bonus! So many things levelling up at once and, more importantly, you get 4 Experience for one Rat. This way, if I kill at least 5 Rats and get through 5-6 Copper Veins a day, I will get around 25 Experience every day, which would mean that it would take me under a week to gain a level! The new level would bring new stat points and new stat points equals a new level. My life has a goal! But I must figure out why the Rat actually attacked me. Why did it dislike my healing so much? Does it generate aggro with mobs? I have to get someone to explain this to me.
Picking up the items left behind by the Rat (the Rat pelt, meat and tail) I went to have a rest. Around three hours remained until the end of the working day, in which I had to finish off the third vein and, as soon as my Health recovered, 'heal' another Rat.
In the remaining time, I managed to finish off the third vein (+5 pieces of ore, +1 Experience, +10% Strength, +5% Stamina, +50% Mining) and also complete a fourth one (+5 pieces of ore, +1 Experience, +10% Strength, +5% Stamina, +1 Mining Skill), thus increasing my Mining Profession skill to 3. Having once again felt the same euphoria upon levelling up, I made a firm decision to increase at least one stat as fast as possible, to see what kind of pleasure such an increase would bring.
As for Rats, I only managed to kill one more. I sung the song twice, thus 'healing' the next Rat, and dispatched it fairly quickly, letting it get close to me only once (+4 Experience, +20% Intellect, +20% Strength, +5% Agility, +10% Stamina). Although, truth be told, the Rat used that one chance to the full, biting me for 10 Hit Points. I did not see any more Rats perhaps they had all gone into hiding. That was fine; for my first day I'd done more than enough.
The horn sounded, announcing the end of work for the day. Grabbing the heavy bag, I headed towards the exit. I joined the queue to Rine, so I could hand in my quota and sell the surplus, of which I gathered a fair amount. I also had to figure out what to do with the Rat tails. I waited my turn and poured out everything I had gathered during the day onto the table, noting Rine's surprise with pleasure.
"Not bad work, for the first day," mumbled Rine, still surprised. "Right, 10 pieces of ore taken off as the quota. Don't forget that it will be 30 pieces tomorrow. Now, let's have a look at the rest. As I said before, I am prepared to buy the surplus ore at 10 coppers a piece; you have 12 pieces, which comes to: 2 silver and 20 copper coins. Here you go," Rine put the money on the table.
Ah, yes. I forgot to explain about the ratio between the Copper, Silver and Gold coins. In Barliona it was 1:50, that is, 50 Copper coins made up 1 Silver, and 50 Silver made up 1 Gold (which could also be made up from some large amount of Copper, but who would change Copper for Gold?).
"As far as your Rat loot is concerned, I would give 1 copper coin for the meat and 3 for the skins, agreed?"
"That's not much," I said, surprising myself, because I never bargained before, not even at the market: I always paid the price that was asked.
"Well, only because you're new around here, and because I see you also have Rat tails  - we'll get around to them soon enough - I am ready to take both Rat pelts off you for 5 coins each and give you 2 for the meat. Does that suit you?"
Suddenly I saw a message:
A new profession has been unlocked: Trade. The higher the level in Trade, the better the price offered when selling and buying. There is some probability that traders will offer you non-standard goods.
Your reputation with the Pryke Mine Guards increased by 1 point. Current level: Neutral. You are 999 points away from the status of Friendly.
Skill increase:
+10% to Trade. Total: 10%
Of course I agree! So, levelling up in the Trade profession depends on how often I bargain. That's good to know. I'm no expert in bargaining, but I can learn if need be. I was also glad to find out that the sale of gathered resources increased reputation, even if just a little.
I agreed and handed over the meat and was about to hand over the pelts when I was stopped by a shout:
"Mahan, hold on!"
I turned around in surprise. The approaching man had a striking resemblance to Salvador Dalí, with his prominent moustache, mad gaze and upturned chin...
"Mahan, I heard that you intend to sell Rat skins to this honorable dwarf," he said, bowing in Rine's direction. But everyone in the mine knows that Batiranikaus (or simply Bat), would be exceedingly pleased to buy them off you for 15 copper coins a piece. Do we have a deal?"
"15 coins? But this honorable dwarf," I said, mimicking his tone, "was offering to buy all my pelts for 20 copper a piece. So, since we've already come to an agreement, I am not prepared to risk damaging my relations with him for less than 25 coins," I winked at the dwarf, who was listening to our bargaining with a pleased smile.
"25 coins! Oh gods! Weeell... all right, I'll give you 25 coins per skin: here you go," Bat agreed surprisingly quickly and handed me a silver coin. "Now hand over my skins."
Skill increase:
+10% to Trade. Total: 20%
"Take them," I pointed to the Rat skins that lay on the table and turned around to Rine to move on to Rat tails, only to be interrupted by a terrible scream:
"Guards!" Bat screamed at the top of his voice. "Guards, Mahan swindled money out of me! He's a cheat! I demand protection!"
Immediately a crowd of prisoners formed around us, through which the overseers were trying to make their way.
"What happened here?" one of them asked in a low bass.
"Dear law enforcement officer! This unworthy man," Bat pointed at me, "took advantage of my foolish naivety and swindled me out of 2 silver coins."
"Is this true?" the guard turned to me.
"Of course not, I..."
"He threatened Bat, I saw it myself!" a shout from the crowd interrupted me. "He said that he would kill Bat if he would not give him the money!" "Don't give him any food!" "Let him croak!" came shouts from the crowd, which put me in a state of shock, as I looked around, not getting what was going on. All the people had amiable expressions, even Bat, who stood next to me and with a totally genial and friendly gaze, shouted that I was a piece of scum that cheated him. I started to think I was going mad. What was going on here???
"Quiet," a stern growl from the overseer silenced the crowd. "Now we'll get to the truth!"
The guard mumbled something and a hologram appeared next to him, where you could see how Bat handed over the money to me. He gave me the money and then I waved my hand in the direction of the table where the pelts were lying, but this gesture could be read as 'Get out of here", I then turned away from Bat as if saying that the conversation was over. Blast it! It really didn't look too great from outside; as if I was some dodgy racketeer. The projection disappeared and I stared at the guard in silence.
"Here's my decision," the overseer growled once again. "Mahan immediately gives Batiranikaus back one, I repeat, ONE silver, and, because it's his first time and he's new here, the incident will be overlooked. If he is caught doing anything like this once again he will be punished by being stripped of all his skill points. I'm done here! Now everyone back to their barracks!"
I silently gave the money back to Bat, and reached out to pick up the Rat skins, but it was no use. My hands simply passed through the skins as if they were no longer mine. That's right! I had already handed them over to Bat!
"Thank you!" Bat said with a smile, shoving the skins into his sack. "Come to me if you get any more."
Bat smiled once again and left, leaving me to stand next to Rine in a state of total incomprehension: how could people with such open and nice expressions, always smiling and greeting you, be so cruel and backstabbing? After all, aren't they creative people? Why do they have so much hatred for everyone? Those shouts: "Let him rot... I saw how he threatened...". Why?
"Why are you holding up the queue?" Rine's voice pulled me out of my thoughts. "Let's deal with your Rat tails, can't abide these grey critters."
"Yes, of course," I mumbled, feeling lost as I turned back to Rine. I need to get a grip. So what if I lost the skins: I'll be wiser next time and will hand them over personally.
"Right, for each Rat tail I usually pay 10 copper coins. Here's your money and be on your way, the queue behind you isn't getting any shorter!
Your reputation with the Pryke Mine Guards has increased by 4 points. Current level: Neutral. You are 995 points away from the status of Friendly.
After getting my food, I headed for the barracks. I had no desire to talk with other prisoners today and for a long time I could not fall asleep. I turned this way and that, but the oppressive feeling of injustice I experienced just would not let go.
"Quit spinning around or you'll drill a hole through your bed. You're keeping the rest of us up! Did something happen?" I heard Kart's voice next to me.
I described what happened today, even getting up in the process, but Kart suddenly laughed. What now? I'm telling him of the terrible injustice of this world, but he's laughing at me! Seeing that I was about to get all indignant, Kart waved me down and, clearing his throat began to explain:
"Well, my friend, you sure gave me a good laugh! Best I've had in a while. What can I say... ? Congratulations: you've encountered the second peculiarity of our mine, usually newcomers don't get it from the start. If I understand correctly, you still haven't grasped what's really going on here, right?" Seeing that I shook my head, Kart continued: "I will give you a couple of clues. First: today you probably levelled up in the Mining profession and got to feel what happens when you do that. Right? Right. Think about that. Second: there are myriads of stats that a character can have. Of these a fair number are non-standard, but you can pick only 4. As you know, I have the little-known stat of Chattiness I get experience from telling everyone about everything. Get it now?"
I felt that either I was stupid or Kart and I were speaking a different language: I simply failed to see where he was going with it. What did Chattiness, free stats, and pleasure from levelling up in a profession have to do with anything?
"All right, I'll put you out of your misery, and it'll give me more chance to level up in any case. First of all, think about what you noticed in the morning. Though no I'll start with the main thing. You already felt the pleasure involved from levelling up in a profession and I am sure that it was a sensation very much to your liking. This is nothing compared to levelling up in one of your stats. The pleasure from levelling up in a stat is so intense that you want more and more. And the higher the stat level, the harder it is to level up again that's the axiom. This is why players who reach level twelve, which is the maximum level for the main stats in Pryke, disappear. I have no idea where they are sent, so no point asking me. This pleasure is the main difference between a mine for prisoners from the rest of the gameworld. The main world doesn't have this feature; after all, they play using filters, which are virtually impossible to remove. Now, about what you saw in the morning. Almost everyone in the mine walks around smiling at each other and everyone seems so nice for one simple reason - the Amiability stat. At the starter levels it gets levelled by you simply walking around and smiling at everyone, but from level 6 you actually have to believe that you like the person in front of you, that you like talking to him and smiling and so on; you shouldn't feel any falseness. That's the only way to continue gaining experience. I remember one guy who got his Amiability as far as level 32. After all, this is not one of the main stats and you can get it up as high as one hundred."
Kart was silent for a moment, catching his breath, and then went on:
"As far as what happened this evening is concerned... A person finds it easiest to level up in what he practiced in real world. So what comes out on top here is... It's the skill of Meanness. In our mine most are levelling up in Amiability and Meanness at the same time. So that's why everyone tries to play some low and dirty trick on someone else: you can't strike directly, but arranging something that could lead to injury is quite doable. This is why people get very inventive in thinking up newer and more effective methods for doing this. You're new here, so people will be using the simplest stuff against you, like the trick that was played on you in the evening. Gradually these will get more complex, for which fact you have my condolences. Everyone has gone through this. As one good man, who, by the way, left for the main gameworld on parole, said, you can give our mine the following motto: 'The Hypocritical Mine' or 'The Mine of Hypocrites'. So that's the way things are around here."

Only swear words came to my mind for commenting on what Kart just said. God, what a place to end up in!

If you can`t wait to find out what happens next the full novel is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00VQRW14E 

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