Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 85

Claude's matchlock was slung over his back as he walked the mountain path.

The afternoon classes were one period of wrestling and two periods of marksmanship. Claude was invincible in wrestling against everyone but Welikro. He flung three students out of the ring, and no one dared challenge him since.

They'd started marksmanship only that year, though, counter to what the name suggested, it taught everything but marksmanship. It focused mainly on the fundamentals of reloading and use of the gun.

The school, as most, used the oldest model of firearm, it was also the heaviest, which made for good training despite its outdated design.

Claude and Welikro were passed after just two sessions and were absolved of further attendance.

The instructor didn't have much choice. The two boys could reload even faster than he, and that would not do for either his pride, or his authority as an instructor. The two thus once again had the afternoons free. The two completely ignored Borkal and Eriksson's puppy eyes, and left, through camaraderie to the dogs, they had none of it.

Claude said they would rather go hunting with their newer muskets, so the time would not be wasted, so he said, anyway. Welikro preferred to fish, so Claude went up the mountain alone. Claude supposed his friend's interest in fishing more-so than hunting was to be expected. He grew up on the trail, so it was nothing new and exciting for him, which fishing was. Claude made his way up the mountains to a large plateau on which grew a forest, the outskirts of which had become his hunting ground.

Sometimes having good friends was a problem in its own right... He didn't have much private time, for example. Everything was done with his friends. Moments like these, where he could enjoy the quiet of the forest, were thus precious, exceedingly so. And now more than ever he appreciated an excuse to get out of town on his own. He was desperate to try out his two combat spells.

He was most excited about Magic Missile. He literally giggled after first using it. It was everything he'd imagined and more. It felt like carrying five muskets around with him that were always ready to fire. As long as his mana held up, he had unlimited ammunition. And the fire rate was closer to that of a slow machine gun than a rifle. Even better; he could cast it while moving, unlike his alchemical spells.

Oh, the gods had truly blessed him this time!

Unfortunately, the spell was only useful as a defensive measure. The chances of getting within ten metres of a target without alerting it to his presence and sending it scampering off into the underbrush was all but infinitesimal, not that the spell was worth using even if that succeeded. Scorched rabbit didn't generally sell well.

Landes had apparently asked Tawari how effective it would really be in a fight against a magic beast and the man told him it would at least let him die with dignity. Claude didn't know how strong magic beasts were, but the spell had at least the same punching power as a musket.

The other downside was that he had to physically aim his shots with his hands, so if he was restrained, or attacked from behind, it would be of little use. He could guide the projectile somewhat, but the effect he could have on its trajectory in just ten metres was rather limited. It was still very adequate for a basic skill, however, and it would certainly be a nasty surprise for anyone that came at him.

Mental Shock was quite a surprise. Claude quite quickly changed his mind about the spell once he actually used it. It was actually more useful than Magic Missile. Claude thought a better name for it would be Stick Strike, since the poor bastard hit with it behaved exactly like when they were struck on the back of the head with a stick. It was a great way to surreptitiously incapacitate someone. Unfortunately Landes never used it besides for calming his charges during feeding time.

It was quite a challenge to find a subject for the spell, however. Magic Missile could be shot at any nearby object, but Mental Shock required an animal target, something bigger than an insect. He could use it on them, but he couldn't tell what exactly its effects were. And he couldn't shake the feeling of being a bully for using it on such small, inconsequential things.

It took him several hours to finally find a worthwhile subject. He found a small snake under a trunk, and immediately hit it with the spell. The poor thing dropped dead the moment the spell activated, however. He didn't quite realise what had happened at first, since the snake just stopped moving. It didn't convulse like snakes usually did when they were killed, so he didn't know it was dead. He left after staring at it for several minutes, but found it in exactly the same position when he came by again near sunset on his way home.

So Mental Shock's effect depended on the size of the target? Or was his spell just a lot more powerful than Landes'? He tried it on several other animals and finally pinned the variance down to target size. The spell turned out the spell was fatal on everything smaller than about a cat.

He used the spell on a squirrel first, but it fell on its head out of the tree, so he couldn't be sure if the spell or the fall had killed it. He discovered a cat just as he entered town and used the spell on it, and it collapsed. He only realised it might not be a stray after casting the spell, so he didn't go to check on it. He only learned it was dead when its owner picked it up and started crying. He had to fight back his guilt as he departed.

Shouldn't Landes have discovered that as well? He should have mentioned it! He scowled at the ceiling of his room as he tried to sleep. Then again, given how specific he was about making the spell to help him out with feeding the magic beasts, he probably never used it on anything else. Claude doubted he would really have omitted this if he'd known about it.

When the thought about it some more, he slapped himself on the face. Of course! If the spell had the same effect as striking someone on the back of the head, then, just as such a strike could, it, too, must have the potential to kill. If it struck everything with the same force, then it would of course kill a small animal, just like hitting a small animal just as hard as one might hit a human would kill it as well.

He scoured the town for small animals, pets, and livestock -- like chickens -- and lobbed them with his spell when no one was looking. Chickens and geese didn't die immediately, but they too kicked the bucket, eventually. Dogs were the smallest animals that survived his strikes, but they were usually literally scared shitless when they came to again.

Cows and horses survived without much issue, though one cow was frozen with its snout in the water and nearly drowned. One of the horses was struck mid stride, forgot to put its foot down, and collapsed. The people that saw the horse go stared at it with bewildered smiles while the owner rushed over to look at his prized horse.

Claude became progressively more desperate to lob a human with the spell, but he didn't know anyone he wanted to lob that was easy to get to. He didn't want to lob just anyone, after all.

The only downside to Mental Shock, really, was that he had to say a short, one syllable incantation. He'd tried casting it by just channelling mana through the formation, but it wouldn't activate until he uttered the incantation.

Claude concluded that Landes had to have a sick kind of humour, since he made the incantation 'bang'. He really didn't like the idea of randomly saying 'bang' in the streets to stun people or animals.

He headed to the farms and orchards to the southwest of town a few days later. The farms there were a little bigger than those directly south of town, and should thus have fewer feet and eyes. The boys had once again thinned the animals to the south, so he hoped there would be more prey southwest of town. Welikro did say, after all, that hunters generally didn't go there since the farmers there had more money and could make life troublesome for the hunters if they accidentally killed livestock or a family pet. As such prey should be far more plentiful.

He hoped to test his spells on a few larger pray. The jump from dog to cow was quite substantial, and he wanted something in between to better track how the effect scaled between the two extremes. Boars were ideal since he could test Mental Shock on them hopefully without killing them, but still take them out with Magic Missile if the spell didn't work as expected.

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