“Annie!” Keri more or less launched herself across the room for a hug, barely giving Annit enough time to brace herself before impact. She was never comfortable in the clinic, feeling like a crow in snow, all tall and dark and dour amid the white. Keri was small and fair and cheery, blue eyes sparkling, and with her pale cloth robe she matched quite well. She didn’t want to bring her discomfort into where people were still recovering, so she just let Keri’s happiness infect her instead of moping.
“Oof! Good to see you too, Ker.” She grinned down at the [Healer] who barely reached her chin, despite standing on tiptoes. “It’s been all of, what, three hours?”
“Three hours of this,” Keri pouted, waving at a ward of bandage-swathed patients.
“What happened? Was there a monster attack?” Shayma slipped into the room from behind her, looking over the beds with concern.
“No, a fourth-tier Classer’s shower broke and she thought she’d do it herself. The water pressure was...high.” Keri shrugged, while still latched onto Annit. “I think they expect to have the inn repaired by tonight? Who are you anyway?”
Annit grimaced. She’d wanted to introduce them in a more...controlled manner. But given Keri, there’d never been much hope of that.
“I’m Shayma Ell,” the fox-girl replied. “Pleased to -” She was interrupted by Keri transferring her leech-like hold from Annit to her.
“Eee! You’re the one who sold us the healing focus! Thank you!”
“Mmph?” Shayma looked over at Annit, barely able to breathe for the embrace. It was easy to forget Keri’s level was near to thirty. It was easy for Keri to forget it, and the strength that came along with it.
“...she’s also the representative of a Power, Keri, and she wants to talk with you.”
“Aw, c’mon, she’s way too young for that. And, and she smells like vanilla! Scary people can’t smell like vanilla.”
Keri rolled her eyes at Annit and disengaged herself from the, for some reason, furiously blushing Shayma. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Shayma,” she said, now somewhat more sober. “I would be honored to discuss business with the Power you represent. Shall we retire to a more formal setting?”
“Ah! Um, no need.” Shayma still seemed flustered by Keri - she did have that effect on people - and scrambled to remember what she was there for. “Annit told me that it was difficult for healers to break through and evolve their Class without a Source for it, so Blue wanted to see if this would work too.”
She held out her hand and produced a gem, holding it between her fingertips. It was smaller than the healing Source she'd provided Annit, and was now hanging around Keri's neck. But it was also something rather different than that one.
It was variegated green-and-white like the other one, but this one seemed alive. The colors swirled and moved under the surface, with layers deep enough to make it seem like a view into a well rather than a small jewel.
"Ooh." Keri's eyes lit up, but Annit was doubtful. She didn't trust equipment that gaudy. In her opinion, if something was glowing it was just wasting Mana. Give her plain but functional any day.
“This is a Primal Source gem,” Shayma said. “Blue isn’t sure if you can use it, or if it’s any better than a normal Source gem. But he thought it’d be better to ask a healer to try it out than someone likely to blow up a room with their Skill.”
“So it’s probably dangerous,” Annit said, reaching out to stop Keri from plucking the thing from Shayma’s hand. “I don’t think you should, Ker.”
“Blue says it’s still just a Source gem. But it might be useless. Regardless, we can compensate you for trying it out if it causes any sort of harm.” She produced, almost inconceivably, a second normal healing Source gem, identical to the one she’d paid Annit with.
“I’ll do it,” Keri said stoutly, pushing Annit’s arm aside. “It’s just healing, and I’m good at healing. All I have to do is see if I can channel my Skill through it, anyway.”
Shayma handed over the Primal Source, and Keri took off the one she’d been using, handing it to Annit, who took it with some misgivings. Her fingers itched to snatch the glowing thing away. Keri was not taking the fact that this was a Power they were dealing with seriously. Even if they dealt in good faith, it was playing with fire.
The [Healer] narrowed her eyes at the gem, which suddenly flashed. Then it flickered, turning from mossy green and white to the soothing golden-green of Keri’s magic.
“Um,” said Shayma, stepping back a pace, and then Annit saw that Keri’s eyes were glowing too, wisps of mana visible to the naked eye as they cycled between source and Keri and back again.
“No!” Annit reached out to try and wrench the gem from Keri’s hand, mana feedback be damned. But her fingers slipped right through the radiant Source as if it were mere illusion, off-balancing herself enough that she needed to exert her Skills to keep from toppling over.
“Maybe Blue can -”
Keri blinked, finally, her eyes glowing from within. “No,” she said, sounding very far away. “I just need to…[HEAL]”
Golden-green exploded outward. Aches and pains that she hadn’t realized she had vanished in a shock of warmth, while patients woke one after another as the light spun about and sank into them. It rebounded off the far side of the room and flowed, liquid, back out the door to flood other rooms. Among sounds of confusion, Keri wobbled and slumped as Annit caught her.
“Ker, how do you feel? Are you okay?” Power or not, she’d kick Blue’s head in if Keri was hurt.
“Nng?” She blinked blearily up at Annit.
“...Blue says she’s got a different Class now.” Shayma put in quietly. “[Primal Healer]. Oh, and she spent all her mana at once, which is probably why she’s so out of it?”
Only then, relieved that Keri was okay, did she realize what had just happened. “Wait,” she said. “There are no area heals.”
Annit barely noticed as the owner of the clinic bustled them into a break room, happy but very confused, and far too busy with a large number of recovered patients to delve into exactly what happened. No, Annit was too busy fretting over the muddled Keri and the fact that yes, Blue actually was a Power. It had been sort of a half-realized thing, a high-level Classer of sorts, distant and vague. But now?
Now she knew Blue could do impossible things. Now she knew he could bestow incredible gifts. Now she also knew that, if he were so inclined, he could make her beg for death and there would be none to lift a finger. It wasn’t even that she was scared, it was just that she felt utterly dwarfed by the thing that saw her through Shayma’s eyes. It wasn’t a god, but by all accounts Powers did not fall far short.
Keri came to the same conclusion about the time she became coherent, slithering out of Annit’s grasp to kneel before a bemused Shayma. “Great Power, I humbly apologize for treating your Emissary with so little respect, and I thank you greatly for the gift you have given me. I beg you to show mercy on myself and Annit, and I pledge I will repay the debt that I owe you.”
Annit had never heard Keri be so somber before, but it was enough to stir her out of her own seat and join her. Not that Annit had any experience in begging for her life and future but...she couldn’t think what else to do. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, trying to figure out how to say that she really wouldn’t have been so flip if she’d believed Shayma represented someone like Blue. Only respectfully. “Oh, Great, um, Blue…” Her mind locked up and refused to present her with any further words.
“Blue says he appreciates the level of groveling. I think he’s trying to make a joke?” Shayma sounded doubtful. “Yes, trying to make a joke. But he does agree that you owe a debt for that gem. He’s pretty sure nobody else can use it now.”
Keri glanced down at the golden-green sphere she was still clutching. “Yes, of course. What do you desire of me?”
“Of us.” Annit emphasized, stepping forward as if she could physically block Keri from Blue’s attention. “I share whatever debt she has.”
“Great! Because there is something he does need that he’d need both of you for.”
“...yes?” The two of them shared a glance. That was ominous.
“I need a party. I’m level one, well, going on seven now, but I still don’t have any real adventuring or combat experience.”
Annit snuck a glance up at Shayma, finding the fox-girl had a wry twist to her mouth. “He says I need some powerleveling.”
“That is...unexpectedly generous.” There had to be a catch.
“Mm. Blue says that once you’re roped in it’s not likely you’ll be able to leave without consequence. Associate with Powers long enough and your business becomes theirs; theirs becomes yours.”
“Forgive me,” Keri said hesitantly. “But that seems…”
“Blunt,” Annit finished for her. “Begging your pardon.”
“He says he’d rather be honest with you. Even if that’s not what he intends, it will probably happen, and it’d be better you know now than think he’s trying to cheat you. He does say that he is not going to enslave you.” Shayma paused. “Though I haven’t found it to be such a bad thing, myself.”
Annit stared at her, and Shayma abruptly flushed. “Anyway! It’s not like you need to drop everything right away. I have business here in Wildwood first, recruiting people for Queen Iniri. Then I need to go represent Blue to someone else...maybe you can go along with the other Classers? You can meet Blue officially! Sort of."
Both she and Keri had intended to move on to full-time adventuring once Keri had managed a Class evolution. They hadn't known how long that would take, since healing Sources came up so rarely and even then they'd have to outbid other parties. They had quite a bit saved up, but none of that was necessary thanks to Blue. Even though Keri was overdue for such an evolution it might have taken months of exercising her skills with the Source, and a good opportunity, to manage it.
Now they were unexpectedly ready, but not free. Though it was nice that adventuring was in fact what Blue wanted from them. Keri's Skills would have gotten them into any number of second-tier parties, despite Annit's Class being relatively lackluster, but she doubted Blue would go for that now. Three people was a party, at least, and she admitted it'd be slightly more relaxing with just one woman as the extra. Too many girls gloried in the attention they got as adventurers, since there were so few of them.
For her and Keri, that attention would just be a chore.
“I mean...I got an evolved Class and new Skills just from this one thing,” Keri said. “Just think how amazing we might be with help from a Power!”
“I don’t think we have a choice, but...have you thought about what it means to be bound to something...someone like Blue?” She glanced up at Shayma, finding that the fox-girl was patiently waiting for them for them to reach a consensus.
“It means we don’t have to worry about parties, or politics! Okay, Annie, I know it might be a little, you know, big, but I’d rather deal with one problem of substance than a bunch of annoying adventurers or merchants or kings or queens.” Impeccable and completely nonsensical logic, as usual from Keri. How could she argue with that? “Who...what is Blue, anyway?” Keri looked up at Shayma as well. “Is he a dragon, or…?”
“Oh, he’s a dungeon.”
For the first time, Keri flinched. So did Annit. Even before the mage-kings had arrived on the coast, their expansion on the islands across the sea had carried with it news of the invidious appetites of the dungeons that granted them power. “Is...is he going to want…?”
For a minute Shayma clearly didn’t understand what Keri was too shy to hint at, then she did, eyes widening. “Oh, no, Blue is a perfect gentleman. Mostly. He won’t force himself on you like that.”
“Anyway, get up!” She reached her hands down to pull them to their feet. “That can’t be comfortable. Plus, I mean, Blue may find it amusing but it’s a little embarrassing for me to have people kneel!”
“Thank you,” Keri said, rising to her feet. Annit followed suit, hastily steadying the smaller woman as she wobbled. “I...I hate to say this but...what was your name again? It’s gone right out of my head with all this.” She gestured vaguely.
“I understand, it was a lot of excitement. My name is Shayma Ell,” she introduced herself again, smiling brilliantly. “Blue’s Emissary, Iniri’s messenger, all that sort of thing.” A vague wave of her hand dismissed it. “Also, level one [Trickster] but I’ll level up once I get back to Blue.”
“You should see her Skills,” Annit muttered. “Her Class is absurd.”
But Keri was distracted. “Wait, I think...I think I know someone you know. A couple came by a few days back, fox-kin like you, a...Sienne and Giorn?”
“Wait.” Shayma stared. “You met my parents?”