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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

1/2

Really long chapters this time.

Adventuring with Shayma was weird!

That wasn’t just her opinion, it was Annie’s too.  First of all, Shayma didn’t carry her kit. Actually, she did, but she didn’t at the same time.  In fact she carried all their kits, after asking Blue, and whisked them away into some dungeon inventory so the three of them could travel entirely unencumbered.  But when it was time to stop, she could just whip out tools and tents and chairs and fresh water and everything! Annie grumbled about it making things too easy but actually they were both happy to not have to haul around packs.  The higher level third-tier and some fourth-tier adventurers had spatial magic items sometimes, but such things were expensive beyond belief for second-tiers like themselves.

Second tier!  She could hardly believe it.  She’d known that it’d be difficult when she accepted the Class, but she hadn’t anticipated she’d be nearly level thirty before being able to finally evolve the Class into something powerful enough to actually contribute to a party.  [Healer] was useful as a first-tier Class, it’s just that her magic was slow.  Slow to gather, slow to heal. Still better than other options, but suited for the city, not for the field.

But then Blue had given her that weird Source and she’d blown right through the walls she could feel around her Class.  It had been one surging moment of exaltation that was...well, almost as good as Annie.  Even now she wasn’t quite settled into her new [Primal Healer] Class and the changes that came with it.  [Heal] was the most astounding thing, something more profound than the [Cure] and [Restore] it had replaced.  With it she could exercise all sorts of different spells to target different problems, or simply dump mana into it for the impossible area spell.

But there were other things.  Things she hadn’t heard of when she looked into the [Healer] Class and its evolutions.  Chief among them was an Ability, [Combat Healing], which let her target an opponent and heal...the wrong things.  Seal a wound open so natural regeneration wouldn’t renew the flesh, or spark a fever, or encourage any one of a hundred things that could go wrong with perfectly healthy bodies.  It was actually a little terrifying! Especially since the knowledge that came with the Ability was clearly not hers. That did happen, she knew, but [Healer] had such basic Skills she’d never encountered it before.

This Source wasn’t content with just Class evolution, though.  A normal Source was an extra pool of mana or stamina, as well as something that improved any Skill of the proper affinity.  The first healing Source Annit had brought her made everything just slightly easier, more efficient, more powerful. But it was only that, and completely passive otherwise.  The new one seemed to be alive. It linked with her mana, cycling it through and back into her, each circuit making it more...hers.

Which didn’t make much sense to her, but it was true.  The flow of mana was ever so slowly broadening and deepening her control over her magic, the ease with which it was gathered and directed, and maybe even how much of it she had.  She wasn’t sure, because it was a subtle process, but as a [Healer] she was a lot more aware of her body than most Classers her level. What wasn’t subtle was the fact that the Source was considerably better than the non-Primal version.  Plus, it was warm! Annie always complained about her cold hands so having a nice little warming stone was a bonus.

All that aside, another reason adventuring with Shayma was weird was that it made Annie the only striker in their group.  Both she and Shayma were support. If they were trying to hunt in the woods or the river valley that wouldn’t have worked at all, just because Annie wouldn’t be able to kill the beasts fast enough, but in the borderlands they could manage. Her [Combat Healing] vastly reduced the combat effectiveness of anything within range, while Shayma’s illusions could stymie even the blind beasts.

Which she needed, because everything seemed to fixate on her.  Annie joked that it was just because she smelled sweet but that wasn’t true!  It was Shayma who smelled like vanilla.

Well, actually it was Blue, according to Shayma, who seemed really embarrassed about it for some reason?  But she wanted to actually meet a dungeon that smelled like flowers and spice! He actually seemed pretty nice, despite what Annie said.  Not that she was tempted to make his acquaintance in a more physical way, but even Shayma thought she was being maybe a bit too excited. Still, how often did anyone get to meet a dungeon?  Though apparently the other dungeons weren’t people, which was a bit of a relief given that they tried to kill everyone that went in.

So far she hadn’t needed to heal anything but scratches and bruises, and mostly Annit’s as she protected either of the other two from claws and fangs and once a really big club-arm thing.  But another one of her new Abilities, [Healer’s Foresight], had aided even with that. Ever since her Class evolution, she could keep a thread of her mana attached to her people, and through it she could pulse spells that sort of...piled up, healing as the damage came in. They didn’t last long, but the Ability helped her pay attention to the ebb and flow of the battle so she could anticipate it.

She hadn’t gained a level yet, nor had Annit, given that they were mostly dealing with lower-level beasties.  The borderlands beasts didn’t get more powerful than a level twenty Classer, for the most part, so even for her they weren’t too much of a threat.  But Shayma was level one! And still level one! According to her, there was some weird thing where she had to go back to Blue to level up, and it wasn’t even a Class issue?  

Even though their levels weren’t climbing it was still more lucrative than either of them had thought!  Shayma had Seeker Skills somehow? Which meant that they ran across all sorts of things you didn’t often find in the Borderlands.  Bushes, berries, and small trees that had concentrated mana of their own accord, providing valuable Affinity materials. Animals with their inherent Affinities concentrated in bone and hide rather than blood and viscera, making their bodies considerably more useful.  Once, she literally tripped over something that turned out to be a lost sword, complete with kinetic Affinity forged into it, and not yet rusted from exposure.

Even though they couldn’t stay out long or venture far, according to Annit it was some of the best hunting she’d ever had in the borderlands.  But according to Shayma even [Luck] and [Seeker] didn’t have infinite potential, and they’d more or less run out of the best pickings after less than a week.  She didn’t mind. As it was she was having a lot of fun, and wasn’t worried about money. That was Annie’s job.

“Left,” Annie said, and Shayma split into four separate doppels, covering their left flank.  Annie herself vanished into the trees.

For her own part, she pulsed light healing to the two of them, and enveloped herself in a green-gold glimmering [Shield].  Since it was built out of healing Affinity mana it wasn’t particularly strong, but it did spread some of her magic to allies or enemies by touch, giving her a chance to cast spells on them without spending much effort.  Usually she didn’t need it.

But this time she did!  Something streaked through the air from somewhere in the foliage and and smashed into the shield, falling to the ground in front of her.  Only belatedly did she recognize it as a quill, as if from a very large porcupine, and by itself it drained a good chunk of what she’d invested in the [Shield].  It wasn’t the only quill, but the others hit the Shayma-dopples, the original being hidden somewhere nearby, and the fakes fell.  The beast responsible leapt silently from the wood to maul one of the illusions, revealing itself as a bear-looking thing with a number of those quills growing from its snout.

A bear-looking thing that quickly shook its head in confusion, starting to stumble forward as between Shayma and herself it was rendered almost insensate.  Even as easy a target as it was, Annit’s darts could barely pierce through the armored hide, and it took several to bring the thing down. Unfortunately, Annit’s Class was not an especially powerful one, not compared to some of the second-tier wind-focused ones she’d seen in Wildwood, and she probably needed a Source weapon just to equal their potential.  Which had been less important than finding Keri her Source.

Shayma was generous enough to let them have her share of all the spoils, aside from a few of the more exotic plants, claiming that she and Blue didn’t need them.  Which was really nice of her! But probably true. One of those Primal Source gems could probably buy half of the Retreat! And she had one! Her hand went to the gem that hung about her neck again, warming her fingers on the gently-glowing stone as Annit dropped out of the trees.  

“This wasn’t lucky at all,” Annie grumbled, making that adorable scrunchy face.  “There’s got to be like, ten of these in the borderlands total.”

“You didn’t seem to have trouble,” Shayma replied, flickering into existence beside her.

“Ker and I are both way above level, is why.”  Annit pulled out a skinning knife, and gestured for Shayma to do the same.  She kept watch, glad to leave the messy and laborious process to the two of them.  This was the one disappointing thing. Nobody ever mentioned how much work was involved in taking back monster parts!  She’d known in an abstract way, of course, but it was still disappointing.

Then Shayma froze for an instant and started swearing.  Some of those words she’d only ever heard from third-tier Classers before!  “There’s an army coming at Blue,” she said.  “We have to get back to Wildwood so I can tell them before he pulls me back.”

“Oh.”  That didn’t sound good at all!  “Is he going to be okay?”

“More importantly, what about us?”  Annit said, abandoning the bear thing.

Shayma paused, then made her skinning knife disappear.  “Blue says that, considering the circumstances and how much you’ve done over the past week, he can consider your debt fulfilled.”

That was really generous!  Even if they’d given Shayma all the materials they’d found over the week, it wouldn’t be enough to pay for a regular healing Source, let alone something as ridiculous as the thing hanging around her neck.  It was in the class of legendary artifacts in her book, which was not something a mere level thirty should have!

“But,” Shayma added, “if you come along Blue is willing to provide Annit with a Primal Source blowgun.”

“Ooh!”  She looked over to Annie, who had stopped in her tracks.  “Come on, Annie, we should go! We get to meet a Power and you get a new weapon!”

“But…”  Annie tried to muster an argument, she really did, but blowguns were not a common weapon, especially ones of any quality.  They would have to commission an artisan in Wildwood, find or buy the proper materials, and even then it would take some time and it was possible it wouldn’t quite match with Annie’s Affinity.

But Primal Sources didn’t seem to have that issue.

“Don’t be scared, Annie!  Blue’s been good to us!” She bounced over to give Annie a hug.  That usually settled things! She wasn’t being as breezy, as Annie sometimes put it, as it might seem.  Annie’s Class wasn’t strong, and she had no intention of partying with someone other than Annie.

It was all too common for small-time adventurers like them to get killed either by beasts or by foul play out in the wilds or in dungeons, and two women would be an even more appealing target for some types.  But with the edge given them by what Blue could provide they could tackle serious threats, and being known as servants of a Power would shield them from all kinds of politics.

Plus, she liked Shayma, and once she leveled up and raised her combat Skills, they’d have a great three-woman party!  “Besides, where would we get a better deal?”

“Mmph…”  She already knew Annie would agree by the set of her jaw, so she didn’t try to rub it in any further.

Instead she turned to Shayma.  “I’d like to take the deal but it’s up to Annie to decide.  She’s a lot more careful than I am. I’d get into so much trouble without her!”

Shayma gave her a brilliant smile, then winked, since she clearly knew what was going on, and Annie made a sound somewhere between a growl and a sigh.

“Fine!  We’ll go, we’ll go.  Come on, Ker, we have to hurry and you don’t have movement Skills.”

She squeaked as Annie lifted her up, hauling her along effortlessly as the two women flashed through the forest back to the Retreat.  It was surprising, but it always made her feel safer when Annie carried her that way. Not to mention it was pretty fun, since Annie’s movement Skill was amazing, letting her flow effortlessly through the wood.  Shayma on the other hand just flat-out vanished, leaving a ghostly afterimage streaming through the air. It was so weird!

It only took them twenty minutes to get back to the Retreat.  She was pretty sure Shayma would have gone right through the walls if she was by herself, though that probably would have earned her quite a scolding from the guards!  They hated when people didn’t respect the gates, even though most third- and fourth-tiers could ignore them if they really wanted.

“Lockert!” Shayma called the moment the guards cleared them through the gates, taking out a little wooden thing on a string and whirling it about, making a thrumming noise.  “We need to talk to Monat!” Not Grandmaster.  Just Monat.  It was really strange, but then, she’d caught Shayma talking about Queen Iniri as just ‘Iniri.’  Probably just something about being associated with a Power.

If she met another Power would she use a title?  Were there any other Powers around?  She hadn’t known of any that existed for sure before Shayma came along.

Lockert appeared at the sound of the bullroarer, coiling around them, magic whirling and lifting them up.  Somehow Shayma seemed to have already become friends with the windmage-turned-windbeast, though she was pretty sure it was because she didn’t use the whistles that Lockert constantly complained about.  The bullroarer had been Annit’s idea, too!

She wasn’t comfortable speaking around Grandmaster Monat herself.  She’d only met him once before, when he was asking about her Class evolution, and he’d been intimidating!  Even just sitting on a rocking chair with no shirt on, as he was when Lockert deposited them, made him no less intimidating.

So she hung back with Annie as Shayma discussed things.  “I’m actually kind of nervous about actually meeting Blue now,” she confessed.

Annie gave her that look, the half-exasperated, half-affectionate one.  “It’s a bit late now. But you were right. He really hasn’t done anything to betray our trust.  Though I doubt you can really meet a dungeon, especially since he can’t talk to anyone but Shayma.”

“Maybe he will figure out how someday!”  Powers could do all kinds of things, in legend.  So far Blue hadn’t disappointed. Talking over distances, teleporting people at whim, and supplying never-before-seen and miraculous items.  Being able to speak to someone other than Shayma couldn’t be that difficult, right?

“I’m not even sure how he manages it with Shayma.”  Annit shook her head. “Anyway, we are not going to be fighting in whatever battles when we get over there.  I’m no good at mass combat and you’re going to be needed to heal people who get injured.”

“We don’t have any dedicated healers over there,” Shayma confirmed, breaking off from her negotiations with Monat.  “I’m going to be sending one last batch of people over and then going myself. Could you two stick with Queen Iniri until I show up?”

“You’re not coming through with us?”

“I can’t.”  Shayma shrugged.  “Blue has to recall me a special way.  Besides, I need to go level up before I get anywhere near real combat.”  She paused a moment, ears twitching. “Assuming Blue lets me near actual combat.  But he’s right that I need to be able to communicate with the commanders.”

“Don’t worry Shayma, Annie isn’t letting me near any fighting either,” she said conspiratorially, and Shayma giggled.

“All right, how about I send you two right now?  We’re just waiting on...what did you say they called themselves?  Piping Pies?

Grandmaster Monat heaved a long-suffering sigh.  “Piping Hot Pies. There’s taking group names too seriously, and then there’s...that.”

She laughed.  She couldn’t help it.  That was the best adventuring group name she’d ever heard!  “We haven’t named ourselves yet,” she whispered to Annit.

“No, we’re not going to name ourselves like that!”  Annit’s face was pinched in the effort to keep from joining her laughter.

Blue’s Sisters?”  She suggested.  “Annit’s Bandits?”

“We’ll figure it out later.”

“A Dame Shayma?”

“Later!”  Annit nearly lost her composure as the Grandmaster laughed.  That was something worth taking to her grave.

Shayma giggled again.  “All right, let me send you two off.  Oh, and here’s a message for Iniri, too.  Just tell whoever’s on the other side I sent you.”  She handed a folded piece of paper over to Annit.

“We will,” Annit said, schooling her expression back to a serious one.

“Off you go! See you soon!”  Shayma crouched down and touched her fingertips to the ground.  Stone columns slid out of the tower to surround them, which was something she’d seen earth mages do, but this wasn’t earth magic.  There wasn’t any mana at all in what was going on.

Then there was a flash of blue, and they were elsewhere.

They were actually in the middle of a town!  A very nice one, but the distant sheer walls and the sky that wasn’t quite real close overhead made it less nice than it could have been.  Well, that wasn’t entirely true. It just made it strange.  Most people would think a huge tree floating in the air was strange, but it was normal for Wildwood, so maybe she shouldn’t judge.

There were a pair of second-tiers stationed at the circle they’d arrived on, and Annit waved the paper at one of them.  “We have a message for Queen Iniri from Shayma. About an army?”

Those appeared to be magic words.  “Right this way, please.” They were ushered off to the side where a woman who made her skin prickle took charge of them.

“I am Cheya,” she introduced herself.  “Queen Iniri’s attendant. May I have Shayma’s message, please?”

Annit handed it over without a word, and Cheya glanced over it.  “Come with me,” she instructed. “It sounds like we don’t have much time.”

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