We called dad back, and filled him in on some of the skills I picked up.
“So, does that mean you don’t want to come and get more skills with me?” Dad asked.
Shoot, the promise! He was going to take me around and help me pick up skills! There were useful things I could get! Better yet, it would get me out of chores for a day or maybe even two! Also, who knew, maybe I would find a skill that I wanted, and could replace another skill with it. All in all, I saw no problems with this.
“Yeah! More skills, more skills!” I replied, jumping up and down.
“Alright, give me a moment to gear up, and we will get going.” A few minutes of dad getting into guard leathers, guard colors, and grabbing his baton, and we were off to the guard station.
Once inside, we stopped by the desk of a grizzled looking guardsman, who had both the look of being in the business too long, and not enough patience to play the political game needed to be The Boss.
“Guardsman Elainus, who’s this?” he asked. I hadn’t seen any tobacco products on Pallos so far, but his voice screamed smoker.
“My daughter, Captain Marcus.” Dad never talked that formally. “I’m taking her with me on patrol today, so she can try and pick up some skills.”
“Earlier this morning.”
He grunted in agreement. “You’re with Guardsman Catonus today. Get rid of wind weasels whenever you see one. We’re getting a lot of complaints.”
Dad saluted, fist over heart, and headed deeper in. He picked up a pouch – “Standard for guards on patrol”, then we picked up Catonus, a greasy-looking older guard, and headed out. I didn’t like him. I looked around once we were back out, and almost jumped out of my skin as I got a notification.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 2!]
Well, ok then. Catonus smirked, and asked dad. “Do we really need to bring her along? She’s just going to get in our way and cause problems. Look, she’s even still jumping from system notifications!”
Dad put his hand protectively on my head, and gave Catonus a mean stink-eye. Nothing more was said on the matter.
We twisted and turned, heading deeper into the city. I was completely lost for a while, and finally re-oriented myself as we went over the north market bridge to the temple again. Oooh, the far side of town! We went north after going over the bridge, and the omnipresent smell of the sea became that much stronger.
We slowed down after a while, and the two guards started stopping and chatting with everyone as they went around. Everyone seemed to know Dad and Catonus, and they seemed to know everyone here. This was a craftsman district, with heat and fumes and yelling, as opposed to the quieter, more mercantile district where we lived. We slowed down as we neared a smithy.
“Hey Bakus! How’s business?” Dad cried out.
“Elainus! It’d be better if you bought something one of these days!” A giant of a man I assumed was Bakus roared out. “Why don’t you get something for your pretty little kid?”
I was offended. Dad got me lots of nice things! “He got me a sharp knife the other day! Made of STEEL! Clearly you’re not good enough if he’s buying nice stuff like that somewhere else! Bleeeeeh!” I fiercely defended dad.
Bakus looked stunned for a moment, then roared with laughter. “HA! I like her! But I’m no pig-headed [Blacksmith] Elaine, I’m a [Coppersmith]!” I turned the corner to get a better look of his store. There was still an anvil, a furnace, and a bunch of other things I didn’t know that I assumed were the normal trappings of a blacksmith. However, instead of spears and horseshoes, there were delicate copper wires and necklaces, hoops and earrings. Lyra would love this! I wanted.
“Hey dad,” I started, tugging on his sleeve, whipping out ye olde doe-eyes. “Bakus might have a point about buying something. Like that necklace.” That just made Bakus roar with laughter, as dad demonstrated that face-palming was universal.
[Coppersmith] sounded pretty interesting. I wasn’t too keen on blacksmithing – the idea of breathing in fumes all day just to make swords and shields didn’t appeal in the slightest – but making jewelry? Hello. Tell me more. I had a brief vision of myself decked out in piles of copper necklaces and bracelets, with long, elaborate earrings.
[Pretty] told me that might not be the best idea.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 2!]
I jumped again. And was telling me with quite some vigor, wow. I eyed the skill, slightly betrayed. Maybe if it was [Glamorous] or something it’d be ok with my copper bonanza idea.
“Wow, just unlocked huh?” Bakus observed.
Hang on, skills! I had them! Let me try on Bakus and Catonus! [Identify]! [Identify]!
I was a hair surprised that Bakus was such a deep red compared to everyone else I had seen. I looked at him with new respect – he was good. My eyes widened. That’s why my parents wanted me to have [Identify] – I could easily tell who was good at what they did, and who wasn’t! Sure, level probably wasn’t everything, but it would at least tell me who was experienced at stuff. Well, if they made their main job their class. My ears were doing their best steam vent impression again – I was going to hold this off until another day.
I was rudely brought out of my musings by dad knuckling me on the head. Owe owe owe what was that for?
“Pay attention Elaine. You’re here as a treat, take it seriously.”
Oh right. Learning skills. Learning skills from someone experienced! Whoa, this was a real treat – no matter how good the temple’s stations were, they couldn’t hold a handle to learning directly from a master.
Dad. I forgive every mean thought I’d ever had about you. You were the BEST.
Clearly, dad and Bakus had been talking while I was in dreamland.
“Alright little miss, take this hammer here, and tap on that lump of copper over there. It’s scrap I need to deal with later, so don’t worry about breaking anything.”
The tiniest hammer was brought down from a wall, almost the size of Bakus’s finger. It looked absurd in his hand. I picked it up, and started whaling on the copper scraps in the back with all my might. Dink! Dink! Dink!
I looked at Bakus confused, and he gave me an encouraging nod. His other apprentices stopped to watch what was happening with the ankle biter suddenly in their workspace. “Focus an image in your mind, imagine the metal becoming something!” one of the apprentices called out. “Bah, she’s just a girl, girls can’t handle copper” a quieter voice from the back said. Gods, this nonsense again. It was frankly discouraging. Sure, I wasn’t likely to ever end up as a coppersmith. But that was no reason to say shit! I grabbed the hammer, and went at it again, imagining a hammer to break jackass’s fingers.
[*ding!* You’ve unlocked the General skill [Coppersmithing]!]
[Coppersmithing: You’ve spent time in the forge, learning how to bend and shape copper to your will. For good reasons or bad. With this skill, the next time you work copper, it’ll be a little bit easier. Increased knowledge, strength, and dexterity per level when working copper. -8 Mana per minute when active]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 2!]
Fist holding tiny hammer pumped in triumph, victory!
We said our thanks and left, onwards to new adventures, learning new things! However, I found it hard to enjoy myself. What that prick of an apprentice said soured the entire experience for me.
Dad was the absolute best, as we worked our way through the craftsman district. [Carpentry]. [Tanning]. [Fishing] and [Knots] at the docks. The dye master shooed dad off when he asked – apparently making nice with the local guardsman wasn’t nearly as important as keeping the monopoly on dyes – but I also picked up [Tailoring] and [Pottery]. I saw some really beautiful women hanging out near the docks, but dad flat-out REFUSED to let them teach me anything. They got a good chuckle out of me asking, while asking Catonus if he’d be back later. What on earth was their profession? Clearly it was something a lady could do, and I wanted my own job! [Learning] went up twice more, while [Vigilant] and [Identify] went up another level. Getting these early levels was fun!
It was while I was learning [Coals] that I heard something interesting. I was learning the basics from Kolius, who was a kid just a few years older than me. Of course, with the system and our low ages, that might as well be a mountain in terms of difference. His dad had arranged for him to teach me, hoping he would also get a [Teaching] skill of some sort out of it. All in all, a good arrangement.
“What does your dad do?” he asked.
“He’s a guard! He’s showing me around town as he works as a guard!”
“Oh, that’s so cool!” Kolius said, hero-worship in his voice, stars in his eyes. I suppose being a coal-maker wasn’t nearly as fun or as glamorous as a guard, who got to walk around with weapons! Nobody wanted to be stuck inside with soot and ash all day. Especially not a 10-year-old. “Is he here about Damonus?”
“Damonus? Who’s that?” I had never heard the name before.
“Everyone knows Damonus! He’s the one making all of the wind weasels! They’re such a pain!”
What. The wind weasel infestation wasn’t natural? Someone was making monsters here!?
[*ding!* You’ve unlocked the General skill [Coals]!]
I almost completely ignored the notification. Jaded to magic on my first day. “DAD! Come here! You have got to hear this!” I shouted, running outside. Dad and Catonus were outside, talking with various people. Catonus rolled his eyes. “You’ve wasted enough of your dad’s time today. Don’t you think you should let us do our jobs?”
I glared with as much force as I could muster. A muscle on his face twitched, which just made me angrier.
“Peace, Catonus, Elaine. We’ll get back to our normal rounds soon. Elaine, what’s going on?”
“Dad come with me! Kolius says he knows where all of the wind weasels are coming from! He said Damonus is making them!”
Catonus’s and Dad’s faces went from “Friendly but slightly annoyed Guardsman” to “Serious Guardsman”. These were the guards that kept the city safe. These were the guards that prevented any serious crime ring from forming. These were the guards that kept Classers in check.
“Kolius. Can you tell me where Damonus is? And how do you know he’s making wind weasels?”
Kolius, in spite of his starry-eyed look towards the guards, rolled his eyes. “Everyone knows Damonus. He’s been making the wind weasels for a while, keeps telling us he’ll sic them on us if we don’t do things for him. It’s why I’ve been spending more time here. He can’t threaten me when I’m working!”
Kolius’s dad interjected. “I had wondered why you had gotten so diligent. I think I need to catch myself a few wind weasels for myself, if they’re so good for discipline.” Sounded ominous. Glad I wasn’t Kolius. Hopefully dad wasn’t getting any ideas.
“Do you mind if we borrow Kolius for a few hours?” Catonus asked. “We just want him to point us to the right spot, so we can take a look”
Kolius’s dad just grunted. Seemed to be permission.
Kolius was thrilled to be the hero of the hour, leading the guards to the vicious beast that had prowled for too long. Or, from the description he was giving us, a teenager with a power complex. Catonus rolled his eyes and muttered “Wanna-be Classer.” with as much disdain and ‘this is going to create so much paperwork’ that he could mutter. Not that I knew if there even was paperwork, given the lack of paper I had seen. And lack of books. Really the only thing I had seen read was that scroll at the temple. I needed to get permission to enter the library and – oh we made it!
Kolius scurried back off – probably home – as we looked up at the dilapidated building in front of us. There were some wind weasels lurking about, and dad and Catonus drew their batons.
“What do we do with her?” Catonus asked, jerking his head towards me. “She shouldn’t be here. This is why we don’t bring kids along.”
Dad frowned as he thought. “It sounds like we’re dealing with a 12 to 15-year-old boy. She should be fine as long as she stands behind us.”
Hurray! Excitement! I would be fine, dad would keep me safe, and I would get to see guards doing their guard thing! Rah rah go team guard!
I was expecting some sort of sneakiness, or busting down the door, or some other cool action-packed entrance. Movies betrayed me, as they went up to the door and politely knocked on it. We got a few eyes from people walking up and down the street – guards didn’t usually have their batons out – but generally people seemed to consider it business as usual. Guards knocking on a door probably WAS business as usual I realized.
Something was itching at the back of my head though. I reached up to scratch it, only to realize scratching was doing nothing at all for me – the itchiness I was feeling was inside my head. That was weird, but probably something else system-related that I was unaware of, and would make people laugh at me if I asked. I didn’t like people laughing at me.
The itchy feeling in my head wasn’t going away, and if anything, was getting stronger and more persistent. I looked around, and spotted a wind weasel hiding behind a barrel. And one hiding around a corner. And one peeking over a rooftop. And one glowering at me from under a vendor’s table. And - that was a LOT of wind weasels, and they weren’t attacking or doing their standard “hit and runs” – they were just staring at us. The itchiness in my head reduced as I noticed them, but didn’t go away completely.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 3!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 4!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 5!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 6!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 7!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 8!]
Why on Pallos did Vigilant go up so much? That was a lot of wind weasels. I pulled on dad’s arm and said “Hey dad” right as the door opened. A scrawny looking teenager opened the door, dad said “Not now sweety”, and all hell broke loose.
The teenager, who I assumed was Damonus, got a panicked look on his face, yelled “NO!”, and slammed the door shut. At the same time, all of the wind weasels that I’d noticed surrounding us started to run towards us, sharp claws out and gusts of wind kicking up leaves and dirt around them. I screamed. I would like to say I screamed something coherent, like “look out” or “Incoming”, but no such luck. Fortunately, dad and Catonus seemed to be experienced, and quickly got back-to-back in front of the house as the wind weasels came tumbling in. It was all too quick to follow. Booted feet kicked and stomped; batons flashed with a sickening crunch. Skills were said tersely – it didn’t seem to be a requirement, just good communication between them. “[Guardsman’s Aura].” “[Peacekeeping Operation].” “[Quick Bash].”
[*ding!* Your party has defeated a Kamaitachi (Wind, lv 23)]
[*ding!* Your party has defeated a Kamaitachi (Wind, lv 22)]
[*ding!* Your party has defeated a Kamaitachi (Wind, lv 18)]
[*ding!* Your party has defeated a Kamaitachi (Wind, lv 30)]
and I realized a few things to my dismay:
First. Guards were ill-equipped to handle wind weasels. They were tall adults with short batons, and the weasels, while long, were only 4-6 inches tall.
Second. These wind weasels were smart – much smarter than the average pests we saw.
Third. I was completely unprotected and at wind weasel height. Dad and Catonus were back to back, but that didn’t include me!
With only a few left, they suddenly changed target to attack me. I screamed again – no longer the panicked scream from earlier, but the “my life is in mortal danger” scream only a kid can produce.
[*ding!* You’ve unlocked the General skill [Cowering]!]
I had no time to pay attention to the notification.
Dad recognized the difference, and yelled “[Protect the Meek].” with two weasels leaping towards me. Impossibly fast, he crouched down, shielded me with one arm, and flashed his baton out with his other. A final, sickening crunch was heard, a sound of slicing meat, a soccer ball being kicked, and a deep roar from right beside me was heard as a hot liquid spray hit me.
I stood there, stunned and shaking, as I processed what just happened. Dad had shielded me, and lashed out with his arm – but there were TWO weasels, not one, and I had heard him getting a solid hit on the first one. The second one dad had blocked with his face, followed shortly by Catonus punting. Hot liquid? That was dad bleeding all over me from the ruined mangle of the left half of his face.
“You ok?” Catonus asked.
“Yeah. Get the prick.” Dad said stoically.
There was no more audience – people got out of the way fast when guards started swinging weapons – and clearly the kid gloves were off as Catonus went through the door. My estimation of him went up quite a few notches. More yelling and flashes of light came from the door, but I was too concerned with Dad to notice.
“Dad, Dad, are you ok?” I asked, shaking his arm. He was still sitting down in the middle of the road, holding the side of his face. He groaned miserably.
“Elaine, please tell me mom made you get a medical skill. And that you didn’t get rid of it in your skill spree this morning.”
My eyes widened in realization. I had [First Aid] AND [Anatomy]!
“Go into the guardsman pouch. Get me some gauze. And the bottle.”
I followed dad’s orders as they came, watching my skills skyrocket as I followed his directions. A hiss of pain left his lips as I applied the bottle of ointment to his face. Couldn’t really see it, that was an egregious amount of blood. Not a lot of cleaning done here, this was a field dressing.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [First Aid] has reached level 3!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [First Aid] has reached level 4!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Anatomy] has reached level 3!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [First Aid] has reached level 5!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Anatomy] has reached level 4!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 5!]
“Ok sweetie, ok. This will last until I get to the guard’s [Healer].” Dad muffled from behind a head full of bandages, carefully prying himself open a breathing and seeing hole. I was trembling. Why did I come along? Why did I think this would be fun? Why did I not leave and try to find my way back when I realized it would be serious?
Catonus came out, dragging out Damonus. If Damonus had looked like a cow when Catonus went into the building, he was hamburger now. Looking at my dad’s face, I approved.
“Can you get him the buff?” Catonus asked. Buff? “[Guardsman’s Buff].” Dad placed his hand on Damonus’s head and said.
“Why are you buffing him after arresting him?”
Dad just sat back, unwilling to answer. Catonus answered. “[Guardsman’s Buff] is a guard skill that uses all of your mana regeneration to boost your vitality. It’s good at the start of a fight, and for guards in general. However, what’s really cool is that only the caster can turn it off again. For bad people, they won’t regenerate any mana, so they can’t use any skills. It ALSO makes them less likely to die! All good things.” Catonus was talking down to me, but I guess he was A) Talking to me now, and B) I was a kid, so no complaining. Catonus put Damonus in cuffs, and we started moving to what I assume was a nearby guard outpost.
“What happens to him now?” I pointed to Damonus.
“Well, he’s going to be fined. Fined quite heavily. Breeding monsters is one thing, attacking guards is quite another. If he can’t pay the fine, which I imagine, he’ll be sold into slavery for a number of years to cover the fine. The bigger the fine, the more years he’ll be a slave.”
Slavery was a thing here. It wasn’t like people were permanently slaves – it was usually temporary, and some people even chose to sell themselves into slavery. Got a bunch of money at the start, got fed, housed, and employed for several years. I still had ethical issues with it – owning another person was wrong, no matter how benevolent. There were some fairly nasty aspects to it as well.
We limped over to the guardhouse where Catonus and Damonus promptly vanished, probably to the cells or however jail was used here. A runner got sent out to fetch the guard’s healer from a nearby station.
I was left to stew in my guilt.