About an hour later, a middle-aged man came comfortably jogging up, with a woman hot on his heels. The man was in standard guard leathers, but the woman was in well-used laminar scale armor, a sword on her side and at least a few daggers I could see. She moved with thunder and fury, power and grace. Her nose stood proudly on her strong face, a pale white contrasting with the rest of her weather-beaten face, scars crossing artistically. Pixie-cut blonde hair framed her face, and her shining green eyes had flashes of light behind them, flickering like a distant storm. She was like the radiant descent of a Valkyrie. I now knew exactly how Kolius felt. For all I knew, my eyes had turned into actual stars.
The man was the healer, and while he didn’t say anything about the patchwork job I had done, it did get a raised eyebrow. Hey, I was in a rush ok? This was my first time bandaging up someone in the field, as opposed to in mom’s clinic. Second time bandaging someone up period. I probably should’ve gotten that skill….
“ARTEMIS!? You’re alive!?” Dad perked up a ton. “We thought you were dead!”
The woman put her hands on her hips. “I guess that is you, Elainus, under all of that.” Her tone rapidly changed.
“Guardsman Elainus. Standard procedure is NOT to use your head as a shield. As thick as it may be.” The woman smirked at dad while the healer started to remove the bandages.
Dad flipped Artemis a one-fingered salute. More universal gestures.
“How are you doing, Artemis?”
“I’m doing much better than YOUR FACE.” Artemis was grinning ear-to-ear.
“How is it” dad was getting a bit of fire back, but it was more like embers “That you run away from home, doing gods knows what for years, and you somehow manage to find me the ONE DAY I get injured?”
“It’s just your bad luck. Who’s this? Your daughter? You must have married Julia then?”
“Yes, and yes. Elaine, meet Artemis. Artemis, meet Elaine. Artemis is an old friend of mine; we grew up together. This is Elaine, my daughter. She just unlocked today, and finished picking up her initial skills. What have you been up to Artemis? You ran away, and when we didn’t hear back from you for a few years, we all thought you had died!”
“Oh, I was out and about, here and there.” Artemis flipped her hair back. “Joined up with the Rangers. Standard stuff.”
Rangers. Elite soldiers of the Republic, travelled around the Republic in teams solving problems locals couldn’t. Strong monsters, cunning bandits, rogue Classers – Rangers solved them all. They were a bit like state-sponsored adventurers, not that there were any of those commonly floating around. Needless to say, becoming a Ranger wasn’t standard.
I was still staring at Artemis, a burning question in my mind. It was stupid. It was wrong, given what dad had just said. I needed to check. I needed to know.
“Are you a goddess?”
Artemis looked like she’d be poleaxed, before falling down and rolling on the ground laughing. Dad facepalmed, then made a small pained noise as he naturally hit his face. The healer looked at us disapprovingly, and sniffed.
“Guardsman. It’s hard enough treating you without you self-inflicting additional injuries. Please refrain.” Stuffy healer.
Artemis finally recovered, as I continued to wish the ground would open up and swallow me whole. I knew asking was a bad idea, why did I do it?
“I’m not a [Goddess]. But quite a few people seem to treat me like one!” Artemis picked herself off the ground, and puffed out her chest for dramatic effect. I melted.
“Hey Artemis” dad asked, livelier as clearly some magic was occurring with the healer and him. “Elaine’s always been really interested in magic. You’re a decently powerful mage. Can you give her the rundown? The temple’s education is terrible, as you well know.”
I used [Identify] on Artemis, and got back [Mage].
“A MAGE!?” I shrieked, not particularly coherently. Dreams of flying through the sky, throwing out fireballs once again danced through my head. Right here, in front of me, the avatar of that dream. I had imagined beautiful witch robes, not scale armor, but I would live. After all, the robes could always go OVER the armor.
“Can you fly? Can you shoot fireballs? Can you teleport? Do you have a tower? Do you have a familiar? Can you raise undead creatures? Why the sword if you can cast magic?”
I knew of course that everyone’s “magic” was just their skill with the system. There was some difference though, between the day-to-day skills being used, and someone considered an actual honest-to-goodness MAGE though.
Artemis chuckled, and got a far-off look in her eyes, before snapping back to me. ME. I couldn’t look her in the eye, I was too overwhelmed.
“Hey, [Grand Mage]-To-Be. If you can’t look at me, how will you ever cast a [Searing Sun] or a [Lightning Bolt]?”
I froze. She was right. Courage Elaine, courage! Courage.exe has failed to load. Damnit. I felt a finger under my chin, lifting my head up, meeting Artemis’s shit-eating grin.
“You remind me of your dad when we were kids.” She said. I had trouble imagining that. “To answer your questions: technically, barely, but it takes a TON of mana, not really, nope, only by a long stretch of imagination, what’s that?, dead bodies are terrible material, and why not swords? You won’t always have mana, you won’t always need to cast a spell, and the added versatility is priceless. No sense in using magic to kill a goblin when a sword will do the trick.”
This wasn’t going nearly as well as I had hoped. Bad flying? No fireballs? The question about wizard towers wasn’t a DIRECT no, but I had no hopes that “long stretch of the imagination” would result in anything close to a wizard tower. My face fell.
“Sooo…. What kind of magic can you do then…?” I was skeptical. Sure, throwing the rock artillery-style had been pretty cool, but it wasn't really magic.
That terrible grin was back, a mad sparkle in her eyes, and a sense of dread came over me. This was either going to be really cool, or not end well for me. I didn’t think Artemis would hurt her friend’s kid, but Lyra and I had gotten in enough mischief that I knew the look of Trouble on Artemis’s face. Even if women were allowed in the guard, I strongly suspected Artemis would never make it. Hang on – women were clearly allowed to be Rangers – I needed to know more.
“I’m a power-based Lightning and Earth mage. No idea what you’ve been told so far, but elemental affiliations are important for mages.” A small rock was magically levitated off the ground, and started to rotate around Artemis, fast. Faster and faster it went, the rock becoming harder to see as a lethal whizzing noise filled the room.
Dad seemed to realize what was about to happen. He tried to stop her. He really did.
“ARTEMIS!! NOT HE-“ I don’t think anything short of the sun falling out of the sky could’ve stopped Artemis at this point, as she pointed to one of the pillars in the guard’s outpost.
“[Stone toss]” She intoned, the lethal blur moved, and the pillar exploded. I ducked as sharp shards of stone went everywhere, and somehow not a single one touched me. Or dad. Or the healer who’s name I had yet to catch. Everyone was glaring at Artemis, as more guards hurried into the room to see what had happened. Artemis, unflappable, seemingly cheered by the mayhem and destruction she had caused
“Artemis. Please. I can’t feel half my face, if I tried to arrest you, I’d lose feeling in the other half.”
Artemis looked guilty at that. “Sorry, sorry, my bad, let me fix this really fast” as she put her hands on the ground where the pillar had been. “[Earth Manipulation].” And with that, a smooth pillar of earth moved out of the ground, seamlessly merging the floor and the ceiling. It was obviously magically made – no stone was that perfect, that smooth, or had that look of putty – but it worked, and everyone seemed happy. Except one person with a broom, who had the look of ‘I just swept here, why me?’. Even Catonus was back and looking happy, while Damonus was still chained and looking pale.
“That” Catonus told Damonus, roughing him up a bit. “is a real Classer.”