A scene of happy chaos ensued as we all welcomed Artemis back in our own way. She was out of her armor, in a tunic, but still had the Ranger’s eagle pinned on her. Artemis laughed at us, giving us all a great big group hug. Ouch, something metal was pressing into my side. Dad, Artemis? Something of mom’s? Whatever, it didn’t matter. We were all back together again, family. Artemis’s family hadn’t made it out of whatever happened at Cow’s Crossing, and family was hard when you were constantly on the road. Whatever friendship Artemis, mom, and dad had; it had evolved into family.
We settled in for enough food to feed nine people, with four of us around the table. I looked at Artemis’s lean, athletic figure. Where did she put all that food!? Were there actually spatial rings here, and she was secretly storing it to eat later? I looked carefully. Nope, not unless that ring was inside her mouth. Every bite down the hatch.
Mom, Dad, and I were done in short order, in spite of taking our time. Artemis was still eating enough for six people, practically inhaling the food. In due time, The Devourer was finished with her meal, and we got to lazily catching up around the remains.
“What is new in Artemis-world?” I started off.
“Oh well, got to the capital and Ranger HQ, and they had a whole new team for me. We shuffle up every rotation or two, stops any one group from getting Ideas. Started with a usual team of eight, few rookies. Two of them got eaten already.” A dark look passed Artemis’s face. “When the senior rangers tell you something, listen to them damnit. We’ve been in the field for years; we know what we’re talking about. Bah.” As callous as Artemis seemed, it looked like the death of her teammates hit hard.
We all made some comforting noises as Artemis suddenly brightened up. “Ah but for you my little healy-bug, I got you something special.” I immediately brightened up. I loved Artemis's visits, and the bribes gifts she always brought along were something I always looked forward to. It was always something cool, it was always something exotic. With great melodrama, moving like a glacier - deliberately winding me up - she reached into her bag, and took out a small, clear stone.
“For you Elaine. Happy late birthday! A small diamond that’s been treated to hold Light-skills. You can store a skill in it, and anyone can use it. Useful in a pinch, or if you have a friend you trust that you’d want to have access to a skill of yours.”
I looked at Artemis wide-eyed. “How did you get this!?” Artemis looked like a cat with cream. “There miiiiiiiiiight have been a citizen who was building his own personal army. We miiiiiiiiiiiiiiight have been sent in to deal with it. He miiiiiiiiiiiiiiight have had a stockpile of goodies like this that were ‘liberated’, and a few of them miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight have gotten lost. Ooops, what’s that you’ve found there?” I didn’t always pick up on hints, but this one had been clobbered into me thoroughly.
“Julia, a Lapis Lazuil, same treatment for Water. Elainus, one small ruby, Fire away!” These were princely gifts! Dad looked terrified at his though.
“Artemis, these are all, technically, contraband! They should’ve been reported back, and given to your bosses! Even I know that! How could we explain having these?”
Artemis snorted, looking around at our house. It was much nicer than it had been all those years ago when Artemis first showed up. One kid, and me pulling in something vaguely resembling money (if you got paid in fish, you didn’t need to buy fish = more money for other things) had left us cozily middle-class, pushing towards the wealth of a citizen.
“Honestly, I’m more surprised that you don’t have any at this point. But if you don’t want them, I can take them back…” Artemis leaned back, giving dad a knowing smile.
The look on dad’s face – priceless. It didn’t know what it wanted to be. Some combination of desire, of outrage, all mixed with biting into an especially sour lemon.
“Plus, Elaine did me some healing-related favors earlier, above and beyond what the local guard’s healer did. If it makes you feel any better, these could just be payment for that.”
“We can’t take payment for healing a Ranger!” Dad finally found something to latch onto.
“Ah ah ah, not payment for healing a Ranger – payment from an obscenely wealthy patron who really appreciated it. Rangers get healed for free by the Army, everyone knows that. Again, above and beyond.”
That seemed to finally convince dad, and he accepted his gem with a look of wonder, turning it about in his hand, looking at it from every angle. I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound, leaned over and put my hand on Artemis.
“[Greater Invigorate].” Hey, if that was Artemis’s excuse for handing out gems worth a few rods, might as well poke the money tree and see if anything else came out.
Artemis looked like she had just drunk a few cups of coffee in eight seconds (why was there no coffee here argh), which was roughly the effect of [Greater Invigorate]. She looked confused for a moment, then laughed and swatted the top of my head.
“Nice try healy-bug. Here, for effort. Last time.” Saying so, she reached into her pouch, and took out a single coin. Ah well. I took it over to my money rod by my bed, and threaded it on. 50ish coins or so on it? My own, personal savings, after contributing back to the household. Almost an entire rod. I was filthy rich for a 14-year-old, extra so because it was my own hard work and not money given to me like some rich brat.
“Hey Artemis, could you do me a big favor?” Mom leaned forward, looking expectantly. I decided to store a [Greater Invigorate] in my new diamond, it was one of my most-used skills.
“Sure, what’s up?” Artemis was trying to pick food out from her teeth. It had been soup. Soup. There was nothing to pick out!
“Could you help Elaine get to level 100?”
“Sure, no problem. Kinda surprised you’re throwing Elaine at me after what happened last time.” Ah yes, when I left at level 8, and came back at level 32, then shot up a ton after. Mom was still convinced that Artemis had taken me out to slay monsters with her, as much as we both protested that hadn’t happened. Her response? “I know what ‘Don’t tell your mom about this’ looks like.” So it was a real surprise that she was asking Artemis to throw me to the lions.
Mom gave Artemis a dirty look promising that no, she hadn’t forgotten about last time still, and that she still had some slightly sour feelings over it all. What was going on? There was some secret, some conspiracy I wasn’t party to, which probably meant it involved me. Birthday was months ago, the summer solstice was past, and autumn equinox was too far away. Plus, none of those had anything to do with leveling.
We settled back down as Artemis regaled us with more tales of being a Ranger, while the rest of us told Artemis stories of what we’d been up to. She leaned forward when we were telling her, eagerly drinking in every word we said. It seemed strange at first, but I thought about it. Maybe tales of day-to-day living in a city was as foreign to her as tales of wandering Remus, slaying goblins was to us. That thought made me frown. I was going to make sure Artemis had the best time here on her short break. No time to waste throwing me in the wilderness to level up, Artemis needed her vacation!
Eventually, the evening ended, and Artemis vanished as usual, parents to their bedroom, and I had my bed in the living room. Perfect for sneaking out and reading books, and tonight, perfect for sneaking out and somehow getting a full level.
First of all, I should take Artemis’s advice on allocating my free stats. 108 free stats to Magic Control got me to 600 control – but dropped my power down to 191. Blasted balancing. 9 more points in power, and a final point in control got me to where I wanted. Nope! Needed another point in power. There we go. 200 Magic Power, 600 Magic Control. I knew I’d get a few more points as I leveled up, but I wasn’t always the best at thinking ahead, so I figured I’d get it done now, and avoid problems. Also, the math was a hair tricky at times, as evidenced by me needing to go back twice, and who knows if it was the stats before, or after, you leveled.
Thinking cap time. I turned on my [Flashlight] under the covers – what I wouldn’t give for a book to mimic life on earth, where I spent countless evenings with a flashlight and a book under the sheets – to start getting some teeny, tiny experience.
Right, let’s think about it. I get experience in my class by doing things. The more closely related to my class it was, the more experience I got. If I did something amazing but not in my class, that could also get enough experience to level up. For example, the world-hopping at the start of my life seemed to qualify. The more dangerous, tricky, or difficult it is, combined with how much effort I put in and how hard it seems to be, all impacted experience. This [Flashlight] was extremely easy, wasn’t really in my class, and I was in no danger. Hence, practically no experience.
Hang on, it was chewing through my mana slowly though. My regeneration was through the roof – I’d go from out of mana to fully recharged in about 30 minutes. Should I turn it off? Yeah, why not, less likely to keep mom and dad up, keeps me fully topped up for anything else I need to do.
Right, thinking cap. Focus Elaine. Gotta hit 100 tonight, give Artemis a well-deserved break. Let’s think about location.
I’m stuck in town because the gates close at night, and nobody goes in or out without a really good reason. I suspect the guards would take a dim view of me going out to try and find some experience. Who would I even heal outside? Myself? “Yes Mr. Wolf, if you could just chew gently on my arm so I can get some experience healing, that’d be great!”. Somehow, I didn’t think it would quite end that way.
Sneaking onto a boat might be a good idea if I planned to leave town and never come back. Who knew if I’d even get to a shore before next week! Completely useless.
Right, so I needed to be in-town. There were no real monsters in town. Sure, I could try to find a wind-bastard or two, but they didn’t show up at nighttime, and their population was at an all-time low. Slimes were in the town’s sewers, and I’d be damned before voluntarily going in there. It stank! The slimes weren’t super high level either, but it would be fighting and give more experience. I tabled that thought for “in case of emergency, enter sewers.” So that left trying to find human trouble.
Human trouble was bad news for a few different reasons. First, a human would beat me up no trouble. I didn’t want to get beaten up, for so many obvious reasons. I suppose asking someone to artfully punch me so I’d have places to heal might have some merit, although nobody I’d find at this time of night I’d remotely trust to do that. I needed to find trouble that other people were involved in, that wouldn’t get me dragged into, so I could heal everyone involved after. Problem was, the guards were all over the place, and would… find… any… problem….
The Guards! I was well-known to them, they wouldn’t think twice about me being around, they found trouble, I could be protected, they’d be happy to have me around, it was perfect! I wasn’t glued to dad’s side when he was out and I was helping, so they’d think nothing of me being around without him, and who kept track of everyone’s schedule anyways?