How much did I want to reveal? I didn’t want to give away all of my tricks, but I also wanted to seem useful enough to not be bothered. I’d been looking around, and while there were a few women, the men-to-women ratio was badly skewed, and now more than ever, mom’s comments on healer tags having the potential to bring trouble rang through my head.
Well, my class types were already revealed – Light Healer, and I probably couldn’t hide that my second class was healer. I probably couldn’t hide my elements either. I should let them know about the [Detailed Restoration], that’d earn me major brownie points. [Oath] was completely off the table. [Vigilant] might be an option, although me literally walking into an ambush didn’t speak that well for it.
Then again, I had ignored its warning. So that was on me. Back to skills.
[Lost and Found] was completely harmless, and I’d be happy to tell them about it. [Running] was similarly harmless, although I was going to keep [Learning] under wraps. There’d be serious questions about how I had that skill, and my current cover was as a runaway slave. Actually, less on skills, more on my cover. Kerberos. Yup. I was going to pin the blame on him, and if I told it properly, it wouldn’t even be a lie!
A harsh cough to my side brought me back to reality. Iola wanted answers, and wanted answers now. She didn’t want to give me enough time to think up lies, which to be fair, is what I was doing. Fine, time to spill, and think on my feet.
“I’m a Light and Dark based healer.” I started off. “I have various skills to deal with illness, and I have [Detailed Restoration]. I also have [Vigilant] in my general skills.” Alright, hope that was enough to keep her happy, and with luck she’d be too excited about the [Detailed Restoration] to ask too many more questions.
“mmm mmm that’s nice” Iola said, happily nodding along. Suddenly she whipped towards me, hitting me across my chest with her arm, pinning me to the ground, knife at my throat.
“All of your skills.” She snarled at me.
I screamed in pain as I hit the ground, a sickening cracking noise coming from my arm as the break got worse. [Centered Mind] kicked in, only to immediately get kicked out as I felt the knife slowly, oh-so-gently, press into my throat. My body trembled, lips trembling, I immediately confessed every single skill I had, including [Learning], [Oath of Elaine to Lyra], and [Attack Bacteria]. Babbling on, focus entirely on that cold, harsh strip of metal on my throat, I also gave away all of my levels, desperately hoping that she’d be satisfied, that the knife wouldn’t press deeper and end me.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Centered Mind] has reached level 93!]
[Centered Mind] kicked in again, shielding me from the sharp edge of emotion, and letting me actually think.
“What’s bacteria?” Iola eased up a notch on the knife, and I felt a warm liquid slowly going down my throat. A quick [Deaden Pain] got my arm under control, [Detailed Restoration] closed the slight cut in my throat. Immediate problems attended to; I went back to Iola’s question.
Still not the time to let the genie out of the bottle. I’ll try a half-truth, the same one I used on Artemis. “I-it-it’s a type of cu-cure di-disease.” I stammered out. Iola grunted, seeming to accept it.
“[Learning]?” My interrogation continued.
Building up some courage – I could only be scared witless for so long – I said. “A skill that helps me learn other skills. Makes everything else level faster.” That got an appreciative noise.
“[Lost and Found]? It doesn’t let other people find you does it?” I felt a flush cover my cheek, turning my face away, unable to meet Iola’s gaze.
“I, erm, lose my things…. A lot.” I quietly confessed.
With a high, disbelieving chuckle, Iola shook her head at me. “I don’t think ‘a lot’ covers it when you not only get a skill in it, but get it to level 60!” Her grip on me completely relaxed as she fell back, howling with laughter. It wasn’t funny!
Ok, fine, if you’re not the one with the skill, it might be funny.
She sat back up, and I nervously chuckled with her as I rolled over, trying to get up with just one working arm. Iola’s rapid change between emotions had me scared, not knowing if at any moment she’d flip a switch and stick a knife into me. I needed time, and focus, to fix my broken arm, and I hadn’t been given either yet. I had just finished rolling over, starting to get up, when Iola kicked me in the side, sending me sprawling onto my left side, forcing all the air out of my lungs.
“You know, while you look like a runaway, your skills don’t say ‘slave’. Tell me everything. I don’t like what I hear, you can guess what happens.”
“I am a runaway, but I wasn’t a slave.” I started off. “Family was trying to marry me off to some prick, and this was my way of saying no.”
Iola tapped her knife against her lips, eyes gazing off into the distance.
“Willing to stay here?”
I suspected a “no” would result in meeting Papilion again. I nodded my head.
“Willing to work hard?”
I did my best woodpecker impression. Iola grunted at me.
“Fine. Follow me.”
She led me to a run-down bamboo – I hesitate to call it a hut, it was in such terrible condition – structure, and opened the door.
“Get in.” Her tone brooked no arguments. I got in. Door slammed shut behind me, and I heard – and saw, the walls weren’t really walls at all – Iola fashion a beam across the entrance, locking me in. I made a cry of protest.
“Now none of that. You’ll stay here while we figure out what to do with you.”
I decided that shutting up was the better part of valor, and said nothing. Iola walked away, and I decided to explore my new, luxurious, one-person building.
It was filthy and run-down, the floor a mud pit from last night’s rain, holes in the ceiling and walls. Something vaguely resembling a cot was in one corner, and a hole in the ground in another. The smell was horrid. I had always thought outhouses bad, but this just brought it to a whole different level of terrible. It finally clicked that this was their version of a jail, and the size of it, and the lack of use it seemed to get implied one of two things were true.
- This was a happy, lovely community where they never had any reason to lock someone up. Just a bunch of murderous bandits living in peaceful harmony.
- Troublemakers were handled swiftly, and there was no concept of “life in prison”
My money was on the second option.
It was around this time when I noticed my money pouch was gone. It stung, but after nearly getting my throat slit, I couldn’t bring myself to be upset over it. Probably had gotten lifted at some point, and I was just noticing now. Crying wouldn’t help me here. I’d made my choices, and now I had to live with them.
I finally had a moment though, so I was going to fix my arm before any more problems occurred, and made it worse, or distracted me at a critical moment. Let’s see how bad the damage is.
Looks like it’s just one of the bones, completely broken through. Let me try something a bit fancier than just lopping everything off and regenerating it – seemed risky and inefficient here.
I was about to throw up a [Privacy], when a sudden thought hit me. If they couldn’t see me, or saw I was doing something in secret, what would they think? They were already on edge about me, I didn’t want to give them more ammo. I couldn’t see anyone nearby, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t anyone. Fine, public-ish healing time.
What needed to get done? I needed to align the bones, get rid of fragments, and heal the bone back together. I wasn’t completely sure what was going on in there, and while my stomach had improved massively over the years, I wasn’t quite ready to be happily fiddling with my bones. A [Deaden Pain], [Remove Tissue], and [Detailed Restoration] later, I had a whole arm, and some terrible new memories.
My flesh wriggling as it was rearranged by bones being magically regrown in them was seared into my mind, and I’d love a skill to selectively edit memories out of my head. I waited in anticipation, ready to ditch [Lost and Found] for when the system inevitably trolled me with the skill.
[*Ding!*] Yes, here we go!
[Congratulations! [Detailed Restoration] has reached level 47!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 92!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 100!]
So much for that. I took a deep breath, almost gagging on the stench. Maybe with some of my skills, I could clean the pit, and make the smell better. It was just a ton of bacterial decay, wasn’t it?
I went over, and took a look in. I had regrets. I tried to reach out with my skill, to [Attack Bacteria]. Nothing. I just didn’t feel the skill work, activate, anything. It’s hard to describe, but it was like there was no purchase for the skill. That, or I was out of range.
Thinking about it, I had always been hands-on when using healing skills. No reason why this wouldn’t also be hands-on, and there was no way I was going to be hands-on with this problem. Fine.
I examined my cell. Might as well work on breaking out – subtly! I didn’t want to alert anyone watching me to what I was doing, but I’d be damned if I was caught with my tunic down. It also sounded like they wanted to discuss my fate, but I was done with letting other people decide what happened to me.
I dramatically threw myself onto the cot, and pretended to cry. I discretely touched the walls of the cell, and tried a [Remove Tissue]. Nothing happened, I guess dead bamboo didn’t count as tissue. Somehow, I still had my knife, although I wasn’t going to try drawing it and attacking the walls with it. I did have my hand though, and my previous experience taught me that I could use [Surgeon’s Scalpel] on it. I tried just that, applying it to just a single finger, hitting the wall in a fake tantrum.
Absolutely nothing to the wall, but my hand was a different issue. A [Detailed Restoration] fixed that up, and I was slightly rewarded for my efforts.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 93!]
I hadn’t gotten learning levels like this in ages. I didn’t think any of my other skills would help, although if I was a Dark mage instead of a Dark healer, I’d be out in a heartbeat.
They might not have left me alive long enough to test things out if I had a mage tag. That thought made me shudder.
I was left alone for hours with my thoughts, going round and round in circles, thinking similar thoughts and dozens of other things. I was forced to slow down, to stop, to actually meditate on the choices I’d made that lead me here. Did I regret my choices? Some of them, yeah. I could’ve been much more careful, much less carefree. I could’ve picked another direction. I could’ve kept my eyes peeled for the Rangers.
Did I regret leaving home? Not in the slightest. My fate would be my own, my freedom would be mine alone. Would I make different choices? Absolutely. Like bring a tent. Not being kidnapped by bandits.
I laid there, bored out of my mind, unwilling to try more destructive or obvious methods to break out of the cell, as night fell. The cook swung by with a meal, passing it to me through one of the larger holes in my cell like he’d done it a hundred times before. Maybe he had.
“Hey,” He said cheerfully. “don’t worry too much! This happens to almost everyone.”
“Oh?” I asked, tilting my head to one side. “What do you mean?”
“Well, Iola’s one of the leaders here, and she’s convinced almost everyone is a spy, sent by the guards, or otherwise out to get us. Basically, everyone new ends up spending some time here while the entire council chats. Everyone gets released and joins up. It’s not worth worrying about. Iola worries though, she’s just trying to keep us safe. Once you’ve joined you’ll understand.”
That was promising! “Thank you! That’s great news!” I kept still, feeling my pulse race. Staying alive! Release from the cell!
“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way” I started, hesitantly. “Why the banditry?”
He scratched his head and shuffled his feet. “Well, we don’t really have too much of a choice now. How else are we supposed to get money, food, medicine, and other goods? Once you join us, that’s what you’ll be doing.”
I frowned at that. Spending my life in the forest, murdering people, was not on my bucket list, and [Oath] screamed at me just for the idea.
“Maybe I could just heal people instead?” Anything to not spend a life as a bandit.
“Do you really have healing skills?” The cook asked, leaning forward, excited gleam in his eye.
“Yeah! I’m a Light and Dark healer, and I have [Detailed Restoration].” I bragged a bit, showing off. It sounded like a bunch of people would be deciding my fate, and cook could be one of those people.
“Could you fix my hands?” He showed me small burns and cuts on his hands.
“Ouch! How’d a master cook like you do that?”
He gave me a look. “My classes aren’t cooking related. I picked up a job that needed to be done when I got here, but I was a field hand. Not much farming to do here.” Made sense. Mid-life job changes seemed to be much harder in a world where you picked a class early in life, and who could compete with someone that had skills?
Saying nothing, I took his hands and healed them.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 65!]
Huge smile on his face, cook left me alone to my dinner. My exceedingly unappetizing dinner with the smell. I’d done some major healing today though, and I needed all the food I could get.
I finished my food, and seeing absolutely nothing else to do, or seeing anything at all really, it got dark here at night, I settled in to sleep.