“I’m dead curious” Artemis started. “How on Pallos you managed to beat us here, when we were looking for this place.”
I blushed at that. “I erm, might have run directly into their ambush…” I responded, voice trailing off. Maximus started laughing at that. “I told you we should try that!” in the most I-told-you-so tone of voice I’d ever heard.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m never going to hear the end of that, now will I?” Julius responded rhetorically.
“You don’t seem too surprised that I’m not in Aquiliea?” I half-said, half asked.
“Nope. I had money on you running away. Thought it’d be a few more years before I’d collect though, not three days. Speaking of, pay up.” Origen silently took a few coins from somewhere, and passed them to Artemis, who somehow made them disappear. In full combat gear to boot. I was impressed.
“But – if you knew – wha-why?” Too many questions to ask, not enough time to say them. Artemis snorted at me.
“You were always way too independent to be shackled down. I did try to warn Julia, but did she listen to the runaway expert? Nooooo.”
Kallisto interrupted at this point. “I’m sure this is going to be a heartwarming reunion, but while we have a Light healer here, I’d like to take full advantage of her.” He looked to Julius, who nodded.
“Anyone else need Elaine’s services while we’re here? If not, you’re on cleanup. Otherwise, have Elaine fix you up.” Julius paused a moment, thinking.
“Elaine, you wouldn’t mind, would you? We can pay you a fair amount for it.” I held my head high, shoulders back. I was the healer here! They were asking me nicely! They were being respectful! They cared!
“Of course!” I said cheerfully. “Come right over! Mana’s still regenerating, but it only takes a bit of time to fill right up!”
With that, Kallisto and Maximus started stripping armor, while the rest of the Rangers vanished on me. I started looking at them, seeing a tapestry of scars that made Artemis look clear-skinned. Kallisto had some nasty-looking slashes on his elbow, and dozens of bruises where he'd been hit on his armor, the force transferring through. Would be a lot worse than a bruise without that armor of his.
“How do you normally get healed?” I asked, curious. They clearly didn’t have a healer on-hand, but they also had so many injuries there had to be more going on.
“Time. Origen can also set up a weak healing field to speed things up. First rule of fights though – don’t get hit. Then you won’t need healing. It’s rare for us to get banged up in a fight, although this group was larger than we thought. No Classers though, thank the gods.” That reminded me of the unpleasantness we were in, the smoldering embers on floating ash painting the scene.
“Why were you hunting them? Do you hunt all escaped slaves?”
Kallisto snorted at that. “Escaped slaves aren’t even business for the guard, let alone us. Hell, we help some escaped slave communities – we’re all people, we’re all part of the Republic, and in a year or two ‘escaped slave communities’ turn into just another village. No, this lot had turned to banditry, and a particularly nasty type at that. Usually you hear about folks getting robbed on the road, or attacks leaving survivors. They didn’t believe in that. Murdered every single person that saw them, probably hunted down anyone who even thought about leaving them. No, this was a vicious group of bandits, one of the worst, no matter how they tried to paint themselves as ‘innocent escaped slaves just trying to make a living’.” He spat at that.
“More than half of them probably came from a farm in the first place! They knew how to farm! They knew how to do a thousand other things! Setting up rocks in the road, killing who they could, that was their choice. They lived with it, they died with it.”
“How did you manage to find them?” I asked, healing a less serious wound.
“Believe it or not, you.” Maximus said.
“Yup. Arthur noticed you being hauled along, and followed. Lead us right here. He wasn’t sure if it was you or not – your face changed a bunch he said – but Artemis was sure, so we attacked a bit early. To our great surprise, here you are!”
“But how? I didn’t even notice him!” I said in surprise. How did I miss a miniature mountain watching me?
A sound like gravel came from behind me. “Nobody ever notices me.” I jumped at that, but it was hard to get a lot of height while sitting down.
“How-“ I started.
“Did I do that?” Arthur finished my sentence. “I get that all the time.” He shrugged. “Have the right class, work on the skills, dedicate yourself to it, care about it, and you could also get that good. I was impressed when you were able to stop my poisoned arrow – first person I’ve seen that’s done that for someone else. Self-healing skills aren’t unheard of, but that was something else. Speaking of, you probably just got a thousand levels or so didn’t you?”
I should probably check on that, yeah. I braced myself, and allowed myself to see my notifications.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Calming Aura] has reached level 99!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Calming Aura] has reached level 100!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Calming Aura] has reached level 101!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 100!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 105!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Healing Aura] has reached level 94!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Healing Aura] has reached level 102!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Detailed Restoration] has reached level 49!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Detailed Restoration] has reached level 78!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Centered Mind] has reached level 94!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Centered Mind] has reached level 98!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Deaden Pain] has reached level 43!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Deaden Pain] has reached level 61!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Cure Toxin] has reached level 56!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Cure Toxin] has reached level 81!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 86!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 99!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Oath] has reached level 66!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Oath] has reached level 101!]
My eyes bulged out at that one. [Oath] was insanely hard to level, in spite of trying to follow it every day, and I had increased it almost 40 levels in a single go.
That was almost a 50% increase in level. Unheard of past level 50.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Shadow Healer] has leveled up to level 82! +1 Free Stat, +3 Mana Regen, +2 Magic power, +2 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana from your Element!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Shadow Healer] has leveled up to level 88! +1 Free Stat, +3 Mana Regen, +2 Magic power, +2 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana from your Element!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Light of Hope] has leveled up to level 105! +1 Mana, +3 Mana Regen, +1 Magic power, +5 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Light of Hope] has leveled up to level 123! +1 Mana, +3 Mana Regen, +1 Magic power, +5 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Light Affinity] has reached level 105!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Light Affinity] has reached level 118!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Dark Affinity] has reached level 82!]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Dark Affinity] has reached level 88!]
“Tell me everything.” Maximus had the eyes of a fanatic, pulling out a bamboo scroll and charcoal. I figured I needed to make nice with the Rangers if I wanted to tag along with them, and making nice started now.
“Well, I got about twenty levels in my Light class, but only six in my Dark class.” I started off.
“Probably were using the Light class a lot more than the Dark.” He commented, making notes. “Arthur mentioned you managed to heal someone from his poisoned arrows, is that right?” I nodded. He turned to Arthur. “Did you get any levels in your poison skills for someone opposing it?”
Arthur swatted him. “You know I’m not telling you.”
Maximus rolled his eyes. “You know I try to help you all level up, and information helps.”
Arthur grunted. “It’s my skill. I don’t want to say.”
“Fine, fine. What else Elaine?” Maximus was relentless.
“40 levels in my Oath skill!” I puffed out my chest at that. Arthur swatted Kallisto.
“What!?” He exclaimed, sounding hurt.
“Habit.” Arthur grunted.
Maximus was muttering to himself. “Any thoughts?” I prompted him.
“Yeah, you’re batshit crazy. Also batshit crazy results in amazing levels. You’re either going to die young, or get a high level. Or both. I recommend slow and steady.”
I snorted at that. “Let me guess, you’d classify Artemis as batshit insane as well, wouldn’t you? That’s why she’s the highest-level here while being the youngest one here.”
All three of them started to violently deny that they’d ever think Artemis was crazy. I felt the back of my head getting cuffed.
“Who are you calling crazy, hmmm?” Artemis asked, hands on hips.
“Not you! Never you! Nope. It was them.” I said, immediately selling out the others. They violently shook their head in denial. Bah.
Artemis rolled her eyes. “Come on, let’s head back to camp. Elaine can spend the night with us, least we can do for her healing us. Elaine, do you need anything from here?”
“Nope! I’m all set!” I said, barely thinking about it, not wanting to separate from Artemis or cause them any problems.
We wandered over to their camp, well-hidden in the forest. One moment there were bamboo shoots, and the next, like magic, there was a small campsite, with a wagon, two horses, a few tents, and a small firepit.
Julius showed up, noticed me.
“Glad you’re here Elaine. You can spend the night in the wagon.” Artemis made a noise of protest. “Artemis, you can spend the night in the wagon, bunk in a tent, or set up your own tent. You know it’s a luxury to be in the wagon.” She closed her mouth, looking disgruntled.
“Err, Artemis, I woul-“ I started, only to be interrupted by Julius.
“Elaine, you’re our guest. It’s only right. Artemis will deal.”
And that was how I ended up in a sleeping bag next to Artemis in the wagon.
“Psst hey Artemis, are you awake?” I asked
A groaning noise, something like a “no”. Eh, probably wasn’t a no, who can answer questions when they’re asleep?
“Was that lightning bolt you?”
An affirmative mutter.
“That was so cool!”
Grumbling noises. Sheesh, would it kill her to chat a bit?
“Go to sleep!!!!” She turned over, throwing her pillow over her head.
Harumph. Fine. Sleep it is.
The morning rolled around, and I felt all sorts of greasy and disgusting. It had been days since I last saw a bath, and mud, blood, rain, prison, and more had all conspired to make me filthy. Eck. I left my sleeping bag and the wagon to the sight of all of the Rangers around a fire, watching Origen cooking breakfast.
“Elaine, so glad you could join us.” Julius invited me over.
“Thank you!” I minded my manners, sitting in the circle.
“We need to pay you for your healing yesterday, here.” He handed me some coins. I took them, and [Lost and Found] pinged, reminding me that I had gotten my own pouch stolen. Whoops.
“Thank you.” Remember manners. I awkwardly held the coins in my hand as I steeling myself for my request.
“Soooooo…” I drew it out, committing myself but not wanting to commit. “It seems like you’re missing a healer.”
“We don’t usually have a healer. There are two healers in the entire outfit, and they stay at headquarters to handle the most major injuries – like limb removal, persistent poisons, poorly healed wounds, curses, etc. Healers don’t travel with teams though.” Julius explained to me. Kallisto butted in.
“I’d love a healer though. I’m always getting beaten up. One of these days I won’t make it.”
I took one last breath, and decided that this was it. This was my in, and I’d give up anything to make it. Anything.
“I’d like to join your team.” I said, and waited for the explosion.
“Sorry Elaine, no.” Julius responded. “We could use a healer, sure, but you’re too low-leveled.”
Time to let some secrets out of the bag. “You know I have that [Oath] skill right?”
“Yes, and?” He said skeptically. I was grateful that he was at least listening to me, and not blowing me off. I only had a few chances to make my case.
“It multiplies my power and control when I’m healing. I have over 1300 magic power, and over 4400 magic control. Sure, I’m only level 123, but I suspect I’m close in control to your healers, if not in power.”
That little bombshell of mine got raised eyebrows all around. Maximus jumped in.
“Your skill gives you six times as much power and control!?” He leaned forward, eyes widening. Time to show off.
“Yup! And it’ll only get stronger as it levels!” I possibly had two people on my side now!
“I’ve heard of boosting skills – skills that boost a stat or four under given conditions – but that degree is ridiculous. I suppose being confined to two stats helps, but…” The plain-looking man trailed off, making inarticulate calculating noises.
Julius made some thoughtful noises, then shook his head.
“I’m sorry Elaine. You’re only 14 – too young. At the end of the day, you’re nothing special.”
Nothing special? Nothing special? I could feel some anger rising inside of me. I’ll show him.
“What if I was special?”