“Everyone pack up, we’re leaving. Now.” I looked up, startled, realizing night had fallen without me noticing, telling tales the whole day.
I quickly checked my new skill.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Recollections of a Distant Life] has reached level 55!]
I was happy to see a skill go up so fast, but I suspected I wouldn’t have much use for it in the future. Ah well, I had a free general skill slot now. Maybe I’d start working on [Knives] again, although it’d be hell to try and train from level 1 again. Probably should have ditched [Lost and Found].
I wanted to ask if I was in. With the speed everyone was moving at, I figured hopping in the wagon, and just being taken along for the ride was the better move. Easy to say no. Easy to deny me. Easy to just accept that I’m along for the ride. Right now, being easy seemed to be the name of the game, and I hopped on, staying as silent as a mouse. As things were thrown in the wagon, I made sure they were neatly packed away as best I could. Make myself useful. Make myself indispensable. In a few minutes of well-practiced chaos, we were on the move, Artemis hopping into the wagon with me, jerking her head back when she saw me.
“Oh, you’re here.” She said.
“Everyone, silent.” Julius ordered. “Kallisto, reins. Arthur, patrol. Move, move, move, we need to leave as fast as possible.”
Everyone else sat in the wagon on the little benches to the side as Kallisto and Arthur followed orders. I decided to show that I could be a good little Ranger, and follow orders. Clearly Julius was spooked, and while nobody else seemed scared, nobody was arguing with him either. I decided to spend some time looking around.
It wasn’t clear from the outside, but the entire wagon had sheets of metal going around it, and there was a door to both the front and the back of the wagon. Shelves of supplies were around, boxes under the benches, and some food hanging from the ceiling, waving back and forth as the wagon swayed as we were moving. Runes glowed with power all over the inside, forming a complex network that connected to multiple Arcanite stones embedded in the walls. I wanted to whistle – this wagon was as well-equipped as a fortress, and as expensive as some mansions!
I started to drift off to sleep, only to be jerked awake.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Healing Aura] has reached level 103!].
I looked around, wide awake and alert. Julius had said to be quiet, and I wasn’t going to say anything, but I also wanted to make sure nobody was hurt. I should say something if someone was injured, and [Healing Aura] only leveled up when it was working. Usually it was dozens of people getting minor amounts of healing over a long period of time – fighting off a small cold, having a little scrape heal a hair faster – but with so few people, it was less likely to be a scratch.
At the same time, I wanted to show that I could follow orders. I wasn’t about to start making trouble and get thrown off, not so early.
An exasperated sigh came from behind me. “Elaine, report.” Julius commanded.
I tried to mimic Artemis as best I could.
“Sir! My [Healing Aura] skill went off. Only happens when it’s working. Wanted to see if anyone was hurt, but stay quiet as well.”
“Was it running all day?”
“And it only leveled up now?”
“Probably fine then. We’re all a little banged up. If you ever think someone’s injured, barring obvious circumstances, say something.”
I nodded at that, screaming internally. He’d explicitly said to be quiet! Didn’t that count as obvious!? Artemis patted me on the arm, clearly recognizing my internal dilemma, but saying nothing. I felt her discreetly slip something hard, but flexible into my hand. I took a peek.
Dried. Mango. Yessssssssssssssssss.
I shot her a grateful look, to get a happy smile and a nod back. I slowly savored the piece of mango as we continued rocking along.
“Listen up. You can all chat now if needed. Artemis, you’re on second shift with me. Origen, you’re with Maximus on third shift. Elaine, you can get a full night’s sleep until I know you’re good on a shift.”
I wanted to ask about Arthur, and when he’d sleep. I decided to offer up a skill instead.
“I have [Greater Invigorate], maybe that’d help someone stay awake?”
Julius nodded at me. “Go ask Kallisto if he’d like a boost. Everyone, try to get some rest.”
I popped my head out, and like someone making a coffee run, I asked “[Greater Invigorate]?”
Kallisto kept his eyes on the road, but nodded. I zapped him with it, snickering as I saw him jump.
“Do you do this often?” I asked, gesturing all around me.
“Which part? The leave in a rush, the midnight rides, the picking up strays, or the Pallos-shattering revelations?”
“Yes.” I responded unhelpfully. Hey, I wanted to know it all.
I got a Look in response to that particular piece of sass.
“We often leave in a rush. It’s rare for us to be running from something – not much can threaten a prepared and awake Ranger group – but yeah, we’ll often hear about some monster roaming the area, or goblin attack, and we need to move fast to get there. By the same token, we’re often traveling through the night. Wagon’s crowded when we’re all trying to sleep in it, although not as crowded as when we started.”
That was a fairly sobering reminder that Ranger squads were in theory eight-man, or woman, squads, but rarely were at full strength.
“As for picking up strays…” He eyed me significantly. “Rare, but not unheard of. Usually it’s someone fairly high-level out in the wilderness who’s heading the same way we are, or a retired soldier in a village helping us out with a local pest.”
“In terms of challenging everything I know and believe to be true, you’re the first.”
“Hey!” I protested. “I couldn’t have changed that much!”
Kallisto started to tick points off of his finger. “We’re not the only humans. There are multiple worlds. The gods take a much more active interest than I believed. Everything we know about medicine is wrong. The afterlife works completely differently. Do I need to continue?”
I hung my head at that. “Sorry.”
He shook his head at me. “Better to know than not. Still, it’s going to take me time to work through all this. You should get some sleep.”
I wanted to stay and keep chatting, but there wasn’t much to see. How we managed to keep horses moving in the dark, I had no idea. Probably some sort of Ranger magic. Actually, I had to know.
“One last fast question, then I’ll get out of your hair.”
“How are the horses able to see in the dark? Wouldn’t they break a leg?”
“Origen did some of his Inscriptions on the reins. No idea what it does, but it lets them move at night.”
“Good night Elaine.”
Fine, fine. I left him to it, retreating back into the wagon. Nearly everyone was asleep in various uncomfortable looking positions. I found a spot near Artemis, curled up, and the swaying of the wagon rocked me to sleep.
I woke up screaming the next morning, desperately trying to grab my knife, trying to fend off nameless, faceless attackers. Artemis burst in, looking around wildly, then crouched and slowly approached me, gently pushing down my knife before wrapping me in a hug.
“Shh, shh, it’s ok, it’s just a nightmare, it’s not real, they can’t hurt you.” I was hyperventilating, searching desperately for threats that weren’t there. Artemis’s message eventually got to me, and trembling, I tried to put my knife away. I didn’t have [Knives] anymore, and nicked myself three times before managing to put it away.
I followed my nose, poking out to a campsite mostly setup. I gingerly sucked on my fingers as I stepped outside, getting a good whiff of myself.
Oh, dear gods, I stunk. I stunk horribly. And it was only four days since I’d left home. No wonder Artemis sank into a bath whenever possible; I’d quite possibly murder for one right now. I took a look at my fellow campers. Some were bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning, some looked like coffee would be a blessing. Or were just up half the night on watch. Little of column A, little of column B I suspected. Not a single one looked clean though. Dirt and grime was the name of the game, and I suspected we’d just be accumulating more until we hit a town – or a stream.
“Elaine, glad you could join us.” Julius invited me over. “Now that we have a few moments, let’s all chat. Do we let Elaine join us, or not?”
I felt my heartrate rapidly increase, palms sweaty, as I tried to keep a poker face. I wasn’t being dismissed out of hand! I wasn’t being sent away! A discussion on if I could stick around or not was being seriously considered!
As a huge grin split my face, I realized I should never gamble, as I accepted a bowl of food from Origen.
The golden Kallisto started. “I vote yes. And before you kill me Artemis - It’s not because of her looks!” He made a defensive gesture in Artemis’s direction. “I get off-limits. No, I’m the one that’s in front of everyone, and there should be three of us, not one and a half. The odds of me making it to the end of this round without a healer like Elaine is between slim and none.”
Julius nodded at this. “Maximus?”
“The interesting thing about skills,” He started. “is they respond to perceived stress. Elaine must’ve gotten over 50 levels in her memory skill in a single day. Yesterday was literally do or die for her – from her perspective at least.” He paused, collecting his thoughts.
“Of course, that’s not the only factor, but it, shall we say, weighs on the scales. I believe that there’s so much I – and we- can learn from her, and from a different perspective. So few people have created their own skill, or have a novel skill, and Elaine has at least two before she’s 15. Three if you count that bacteria skill. She might even have more. Most of those seem to also be from extra knowledge, which the system also responds to. Watch this.” He turned to me. I gulped, being in the hotspot.
“Elaine, looking at us, looking at what skills and classes we have, what do you think we could do that we’re not currently doing?”
Holy interview question. “I, erm, uh, I, uhhh – don’t know your classes and elements.” I fumbled, not expecting the question, answering around a mouthful of food.
Maximus rolled his eyes. “I can form almost any weapon out of metal. Same with armor. Arthur has a Poison element class. Artemis you probably know. Origen can inscribe most types of magic. Julius is all about speed. Kallisto is our sneaky front liner, who can charm most anyone – and I mean for information, not for other reasons.”
I spent a moment thinking about it. “Maximus, can you start sketching out what weapons and armor you do know in the ground? I might as well know what you know, otherwise I might just suggest more of the same.” Ok, good, moment to stall.
“Origen, can you make a box cold?” He looked thoughtful, then slowly nodded. “Well, food becomes bad when germs – err, bacteria – same thing – eat it, then produce toxins and waste. If food’s cold, then germs can’t grow on it easily. You get to keep food fresh for longer.” A fridge, a fridge, my kingdom for a fridge! Fresh food was constantly around in town, but on the road, I noticed everything we had was preserved. Made sense, but maybe this would be enough.
“Arthur, your poisons are kind of slow, and people can keep moving when hit by them.” I started out, thinking of Australia. So many poisonous things. Arthur grinned at me, clearly pleased. “Yeah, I know it does.”
That got some groans, and Artemis threw a bone at him. “Arthur, one of these days that habit of yours is going to get you killed.” Julius started. I shuddered, not wanting to know more about this.
“Oook, I’m going to leave that issue alone. Just know there’s something called a blue-ringed octopus, where a tiny amount of poison will instantly disable a person. Maybe that knowledge is enough for the system to work off of?” I hedged.
“Artemis.” She perked right up at that, looking at me. “I’m not quite sure how all of this works – there’s a lot of blanks around this – but there’s lightning inside of every person. A tiny amount, but if you ripped lightning out of a person, they’d just stop moving, drop dead.” She looked thoughtful at that.
“I’ve never felt it, but I’ll try. I suspect if it’s as small as you say though, I’d need much higher control to make it work.”
[*Error* [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has decreased to level 100!].