I seethed as the three adventurers bustled around me. I was not a thing. I was not property. I wasn’t some errant dog that needed to be fetched back.
The whole legality of it was probably questionable to boot – probably why they’d smuggled me out of the town, instead of going through the gates during daylight. How had they pulled that off anyways? Probably bribed some smugglers or something. Jackasses, the lot of them. Arrest all the smugglers! Throw ‘em all to the lions!
First, I needed to get out of here. The three stooges had demonstrated that in a fight, or running away, I was no match for them at all. Also, while they weren’t actively harming, attacking, or trying to capture me, [Oath] was a nuisance, and was insisting I shouldn’t try to murder them in their sleep. If it wasn’t active self-defense, it didn’t count. No pre-emptive self-defensing, it didn’t work.
I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Planning for later, for when I saw their setup. First, cooperate, get out of the mud prison I was in, get my arms and legs fixed. There was no running away on no mana and broken limbs.
A panicked thought flitted through my mind. What if they didn’t let me go? What if they just left me like this, and my [Warmth of the Sun] combined with whatever low-level healing the mud was doing caused my bones to set all wrong? Could I even heal that? What if I was a deformed cripple for life?
[Center of the Galaxy] kicked back in, turning back on, distancing me from the panic, taking away the sharp edge of pain, giving me clear thinking again. Gods, I wish I’d known I could be tortured until the skill broke. I’d have been 60% less defiant. I was going to give Artemis an earful when I next saw her.
Nah, not Artemis. Maximus. It was his fault clearly, not mine. Plus, Artemis wasn’t the skills expert, that was Maximus.
Thinking of Artemis and Maximus made me tear up again. Would I see them again? Would I fail to escape, and get locked away in a gilded prison for years? I shook my head. Be positive! I’d gotten away once; I’d get away again. On one hand, it’d be harder – people knew I was trying to escape. On the other hand, easier. No town guards to pass through – not that they’d particularly care if I was just running away. A benefit! Higher levels. More survival skills. [Ranger’s Lore] would stop dumb mistakes I’d made the first time I’d run away. It would help me pack. It would help me setup a campsite. It would help me hunt for survival.
That all assumed I didn’t make a break for on the road. Although, if I made it all the way to Aquiliea, I should escape in the direction of Ranger HQ at the capital – it was a much shorter trip than trying to catch back up with the rest of the team.
Speaking of, I wonder when they’d try to find… me…
Holy shit, was that Arthur?
[Eyes of the Milky Way] was a passive like [Warmth of the Sun], which was to say, it was always on, and it couldn’t be disabled. Well, my other skills weren’t disabled, my mana regeneration was disabled, which effectively disabled them. Same difference. If I hadn’t drained my knife and earrings earlier in the day with my healing marathon, I’d be able to draw them in, and use skills.
Back to Arthur. A large, wriggling mass of a person – roughly the size of a mountain fallen over – was moving around on the ground, full of sticks and muds and reeds. However, it seemed that he relied quite a bit on darkness, and with [Eyes], I was able to see him – well, his muddy outline – well.
I eyed my captors. I eyed Arthur. Had he seen me? Was it worth calling out? What would I call out to let Arthur know I was here, without tipping off my captors I was alerting someone? Fuckit. [Galaxy] was back up, and if they decided to beat me again, I’d pretend I was in pain.
I'd take the risk. I worked my jaw furiously to get rid of the gag they'd placed on me, managing to get it open a hair, enough to get some sound out.
I took a deep breath, looking at Arthur, and yelled out.
“Helen of Troy!”
Lumberjack came over and slapped me, hard, my head whipping back and hitting the dried, hardened exterior of the mud prison.
“Shut up! No yelling! Who’s that?” He demanded to know.
I thought fast. Eh, why not give the truth.
“Kidnapped person from a story, brought across the sea. That’s who I am now! Helen of Troy!”
“What the fuck is Troy?” Swimmer demanded, a small, sharp, curved diving knife playing in his hands.
“I’d shrug, but I can’t. It’s a story. Who says the place she’s from has to exist?”
Swimmer pressed the sharp edge of the knife against my cheek, gentle running it down my face. I shuddered.
“No more yelling. Understand?”
I didn’t dare to even nod. I just moved my eyes up and down rapidly, blinking away my terror. Thank the gods for the System.
The mercenaries kept moving around, and the cart lurched into motion. Silver lining time – this was the smoothest ride ever – the mud was absorbing all the shocks, and it was like I was in a luxury car. Minus the bindings. I looked around, trying to spot Arthur.
No Arthur. Nothing. Had he moved on? Did he notice me? I was kinda hard to miss, but at the same time, a head in a pile of mud wasn’t the most obvious way of IDing someone.
Less than a minute into our travels, I heard a high-pitched screaming arrow come nearby, along with a fast-moving light moving high up.
Arthur’s emergency signal.
I started laughing with joy, I started crying with relief. I hadn’t been forgotten. I hadn’t been abandoned. Not only was I found, I was found almost immediately. I’d been scared that it would take them until morning, until Kallisto stumbled back to the Argo, for them to realize I was missing. No, they’d caught on early, and with all the beefs I had about Arthur, I was willing to forgive every single one. Bless our scout. Bless his tracking. I’d sing The Iliad every night for a month if he got me out of this!
“Boss, I don’t like that arrow. Looks and feels like a signal.” Idiot Mage said. “We should move faster.”
“Yes, let’s move faster. How?” Lumberjack replied, voice dripping with sarcasm. “We can only move as fast as the mule. Stay on your toes, but there shouldn’t be anyone chasing us.”
Idiot Mage grumbled to himself. Swimmer came back over, murder in his eyes, twirling his knife around his finger.
“You. I told you to shut up, and yet, you keep making loud noises. What do I need to do,” At that he crouched down, gripping the sides of my jaw, forcing my mouth open. He grabbed my tongue, pulling it out. “cut your tongue off?”
I made noises of protest, shaking my head as much as I could with my tongue stretched out, eyes glued to the knife.
“I think you need a bit of a reminder. What I said last time didn’t stick.”
He slowly, cruelly, carved shallow slices in my cheeks, four horizontal lines, blood welling up and falling quickly, giving me the appearance of crying blood.
“This is your last warning. Next time, it’s your tongue.”
I shut up, not wanting to say a thing, not wanting to provoke Swimmer further. Arthur’s signal had been less than a minute ago, it took time. I just needed to stall for time, and by that, I mean not get murdered before the calvary arrived.
“Why’s the mule so damn slow tonight?” Lumberjack growled. Idiot Mage snapped back. “It’s nighttime! This is the best mule we could afford! No shit it’s going to be slow at night!”
I heard gentle footsteps land – probably Swimmer, since he was the graceful one, Lumberjack would thud and I could barely see Idiot Mage out of the corner of my eye.
“Boss, problem.” Swimmer half-yelled, half-whispered out, in that low, urgent tone. “Someone hit the mule. There’s an arrow in its leg, that’s why it’s moving so slowly.”
Lumberjack made a disgusted noise. Being purely audio sucked.
“How did you not notice this earlier?” He said.
“It wasn’t here earlier, I swear!” Swimmer protested. “I think someone’s after us.”
I smiled, my face out of sight, a cold, vicious smile. Arthur. He was hunting them, and trying to do it in a way to not spook them while everyone else came. He might be able to pick off all three by himself, but there was no need to. It’d be risky, and unlike me, where they had to hold back, they could go for the kill on Arthur. Or just kill me outright. Either way, waiting was the right move.
I just hated it so. I wanted to be free. I needed to be free. To be out of this prison. To dance on their graves. Bah. Someone else would have to make the graves – and make it fast.
Gods I needed to pee. I hope they had some sort of plan for that. Patience Elaine. Patience is a virtue. I needed to just breathe in, breathe out, and wait.
I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaated waiting. Despised it. I needed to tap. I needed to shift awkwardly. I needed to channel my restless leg syndrome. I’d hum and sing dumb songs if I wasn’t terrified of Swimmer and his knife. Let me check if I got any levels from all that fighting earlier.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 131! +10 Free Stats, +15 Mana, +15 Mana Regen, +15 Magic power, +15 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 131!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 108!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 105!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Eyes of the Milky Way] has reached level 89!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 70!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Firebug] has leveled up to level 21! +2 Free Stats, +2 Mana, +1 Mana Regen, +3 Magic power, +1 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Firebug] has leveled up to level 26! +2 Free Stats, +2 Mana, +1 Mana Regen, +3 Magic power, +1 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Affinity] has reached level 26!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Conjuration] has reached level 26!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Manipulation] has reached level 26!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Resistance] has reached level 22!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 107!]
Welp, if I survived this, those levels would be good. Sadly, none of them helped me get out of this.
An eternity passed, slowly moving forward as the three stooges were jumpy. I couldn’t see them, but the occasional gasp and thunk let me know what was going on. I grinned to myself. Served them right.
A screaming arrow appeared again, taking the mule in the throat, stopping the cart dead. I felt a flash of sympathy for the poor animal – it never did anything wrong – but that was quickly overwhelmed by my desire to be free, hope that help had arrived to save me.
“Rangers!” A voice I recognized as Julius announced. “Weapons down, hands up, out of the wagon!”
“Hang on,” Lumberjack yelled from inside the wagon, one hand raised up, one hand on his axe, head lowered to the ground. “Let’s talk-“
Artemis was obviously around, and was in no mood for talking. A rock, larger than normal – I could tell by the sound – went whizzing past me, and from the sickening sound of crushed flesh, shattering bone, and the spray of blood that went up, hit her mark.
No notification for me. He was either alive, or the System didn’t credit me with being involved. Go go team Ranger! Go Julius! Go Artemis! Smash them all!
I hated them. I hated them with a passion I hadn’t realized I could muster up. I despised Kerberos, loathed him, but didn’t hate. Not like this. Not in this visceral way. I wanted to see them suffer. I wanted them to beg, like they’d made me beg.
[Oath] demanded that I do no harm, that I heal those sick and injured. It didn’t demand that I was a perfect person, that I had to think like a saint. All in all, better that someone else do the grave-making. I had some dancing sandals ready.
Swimmer and Idiot Mage promptly left the wagon, hands held up high.
“Down on the ground. Artemis, disable.” Julius was giving out orders, both blades out, tensed up. Maximus and Artemis were next to him, none of them in armor, both holding weapons. Maximus had a bog-standard weapon for once – a spear – I guess it was because he’d been in a rush. The two lay down, and Artemis crouched down between them, putting her hands on both their heads. A flicker of lighting, and they both stiffened up. Maximus moved forward, putting his spear behind Swimmer’s head.
Artemis got up and sprinted over to me, still bound by mud.
“Elaine, oh gods Elaine, are you ok?” She asked, starting to rip the mud from me.
“No.” I choked out, tearing up. I was far from ok. I was rescued, but I wasn’t ok.
Artemis took a look down at the mud, at my tear, blood, and grime streaked face, and her face softened even more. She concentrated, waved her hand, and the mud flew off of me, revealing me with my broken limbs, glowing mud still attached. She focused, grabbed the glowing patches, and peeled them off of me, one at a time.
Rage! Barely contained rage etched every line of Artemis’s face. I wanted to curl up to her as she held me. I didn’t. I don’t think I could move my arms, although my mana was now regenerating at a good clip. Soon. I’d be fixed soon.
“Mage.” I croaked out, nodding towards Idiot Mage who was down on the ground.
“Shhh, we know, rest.” Artemis said, pulling me closer and hugging me. I buried my face in her chest and cried.
“Julius-“ Artemis said, only for him to cut her off.
“I know. I have eyes.” He said, fury in his voice.
“Arthur, Maximus – take this one,” He said, kicking Idiot Mage. “off to the side and interrogate him. We need the works. Artemis and I will handle this idiot.”
A sigh of exasperation came from the bushes – Arthur didn’t like being called out that he was there. A chuckle slipped through my lips through my sobs. Heh. I’d caught Arthur sneaking around.
I focused, using the small amount of mana I’d regained so far to fix the smallest problems I had. I should just wait and start fixing the major problems, but I couldn’t.
“Alright.” Julius said, poking Swimmer with the business end of his sword. “Start talking.”