I got up, yawned, stretched. Artemis rolled over, muttering something unintelligible. I leaned back, pressing up against some chest of supplies or another, and just waited for Artemis to be awake enough to hang out with.
It was the least I could do after last night.
Kallisto eventually showed up, popping his head into the Argo.
“Hey Elaine! Glad to see you made it back safely last night!” He said, dropping off some supplies and picking up some other stuff.
I glared murder at him. Artemis woke up fully at that, and glared extra-murder at him. Kallisto paled.
“Errr… did something happen I should know about…?” He asked sheepishly.
I had fully intended to give Kallisto a dose of [Vastness of the Stars] before Artemis got to him. Oh well.
We all stared at each other for a moment, in some sort of strange stand-off.
“Kallisto.” I said, deciding to be somewhat helpful. “Run.”
To his credit, he was off like a shot, but there was no beating lightning. I stayed in the Argo, listening to poor Kallisto’s fate. If I paid enough attention, I’d be able to hear his last words. Maybe carve them on his barrow.
“She’s a girl! Not a fully grown man! It’s dangerous for her to walk streets alone, at night, in the shit part of town!”
“But Artemis, she agreed!” Kallisto tried to defend himself.
I peeked out to see what was happening, only to see lightning branching out from Artemis’s fingers, playing over Kallisto, writhing on the ground. Some less-than-convincing screaming was coming from Kallisto.
“Agony. Oh Agony.” I raised an eyebrow at that. Not in as much trouble as I’d feared.
“Of course she’d agree to your hairbrained scheme, she’s desperate to stay with us! You. Do. Not. Leave. Her. Alone.”
Each of those last words were punctuated with a sharp crack of thunder, hammering the point home to Kallisto.
I tuned out what was happening. He was the tank anyways, and Artemis clearly knew what she was doing. If it got out of hand – which I doubted it would, Artemis had control – there were some other Rangers around. I wasn’t going to stick my nose in that.
What she said was interesting though. I reflected on myself somewhat. Would I really go through any hairbrained scheme, for risk of being kicked out otherwise?
Well, yes and no. Anything obviously bad I wouldn’t participate in. For example, jumping off a bridge. Might be able to survive that though. Would I jump off a bridge if asked or ordered to?
Oh fuck, Artemis was completely right. I would jump off a bridge for the team. I’d probably figure “eh, there’s a reason for it, and I can probably heal myself after”, or some other ludicrous self-deluded reasoning. I’d go along with almost any hairbrained scheme that wasn’t “Jump into a meat grinder”, or “season yourself and jump into the dino’s mouth”, or equally really far out-there requests.
Note to self- reflect on, and think about what I was being asked to do. Follow orders. Think about requests.
Things with Artemis were safe.
Probably safe, I mentally amended to myself, looking at Artemis’s latest stunt. Oooh, that had to hurt.
After some time, Artemis lifted herself back into the Argo. Wordlessly, I headed out, to see a somewhat well-done Kallisto lying on the ground, staring at the sky. I rolled my eyes at his melodrama.
I crouched down, touched him, and healed him all the way back.
“Woo thanks Elaine!” He said, more cheerfully than I’d believe possible. Did he have a [Play Dead] skill or something? “Last time Artemis did that, it stung for a week!”
“Last time?” I asked skeptically, wanting to know more.
“Yeah, when we first got this team together, I tried to get, well, together, with Artemis. She gave a prompt lesson about keeping things professional.”
I helped him up, and he turned to me, half-bowing, half-saluting.
“Elaine. I’d like to formally apologize for my actions last night. They were unbefitting a Ranger, and directly caused you harm. Can I make it up to you? Can you forgive me?”
I blinked, taken aback. I hadn’t expected something so sincere from him, taking responsibility and asking for forgiveness.
“Of course, I forgive you!” I said. I wasn’t so petty, so small-minded, that I couldn’t figure out who the real culprit was. Kerberos, and the mercenaries he hired, were the responsible ones. Not Kallisto. “You don’t need to do-“ My brain caught up to what my mouth said, and I shut up. I was going to say ‘You don’t need to do anything to make it up to me.’, but this was a chance!
Hmmmm. Kallisto was always happy to give me tips on fighting, on socializing, like the rest of the Rangers were happy to teach me things. What could he do for me….?
Chores. Lots of chores.
“You can do my clean-up tasks.” I smiled impishly at him. There were good reasons for me to learn how to do most tasks – setting up and breaking down camp, hunting, cleaning game, and dozens of other chores that I had to do along with the rest of the Rangers – but cleaning? I had two whole damn lifetimes of cleaning things up. I knew how to clean. There was no value in doing it more, and there was no ‘learning’ anything.
“Sure! I’ll be happy to do your clean-up tasks until the next town!” Kallisto smiled brightly, happy to have been forgiven, happy to be let off the hook.
I shook my head.
“No no, you misunderstand me.” Kallisto’s smile vanished. “For the rest of the round. Until we’re at Ranger HQ.” His face fell.
“Can’t you just roast me for a few minutes like Artemis?” He whined. I pointed at him.
“Maybe this will give you an appreciation for all the women who are expected to clean up after men their entire life! It’s only a bit more than a year and a half, you’ll survive. Who knows, maybe it’ll help you on your adventures!”
“Fine, fine, it’s what you want, I can do that for you.” Kallisto said. “And again, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
I gave him a quick hug.
“Hey Healy-bug, you’re with me today. We only have a few days left in town, is there anything you need to do?” Artemis showed back up, probably didn’t want to loom over me while I was talking with Kallisto.
“Yeah, I want to talk with Kosmimatus, the jeweler. See if he can help me with-“
Artemis interrupted me.
“-those wonderful pearls of yours, that have always been yours. A gift, from your fiancé to you.” She slowly nodded at me.
Right. Technically should be handed over to the local authorities. Everyone was willing to turn a blind eye in this case, but it was a reminder I shouldn’t be crowing about it, or announcing it.
“Yes, exactly! I also need to find a shop, and apologize for burning it in my desperation. Come with me Artemis?”
“Always healy-bug. Always. We should probably leave some coins quietly at the store though – not a good look to have Rangers committing arson in town, mmm?”
We headed back down to market, where Kosmimatus still had his stall, arranged in the same pattern as yesterday – and a line of people who seemed to want me.
“Elaine! My favorite healer! There you are!” Kosmimatus cried out happily, coming over with great exuberance, arms held out wide like he wanted to hug me. No word that it was almost lunch time, and I should’ve been here ages ago, per our agreement.
Artemis stepped in front me of, shielding me from Kosmimatus. “Hey, sorry, she had a rough night last night.” Artemis said. “Kidnapped, beaten, tortured, the works. Give her a bit of a break, k?”
Kosmimatus paled, then brightened. “Ah, but you’re here now! Able to heal those who come!” His voice dropped, as he whispered conspiratorial to me. “Or you could join me! Become my personal healer! Just think, safety and security instead of Ranger Danger. I can pay better than they can!” He straightened up, winking at me.
I looked to Artemis, who had a careful poker face on.
“Nah, I’m good. I would like to make another deal with you though.” I said, taking out the pearls I’d gotten. “I’d like to trade these in for some more Arcanite. And,” I said, taking off my earrings. “These are horribly impractical in a fight. Can you make them a bit more robust, less likely to fall off or get tangled?”
Kosmimatus’s eyes went wide at the pearls. “Of course! Would you like a necklace, or something else?”
“Something else please – I have a pendant from my parents, and it’d just feel awkward wearing the pendant and a necklace or amulet.”
“I assume you don’t want me to stud it with Arcanite?” He asked.
I nodded. “No thank you. I like it the way it is. Reminds me of home.” I said, touching the pendant beneath my tunic.
“Well then! I have an idea. Trust my judgement?” He asked. I looked at Artemis, who shrugged.
“Julius and Kallisto are the mind readers, not me.” She said. “Your call. You’ll never get better if you let other people barter for you.”
Welp. On one hand, I trusted Kosmimatus a hair, to do his job. On the other, my experience trying to barter all those years ago reminded me that I was shit at bartering.
Might as well go for it.
“Can you add in a few coins? Add in whatever healing I’m doing today to it. Half the pearls now, half later?” I asked.
“Can do. As for the pearls, all now. I need to check the quality.” Kosmimatus said. “No way do I risk pissing off the local Ranger squad while they’re in town. Your stuff is safe.”
Kosmimatus went off to both rub elbows with people, sell things, and work on my stuff all at once. Busy man, I could see why he’d gone far with that sort of work ethic, and honestly, skills made it all possible. While a jeweler from Earth would need to spend hours crafting and making custom pieces, he seemed to be idly wiggling his fingers while in a conversation, bits of metal and pieces of Arcanite floating around in a swirl.
Time for me to do my part. Might as well grind some skills while I was here.
I sat down, and tended to a steady stream of patients, being rewarded with a few levels for my efforts.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 132! +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 132!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 109!]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 75!]
After a few hours of work, things were starting to wind down a bit. Kosmimatus came back with the modified earrings.
They were a work of art. They were much more closely held to the ear, and surrounding the main Arcanite gem were dozens of tiny flecks of Arcanite, catching and reflecting light into thousands of tiny dazzling rainbows, little pinpricks of light.
“For you! Thank you!” He said, practically rubbing his hands in glee, passing me a tiny pouch filled with coins – my extra. “They shouldn’t move as much in a fight, and see, the edges are rounded,” He flipped them over, showing the smooth backs and bottoms of the earrings. “so they won’t catch on things as you’re moving. Granted, I could make them something real special without the requirement, but, alas, you seem determined to continue on. Are you sure I can’t make you an offer to stay.....? I have a nephew that…”
Ack. And conversations with him had been going so well up until now.
“Thank you, it’s lovely. Not interested.” I said curtly. My tone softened slightly, becoming more curious.
“Just for my knowledge, how badly did I get ripped off on this?”
Kosmimatus didn’t have the good grace to look guilty. “Everything is a business transaction. You’re happy, you got something of value. I’m happy, I got something of value. It’s hard to quantify just how much you’ve gotten from this, just like I won’t quantify how much I’ve gotten from this.”
Artemis and I rolled our eyes in sync. Merchants.
We exchanged goodbyes, and headed back to the Argo, making a quick pit-stop in front of a lightly burned store. I dropped off the coins Kosmimatus left me in the owner’s hand, and walked away, ignoring his confused questions.
“Hey Arthur!” I said cheerfully, seeing him hanging around. “I’m not sure I mentioned it to you the other day, but my skill let me see you when you were trying to hide!”
He grunted. “Which one?”
“[Eyes of the Milky Way]. It lets me see in the dark, when the stars are shining.”
“Mmmm. That might do it. At night I rely on light and shadows to help me hide – being able to see right through that hurts. It might also be penetrating other parts of my skills, so it makes sense.”
He paused, thinking.
“I’ll have to keep in mind that, under the right conditions, you can see me when others can’t. Julius, Kallisto, and Origen are usually able to spot me when hiding, and I’ll flash signals and information to them. I’ll remember I can also do that with you.”
We hung out for a while, Julius eventually showing up.
“Elaine, a reminder that tomorrow’s our last day here, then we’re heading out. Make sure you wrap up anything you need to do.”
“Thanks! Will do.” I said. I was pretty sure I was all set.
“On that note, I’ve had a long, long talk with Kallisto. I can’t get into all the details, but he’s being fairly harshly punished. Above and beyond what you, Artemis, and Arthur, and everyone else dished out. Don’t make a habit out of it.” Julius said, giving me a Look.
“You’re also getting anti-charm training from him.” Julius said. “It’s one of the standard courses all Rangers go through, and until the other day, I thought it was one of the more useless classes. Well, you’re going to get it now, and from one of the best.” Julius finished.
I wanted to groan. More things to learn and do.
The next day, Artemis and I headed to the baths, our last chance to be properly clean for a long, long time.
While we were there, we had a talk about my free stats, and my physical skills.
“You’ll never be able to take hits like Kallisto can, or be as flexible as Maximus. Fire being your element isn’t doing you any favors – strength doesn’t do much for you. If only you were an Earth mage.” Artemis signed dramatically. I hugged her reassuringly. She really wanted me to have been an Earth mage for her to train.
“With that being said, you want most of your points in speed and dexterity, with the occasional point in Vitality. You’ll stay alive by not getting hit, but you need enough vitality to not only keep up with what people are doing, but to survive when you are hit long enough to heal yourself. If you get pasted, there’s not enough left of you to heal.”
“With that being said, I’m no Maximus. First, do you have enough points to get those three stats to level 50?”
“Yeah, I should have more than enough.” Saying that, I put in my free stats, getting the three stats Artemis was talking about to 50.
Polyphemus would be proud – I finally got most of my physical stats to 50.
“Good. From here on out, for now, let’s distribute your stats 2 in dexterity, 2 in speed, and 1 in vitality. Keep 10 free points spare just in case there’s a problem.”
I did what Artemis said, feeling a rush of power well up inside of me, flowing through me. I hadn’t gained this many stats all at once, as a percentage of my total, since I was a kid, and the feeling was indescribably strange.
[Free Stats: 10]
“Ok, you’ve massively increased your physical stats. You’ve tripled your dexterity and doubled your speed. That’s going to have an impact. Try to swim a bit, get used to your new stats.”
I tried cautiously moving, overshooting horribly and slipping down, into the water. Flailing, I managed to righten myself and stand up, only to see Artemis bent over double, howling with laughter.
“Ahahahahahahahahahahaha Oh gods that’s the funniest thing ever. Ahahahaha. Do it again! Do it again!” Artemis said between gasps of laughter.
“It’s not funny! I could’ve drowned!” I protested, moving violently to flip Artemis off, only to overbalance and splash down into the water again. A slender hand came down, grabbing me under the shoulder, hauling me up and out.
A few hours more of splashing around – I’m so glad we did this in an easy-to-fall area – and I had the hang of my new stats, my new body. I could now move with significantly more grace, more speed. I felt like the ugly duckling had become a swan. Look at me! Graceful.
[Pretty] should level up. Aaaaaany second now.
Artemis and I eventually left the baths, and did some shopping. I grabbed a few spare tunics, as cheap as I could get, for practice – I had no illusions about my clothes lasting any length of time – and the next day we were off.
To Perinthus. Home of MANGOS.
If there was any place I’d be convinced to settle, it’d be Perinthus.