Beneath the Dragoneye Moons

by

Selkie

Chapter 63 – Adventures on the way to Perinthus I

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A note from Selkie

New day, new chapter!

I'd like to thank Sunless and Agasthenes for writing me such lovely reviews. Thank you.

Of course, that conveniently ignored the fact that there were two more towns between here and Perinthus. We left town, and my training, and learning, from the Rangers redoubled. I worked on my skills – all of them, from class to general – and continued to learn all sorts of interesting tips, tricks, and Ranger knowledge. A few villages after Virinum, a couple of weeks later, and Artemis started another evening of training after our travelling was done.

“Elaine, your training with the bare-bone fundamentals of fighting are good enough. That’s not to say you’re any good, but you have enough of a foundation where we can move to the next step. I’m going to start teaching you how to use a shield and spear, because you’ll get a lot more value out of learning that immediately, to help keep you alive.” Artemis started off training by letting me know I’d graduated to the next level of difficulty.

“For the most part, you won’t have the strength to be going through someone. As a result, your main goals are learning how to block, and learning how to brace the spear, to let a monster – or an idiot – impale themselves on it. Origen’s reinforced the spears, so they won’t break – either the monster will break, or the ground will break.”

Artemis walked me through the proper way to hold one of the Legion shields, the proper way to hold a spear. They were long things, tapering off to a point, not at all like how I’d imagined a spear to be.

“Now, just because you’ve impaled something, doesn’t mean you’re safe – far from it. They’re now even closer to you, hurt, angry, and you’re the closest thing to them. Hunker behind this shield,” She knocked on my shield for effect. “And possibly layer your skill-shield behind that.”

I threw up a full-body [Veil], blocking a rock that Origen threw at me. Artemis glared at him.

“I’m trying to teach Elaine how to use a spear and shield!” She said with annoyance.

“Constant vigilance.” Maximus said, not taking his eyes off the dinner he was cooking. I considered throwing a rock at him myself.

“Artemis, if you wind them up, they’ll make a game out of throwing pebbles at me all evening, and we’ll never get anything done. Come on.” I said.

Artemis grumbled, correcting my stance, showing me how to thrust with a spear properly, and, possibly more important for me, how to run away while holding onto a spear.

She quickly amended that lesson to “how to run away without tripping over your spear.”

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 106!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has reached level 23!]

“Good work Elaine.” Artemis said, looking like none of the exertion had touched her. I was panting and sweaty, my tunic practically sticking to me.

“I have an idea.” Artemis said, with a gleam of mischief, of happiness.

“What’s that?” I asked, dreading whatever was to come. Artemis’s ‘ideas’ usually meant more torment for me, and I was already beat from today’s exercises.

“A bath!” Artemis said happily.

“Yes, I’d love one. Where?” I asked, managing some sarcasm.

Instead of answering me, Artemis grabbed my hand, and we were off. To the stream we’d camped near.

I eyed the water. “Yeah, that’s nice… and…. cold…” I said, trailing off as the INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS application of fire magic came to me.

“I got it. You make the bath, I heat it up.” I said, pieces of the puzzle clicking together.

“Yup! I can’t do it alone, you can’t do it alone, together, team ‘bath on the road!’” Artemis exclaimed happily.

“We gotta keep this a secret from everyone else. Otherwise they’ll all want a turn.” I said, thinking fast. Also, more so thinking that if everyone wanted a turn, it would mean less for me.

Artemis carved out a small, cozy bath out of river mud – it didn’t need to be that firm – capturing some water with it. I blew all of my mana applying flames to the construct, and we settled down into the water, [Veil] providing a privacy shield.

The lukewarm water.

Ah well, it was a few degrees warmer than normal.

“Elaine.” Artemis said, tone not too pleased. “We have got to get your Fire skills higher level.”

I nodded agreement. Baths. A bath on every stop. I’d kill for one.

I’d probably have to.

The next day, I was driving the Argo, all by myself! I’d reached a level of proficiency with keeping the horses on more-or-less the straight and narrow – they were smart, they didn’t need much more from us – and since the rest of the Rangers were sick and tired of the ‘boring’ task, and I was the low girl on the totem pole, it was falling to me more and more often to stare at endless stretches of road, while everyone else was entertaining themselves however they saw fit. Gambling, dice, story-telling, hunting, exercise – there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” going on.

We were entering a forest, and I turned a bend to see some logs across the road, [Vigilant] going nuts.

No shit sherlock. I didn’t need [Vigilant] for this.

“Whoooooaaaa!” I called, pulling the reins back, slowing the horses to a stop. Men – former slaves, marked as dangerous by the brands on their forehead – stepped out from the forest, bows and spears at the ready.

“Halt!” A big, leader-like bandit called out. “The road here is dangerous! For just a small toll, we can clear the road for you, and make sure there’s no more danger for you in the forest!”

I rolled my eyes at him. Arthur was somewhere, and he was either hunting, or had an arrow trained on the bandit leader.

“Juliiiiuuuuuussss” I called over my shoulder. “We’re being robbed.”

“Well, see how they do it!” Julius called back from inside, loud enough for me to hear, softly enough that the bandits wouldn’t.

“They want a toll for safe roads, and to remove the logs.”

There was the sounds of a brief kerfuffle behind me, some yelling, the oh-so-familiar sound of someone getting smacked.

“Well, go on then. Pay them.”

I grumbled in outrage. We were Rangers! Why were we paying a toll to bandits! This was totally, completely, unfair!

“How much is the toll?” I asked sourly.

“Half of all the coins and goods you have!” The bandit leader said menacingly.

“Julius, they want half.” I yelled over my shoulder.

“Hey, pay attention to me!” The bandit leader yelled. “It could be… dangerous… not to.”

I rolled my eyes at him.

“Eh, half’s fine. Ask if they have a governor’s writ, and which one. Pay them half your coins and see.” Julius called back.

I grumbled. Why were we entertaining them?

“Apparently I’m supposed to pay you half of my coins.” I said darkly. “My coins! My precious, hard-earned coins! By the way, do you have a governor’s writ, whatever that is?” I asked.

The bandit’s eyes narrowed at me. “We don’t have a writ, whatever that is. Now hand over your coins!”

I snorted at him, but opened up my pouch, checking how many coins were on me. I kept a good amount of my stash in my chest inside the Argo, but I never knew when I’d need some.

20 coins total. I counted out 10 and tossed them to the leader, throwing them one at a time. This one high, this one fast, let’s see if I can brain him.

“Listen here you little shit,” The bandit leader was starting to get into a real rage at my cavalier treatment of him, and my complete lack of concern over the robbery.

He never got a chance to.

“I surrender.” One of the bandits near the back dropped his spear, raising his hands up. All of us – bandits, bandit leader, me, and I swear I felt some eyes peeking out of the wagon – turned and looked towards him.

What!?” The bandit leader stomped over and cuffed him over the head. “What do you mean, ‘I surrender’? We’re the Brazen Bunch! We rob travelers-“

One of the bandits coughed at that. “Take tolls boss, we take tolls.”

The bandit leader let out an exasperated sigh.

“We take tolls, we don’t surrender to the people giving us protection money! How are we supposed to intimidate-“

The same bandit coughed again. “Protect. Boss, protect, not intimidate.”

“You. Shut up.” The bandit leader pointed to the interrupting bandit with a lung problem. “How are we supposed to protect anyone if we’re surrendering to them!?”

“Boss, think about it.” The kneeling, surrendering bandit said. “Wagon with just a healer girl at the reins. A really fucking high level healer for a girl her age. She has absolutely no fear whatsoever of us – like she’s completely sure she’s protected. She doesn’t give two shits about us, our weapons, or that she’s surrounded. She’s playing games with the coins she’s throwing at us! I don’t know what’s in that wagon, but she’s talking with them, seeing if we should be ‘allowed’ to rob her. I know my odds are better surrendering now, than dealing with whatever’s in there. Look, our best-case odds are the girl’s the daughter of some rich citizen, and she’s driving for a lark, and the wagon’s full of second-rate bodyguards. I have no idea what the worse-case is, but it can’t be good.”

That prompted a few bandits to pause and think.

“Or she has an acting class, or skill, and she’s bluffing! You, girl! Open the wagon up! We’re searching it for contraband!”

“Julius, they want to search the wagon.” I called out over my shoulder.

“No, they’re not allowed.” Julius called back.

“Sorry, you’re not allowed.” I told them back. This game of telephone was getting annoying.

One bandit dropped his weapons and ran. We all stared after him in silence. The bandit leader facepalmed.

“This is getting ridiculous.” He said. “Our first robbery, and it’s going all to shit.”

Interrupting “bandit” – not sure he deserved the title anymore – coughed again. The fakest noise you’d ever heard.

 

Julius sighed, loudly enough that everyone heard him.

“Elaine, your acting sucks.” He said, emerging from the Argo, full armor on, Ranger Eagle pinned to his chest. “Also, make sure you stall longer next time. Well, Brazen Bunch is it?” Julius asked, looking down on them.

There were a chorus of cries of dismay. “Aww fuck, we just tried to rob the Rangers.” One of the bandits cried out. The bandit that had preemptively surrendered started chuckling.

“SHUT UP!” Roared the bandit leader. “What does the local Ranger group want? We’re not going back, but we’re not looking for a fight.” He said, tightening his grip on his spear.

“Well, mostly I wanted to check if you were a reasonable sort or not. You passed. Not a murderous lot, seem mostly new to this, not inclined to kill people at a moment’s notice, and you’re offering protection along this stretch of road. Here’s your chance at being conscripted into the guard of whatever town’s nearest, getting a Governor’s Writ, and being licensed to guard caravans on the road. What say you?”

The bandit’s eyes were as large as saucers.

“What about us being runaways?” The bandit leader asked suspiciously. Julius shrugged. “I don’t really care about that, nor will the governor. Rather, I’ll make sure he won’t.”

An arrow went whizzing from the bushes, close to Julius’s face, impacting one of the bandits with a bow, who went down, foam bubbling from his mouth, blood from his eyes.

I snapped my shield up, careful not to include Julius. I scrambled up, scrambled back, and dropped it right before entering the Argo.

There was some yelling going on outside, but it was strangely peaceful yelling. I popped back out. Arthur was there.

Ah right. That had been one of Arthur’s trademark poison arrows, not the bandits starting to shoot at us. From the look and sound of things, further blows had been avoided.

“Sorry boss. He was lining up to take a shot.”

The bandit leader spat.

“He hated the government. Hated the Army, Rangers, Sentinels, Investigators, tax collectors,” There were unanimous sounds of agreement from all of us at that one. Common hatred for taxes uniting us all! “all government workers. I can believe it.”

I looked at him. “You seem pretty chill for us having just killed one of your men.”

“Yeah, well, he almost killed our chance at legitimacy. Not needing to camp in the cold? Being able to buy freely? He just joined recently, didn’t know him that well. Eh.” He shrugged.

“Speaking of though,” The bandit leader asked. “How can we get anything done with these brands?” He pointed to the brand on his forehead, same as most of the bandits had. A mark, indicating someone was a dangerous slave, usually due to a combination of skills, and a willingness to use them against others.

Julius smiled.

“It just so happens that we have a powerful Celestial healer with us. If you take us up on our offer, you can negotiate with her to get your brands removed.”

“How much?” The bandit leader asked. “We can’t afford expensive healing.” He said with a frown.

I felt my face grinning, channeling the Cheshire Cat, almost splitting my face as my lips stretched ear-to-ear.

“Half of your coins. Plus ten.”

If looks could kill, I’d be dead at the sour look on the bandit leader’s face. He brightened up quickly though, and started tossing coins at me, one at a time.

Some high. Some low. Some fast. Some “Let’s try to brain Elaine.” I scrambled to catch them, the points I’d been putting in dexterity and speed paying off.

Fair enough Mr. Bandit. Fair enough.

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 14]

[Mana: 3560/3560]

[Mana Regen: 5864]

Stats

[Free Stats: 13]

[Strength: 33]

[Dexterity: 64]

[Vitality: 57]

[Speed: 64]

[Mana: 356]

[Mana Regeneration: 799]

[Magic Power: 359]

[Magic Control: 859]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 132]]

[Celestial Affinity: 132]

[Warmth of the Sun: 109]

[Medicine: 114]

[Center of the Galaxy: 105]

[Phases of the Moon: 77]

[Eyes of the Milky Way: 89]

[Veil of the Aurora: 74]

[Vastness of the Stars: 73]

[Class 2: [Firebug - Fire: Lv 27]]

[Fire Affinity: 27]

[Fire Resistance: 23]

[Fire Conjuration: 27]

[Fire Manipulation: 27]

[Fuel for the Fire: 12]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 74]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 77]

[Pretty: 99]

[Vigilant: 109]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 111]

[Ranger's Lore: 23]

[Running: 70]

[Learning: 106]

 

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A note from Selkie

This was a surpringly controversial chapter among my patrons. Trying to get ahead some of the questions/complaints they had:

 

1) Rangers don't give a toss about the former slave status of someone, nor are they particularly fussed WHY that's a "former" - unless they went and murdered their former owners. Running away? Sure, go nuts, not our problem.  

2) Rangers are more aware than anyone just how fragile humanity is, how close to the brink. Yeah, it's all well and good to say "off with their head", orrrr, you could get a group of people, willing to live out in the wilderness and fight monsters, and have them do that - protect other people, fight monsters.

3) The governor might have some minor issues conscripting anyone into the guard (Technically, they'd be more like caravan guards, which is a slightly different flavor than the 'guard the town' guards, but they all get lumped into one umbrella), but a letter from the Rangers saying "Oi, recruit this lot" goes a long way towards weighing the scales. Could the governor ignore them, arrest all the ex-slaves, and do what he wanted with them? Yes. Is it likely? No. Something about keeping nice with the popular Rangers that not only saved the town, but had a healer come through at a low cost. They're all government, making the governor look good. 

 

Shameless plugs! Then again, I 100% get it if you say "Hey, it's the end of the month, lemme wait until Dec 1st to sign up". At the same time, book's on Amazon, and I just finished making the cover ~fancy~

 

Also worth noting - 8 is a very special number on Pallos, if you might have noticed. Next chapter is chapter 64, and I've done something special with it. 

The plugs! 

Right now I'm writing this for the warm fuzzy feelings I get. Following, rating, commenting, liking, and chatting in discord all give me warm fuzzy feelings! If you're a free reader, consider doing one of those. After all, that drives the book up, and might just be what tips it over so someone who reads it wants to be a not-free reader. Hurray!

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Selkie

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