Beneath the Dragoneye Moons

by

Selkie

Chapter 68 – Adventures on the way to Perinthus VI

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A note from Selkie

Chapter away! Not much to say here. 

In the interest of good communication, as much as I'd like people to sign up for Patreon, I *might* post the next chapter later today. Depends how the day goes.

 

Enjoy!

 

“Nothing’s wrong with this area, so to speak,” Julius started to say. Artemis interrupted him.

“Long story short, there’s still a bunch of beasts in the area.” Artemis said with a grimace. “High-level Saber-tooth tigers. They’re like Julius and Arthur combined – sneaky, fast, and with high damage. They’re incredibly fragile though, and easy enough to kill, if you survive the initial ambush.”

“Oh, and humans are on the menu for them.” Artemis finished up.

“That means,” I said, slowly putting the pieces together. “That I’m very much on the menu.”

“Yup! You’d be a tasty snack for them!” Maximus semi-gleefully informed me. “Small, vulnerable, low physical stats? You’d be an appetizer before they try to eat Artemis.”

Artemis swatted at him.

“Stop trying to scare her.”

Maximus frowned at Artemis, crossing his arms.

“I’m trying to tell her, nicely, that this area is dangerous to you, let alone her.”

“On that note,” Julius said, taking command again. “Artemis. I’m sorry. You’re confined to the Argo, excepting bathroom breaks with Elaine, until we get to Perinthus. Elaine. You’re not confined, but I strongly, strongly recommend you stay with Artemis.”

Artemis made a noise of protest. “Why am I confined but not her! This isn’t fair!”

Julius made a noise of agreement.

“It’s because you’re already on a hair-trigger. I can’t imagine that creatures actively hunting you will make it any better. It will make it much worse – every cracked twig, every broken fern, and you’ll be sending off a rock in that direction, combined with a lightning bolt. Come on. I’ve talked with your former teammates – like I’ve talked with everyone’s former teammates. Artemis, you haven’t gotten through this stretch of Pallos without a friendly fire incident once. You’ve avoided fatalities, but you’ve crippled two Rangers on this stretch.”

“It wasn’t lethal! They got better!” Artemis protested.

“They only got better because you shipped them on a boat back to HQ!” Julius yelled back. “No. This time, you’re getting through this stretch of Pallos without a friendly fire incident. The only way I see that happening is if you stay in the Argo the entire time.”

Artemis muttered darkly at Julius.

“Look on the bright side – minimal chores! You won’t need to drive the wagon. You don’t need to brush down the horses. You don’t need to cook, or clean, or anything else. Just stay here like some rich wife while we cart you around.”

Artemis was still glaring daggers at Julius. He sighed.

“Alright, fine. You know it’s an order. Tell you what. You can order Elaine around, since she’ll be mostly stuck with you.”

I made a noise of protest. This wasn’t fair!

“Elaine, a reminder to you that Artemis has 12 years of seniority on you, and could order you around anyways.” Maximus whispered in my ear. “Play along, keep Artemis happy, and we all get through this without being maimed or eaten.”

“Arthur.” Julius asked.

“Yeah boss?” Arthur sat up.

“I know you like wandering around, scouting about, and generally hunting whatever strikes your fancy. However, I need you on almost permanent overwatch. Your priority order is as follows. Protect Elaine and Artemis when they do have to pop out. Protect the horses. Protect the rest of us. Shoot down any stray cats you see.”

“Maximus. You’re on rotation with Arthur. I know you like mixing up your weapons, but can you stick to javelins for this?”

Maximus saluted, hand-over-heart.

“Can I at least have some variations in my javelins?” He asked.

“As long as they’ll still work. I don’t want a repeat of the Protoavis incident, you hear me?”

Maximus simply nodded and saluted again.

 

That’s how we spent the next five weeks, rumbling down the last road to Perinthus. Artemis and I cooped up in the Argo, going slightly nuts, occasionally feeling the entire wagon lurch horribly as something got too close to the horses and spooked them. Never had to push though, Arthur and Maximus together killed anything getting too close. Night shift, and keeping the horses safe at night, was even more of a chore, apparently. Artemis and I were glad that we didn’t have to participate in that, although we didn’t rub it in the other’s face.

Too much. We were stuck inside, we had to entertain ourselves somehow.

Artemis entertained herself in a variety of ways – mostly bouncing between tormenting me, and having me work on my skills. Her particularly inventive torments combined the two. Arthur would knock on the roof so we could hear him every time he managed to get one. Good experience for him. The frequency of the knocks made me happy we were inside.

“Elaine, my loyal minion.” Artemis said, lounging face-up on a pillow fort she’d made out of everyone’s bedding.

“Yes, your royal highness?” I rolled my eyes at her. I regretted telling her stories about queens and castles. She’d decided that while we were cooped up, she was the queen, and I was her minion.

I didn’t even have a noble rank in her made-up world! At least make me a princess, damnit!

“Feed me some ham.” She ordered, pointing at a dried leg of something that was most certainly not ham. I rolled my eyes. I was in for it either way. Either I fed Artemis what she was pointing at, and got in trouble for it not being ham. Or I fed Artemis some of the ham we had, and got in trouble for ‘not knowing I meant that thing’, or the variant, ‘correcting the queen.’

Ah well. I grabbed what she indicated, drawing my knife, hearing Maximus knock on the top of the Argo. Twice.

Good experience for him.

I carved the meat – saber-tooth cat, we were as vicious to them as they were to us, ‘eat or be eaten’ distilled down to its most fundamental form – into small, bite-sized pieces, tossing them into Artemis’s open mouth. I tried to carve faster than she could chew and swallow, but no luck.

I absent-mindedly flared [Veil] as Julius threw another pebble at me. To his credit, he was trying to do everything – be on patrol, helping protect us, while also staying in as much as possible to keep us company. The “snap-shield” training was going well – I was rarely getting hit these days, and I was able to get smaller and smaller shields up to protect myself against shots. When they came from a direction I could see.

I’d also managed to get “half-shields”, like a turtle’s shell, behind me when I couldn’t see shots from behind. Kept my line of sight open, kept me seeing the world around me, letting me move and react.

“Ah peasant, you’ve done wonderfully.” Artemis said, smacking her lips as the last chunk went down her hatch. “Time for your reward!”

“Skill Training.” We both said, Artemis with sadistic glee, myself with resignment.

My skills had been slowly falling further and further behind my level, with only my [Celestial Affinity] keeping up. When I had idly mentioned that, Maximus and Artemis had gotten a Look together. The long and the short of it was they were making me grind my skills as much as possible, throwing them through all sorts of exercises, and my skill levels had skyrocketed to more closely match my level. There was also a bunch of grinding on my healer class, but that was more due to patching up the minor scrapes and injuries Rangers constantly got themselves into.

At the very least, there weren’t massive gaps anymore in my skills.

“Which is what it should be.” Maximus had told me.

“Peasant!” Artemis said, trying not to laugh as she did her best “queenly” voice. “Crown me with flames!”

I eyed Artemis’s fortress of fluff – that included my pillow. I eyed Artemis’s head, resting on the pillows. The woolen, stuffed with wool, dry, very flammable, pillows.

I looked at Julius, pleading in my eyes. He had no mercy.

“Your queen has given you an order. Now I’m giving you one. Don’t you dare light my sleeping roll on fire.” He told me sternly. His tone of voice softened. “It’ll be good practice for your control.”

Fine, fine. I carefully lit a flame on my hand, and slowly moved it over to Artemis, who was staying blessedly still for this, eyes closed. The flames got near her, and I practiced cooling them down, making them colder, to not burn her. My high control helped immensely here – I could control the flames, keep them tight, confined, keep them exactly where I wanted them. I could control how hot they were, blazingly hot to incinerate quickly, or cooler, to not set my stuff on fire. Or Artemis’s. Or everyone else’s. Blazingly hot was good. Half-burning just led to animals screaming in pain without killing them, which was no good, tying back to Maximus telling me about flame’s lack of stopping power.

I’d always remember that deer, eyes wide in terror and pain as my flames licked over it, failing to properly take it down, the smell of burning flesh and singed hair searing disgusting offense to my nose. I’d never been more thankful to follow Artemis’s advice and manner, and always be carrying a bladed weapon – dad’s knife – on me.

The answer to my question I asked oh so long ago. “Why do you carry a sword, if you’re a mage?”

The better to kill you with, my dear.

Hunting that day had driven the unpleasant realities of being a Fire mage home, and I was under no illusions on what being a Fire mage meant anymore. It caused pain, it caused suffering.

On the flip side, flames didn’t kill instantly, the same way a rock or a lightning bolt did. Rather, the mana required for an instant-kill with fire was significantly higher, by several factors. If I was facing down a human, it was possible to use flames to incapacitate, then save. Was it better to deliver someone a swift death, or to burn them horribly, only to heal them and bring them back later?

Hard questions. Hard choices. I’d been sheltered in Aquiliea, not needing to stare at these terrible options and choose. I was a Ranger now, and needed to face the reality of the world in a closer, more visceral way.

I focused on the flames continuing to burn while being merely unpleasantly warm, and split my focus to have them also surround her head, like a circlet or tiara. Artemis made some happy noises at the crown, at not being scorched, while Julius nodded in approval.

Another stamp on the ceiling indicated another animal down. I carefully ‘removed’ the flames, and got to eating some ham, to restore my mana.

If there ever was another fire, I would be in a great position to handle it. Grab, and remove.

I was chewing on some food, when I got a long-awaited notification.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Fuel for the Fire] has reached level 32!]

“I leveled. I finally got [Fuel for the Fire] to level 32.” I said with a tone of some surprise. I’d been trying to get this last level for ages, to optimize my next class-up. Maximus and Artemis had insisted. The lady herself cracked an eye open.

“Congratulations! Time to class-up?” She asked.

“Yup! Well, I need to check with Maximus if he thinks I should get anything else leveled up. Lemme pee real fast first.” I said.

Julius popped his head out, where Kallisto was driving.

“Hey, let’s pause for a quick break. Elaine’s at her 32 class-up.”

I didn’t see Kallisto’s reaction, but I heard it.

“You know, I’ve been doing this Ranger thing for years now. Seen all sorts of strange things. A Ranger, doing their level 32 class-up though? That’s a new one.”

He yelled the second part over his shoulder to me.

“Not that I mind Elaine! Nor am I judging. It’s just… strange. Nobody will ever believe me, and those stories are the best drinking stories.”

I laughed at that. True! Nobody would ever believe a Ranger, best of the best, doing their level 32 class-up.

Maximus yelled down from his position on top of the Argo.

“She’s not the first Ranger to do a level 32 class-up! Minatus had a class merger on his level 256 class-up, and got a new secondary class. It’s not that unbelievable Kallisto.”

“Yeah, yeah.” I muttered, as Artemis and I got to the back of the wagon. Maximus stood above the door, looking around. He stomped twice to let us know we were clear, and we opened the door. I threw up a [Veil], creating a dome that covered us, and the side of the Argo. We hopped down, went to the side – where nobody from inside the Argo could see us, and we were hidden from Maximus on top by the dome.

We finished our business up, and started to make our way the few steps needed to get back in. Artemis’s ear twitched, and that was all the warning I got before a barrage of stones, followed by a pair of lightning bolts, blasted the ground to the side of her, flecks of stone breaking off of my [Veil], showering me with sharp bits.

“Oww, what was that?” I said, healing the little nicks I’d gotten.

“Just a rodent.” Artemis said, after having carefully looked down.

“Yikes, no kidding you’re jumpy around here. If I’m not careful, I’m going to be your next friendly-fire victim.”

Artemis shrugged at that. “Maybe. I haven’t killed any Rangers though. Julius failed to mention that these beasties do occasionally get the drop on a more fragile Ranger – like you or me – and that’s another Ranger name on the Indominable Wall.”

“Indominable Wall? Also, how do normal people get through this stretch?” I asked, climbing back into the Argo.

“Indominable Wall is where all fallen Rangers have their name carved, to remember their sacrifice.” Julius said. “The odds are good all of our names – yours included – will end up on it.”

“As for how normal people get through this stretch – usually in a large caravan. The more people there are, the less likely the cats are to attack. Loud noises, skills, and it becomes doable. No, what impresses me are the farmers here. There’s not a lot of livestock, mostly grain, fruits, Blue Claw Peppers that alchemists love so much and are staples in so many potions, but they’re able to hold their own.”

Maximus yelled from on top of the wagon.

“It’s because all the bad ones are dead! Under the pressure of living here, anyone that survives is going to shoot up in levels. There are benefits to living near the frontier, and fast, high levels is one of them!”

Eh, made sense.

“By the way,” Maximus continued to yell. “If you peek out of the Argo to your left, there’s a small herd of Ctenosauriscus off to the side!”

Dinosaurs! I eagerly poked my head out, looking off to the left. Some medium size, lizard-like dinosaurs were grazing. They were four-legged, with their shoulder being a few inches higher than my hips. They had a long, low sail starting at their head, cresting large on their back, then trailing down their tail, with green scales.

“Cool!” I said happily, always one to see a new dinosaur, as much as this one looked like standard boring herbivore #9.

“Tasty.” Artemis said. “Hey Julius, can you get Arthur to bag us one of these for later? They’re great eating.”

“They’re also tough enough to survive the saber-tooth cats that roam the area.” Julius pointed out.

“And Arthur can hunt just about anything.” Artemis retorted. “I can’t leave this damn wagon, they’re delicious eating, come on.”

“Fine, fine, we’ll ask Arthur to hunt the tasty dinosaurs.”

I eyed them up, thinking. On one hand, potential bonded animal. On the other… they weren’t that cute. I passed on asking Arthur to try and find me an egg. Cute. Cute was the name of the game. Cute, and would stay with me forever.

“Artemis, can you go on overwatch for a minute while Maximus helps Elaine before she classes up?” Julius ‘asked’. “Please, please don’t hit Arthur while he’s hunting. Or Origen. Or anyone.”

“Sure thing boss.”

Artemis climbed up, as Maximus traded spots with her.

“I know most of your stats, give me the quick breakdown of what you have.” Maximus said.

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 14]

[Mana: 5700/5700]

[Mana Regen: 6031]

Stats

[Free Stats: 44]

[Strength: 36]

[Dexterity: 80]

[Vitality: 65]

[Speed: 80]

[Mana: 570]

[Mana Regeneration: 1044]

[Magic Power: 535]

[Magic Control: 1078]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 144]]

[Celestial Affinity: 144]

[Warmth of the Sun: 118]

[Medicine: 124]

[Center of the Galaxy: 127]

[Phases of the Moon: 105]

[Eyes of the Milky Way: 95]

[Veil of the Aurora: 111]

[Vastness of the Stars: 128]

[Class 2: [Firebug - Fire: Lv 32]+]

[Fire Affinity: 32]

[Fire Resistance: 32]

[Fire Conjuration: 32]

[Fire Manipulation: 32]

[Fuel for the Fire: 32]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 80]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 80]

[Pretty: 102]

[Vigilant: 111]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 111]

[Ranger's Lore: 66]

[Running: 75]

[Learning: 120]

 

Maximus made a non-committal noise as I went over them all, then shrugged.

“Yeah, I’ve got nothing. We’ve been working on your skills for a while, and that was the last level we thought you should get before classing up. We’ve been working on your skills anyways, and you might as well class up now. Cheers. Remember to ask for exactly what you want – don’t guess at it. See you in a few hours.”

“This class is more or less free.” Julius chimed in. “You’re here on your basis of being a healer, do what you want with your second class. It’s like Origen with his inscriptions, Artemis with her rocks, and Arthur with his scouting – second class is your call.”

Well, that was sudden. I knew that we’d eventually work on getting that last level, and that I’d class-up once I’d gotten it, I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden, so soon after the last one.

I closed my eyes, letting myself fall into the world of my soul.

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A note from Selkie

Protoavis:
Birds To Dinosaur: Protoavis (Triassic)

 

Ctenosauriscus :

Ctenosauriscus | Fossil Wiki | Fandom

Not the most exciting of dinosaurs, but when you want to show almost 300 of them, yeah, some boring ones will get thrown in the mix.

 


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