A few more days passed, and we were nearly out of the nasty stretch of road, approaching Perinthus. It was getting hot and muggy, practically tropical. Arthur and Artemis were still pissed at each other – Arthur due to taking the flak of one of Artemis’s shots, Artemis because she felt she was being unfairly blamed for what was, in her mind, a perfectly reasonable self-defense response – there had been a monster attacking her, it wasn’t like she jumped at a twig snapping, and Arthur had been doing his normal invisible routine, how could she have seen him? – which made things tense as we rolled along.
“Psst healy-bug,” Artemis whispered to me as we settled in for dinner together, away from Arthur. “can you heal me while I eat? I think Arthur managed to spike the soup again, and I don’t want to show him it worked.”
I rolled my eyes at her, but did what she asked. No mana spent.
I took a bite of my soup, and almost gagged on it. It was foul, disgusting. I pulsed [Phases] through me, just in case, although I didn’t think Arthur would use anything too strong on a teammate – Julius would quite literally murder him over it.
The fact that I could taste it, and it was so nasty, also spoke to Arthur’s non-lethal attempt.
“Arthur!” Artemis yelled, storming over to where he was sitting. My hair – getting long again – started to rise up around me.
“Artemis!” Julius yelled with a whipcrack voice. “Stand down!” He barked at her.
“He fucking poisoned Elaine!” Artemis yelled in fury.
“I know.” Julius said, tone pissed. “Arthur, explain yourself. I get you and Artemis are feuding, but there’s no reason to bring Elaine into it.”
Arthur grunted. “Sorry Elaine. I’d made it obvious I’d spiked the soup. I assumed Artemis would force you two to swap. If I’d poisoned Artemis’s soup, you’d have gotten it.”
“Right, that’s it.” Julius said, still mad. “Both of you outside, right now. No weapons, no skills, you two are going to brawl until this is both out of your system. After this, I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
“This is unfair to Artemis.” I piped up, loyally defending her. I was kinda mad at Arthur to boot – he ruined my soup, half-poisoning me. I don’t know what it was, but it was dosed for someone with Artemis’s vitality, not mine. “Arthur’s much stronger than Artemis.”
Julius narrowed his eyes at me, tripping him up as he was trying to administer discipline.
“Artemis, you can use your [Stone Skin] skill. If Arthur’s willing to hit you hard enough for it to hurt you, it’ll hurt him more. Elaine, you’re on standby to heal – we also need you to enclose the area in [Veil]. We should be outside of the saber-tooth cat range, and we’re not in Serpopard territory yet, but just in case there are some wanderers around. Maximus, you’re on overwatch. Origen, do you have any inscriptions that could help?”
Origen tilted his head, thinking, then shook it.
“Right. Elaine, I want 600 push-ups from you after Artemis and Arthur are done.”
I opened my mouth in protest – I couldn’t do nearly 600 pushups, not with my stats – then closed it, realizing the number would just go up if I argued it. My punishment for tripping up Julius as he was trying to administer discipline.
We set up an arena, Artemis and Arthur both taking up stances like boxers as I enclosed the arena in shimmering light.
“Remember. Nothing that might even injure or cripple. Punches only. Nothing at the face, nothing below the belt. We have a healer on-hand, but that doesn’t mean you can go nuts – what if something hits Elaine’s shield hard enough to drain her mana right as you land a heavy blow? The two of you will fight until you’re no longer mad – or too tired to cause problems. Ready, FIGHT!”
At the last word Julius raised his arm, and Arthur charged at Artemis, only to promptly fall flat on his face.
“You’re cheating!” Arthur accused, getting back up and pointing at Artemis, clad in stone armor.
“Me? You’re the one that can’t walk straight! It’s not my fault if you trip over a random rock.”
I eyed said rock in question, unnaturally smooth. Artemis was totally cheating. This wasn’t nearly going to be the one-sided beatdown I was concerned about.
A fairly brutal hand-to-hand brawl occurred. Arthur was massive, and had no problems using his size and stats to pummel down on Artemis. Artemis was tricky and slippery – she never directly used a skill, not that we could see, but her footing was always perfect, sometimes seemingly sliding her out of the way, or absorbing hits for her, while Arthur was constantly off-balance, not able to bring his full weight to bear. Artemis’s punches back were slow, restricted by the stone around her – but at the same time, she was coated in stone, while Arthur had to keep punching stone.
After a long, drawn-out slugfest, both Arthur and Artemis were on the ground, gasping for air.
“Are you two finally done?” Julius asked coldly. Arthur nodded his assent. Artemis got in one last punch.
“That was for Elaine.” She panted out. “Yeah, I’m done.”
“Good. I want no more issues from you two over this, understood?” Julius asked, arms crossed. Artemis and Arthur both mutely nodded.
“Elaine, they’re all yours.” Julius said. I walked over, giving Artemis a hand up and healing her, then touching Arthur and healing him. He was much too large for me to offer a hand up to, he’d just pull me down instead.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 112!]
Well, either I was close, or healing someone somewhat happily after they’d lightly poisoned me was good juju.
That was, fortunately, the end between Artemis’s and Arthur’s feud. They didn’t exactly kiss and make up, but things were a lot less tense between them. Arthur didn’t even trip on random rocks anymore! We also went back to having good, freshly caught food – animals were no longer “mysteriously” escaping.
My push-ups though, were harsh. It took me the remaining days until we arrived at Perinthus to complete them, with Julius adding 10% of the remaining pushups to my total every day they weren’t complete.
Arms burning in agony, we arrived two days later at Perinthus.
Well, I assumed it was Perinthus. There was a huge make-shift wooden wall that stretched all around a large area, manned by army Legionaries.
Army Legionaries, facing inwards. Like they were containing something, holding the town prisoner, and not caring at all about threats from the outside.
“What the….” Julius said, looking at what was going on, somehow managing to read the banners that were flying. A theoretical part of my education, I hadn’t quite gotten to the ‘which army banners represented what legion’ yet. It just hadn’t been important enough. “Why’s the 3rd legion here? I know there’s some problems, but the 3rd?”
“What’s with the 3rd?” I whispered to Artemis.
“Internal suppression. They handle rebellions.” Artemis whispered back. “Bad, bad news to have knocking on your door.”
“Right, I’m going to find out what’s going on.” Julius said, hopping down. He trotted over there where a senior-looking Legionnaire. I could tell he was senior because he had more bling on him – bigger helmet, brighter colors, larger plume. A terrible idea, but I guess they weren’t too concerned with other humans spotting them and trying to kill them.
Being internal suppression though, primarily focused on handling other people, I’d imagine they should be more concerned. Ah well, who was I to question military doctrine, and the strange shit they got up to.
After a quick talk, Julius jumped back.
“I knew there was a plague here, I hadn’t realized how bad it was. They’re letting food in, people in, but once in, there’s no going out. They’re trying to contain the plague, and not have it spread. It’s apparently pretty nasty. I’m thinking we should go around. Thoughts?” Julius asked.
“Fuck no!” I exploded, surprised at my own ferocity. “We’re Rangers! What does that mean we do?” I asked.
“Solve the problems locals can’t. This isn’t a problem we can solve though.” Maximus butted in. “It’s a plague. Plagues happen. They pop up, kill a bunch of people, then die out. It’s part of life.”
“What am I, chopped liver?” I shot back. “I’m a healer. I know more about diseases and plagues than probably anyone in Remus, and that’s with my knowledge being more tattered than a tunic after a training session. I can hit fungus, bacterial, viruses, parasites, and more! Quick, Julius, how do plagues happen?” I asked him.
“Well, they just spontaneously occur when there are enough people in one place.” He said, frowning at me.
I shook my head. “No. There’s a cause, a reason. Bacteria, or a virus, causes it, and it spreads. How it spreads depends on a bunch. Maybe it’s the water. Maybe it’s the air. Maybe it’s food, or fleas, maybe an animal, maybe a person has it. I have holes on this – huge holes – but even then I remember the story of ‘Typhoid Mary’, who spread a disease all over the place, unaware that she had it. We should be here. We should be trying to fix this. This is what Rangers do.” I said passionately.
Julius hesitated. “You’re right, but you’re just one person. And you’re proposing tying up the entire squad. What can you do alone?”
I shrugged. “My best. Look, the mere fact that I’ve put you onto finding the cause, instead of just waiting for it to burn out, is progress on its own. You’re an amazing investigator, one of the best – remember that thief in Salona? You were able to track him down. This would be similar – find out how the disease is spreading, trace it back to its source, destroy the source. Meanwhile, I do what I can to heal people.”
Julius continued to frown.
“Fine. We’re putting this to a vote. This isn’t something we can fight, but Elaine makes good enough points. Elaine, I’m assuming you’re ‘for’ jumping in. Kallisto, begin.”
“No way. Sorry Elaine,” He turned towards me, apologetic. “but I can’t fight this. I can’t fight disease. If I’m going to risk dying, it’s with a spear in my hand and an enemy I can point to. I already don’t like my odds of surviving this round, I don’t want to make it needlessly worse.”
“Origen?” Julius asked.
He shook his head slowly, from side to side, making his vote obvious.
“Maximus?” Julius asked.
“Yes. I want to see if Elaine’s theory is correct. Could you imagine how much it’d expand what we knew if she was right? It’d be incredible! Most of her other stuff has panned out. For the price of a single Ranger squad – which, worse-case, we can hole up in the Argo as Elaine heals us, our risk of death is unlikely – we can leap our knowledge forward. We should go.”
“I’m voting no.” Julius said. “There’s no telling how long this will take. We could fix a problem here, while a half-dozen other problems fester. Artemis?”
“Heck yes! I’m with healy-bug all the way!” Artemis happily declared, hugging me from behind.
“Arthur?” Julius asked. “You’re the deciding vote.”
“Sorry Elaine,” Arthur said, making my shoulders slump. I could hear his voice change tone, a grin entering it. “I didn’t mean to poison you the other day. I vote yes. Might be able to incorporate the plague into my poison, who knows.”
That was a horrifying thought – Arthur, being able to shoot plague-triggering arrows? I just hoped disease wasn’t in the Poison-element domain.
Julius shot Arthur a foul look, which he returned with a mad grin. I guess he wanted to make it up to me, and stick it to Julius at the same time. Either way, the result was the same.
“Fine. I’m capping our visit here at six weeks – and even then, if we spend that long, our vacation at other towns is going to be cut short. Problems this big should be handled by a Sentinel, but I guess they decided a bloody entire Army Legion would work as well.”
“First things first though – food. It’s possible that since this area’s under quarantine, that food’s limited inside. Sure, it’s possible they’re still letting food in – trying to starve a population out is the number one way to guarantee a massive riot and attack, along with a bunch of angry farmers on the outside, but it’s possible that it’ll be limited. There were sixty thousand people in Perinthus before this plague started, so it’ll be ugly. Let’s spend a few hours hunting, as much as possible. We don’t have the best methods to preserve food, but we might be able to trade some of it for preserved food. 5 pounds of fresh food for four pounds of preserved food is easily a good trade for both parties.”
Arthur, Julius, and Origen spent a few hours hunting each, bringing back game for the rest of us to skin and prep. We had a small feast, stuffing ourselves, before preserving the rest the best we could before we went to chat with the guards.
We made our way up to the gate, where we were stopped by the guards.
“Halt! Perinthus is under quarantine by order of the Senate. If you enter, the only ways you can leave are if the quarantine is lifted, or in a puff of smoke. If you’re a farmer, please go over there to drop off your goods.”
Julius flashed his Ranger Eagle at them. “Hey! Local Ranger squad. We’d like to go in.”
That caused a lot of muttering between the guards, as one of them ran off – probably to get another, higher-ranking officer to help out.
The higher-ranking soldier showed up, and after much huddle and discussion, came to us with their verdict.
“Ok, we’re letting you in, but same rules as everyone else – you’re let out once quarantine’s over, or once you’re dead. I don’t want any Ranger fuckery getting you out – the Senate itself has declared this area under quarantine.”
Julius frowned at that, turning to us.
“Thoughts?” He asked.
“I don’t like it boss. I assumed worse-case we could Ranger our way out.” Kallisto said.
“We still could.” Artemis pointed out. “We just might need to leave the wagon behind.”
“Or make a tunnel for it with your skills!” I pointed out, eager to steamroll any opposition.
“We’d still like to go in.” Julius said.
The soldiers moved around, opening the wooden gates, and we passed on through, to a scene of carnage and death, a thousand black crows cawing as they hopped over a pile of smoldering bodies, picking and tearing at flesh that didn’t quite get consumed by one of what appeared to be dozens of funeral pyres.
“Welcome to Perinthus.” One of the soldiers said, closing the gates behind us.