Artemis re-opened the side door, and we strode in. Julius in the lead. Then Arthur, Maximus, me, Artemis, and Kallisto taking up the rear. Artemis for the large line of fire, Kallisto for taking hits, me in the middle, to protect the healer, and Julius in front as the face.
We moved in force, striding in. My hair would be doing wild things under Artemis’s electrical field, if it wasn’t for the helmet over my head. Arthur’s bow was out, arrow knocked. Maximus was making some experimental swings with his latest weapon, a short baton, ideal for enclosed spaces. The only non-lethal weapon out, the better to move through some obstacles. Julius didn’t have his shield, instead playing with the blades at his waist. My weapons were sheathed, not that they were my first or second resort. I still had my short sword, my knife. Kallisto was walking backwards, shield and spear hefted, poised, pointed, at the ready, head on a swivel. We were taking no chances.
We quickly encountered some guards, who snapped to attention seeing us. There was a difference between casually walking around, and clearly being here, ready and looking for a fight.
“Seal the temple.” Julius ordered, in a tone all the more dangerous for how soft it was. “We’ve located the source of the plague, and it’s someone currently inside the temple. Seal it, and don’t let anyone in or out. We also need a team to help us organize things, and keep both the worshippers and people asking for help calm, safe, and out of our hair.”
The two guards saluted again, had a quick discussion among themselves, and shot off in two different directions.
A more senior guard came up, more directions were issued, and soon we had the three hallways that led to healer’s workrooms sealed off by the guards.
“Sir, reporting, someone killed a healer earlier.” One of the guards saluted. “It’s not just your teammate that’s been killed.”
Universal glares were shot at Artemis, who stood there, unrepentant.
“That was me. I assumed we were under attack – which we were, which we are – and he startled me, practically jumped out at me and Elaine. I had no time for a proper threat evaluation, and treated him as a hostile. We’re more than prepared to pay the price.” Artemis said.
A half-muttered line about “so far under budget for Artemis-incidents”, some nasty looks from the guard, and we continued on.
“Tell them nothing, except they’re to stay put, by order of the Rangers.” Julius said. “We don’t need anyone getting spooked; we don’t need anyone coordinating together. If guards start dropping dead of the plague, start killing. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I’d rather have everyone in the temple die along with the source of the plague, than let whoever is doing this loose to continue.”
That statement got quite a few looks, and some slow, reluctant salutes. People generally liked healers. The idea of putting the healers, along with the priests and other people in the temple, all to the sword, was not an idea anyone wanted to entertain.
The idea was in their head now, and if push came to shove, they’d do it. Amazing what people could do when it was “us or them.”
It’d put me in a hell of a hard spot if that happened though. Already we were playing a game called “keep the sick people away from Elaine”, just so I wouldn’t sidetrack us all by stopping and healing them. I’d announced my [Oath] to all the healers, and we believed it was one of them causing the disease. They knew my major weakness, and by extension, they knew the weakness of the rest of the team. It was not a good look.
“We’d like to talk with Ponticus.” Julius said. He didn’t share his reasoning with the rest of us, but my best guess? Ponticus was the least-likely to be the source of the plague. His abilities, combined with his age and presumed timing of arrival, just didn’t bear out him being the problem. The more healers we could align, and get working with us, the stronger we’d be, the more weight we’d have, the less we’d need to watch our backs.
We were led to where Ponticus was, and I noticed there were two guards on every door. I approved. I’d been coached early on about interrogations – basically, my role was to shut up, say almost nothing, unless I thought they were lying about something medical. Even then, it was to discreetly let Artemis or Julius know, not start shouting about it.
My prior attempts to interrogate mom, and how masterfully Artemis had managed to tease out what I’d been doing way back when, came back to me, reminding me at how much of a master interrogator I was not. It was possible to do more harm than good by sharing the wrong information, or by speaking out of turn.
We filed into the room in order, all of us standing against the wall, facing Ponticus, sitting in his chair, sweating hard. Heck, I’d be sweating if faced with six angry, armed, ready-for-action Rangers, even if I was completely innocent.
Which I was. Innocent, that is. Most of the time.
We spent a moment staring at Ponticus, before Maximus spoke up.
“It’s clear you’re heavy on gemstones. Please set them down, and step away from them. At the end of this, you’ll get them back, but we’d prefer for you to not have loaded unknown gems at the ready.”
Ponticus’s hands clenched and unclenched, as he blinked rapidly, looking from face to face. I was the friendliest-looking one, with only a frown, maybe a tear leaking from one eye.
Tear? What tear? I wasn’t crying.
His shoulders slumped, and he slowly – oh so slowly, in a “please don’t murder me where I sit” way, reached into his tunic, and brought out a long strip of cloth, with gems interwoven into it. A dizzying array of gems and colors. Diamond. Ruby. Emerald, sapphire, purple and green and red, throwing all sorts of colors everywhere.
I saw a few eyebrows go up. This was clearly somewhat unexpected.
The sash of gems, as I was calling it, was passed off to Maximus, who started staring intently at it, muttering under his breath, checking every gem before moving onto the next one. The rest of us stared at Ponticus silently, as he sweated.
“Wha-what’s this all about?” He asked. We continued staring at him, waiting for Maximus. For what else, I didn’t know.
Ponticus seemed to come to a decision, crossed his arms, and sat back, silently staring back at us. After an indeterminate amount of time, Maximus spoke up.
“Can you please demonstrate that your secondary class is Light healer?” He asked.
The not-at-all-reluctant cannibal snorted.
“Sure, let me pull a knife so you can all blast me away and claim I attacked you.” He said derisively.
I felt, rather than saw, Artemis roll her eyes, as she launched a tiny pebble at his finger, neatly severing off a fingertip. Ponticus screamed and fell to the floor, as the other Rangers tensed up.
I started to take a step forward – damnit Artemis, you knew I’d have to help, why do it? – when Ponticus stopped yelling, and presented a whole, complete hand. A standard trick of a Light healer, along with other elements associated with it.
“Happy?” He asked in a nasty tone.
Most of us relaxed.
“Yes, sorry.” Julius spoke up for the first time. “We’re fairly certain one of the healers is causing the plague, and we needed to establish your elements. Being a Gemstone-aligned Artisan made it both easy and hard with you.”
He paused a moment to let that sink in.
“Please stay in the room. Feel free to use defensive skills if you think you’re under attack, but don’t leave. We’re all twitchy here.” He said.
Ponticus nodded furiously at that.
“I’m never leaving the capital again.” He vowed as we started to leave. “Never, ever, ever.”
I rolled my eyes at his cowardice. Expensive gems like that, and not one, but two high-income classes, all while probably being a Citizen and male? He had it made, and was whining about small problems. Toughen up.
We left the room, having a quick meeting together.
“Thoughts?” Julius asked.
“Not our man.”
“Exceedingly unlikely to be the cause of this disease. Unless he’s managed to set up an array somewhere to quietly pump the town full, but that doesn’t match up with Origen’s murder, nor does he have anything deactivated on his gems that could do it.” Maximus gave a long analysis. We had to trust him on it, none of us had that level of knowledge and expertise in the System.
“Next?” I asked.
“Caecilius, the [Plague Healer].” Julius said grimly. “If he’s clear, he’s a powerful asset.”
We marched down the hallway to where his room was, and entered like before, one at a time. Caecilius was in the room, looking calm, while his twitchy apprentice looked even worse than before.
I narrowed my eyes at him. We’d been looking at the main healers, but what about the apprentices?
I quickly used [Identify] on him. Almost the same level as me, if not lower level. Most likely didn’t have the needed magical OOMPH to murder a bunch of people, including downing Origen quickly.
And his level would be much higher after that much killing that much.
“What can I do for you?” Caecilius asked calmly. “There’s clearly some sort of bother, to have you all riled up.”
“We’d like you to remove the sack on your head first please.” Julius said. “We recognize that the plague’s spreading via eye contact, and we have some questions for you. Serious ones.”
Caecilius slowly took the bag off his head, to show the visage of an old, old man. His sharp, intelligent eyes slowly looked at each of us, one at a time, like he was the one interrogating us. They looked distant, like there was a deep fog present in his eyes, waiting to burst out and cover the town. Mist.
“Ah,” He said softly. “there’s been a loss. I’m so sorry.”
“Healer Caecilius.” Julius said softly, firmly, treating him with kid gloves. Interesting. “I apologize, but we have reason to believe that it’s a Classer responsible for this plague. Furthermore, we believe it’s one of the healers. Could we get a demonstration of your classes please, to rule you out?”
“What sort of vile man would deliberately inflict so much suffering?” Caecilius’s veins were bulging, his nostrils flared in anger. “It’s a violation of all we hold sacred! Why, I –“
His apprentice fortunately interrupted him.
“Master, that’s what the Rangers are here for. Give them a hand?” He said.
“Ahem, right.” Caecilius coughed awkwardly. “I hope you don’t mind a demonstration?”
Julius shook his head.
“Kinda hoping for one yeah.” Artemis said, with a faux casualness that I knew hid a tightly, tightly wound spring. One crossed wire, one errant twitch, and KABLOOY! She’d explode into action, and someone would probably also be exploding.
“Right. First, [Mist of Rejuvenation].”
Caecilius dramatically spread his arms, and a light, airy mist appeared around him, slowly moving to coat us.
It felt good, like the best spray of mist on a hot day, energizing me, filling me with happiness and glee. Some minor scrape I hadn’t even noticed until now itched as it healed rapidly.
“Very good.” Julius said. “Can we see your second class please?”
“Naturally. Please be warned, this skill is bright, and potentially blinding. [All is Purified before the Sun].”
A blinding light came from Caecilius, burning away the mist, causing us to turn away at the brightness. It quickly faded, and we turned back to him, and the incredibly spotless room. No grime. No mud. There wasn’t even dust left in the air.
I quickly glanced down. Armor was spotless. That was a handy skill. Kallisto would be pleased he’d have less of my armor needing to be cleaned.
“Radiance.” Maximus said, eyebrows quirking up.
Julius half-bowed to Caecilius.
“Thank you. I apologize again for the imposition.”
“Let me come with you. Someone spreading a plague? I-I-I-“
Julius could see where this was going.
“Why don’t you stay behind us, in the hallway? You can listen in, and if a problem occurs, you can use some of that healing mist or burning radiance to give us a hand. We’d prefer someone without a combat class to not be in the room, but we’d appreciate you lending a hand.” Julius said.
The [Plague Healer] got up, anger at the unknown plague carrier on his face. Couldn’t be good for his heart, not at his age.
“She doesn’t have a combat class.” The twitchy apprentice said, pointing to me.
I grinned maniacally, pointing a finger up, flames erupting from them.
“I don’t?” I asked, savoring the look on his face.