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A note from Selkie

The adventure continues! "Time-skimming" so to speak.

With all the wild theories last chapter: The monster's dead. The twist is there's no twist. Arthur managed to kill the monster.

Book 2 is now on Amazon! And by that, I mean it's in Amazon's review que @[email protected] Friday is apparently when it's supposed to be approved.

Autumn. Three months after Arthur had slain the sea monster, two months after Julius had made it back, complaining that he “was a sprinter, not a marathon runner” and other such grumblings, we rolled into another town, Brigantium, another stop on our route.

My leveling rate had slowed down massively, and I was seeing glimpses into why people ended up around level 150-200 lifetime, with only the best, the people constantly throwing themselves into danger, getting to the higher levels.

Well, that explained my [Constellation of the Healer] class slowing down. My [Pyromancer] class was doing a “normal” rate of leveling, which for a “get out there and murder things” was more of a slow rate, especially with the stats of [Constellation] pulling it along.

We got to town, Artemis happily fired off a dozen thunderbolts, marking our entrance to town. One day they’d get the idea that hey, maybe Ranger-Mages or other government-related mages didn’t need to discharge their mana before entering a town, that it didn’t take too much time for them to regenerate enough mana to cause a problem if they really wanted to, but for now, that was the way things were. It made me laugh every time though, the glare Artemis shot me. I wasn’t tagged as a mage, I was tagged as a healer, so I was let in no problems, the red carpet practically rolled out for me, in spite of the fact I was a mage as a second class. Not that we advertised that.

Nobody ever gave that particular policy high marks for being well thought out. It was interesting to see a small strand of extremely tall trees right outside the gate though, with nothing else near them. Most likely the work of a Wood mage being asked to blow their mana before being allowed into town.

We got into town, and heard some bards singing songs. I frowned, while Arthur had a huge grin crack his face.

Turns out, Arthur was right. Slaying a monster that high level, single-handedly? Yeah, that was the stuff of epic songs, and before we’d left Massilix, there had been a dozen different songs being sung about him. In the end, there was one really good song that had made it out of Massilix, but it gave him an ear-splitting grin every time we came into a town, and he heard his name being sung ahead of time. No need to hire a bard to write his song, it was already being sung!

On the other hand, my experience was a bit less pleasant. Glacia was a bard at the end of the day, and left Perinthus with a mild grudge against me, for ‘betraying’ her secret, and being part of the group that had come down on her, and all but accused her of mass murder. There was an epic song about Perinthus and the plague, and Hesoid being slain. It was less popular than Arthur slaying the monster by a margin, but it was making its rounds, a song we’d hear once in town to Arthur’s dozen.

My name wasn’t mentioned once. Ponticus, the practically useless Light healer, had the fewest mentions, at eight. Hence my foul mood, and general grumpiness towards bards.

We settled in towards a fairly standard entrance, and started to move towards town to set up at the guard’s barracks, as usual.

Losing Origen hurt. I hadn’t realized just how many little inscriptions and enchantments were in the Argo, making life easy for us, keeping things simple. From minor things like better food preservation, extending how long food was good for by a day or so – minor, but noticeable, done without making things cold, without a fridge like I’d suggested all that time ago when I was first joining up – to making the walls slightly more dust and dirt-repellant, to the more major ones like the horses being able to see in the dark, all of our chore workload had increased with him gone, and his inscriptions slowly wearing out.

Our armor inscriptions were still good, but only due to how rarely we needed to use them. However, we no longer sparred with them, instead saving them for the fights where we needed them. The support, like a good janitor, like a good IT professional, nobody appreciated what they did until they were gone, and problems started to pile up. Not big problems, more like ‘the horses threw a shoe again because they’re no longer magically attached to their feet’ problem. Which means a delay, find a farrier, get it fixed, and move on. Maximus’s metal manipulation only worked for weapons, another twist of skills being funny, and, well, that was that.

Blessedly for me, Kallisto was sticking to his redemption, and was taking on all of my cleaning chores still. He was well and truly forgiven – but it’d be a cold day in hell before I let him off the hook, and signed myself up for more chores.

The long and the short of it was, as the horses pulled the wagon through the street, Artemis and I were subtly inching our way towards the rear exit. I was finally somewhat fluent in Ranger sign-language, and Artemis was giving me a low to the ground countdown.

3.

2.

1.

GO!

At that last signal, Artemis and I burst out of the rear of the Argo, Artemis artfully kicking it with her heel on the way out, causing it to close again. We were off like a shot, losing ourselves in the crowd. It took much longer these days to be done with getting everything set, and we’d quite literally kill for a bath, after a few weeks on the road. Dodging a few chores was dozens of steps below murder.

Sure, Julius could always catch us, order us back, and make us wait until everything was done before we could be off. It was a bad look though, and punishment after the fact also worked, without undermining his authority as badly. Not that escaping like this didn’t undermine him, but….

But I had nothing. Artemis was a bad influence on me.

Laughing madly, we fled into the crowd, a direct line to the bathhouse Artemis had spotted, prompting the countdown in the first place. It was much easier to hop off the Argo near a bathhouse, than go all the way to the barracks, then try to find one.

A hop, a skip, and a jump later, and we were soaking in blessedly warm water, steam so thick it made the area off-limits to asthmatics.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh.” Artemis let out a long sigh of contentment as more weeks of dirt were scrubbed off. “Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I’m liking this idea of being a, what do you call it? Teacher? Never needs to go weeks without a bath again is appealing.”

“What do they call the people at the Academy who train Rangers?” I asked. There had to be some overlap.

“Instructors.” Artemis promptly replied.

I had a [Veil] wrap us, muscles loosened from the hours of soaking, wanting a quick private chat with Artemis.

“What’s up?” She asked me.

“I’m wondering if I should keep allocating my stats the same way.” I said.

“Share.” Artemis asked, pulling herself upright.

I’d been working hard on my skills as we traveled, but a lack of a Major Incident had more skill levels than class levels go up. [Constellation of the Healer] had also slowed down from town-healing, mostly due to how high of a level it was. I hadn’t really initially bought that people could commit murder against other humans for levels, but seeing how badly I’d slowed down, I could maybe see why. Maybe.

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 15]

[Mana: 14150/14150]

[Mana Regen: 18726]

Stats

[Free Stats: 92]

[Strength: 32]

[Dexterity: 219]

[Vitality: 135]

[Speed: 220]

[Mana: 1415]

[Mana Regeneration: 2163]

[Magic Power: 1231]

[Magic Control: 1861]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 183]]

[Celestial Affinity: 183]

[Warmth of the Sun: 148]

[Medicine: 183]

[Center of the Galaxy: 140]

[Phases of the Moon: 183]

[Moonlight: 66]

[Veil of the Aurora: 118]

[Vastness of the Stars: 132]

[Class 2: [Pyromancer - Fire: Lv 45]]

[Fire Affinity: 45]

[Fire Resistance: 45]

[Fire Conjuration: 45]

[Fire Manipulation: 45]

[Fuel for the Fire: 45]

[Burn Brightly: 35]

[: ]

[: ]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 88]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 91]

[Pretty: 105]

[Vigilant: 120]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 160]

[Ranger's Lore: 110]

[Running: 90]

[Learning: 130]

 

“It’s mostly my strength I’m worried about.” I confessed to Artemis. “I get a bunch of free points into my dexterity, and it keeps knocking down my strength.”

Artemis sucked some air in through her teeth.

“Two different paths for you to go down.” She said. “The first is you keep distributing the way you have, and you lean more towards a pure healer-mage. You stay away from people, hit them from a distance, and run if they come after you.”

“The second path is you put a modest number of points into strength. You won’t be quite as fast, quite as flexible. But if someone gets close, you can try to ram a knife between their ribs, without their vitality stopping you completely.”

I thought about it for a moment.

“Suggestions?” I asked.

Artemis promptly replied.

“Get around 100 strength. A hair less, with your element. Then keep your strength at least at 100, and distribute your stats the same otherwise. It’ll cost you not much to get that much strength, while paying off in just about every fight you’re in. Going from 220 dexterity to 270 dexterity is a modest gain. Going from 30 strength to 100 strength triples your strength. Do it once, and it’ll give you enough punch to do some damage if someone gets close.”

“Then again, your first, second, third, and fourth plan in a fight is still to not let anyone get close.”

I mulled it over. I’d gotten a lot more free stats than I thought I’d get, and my other physical stats had shot up enough to be less-embarrassing. A one-time boost to triple my strength to give me a bit more oomph, or go a bit further down the dex-vit-speed path, seemed like a no-brainer to me. There were diminishing returns on stats, in that going from 50 to 51 was a larger percent increase than 500 to 501.

“Alright, I’m going to put some stats into strength.” I said. I put the points in, doing some juggling as my strength ate my dexterity and vice-versa.

Stats

[Free Stats: 12]

[Strength: 101]

[Dexterity: 220]

[Vitality: 135]

[Speed: 220]

Eh, close enough.

Artemis nodded in approval.

“Good choice healy-bug. We try to keep you alive, but you’ll always be the number one person for keeping yourself alive.”

I dropped [Veil], and we continued to luxuriate in the baths. I opened my eyes, trying to peer through the dimly lit steam, as small threads of other conversations came to us. Someone had a healthy baby, someone else was getting married. A merchant had gotten a shipment of dyes from Aquiliea, and there was a lot of excitement over it. My jaw practically hit the floor when I heard the price he was selling them for, and not only that, people were buying at that price! It reminded me that I needed to send another letter home.

Artemis’s ears suddenly started twitching, and I was reminded that I was pretty sure she had [Listening] or [Listen] as a skill. I stopped moving, going very, very still.

Artemis’s gazed locked onto a distant place in the baths, and she slowly, carefully, silently, lifted an arm out of the water, and slowly signaled a message. She could’ve asked me to use [Veil], and talk to me there, but, well, we were practicing Ranger sign language.

Hunt.

Alone.

Report.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has reached level 111!]

More benefits to using sign language.

We had a good rapport, and knowing Artemis, I knew what she wanted.

She’d heard something, some conversation, that had triggered her instincts, her drive to find out more and dig into a problem. Given our location, and the time of day – mid-afternoon, if my time-sense was any good – it was less likely a plot to murder someone or a thief bragging about their latest haul, and more likely someone crying, complaining about being forced into slavery, forced into prostitution.

There were legal ways to make it happen in Remus. Artemis was having none of it, no matter the flavor, and was not above dishing out a bit of extra-judicial, vigilante justice when she believed it was called for. As long as she stuck to the absolute worst, as long as she didn’t make it clear a Ranger was murdering “law-abiding Citizens” who just happened to be involved with “less savory business”, as long as she wasn’t caught and didn’t do it too often – Julius, and the rest of us, turned a blind eye.

I didn’t know how Sentinels worked, but they were a check on Rangers like Artemis, and she knew it. It was part of why she refused to let me go along when she went a-hunting – she didn’t want to drag me down into a mess if she kicked the wrong beehive, or if she ended up going a bit overboard, and a Sentinel was sent after her.

That, and she didn’t want me interfering – [Oath] had caused some minor problems in the past, nothing too serious, but it was possible it’d interfere. Women – and sadly girls – always needed extensive amounts of healing after the fact, but it was extremely rare for it to be critical, on-the-spot healing that was required.

Long, long story short, Artemis wanted me to head back to the Argo on my own, grab someone besides Julius, who didn’t want to be anywhere near the action, and be ready to move when we heard rumbling. Generally in the slums, although we’d been surprised once when Artemis’s signal had come from the wealthy part of town.

That one had been a disaster, with the guard eventually asking us for help finding the “assassin.” Artemis had a terrible time keeping a straight face during that investigation, and, well, my chores went down while my pay went up for the few weeks after that incident.

Artemis started to slowly, stealthily move in the direction she’d heard a snippet of a conversation, moving in a way that reminded me of a crocodile. Given how ancient crocodiles were, I fully expected to see the ancient variant of them one day, the monsters that competed with dinosaurs, and, by the sheer fact that they were alive and dinosaurs were not, won.

I left stealthily as well, and by stealthily, I mean I walked out like a normal person. I had nothing to hide after all, and someone sneaking around got a lot more attention than someone acting like they belonged. Which I did. Bless Kallisto for lessons in sneakiness.

I was, technically, breaking the “stay in pairs” rules as I dressed and left the bathhouse to get to the guard’s barracks, but it was broad daylight, on the main streets. I got to the barracks with no problem, to find an irate Julius, Kallisto, and Maximus. Arthur was allowed to be solo, Julius was still getting his update from the guard, and Kallisto and Maximus weren’t done with the chores.

Well, time to get to work!

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A note from Selkie

Elaine, masterfully dodging chores, then trying not to get in trouble.

 


If you could give me an advanced review, that'd be great. They're weighted more heavily than anything else, and I've been looking carefully at trending - it's clear that the rating the novel has is super important. Hence, advanced reviews help me go up in the trending list. They help more people see it, which gets more people rating and following it, which has a synergistic effect that hopefully turns into a runaway effect, which gets enough people interested that I get to do this full-time. Seriously, it matters, and it helps.

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