I looked over my schedule with no small amount of concern.
4th Gong: Physical Exercise
5th Gong: Breakfast
6th Gong: Wilderness Survival
8th Gong: Legal and Justice
9th Gong: Investigations
10th Gong: Sparring Overwatch
11th Gong: 1 on 1 Sparring
12th Gong: Lunch
13th Gong: History, Politics, and Geography
14th Gong: Obstacle Course
15th Gong: Monster Slaying
16th Gong: Flying
17th Gong: Leadership
18th Gong: Dinner
19th Gong: Mage Training
20th Gong: Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion Training
21st Gong: Toxic
22nd Gong: Night
Well, while it wasn’t Hell Months anymore, it didn’t look like they were letting me slack off at all. With how often I’d been asked about sailing, I was fully expecting a lesson on how to sail, although that didn’t seem to be present.
Not that I was complaining. After Massilix, after hearing all the rumors of things in the Nostrum Sea – which didn’t even connect to The Ocean – I was more than happy to keep my two feet on dry land.
Plus – Flying. It looked like they wanted to teach me how to fly! Hell Months were automatically worth it, and I’d go through another six months of them in a heartbeat, if that meant I’d be able to fly at the end of it! One of my long-cherished dreams, possibly coming true!
It had to be Artemis who told them about me wanting to fly, possibly pulling a string or two. Wait, how could Artemis possibly have any strings or pull at Academy?
Also, what was this sparring overwatch thing?
Hmmm… Time to compare notes…
“Wolfy! Hey, Wolfy!” I said, calling out the Trainee who was companions with MoonMoon. Having two wolves, Wolfy was the only appropriate nickname.
“Elaine. What’s up?” He asked me.
“What’s your schedule like?” I asked.
“Well…” He said, and we bent over to compare notes.
Physical Exercise, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Obstacle Course, Monster Slaying, SERE Training, and Wilderness Survival were all overlaps. Where I had “Sparring Overwatch” he just had “Group sparring”.
However, he had classes like “Advanced Wilderness Survival”, “Monsters and their habitats”, “First Aid”, “Army Basics”, “Sailing”, and just “Nature” – who I could only assume was the Nature Sentinel.
I grimaced seeing that, reached up and patted his shoulders.
“Good luck.” I said.
MoonMoon tilted their heads at me, sensing Wolfy’s confusion.
“I’ve heard rumors about Nature…” I said, not wanting to elaborate.
Ok, fine, I also wanted to be slightly scary and ominous. It was fun when the shoe was on the other foot!
Still, he had a lot less in his schedule than I did, mostly at the end of the day. Oh well, I’ll find out more as time goes on!
Name after name was read off, about half going to an instructor to be verbally told their schedule, the rest getting their schedule from Instructor Jason.
“Trainees! Fall in!” Quintis yelled after everyone got their schedule.
“The Gong gets hit at regular intervals. Everyone starts with the 4th Gong, which gets hit special. You’ll know when it goes off. Meet in the courtyard when it happens, and your days will go from there. Trainees! Dismissed!” Quintis yelled.
Some of the other Trainees were chatting with each other, deciding to do warm-up spars, or explore the island more, find where they needed to be ahead of time. I decided to take one last day of relaxing before this schedule started. I doubted I’d get much “me-time”, not with the schedule listed.
Maybe I could skip lunch now and then, grab a quick bath. Or better yet, grab food, sprint to the baths, and eat while bathing.
Heck, if I was clever, I could get a bowl to float in the bath with me.
I luxuriated the rest of the day idly, and went to bed early. It’d be the last good night of rest I’d get for some time.
I woke up to the sound of a gong reverberating, echoing again and again, somehow never fading.
Welp, I guess that’s what they meant by “You’ll know when it goes off.”
I hustled out to the courtyard, and fell into formation without being told. We were a lean, mean, well-oiled machine at this point, and even MoonMoon was in formation, the serious look in their eyes betrayed by their happy grins and lolling tongues.
“Trainees! Form two ranks, and move out!”
We jogged around the island, next to what was obviously the obstacle course that had been built at some point in the last week. It wasn’t a terribly hard run, and the push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, and sit-ups weren’t that bad either – maybe 60% of the intensity of Hell Months.
It felt more like “We’re keeping you in shape and waking you up” more than anything else.
The hour ended all too quickly, the sun maybe thinking about peeking over the horizon. We headed back at various speeds to the villa, where breakfast awaited.
I was in the “Run back to have more time eating” camp, while others just wanted a break. To each their own – no method was right or wrong.
“Trainees! This segment has ended, fall in at the villa courtyard!” Senior Drill Instructor Quintis yelled at us, his voice somehow penetrating and reaching all our ears. I hadn’t noticed it before, but did he have some sort of sound-related [Drill Instructor] class?
We fell in at the courtyard, where the Instructors started to sound off.
“Religion on me!”
“Speedsters on me!”
“Basket-weaving on me!”
The last one was said by a man I recognized as Acquisition.
There was no way his class was basket-weaving, which had me flashing back to Artemis saying he taught assassination and theft.
I gave a long look at the people who went to Acquisition, mentally marking them.
We lost fewer than 10 people, who were either so good at Wilderness Survival that they didn’t need the extra help, or the Instructors felt it was worth them sacrificing learning how to survive in the wilderness for whatever other class they were taking.
Which brought my respect for them up to a whole new level. That was some serious, dedicated planning, to properly interlock everything.
“Trainees! First rule of wilderness survival – water is everything! You can go three weeks without food, but only three days without water! Before your vitality kicks in. Vitality screws with all that! So does using skills! The fundamental truth remains – water is your god, the very fountain of life! Today, we will teach you how to find water – then how to make a fire.”
Training continued, and I managed to get myself yelled at.
“Ranger Elaine! You do not make a fire with your skill! One day, you might have a different set of classes, which does not have fire in it, then you’ll be stuck! Now do it properly!”
Which, as it turned out, was hard. I’d gotten complacent with Team 4, leaning on skills whenever, and they hadn’t bothered to teach me how to light a fire the right way, not when it was so easy for me to make a fire with [Firebug] then [Pyromancer].
Good thing I was being made to go through Academy, to polish out all the little blind spots I had like that.
At the end of the class, we fell in formation in the courtyard again. We were only doing that for the first week as we learned where every class was located, although my head involuntarily turned, against discipline, and my jaw dropped as the people coming back from Acquisition’s class were bringing back poorly-woven baskets.
With that mystery bouncing around in my head like an itch I couldn’t scratch, it was off to Legal and Justice with me, along with four other students.
The main class was swimming, along with a few other side-classes for those that already knew how.
“All law derives from the Senate, who empower the Governors in each town to enact them.” Our Law instructor began. “The Army reports to the Senate, and while we’re technically a branch of the Army, we are outside of, and equal to them. Similarly, while we’re on a lower level than the local Governor, they’re not able to order us around. That being said, realpolitik dictates that we should listen to them when they ask us to do something – and when we ask them to do something, they listen. However, that’s moving away from the legal system. Law enforcement is generally left to the guard, but we need to enforce it when they’re unable – or unwilling- to. Laws are passed by….”
It was morning, and I was fighting to keep my eyes open. This was important stuff, sure, but I was struggling to see the point. The droning nature of the Instructor, who while clearly knowledgeable, completely lacked passion, did nothing to help me focus.
“The important thing to ask yourself is, ‘what do I think happened?’. After that, your goal is to ask questions, talk with people, and see how your understanding changes.”
“I want to get into something I call ‘corollary truths.’ That is to say, if A is true, then B must also be true. A simple example. If a suspect has told you that they bought a loaf of bread from the baker in the morning, it means that the baker must be open in the morning. It means the baker must have bread in the morning. It means the baker sold a loaf that morning. It likely means that the baker was baking that morning. All of these can be investigated. If the baker only sells bread in the afternoon, it means the suspect was lying. Then you must ask yourself, why was he lying? What did he have to gain? From this, we can….”
There was lots of good information, and I had a strong sense that Julius had taken this class once upon a time.
Sparring Overwatch was interesting. We all got into formation, as usual, and Quintis yelled out.
“Trainees! We’re off to the sparring area. On me!”
Nothing was said about me and overwatch, so I jogged along. We made it there, and Quintis started to yell.
“Trainees! I will be breaking you up into teams of four! You will have a short period of time to get used to each other, before you will be paired against another team to spar with! Wooden weapons and padding are found on the North corner!”
“I don’t believe it needs to be said, but I’ll say it! No. Lethal. Blows. If you kill another Trainee, even by accident, not only will you be kicked out, you will have to pay triple the standard price for murder! For each and every one of you, this will mean slavery!” He barked out.
“Also, no matter what, avoid head shots! Carrying on!”
“Team 1! Gladius, Penthus, …..”
He called out teams of four, one set at a time.
In the end I wasn’t on any team, standing at rest as everyone else broke out into their groups, talking and getting to know each other, and their skills.
“Ranger Elaine, with me.” Quintis said. I approached and saluted.
“Sir?” I asked.
“Ranger Elaine. Your skills make you not only unsuited to these duels, but perfect for being able to jump in on a near-lethal blow, shield them, and stabilize and heal. Your duty is to be on guard, rushing in at any moment, on any duel, and save the life of any Trainee that needs it. Additionally, any injuries that occur, I expect you, within reason, to patch them up, so we can continue uninterrupted. Understood?”
“Sir! Yes sir!”
“Very good. This will also double as working on your healing class. When push comes to shove, I won’t question you if you move in on a fight early. We’d rather a spar end prematurely because you got jumpy, than someone dying.”
I saluted. This wasn’t exactly training I was being put through.
No, I was basically being hired as a temporary instructor/medic, to keep people alive. It was a show of trust that I’d repay.
“Trainees! Listen up.” Quintis yelled.
“While this course is going on, Ranger Elaine is your healer! For here, for now, her word is above every single god and goddess! She says stop, you stop! She says jump, you say how high! If she says left, and I say right, you go left! Understood?”
“Sir, yes sir!” A confused response came back, as people suddenly eyed me speculatively. Quintis leaned down next to me.
“Julius had good things to say about you. Don’t let me down. Don’t let anyone die.”
I saluted, as seriously as I could manage.
The first training session was fairly easy, as people kept to light blows, wanting to get each other’s measure before starting to really land powerful hits. I only had one broken bone to fix, and didn’t see the need to step into any fight.
The dude with the ‘fight to the death’ restriction had failed out during Hell Months fortunately. The rumor mill had him as a gladiator, trying his hand at something else.
I might’ve helped just a bit with that rumor.
I looked around, and saw a wide, interesting variety of people using skills, and named a few of them.
Wolfy with MoonMoon, the two silly wolves having a surprisingly serious and aggressive side, while also having the gentlest bites in spars. There was no doubt they could bite down and rip limbs off if they wanted to.
Sniper, so called because he seemed to be able to hide himself, shooting arrows from unknown places. A mini-Arthur, in many ways – stealth archer seemed to be popular, and there was good reason for it.
Oozy, an archer that shot nasty things on the tip of his arrow. He demonstrated being able to cause a black mist, or an explosion, with his arrows, and from then on, the Instructor overseeing the spar declared any near-hit from him to be ‘lethal’.
Barrier, who was able to conjure up panes of solid light, most blows bouncing off of them. I knew how much my [Veil] could take, and his could easily take 10 times the damage mine could before he even showed strain. Skills to help skills was my bet, the way [Moonlight] helped [Phases of the Moon].
Dancer, a former tumbler who’d taken up the blade, who moved with sinuous gracefulness, always being out of the way of a blow, flowing like a stream as he moved from hit to hit.
The Three Musketeers, three guards who were trying their hand at becoming Rangers, quick with a baton. They weren’t the best in spars, but they were well-rounded, and if they got close enough, they were able to apply debuffs. They were also allowed to use their ‘real’ weapon, instead of a wooden baton.
Aura, a support who buffed his team to unreasonable levels, allowing them to fight a 3v4. The opposing team kept forgetting that Aura was there, and could also just straight-up stab them with a spear. I was quickly being convinced on the need, and value, of supports being able to fight enough to keep up.
A half-dozen Artillery Mages, recruited and promoted from the frontlines. They all had Earth or Metal classes designed for throwing rocks a long, long distance. I imagined the sparring instructors would struggle with them, if a near-hit was a success or not, but to my surprise, they had some means I couldn’t figure out to determine if a shot was “lethal” or not. I guess generations of Artillery Mages going through Academy had given them time to figure out a system.
They claimed they could hit someone cross-island if they wanted to, and given their history, I believed them.
I didn’t believe when they said they could hit one person out of a crowd. I imagined they’d just filled the corner of an island with hundreds of pounds of high-speed metal balls.
There were maybe thirty, forty ‘normal’ soldiers from the front lines who’d wanted to become Rangers, and had passed all the selection criteria so far. I imagined that Kallisto had started the same way, these soldiers forming the frontlines of most Ranger teams.
Honestly, probably most of the body count.
Speedsters. As I mentally cursed them, mage-killers.
Levitator, who fought by levitating a bunch of weapons, and hitting people with them, one sword distracting from the front, while a shield bashed, and a knife slipped into the back.
Spitter, who could spray acid out of his mouth, blinding his opponents before “killing” them with his sword.
Binder, who caused roots and thorns to erupt from the ground, binding and tripping people.
Alchemist, a utility, who had at least three lessons dedicated just to his craft, who threw seashells of water at people. Apparently, he could make nasty, nasty potions, and was one of the most lethal people at Academy.
For the first thirty seconds. Then he was worse than a mage, and would require weeks to re-brew everything he’d just used, at massive expense. His teammates were allowed to drink fairly basic stat-improving potions, and once again, the value of utility on a team was shown.
As a rule of thumb, the more powerful the person at a given level, the shorter the timeframe they were powerful in. It’s why not everyone was a mage – a mage was strong as long as they had mana, then that was it, they were weaker than most people half their level.
Hulk, a hair shorter than Arthur, who didn’t seem to quite have all his marbles, using a tree like a maul.
His fights turned into a question of if the other side had one of the Artillery mages, who could rapidly score a ‘kill’ on him. Without one, he usually won quickly, although the Instructors were throwing unhappy looks his way. His ability to restrain and control himself was poor, to say the least.
Hidden Blade, who could use the Mirage element to completely hide his forearm and weapon, who had an unknown reach. He seemed to be a fan of changing weapons after hiding what he had, keeping people guessing.
Of course, the moment people caught onto that trick, he stopped changing weapons, playing constant mind games.
Mirror, a warrior coated in shining…well, mirrors, every blow on him mirrored on the attacker. Nobody had figured out how to “kill” him without the Instructor overseeing things to also declaring them dead. Useful, but in a real fight I wouldn’t want to have his skill, killing my enemy by sacrificing myself.
Although, maybe that’s how he worked. Nobody wanted to be the one “dying” to kill him, so he was tanky by sheer virtue of a “don’t you dare hit me” skill.
Lava, a warrior who was slow to wind up, then erupted with fantastic power for a brief flurry. It was the first time I saw an advanced element in action buffing a person, and knew what it was.
Adaptor, a warrior with almost no physical points, who instead had a massive mana regen, and would buff himself to whatever stats he needed. It wasn’t as powerful as someone with those stats directly, but the key was, he could be anything. Including the counter-build to what he was facing, or the role his team needed.
A few mages, of the non-Metal, Earth, or Wood variety.
And a dozen more. It was dizzying, trying to keep up with all the different skills, which ones had higher potential for a lethal blow, for me to need to rush in and save the day.
My bet would be on Spitter – he was disregarding the “don’t aim for the face” order, and was using a skill, unlike Alchemist or Ooze, who demonstrated they had the skill, then used a non-skill version of their abilities.
The session ended, and I found myself with Instructor Jason next, with Sailing being the main course.
“Ranger Elaine. Being bluntly obvious, you were unable to spar earlier, so this time is dedicated to some one-on-one sparring together. I ask that you not use direct, offensive flames, as you have a course for that later. Ready?”
I nodded. One of the privileges of being a full Ranger, being a healer that could cure almost anything, and Instructor Jason being part of Ranger Team 0 – we were both in full armor, using hard, sharpened weapons.
He beat the shit out of me, it wasn’t even close.
“Good practice!” He said, annoyingly cheerful.
I glared at him from the ground, then sighed. I’d only ever be in fights against people stronger than I was. I did need the practice. Although, maybe I’d turn it into ‘Tactical Repositioning’ practice, AKA running away.
Lunch was next, and while I had no bruises to nurse, I had a minor grudge to nurse.