I blasted yet another Formorian, hitting exactly the one I’d been aiming for. I believed the Artillery Mages now when they said they could hit the exact target on the other side of the island. There was basically nothing else to do besides call shots and take them, and frankly, it didn’t matter if I missed – one Formorian was just like another. The real challenge was making sure you tracked the one you called, that you didn’t lose track of your called shot in the endless mass of bodies.
However, the baleful moons were starting to rise, watching me, staring at me, practically stripping me naked before their gaze. I hated them, as nice as [Moonlight] was as a skill, and speaking of, the moons being up was my cue to leave.
[Pyromancer] was significantly less fun to try and level when it was at the cap. Sure, I knew I was getting experience, and when I finally classed it up, I’d be grateful. But with a complete and utter lack of feedback on the skill, I sometimes struggled to keep focus, especially with the monotony of throwing fireballs into an endless horde of Formorians.
Oh, all the gods and goddesses above, I was getting old. [Fireball] was becoming boring. I blamed sheer overuse. I’d easily cast over ten thousand of them, basically non-stop daily for months. Anything would get old repeating it that much.
Healing people never got old though, seeing wounds vanish, new life being given and restored. Made me fairly popular to boot, which I had mixed reactions to.
I made my way down the Outcropping, to find the current frontlines in their usual shieldwall, efficiently stabbing the Formorians with spears and swords. They probably got better experience than me in some senses – the System penalized just how darn safe it was for me to casually throw fireballs into the horde from a distance, compared to being in the thick of things. I mean, technically I was in the middle of the horde, blasting away. Still, was pretty safe. On the other hand, I could throw [Fireball] for literal hours, and was hitting, and possibly killing, a lot more Formorians than an individual soldier on the frontlines could. All things considered; I didn’t mind. It was still combat and killing experience, and that already had a large boost.
The Century – a subsection of a Legion – that was assigned to the particular Outcropping where I was located was more than happy to see me. Patients that were critical were still whisked off to the healer’s tents as quickly as possible, and there was the omni-present row of bodies with a stained white sheet over them, the few that had died today, but everyone that would normally be marked as green or orange patients were leaning up against the Outcropping, waiting for me.
I got close – might as well be as efficient as possible – and let out a [Phases of the Moon], the moon’s light letting me use [Moonlight] to heal everyone in a single go. The mana drain was atrocious, but that’s what the extra-large backpack of Arcanite was for.
I got more than a modest cheer at that, mostly because healers didn’t come to the frontlines like this, and because after a few months, the only people that hadn’t gotten a touch of my rapid healing were the brand-new recruits, the ridiculously good grizzled veterans, or the cowards who managed to never be in the line.
Three soldiers were waiting for me at the bottom of the Outcropping as I stepped down, and I restrained a sigh. Didn’t put a smile on my face though.
“Oh blazing hot mage, would you-“
“No.” I said, shooting the first one down.
“Hey, want to go for a walk later on?” The second one asked, much more politely.
“No thank you.” I curtly said, meeting his courtesy with some of mine. Not a lot – the conclusion was foregone, and bugging me anyways.
I swear the first one had asked me out at some point a few weeks ago. I didn’t keep track.
The two saluted and walked back to their duties, getting laughed at by their fellow soldiers, while I gave a Look to the Centurion, the boss of this section. He shrugged.
“Look, I know you hate it, but it makes my life so much easier. Just think, without the ‘two a day’ lotto more might be trying. Thank you again, Ranger Elaine. You’re the angel of our Century.”
I’d used up a decade’s worth of long-suffering sighs months ago, and I simply saluted him, the Centurion saluting back.
Healing at the frontlines directly was much more convenient for me than finding my way to the healer’s tent, and handling the mess there. The injuries were less severe, less likely to take a life, which reduced the experience. That was balanced out by the fact that I was casting on the front lines, and also hitting people directly in the shield-wall, those in the thick of the fight.
Why [Moonlight] worked on people hiding behind their shield, under armor, and not on people under a thin stretch of tent canvas was one of those inexplicable mysteries of the System. I’d gotten some solid practice at figuring the ins and outs of how the skill worked, the Century that was around my Outcropping all too happy to give me a hand experimenting. Wasn’t every day a high-level healer decided to hang out, and being a Ranger helped.
Being a pretty woman also helped. I thought darkly to myself. I shrugged. Couldn’t do anything about that, and the Centurion had been a total gentleman the entire time, making sure that everyone toed the line and didn’t harass me. Too badly.
I made my way back to the tent, expecting to see food, Arthur, and possibly Nature. I felt bad for Nature’s mentees – he’d been away from them for far too long. Did one of the other Instructors take over at that point? They must, otherwise poor Wolfy and the others wouldn’t get any guidance.
Instead, I found food, Arthur, and Night, who immediately stopped their conversation. Night turned to me, and looked me up and down.
“Ranger Elaine.” He said, in his soft, sound-defying way, every word making its way to my ear, cutting through the background noise of the camp.
“It is good to see you have taken full advantage of this opportunity. We are returning to Academy momentarily. We are simply waiting on Nature, and for the Pegasus to swap out its Arcanite stones.”
I shucked off my backpack, then started to chow down. Night would let me know when we were going, and I wanted to get some food in me first.
There was some running around, and in a moment, we were leaving. I asked one of the guards to let the Century I’d been hanging out with know that I was leaving, and not to rely or hope I’d be around to heal them anymore. It could get nasty if people waited around all day, only for me to never show up, then end up much further back in line for healing when they eventually made it to a tent.
Before we left, the Quartermaster swooped in with a vengeance to reclaim the backpacks I’d been using. They were seriously heavy-duty strategic stuff, and they wanted them back ASAP in case of an emergency.
I felt no guilt over it. The powers that be decided I should be using them, and they’d traded – Arthur was a strategic resource, and Nature was also doing gods-knows-what, and at least two Sentinels hanging around was good enough. Not my decision – I just made sure it was put to good use. There was definitely funkiness about.
Before I knew it, I was back in the Pegasus with Night, Sky, and Nature, flying along in a sailboat above the clouds.
Goddesses, I wanted to fly. I sent a quick prayer off to the twin goddesses of the moons, beseeching them to hear my prayer.
It was strange. I never got the same vibe off the goddesses that I did off the moons. They were the goddesses of the moons, but maybe they weren’t related to the Dragoneye Moons?
We traveled along, Nature and I giving a brief report of what we’d been up to. Nature had, in his own words, “gone for a long walk” in Formorian territory, but from the sound of it, he’d mostly paralleled the walls. He didn’t think he could safely go deeper into their territory – something about stronger variants on defense, as opposed to the endless, low-level attackers sent at us. Still, he’d been practicing how to survive with the endless hordes constantly around him, in every direction, for a potential deep dive later on.
Night didn’t seem all too amused, and I couldn’t see how Nature could do a deep strike himself if Night couldn’t. Still, I had to give him credit – a high level classer spending months doing almost nothing but murdering the crap out of Formorians must’ve relieved some pressure.
I gave a detailed breakdown myself, and Night looked thoughtful at the results, while Sky remained a pain in the ass.
“I do believe it’s time to drop your [Training] skill for something else. I have been thinking on it, and I do believe we are due for a long discussion on the matter.” Night said.
I suspected the “long discussion” would be Night telling me what skill I would take, him politely listening to my objections and reasoning, then cleverly dismantling everything I said. Maybe I’d just skip most of it by agreeing – he’d be right in the end.
“Also, it has recently come to my attention that you have never deliberately killed another.” Night said, and a slow, creeping chill crept over me at that pronouncement.
“This must be rectified. An execution has been scheduled for six days from now. You will be present. I will accept no argument on the matter.” Night decreed, and that did nothing good for my mental state, spiraling down a staircase of self-doubt and anxiety.
First, Night’s wording of deliberately. Just how much did he know about me?! Was it simply a lucky guess, knowledge that most healers had accidental kill notifications sent? Or did he really know me inside and out? Had I let it slip in one of our many conversations? Did he piece it together from other bits of information?
And an execution. That, in so many ways, directly conflicted with “First, do no harm.” Night had to know that. There couldn’t be a mistake. Especially with him saying he’d accept no argument on the matter.
Think Elaine, think. There was something else going on here. What did I know?
- Night was an expert – the expert – on restriction skills.
- Night was my mentor, and there was no way he didn’t know about my restriction. Hell, we’d spent many nights discussing it.
- There was no way Night was setting up a situation where I had to break my [Oath].
I shook my head at that point. No, that wasn’t correct. Maybe Night knew how [Oath] worked, and knew it would shatter, and I wouldn’t be bound by it anymore. Maybe he was trying to break [Oath], and free me, turn me into a killing machine. It didn’t seem likely, but point 3 wasn’t a conclusion I could make. What else was there?
- The use of the term “execution” – it was exceedingly rare for someone to be executed in Remus. It basically never happened. Fines, leading to slavery, was the solution for just about every single crime. Executions didn’t happen – everyone could still be a member of society, of the human race, even if it was chained up with other slaves quarrying stone. After seeing the front lines, I was convinced that this was a better solution than the death penalty. Also, I wasn’t an executioner, although, Night had enough pull to change that.
- The use of the term “scheduled.” It meant an event, a time and place. Most executions took place immediately, skills and classes making keeping someone prisoner who knew they were going to die difficult. Sure, there were imprisonment skills and classes, but it was still hard to keep someone down, especially if they knew there was no hope.
- Someone being executed, and knew they were being executed, wasn’t going to be low-level. Being polite, people who were fairly low level didn’t usually have the power to cause the type of damage that warranted arrest and execution. Unless it was political power, like heading a rebellion or something, but that sort of activity tended towards leveling a bunch… unless it was caught early…
Yeah, I don’t think I can do anything with point 6.
Dawn broke as I was musing, Night huddling deeper into his cloak as the rest of us ate breakfast. I continued musing, Nature being stoic, and Sky too focused on enjoying flying to make much conversation.
- Whoever it was, likely didn’t know they were being executed.
- I was being asked to “Execute”, not “Assassinate”.
A random thought came to me, letting me put the pieces of the puzzle together.
- We often were put in fights in the Colosseum, against monsters.
There was a Colosseum fighter that some powers that be somewhere wanted dead, probably someone who’d screwed with the wrong person in some way, shape, or form, and had been sold into slavery as a result, most likely to the Colosseum. Someone called in a favor to Night or something, asking for a Trainee to bump them off.
Must be one hell of a favor to ask Night to do something. Could be another Instructor, or someone the Rangers – probably in Team 1 – owed a favor to, who then traded it up the line.
We arrived, and after a short, brief visit to the armorer to return my gear, I practically sprinted to the one little bath that I thought of as mine.
I was disgusting, in so many senses of the word. I’d fought, ate, drank, and slept in my armor the entire time I’d been at the frontlines. It had gone on all those months ago, and hadn’t come off once the entire time. Blessedly, I’d stopped smelling myself ages ago, but the sheer need to scrub myself to within an inch of my life was overpowering me.
Which is exactly what I did.
There was an awkward moment in the middle where I needed to ask one of the many slaves hanging around for help rotating the bath water, it was getting that filthy that quickly. Apart from that, bliss. Pure, relaxing bliss, as water finally ended up in my much-abused pores, which hadn’t seen air in months.
Scrubbing the dirt out of my matted hair, I got a notification.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 131!]
Combing it out got me yet another one.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 132!]
I got back into the swing of classes fairly soon, my absence having been noted, but not terribly commented on. I wasn’t the only one who’d been vanished for a period of time. A large portion of the class had gone on a “practical” wilderness survival excursion, some other unlucky Trainees had gotten “Special Attention” from a Sentinel – apparently Wolfy had been instructed to live in Saber-tooth cat territory for months, somehow surviving it. MoonMoon had a few additional scars, making them look extra-dashing. What was remarked on was how many levels I’d gotten. Most Trainees get 20 levels in their primary class through Academy. I was pushing 60.
I kept very, very quiet about my second class’s skills and level gain.
“I have two experience boosting skills.” I said over one lunch. “[Learning] and [Training].”
“I grabbed [Training], but didn’t get nearly as many.” Hector griped at me.
“Maybe because [Learning] boosted how fast [Training] went, which in turn boosted [Learning] again, which then boosted everything? It stacks really well.”
There was some muttering at that, and I realized – what if someone took all experience boosting skills? Just how high could they reach?
“Ranger Elaine! Today, you are reporting to Instructor Artemis for special training!” Quintis yelled in his usual manner, giving me a stink-eye.
“I don’t know what you did to make her mad enough to pull Artemis out of her school during the day, but you better make her happy by the end of the day! Do you understand me?”
“Sir! Yes sir!” I said, suppressing a grin. I knew exactly what I’d done, but I was surprised Artemis went so far as to take a whole day.
I met up with Artemis, who had a stormy look on her face.
“Ranger Elaine, reporting!” I said, saluting.
Artemis couldn’t do it. She couldn’t keep the face up, as a grin split her face from ear to ear.
“Happy birthday healy-bug!”
Having an Instructor to kidnap you away from training for a day was a horrible abuse of power, and totally worth it.
The day of the scheduled execution arrived, and it was strange.
No armor. No weapons. Just an old, ratty tunic for me. A woman’s tunic even, a long skirt reaching to the ground, restricting mobility, not even the standard men’s tunic I was so used to wearing.
And it was Ocean himself escorting me, also in a tunic, with a long cape and cowl hiding his features. There was definitely something covert going on here, but I was being a good minion, shutting up and going along for the ride.
It did feel suspiciously like I was being setup, but Rangers didn’t setup other Rangers. If they were pissed at me, they’d let me know. If they really wanted me dead, they’d just kill me, not go through whatever this was.
We entered the Colosseum through a backdoor, making our way to the waiting room, where Ocean had some last-second instructions for me.
“Ranger Elaine. Don’t mention you’re a Ranger at all until the end of the fight, and once it’s over, throw up the Ranger Eagle in flames. Everything will be fine.”
I saluted, just as formal as I’d be in my full outfit, wondering how all of this was going to work. The person on the other end could just, not attack me, and this would get real awkward. Hell, there were dozens of different ways this could go horribly wrong, not the least that without armor or weapons, I could just be riddled with holes and die once I ran out of mana.
No mana + sword in chest = dead Elaine.
A wealthy looking man showed up at one point, quickly glanced at me.
“Alright, good, she’ll do.”
Before I knew it, it was my turn.
“Ladies and Gentlemen! The Brawling Sentinel vs the [Myrmillo] Marcus Attilius will be up in a moment! But first, one last match to whet your appetite! From the South Gate, we have, Healer Elaine!”
I walked out, to the largest crowd I’d ever seen. The stands were packed, there wasn’t a single empty spot on a bench. People even filled the aisles, making the crowd as dense as possible. I didn’t follow the Colosseum, but even I’d heard of Marcus Attilius, the famous gladiator. Him and Brawling were both superstars of the arena, and clearly the crowd was for their fight – slated after mine.
Something was seriously wrong here. It should be some A-list entertainment before Brawling and Marcus, not me, introduced as a healer, not even as a trainee. D, or E-list entertainment.
“And from the North Gate! With 122 victories over the last three and a half years, I give you the [Retiarius], Kerberos!”