I stumbled out of the arena, having held up a good front for the crowd, to where Ocean – and Artemis – were waiting.
“Good work Ranger Elaine.” Ocean said, formally saluting. Holy shit, I was being saluted by a Sentinel.
Artemis shot him a dirty look, pulling me into a hug.
“Good job healy-bug. Proud of you. You’re free now. Need a moment?”
I nodded, resting a moment, gathering my thoughts, then getting up.
“Right, let’s head back.”
“Don’t want to watch Brawling?” Ocean asked.
“I want to get as far away as I can from the crowd that was screaming for me to be raped in front of all of them, thank you very much.” I said, the memory like oily grease on my mind. I spat, trying to get the taste out of my mouth.
“Yeah, let’s ditch those losers.” Artemis said, as we started to walk out.
Ocean sputtered behind us.
“The stands are filled with Citizens! Senators! At least two other Sentinels! And more! You can’t just call them all losers!”
Artemis shot him a look, which impressed me. She was willing to sass a Sentinel. “I can, and I did.”
We made it back to Ranger Academy without further incident, where I technically had the rest of the day off.
It was freeing. I hadn’t realized how much mental load was taken up by Kerberos, wondering where he was, when he’d strike next at me. I had nothing for mental trauma, and his goons torturing me was easily the worst memory I had. Him being dead and gone was freeing, blissful. I was practically skipping and whistling from that.
I still made it to Sky’s lesson, but apart from that, I took it easy. Who didn’t want to fly?
There was no way I’d stand Night up though, and we met at the usual time and place.
“Ranger Elaine. Most excellent.” He started off by saying.
I’d had time to cool off, and while I wasn’t about to start going down a pacifist path, I just felt sick. I’d literally blown someone’s head off, and I’d had every reason to do it. It was the right thing, it was self-defense, I’d do it again, but Night kinda had a point. I’d never deliberately, directly killed another person before, and it was a whole new experience. The sheer intensity of the emotional fallout from it being Kerberos, the demon who’d been on my back, was doing me no favors as well. My emotional state was all over the place.
It was good to cope with the emotion. It was healthy to process it.
Bless the contemplation between each sentence, the silent walking to process thoughts. I had a sense that I was going to pick up this habit of Night’s in the future.
“I believe, in the few weeks left to us, that it is time for you to class up. I shall make no comment on what I believe you should take, except to listen to those who have, with the best of intentions, given you advice.”
Classing up time! My spirits lifted considerably at that.
“Now, with that being said, let us discuss your general skills. Your [Training] skill has reached, more or less, the end of its useful life. You made most excellent use out of it, but at this time, I believe we should replace the skill, and use the remaining time to get your new skill as high as possible, along with getting used to your new abilities, should you change element, or get a particularly interesting new skill.” Night said.
“I recommend you get [Reflexes]. It will help with your reaction time. The hope is, one day, it will evolve with your [Vigilant] into [Speedster’s Perception], a most useful skill.”
We took a few moments while I digested what he said. It made sense, but…
“I know I encouraged Artemis to take the skill once upon a time. I do not know what has happened with her and the skill, but I have reason to believe she still has it or an evolved version.”
I thought about Artemis, and her superhuman reaction time.
[Reflexes] it was! Not that I was going to argue with Night over it.
“It’s hard to say one way or another if taking [Reflexes] now and then classing up will be better than keeping [Training] and classing up. [Training] isn’t that useful, and is unlikely to impact your choices, and [Reflexes] will simply be too low to help.”
“It’s unfortunate, but the additional experience gained by [Training] more than makes up for it. Let us discuss your stats.”
[Free Stats: 1032]
[Mana Regeneration: 3967]
[Magic Power: 3079]
[Magic Control: 3406]
We spent a long time walking in silence, Night’s fingers slowly twitching as he performed calculations known only to himself. Finally, he spoke again.
“Right. We shall currently put most of your stats into your Magic skills, to better improve your choices upon this class-up. After, we shall see what you get, but I would encourage you to mostly focus on Vitality and Speed. When combined with [Reflexes], it will do the most to keep you alive. Do not forget a few points in Dexterity, if you ever find yourself losing control, but for the most part you have reached the end of the line in your Strength and Dexterity, if you wish to continue this path of Healer-Mage.”
I nodded, and Night gave me the point distribution he recommended. Rounded out my mana regen, spiked my mana up, a bunch into Magic Power, three points into Vit, and the rest went to my control. Damn trade-offs.
[Free Stats: 0]
[Mana Regeneration: 4000]
[Magic Power: 3500]
[Magic Control: 3459]
There wasn’t much more to say. I turned in for the night, with Night wishing me luck in the morning.
I woke up to the usual 4th Gong, and promptly turned over back to sleep. I wanted to be as well rested as possible for this, and I’d been excused for the day.
I woke up to the 7th Gong, a tray of food and two women in the room with me.
“Morning! We’re here to look after you while you class up!” The first one said cheerfully.
“Take your time! It’s an easy break for us!” The second one said, showing me some cards.
“Thanks!” I said, chowing down.
“Just checking, you’re fine with however long I take?” I asked. “You won’t get in trouble or anything?”
“Nope! Not as long as you’re still classing up!” The first one said.
A wild grin split my face. Reading time. Yesssssss.
I laid down, closed my eyes, focused on classing up, and felt myself fall back into the world of my soul.
I opened my eyes to Librarian, dressed like a Ranger, red cape, badge and all, and the Library.
“I’m BACK!” I shouted, flexing, doing my best genie impression.
“You’re back!” Librarian exclaimed happily, grabbing my hands, jumping up and down with me.
“And I have all the time in the world! More or less.” I said.
“Yeah, until you starve, or die of dehydration.” Librarian pointed out.
Curses. I knew there was a catch. Note to self, get a “don’t starve” skill so I can do this longer next time.
“Right! Let’s get to it!” I said, plonking myself down at the closest table. Librarian rolled her eyes and pointed to another table, one with stacks of books at the ready. Heaps of books.
Heck, a single bookshelf wouldn’t be able to hold them all.
Yesssssss. Delicious reading-food.
“You know, I had prepped a table for this...”
I moved over, and started chowing down on books, eagerly devouring them all. It was hard. I wanted to read as fast as I could, almost skim them, but then I wouldn’t get the content, I’d lose the story. But I had limited time. If I went too slowly, I wouldn’t get to read as much.
I needed to class up more often, and class up in places where I could simply spend hours to days classing up, with no responsibilities. Mmmm…. That’d be hard, but I’m sure I could manage it.
Book after book, tome after tome. Action, adventure, fantasy – wait no, that’d be slice of life here, there was no fantasy, not after what I’d seen. Quiet, peaceful stories. Epic tales, where I overthrew the government, proclaiming myself Queen Elaine the 1st. Sometimes Empress Elaine. Stories where I traded with dwarves, was a diplomat to elves. Stories of riding with centaurs, stealing from giants, fighting off hordes of savage gnomes.
I don’t know how long I’d been there, but there were at least eight stacks of books taller than my head when I heard a soft cough from Librarian.
“We should probably get going.”
Awww, but mom….
The perils of being an adult, of being a Ranger. Responsibility. Bleh.
I went up the stairs to the second floor, where my level 32 class-up had occurred. Given that almost all the books were variations of “Burn things down”, it was a significantly less interesting read. That, and there was a tiny fraction of the novels.
With no small amount of trepidation, I walked up to the third floor.
It looked nothing like the room I’d been in when I classed up to [Constellation of the Healer]. A long hallway met my eyes, with books on stands to either side. At the end of the hallway, it opened up into a large room.
Ranger-Mage was in big letters on a plaque above the door, and that’s where I started to walk, idly checking out the other books on my path, seeing if anything would be tempting enough to distract me.
[Fireball Maniac - Fire] And I was promptly distracted. This class was all about fireballs. Fast fireball, grand fireball, siege fireball, multi-cast fireball, efficient fireballs – the works. The last few months of non-stop [Fireball] had paid dividends with this class. Zero non-fireball skills though.
I grabbed it, carrying it with me. I’d dump it at the first solid, yellow class I saw, which I expected to.
[Formorian Exterminator - Inferno] Taking Formorian extermination to 13. Massive bonuses when shooting flames into the endless black tide, penalties when I wasn’t. I had no plans on living on the frontlines. Next!
[Oath-Spreader - Metal] A change of track, going forth and proselytizing about my [Oath] for all who’d hear me.
[Flameclad - Fire] Coating myself in flames, getting close and personal to punch things with flaming fists. Not exactly my style, although the physical bonuses were interesting.
[Magical Professor - Light] Retire from the Rangers, join Artemis’s School of Sorcery and Spellcraft. At least, that’s what I’d need to do to get any use out of the class. Teaching did sound fun, and maybe one day, Artemis would need a healer to teach classes. It mostly fell under what her school could teach.
[Author - Wind] Write as fast as the wind! Swoosh! Having charcoal dance around me as I manipulated it with magic!
Sadly, I’d written my magnum opus, my healing manuscripts. I didn’t have more stories to tell.
Although, I could start plagiarizing Earth stories, using [Recollection of a Distant Life]. Hang on, there was potential here… more retirement options?
Were all my choices here different ways to retire from the Rangers? Seeing if I’d be side-tracked on my path to [Ranger-Mage]? The set up of this room fit – a series of books to distract and side-track me from my goal.
[Scribe - Water] Surprisingly, I was more interested in this class than the [Author] class. It would help me copy my manuscript a bunch, and that was somewhat appealing. I’d get crazy [Oath] experience, and working it out, that could be one of the better ways to improve my healing.
I honestly would never have thought of that.
[Black Widow - Dark] Somehow, I didn’t think I’d get in the habit of murdering former fiancés. Something about doing no harm.
[Papilion’s Puppet - Mist] Well, this one was refreshingly direct. Next!
[Chop and Burn Explorer - Fire] Burning down a fraction of the Kadan clearly encouraged more pyromancy. I didn’t see myself in the large-scale forest fire creating industry anytime soon.
[Pyre-mancer - Ash] Origen’s funeral, the solemn occasion marred by the terrible pun in the name. I was in the anti-funeral business though.
Although, terribly, it’d make me a one-stop shop. “Get healed! If I fail, I can cremate you!”
[Bookworm - Wood] With the Element given, I half expected to need to physically eat books. Nope, just read scrolls. Still needed to figure out how to convince people to switch to books. Or properly invent them.
[Goblin Slayer - Fire] Taking killing goblins to 11/10, just like the number of goblins I’d had to kill on my way to the capital.
More specialization. Power for narrowing my focus.
[Fiery Flower - Fire] Taking [Pretty] to untold heights. A vanity and preening class. Blazing dresses, flaming flowers for my hair, sparks in the air as I danced through the night. A thing of beauty, and I wished I lived in a world where I could happily take it, without fear of harm to my person as a result.
[Ranger’s Mascot - Fire] Similar to [Fiery Flower] from before, but with more focus, more purpose. I wasn’t a mascot though, I was a full Ranger in my own right.
But the mascot class indicated I’d reached the end of the distractions, and was at the room I’d been aiming for from the start.