“Squire Iona.” Alruna said, arms out stiffly as Iona bustled around her, fastening clasps and tightening straps, getting Alruna into what she called her “serious war gear.”
“Valkyrie Alruna.” Iona said, mimicking her formality.
“You’re coming with me on this. We need every body.”
Iona fumbled the strap she was currently trying to thread, needing three tries to stabilize her hands enough to get it threaded.
Finally, when she thought she had control of her voice again, she responded.
“Don’t be. Tighten that strap more. More. MORE! There you go. This isn’t some honorable fight we’re going to. This is a slaughterhouse, bloody butcher’s work. What Sigrun didn’t mention was how many of us were going.”
Iona froze, doing some mental calculations.
“Hang on…” She said, thinking about how many Valkyries there were. How many squires.
How many goblins.
“300. 300 of us are going to hold the pass, including squires. Not including companions.” Alruna said.
“We’re all going to die.” She whispered.
“Yes. We are.” Alruna grimly agreed.
Iona was riding on the back of Trikey, swinging her new axe experimentally. Fearfully. Iona was suited up as well as any squire was – as well as the rest of the squires were – which wasn’t saying much. Sure, the dinosaur-hide vest was well padded, she had armored gauntlets, a strong round shield, a helmet.
Iona shot an envious look at Alruna.
She looked like a moving, metal fortress, wings on her helmet the only minor decoration.
Trikey was nearly as well-armored, with a few more open joints to better move – or charge. Trikey was running, faster than any human could run, a full stampede of all the other Valkyries and their varied companions with them.
They kept a solid distance from each other. No telling when a stegosaurus would lash its tail out, or when one of a Hydra’s head would want to take a bite out of someone. All the animals were trained, and bonded – but why risk an accident?
“Iona.” Alruna directed behind her without saying anything. Iona instinctively straightened up, something in her tone of voice making her pay attention.
“You didn’t hear this from me.” She said, and Iona leaned closer, as close as the straps keeping her secured in Trikey’s saddle would allow, letting Alruna whisper to her. Not that it was really needed, not with the distance between each of the Valkyries, not with the thundering roar from each of their mounts.
“Class up.” Alruna said.
“What, right now?” Iona asked in disbelief.
“Yes, right now.”
“I don’t have permission.” Iona protested.
“Who cares? You’ll either be dead, or be able to beg permission after. I can’t imagine anyone applying the penalty to a survivor of this. Might as well see what the System gives you.”
Iona hesitated. She wasn’t supposed to class up, not without permission, and Alruna, nice as she was, wasn’t technically allowed to give permission.
“I know what you’re thinking. I’ll send you back if you don’t class up.” Alruna threatened.
Iona was many things. Among others, the threat of being called or thought a coward was a powerful motivator. She leaned forward, focused on classing up both of her classes, and fell into the world of her soul.
Iona opened her eyes. The temple was somehow even larger, even grander. Her guide Priestess was there again.
“Iona. Welcome back.” She said, with a voice full of warmth.
“Priestess. Thank you.” Iona said.
“Let’s go.” Priestess calmly said, leading Iona deeper into the temple.
Iona had time, if she wanted. Time to check all her options, time to read over every choice.
Time – that could be better used adapting to her new classes, her new skills. With the fight upcoming, Iona had no time to spare.
Planning. Training. Years of calculation, accumulated knowledge of the Order Valkyrie, and long discussions with Alruna had Iona’s next class-up pre-planned. She knew what would be offered, and she knew what she’d take.
Or rather – she had a strong outline of what she’d be offered, and what she’d take. Any minor variation would be just that – minor.
Still. As Priestess led Iona to the altar where she’d pray and change her class, Iona still stopped and prayed at the altars to the gods and goddesses. It was only right, it was only natural, to give them their due, to show loyalty, fealty, and devotion.
Iona believed that you kneeled to exactly three people in your lifetime.
Kneel to your mentor, your trainer, your teacher, the one who’s given you everything. Usually also your parent.
Kneel to the gods and goddesses, the divine beings above who watch over everyone, who give you life, who give you purpose.
Kneel to your lover, the one who drives you forward, who makes you more, who makes you strive to be the best person you can be.
Iona didn’t believe in such nonsense like “completing yourself”, “the other half of a soul”, “fated lovers”, “love at first sight”, or other such nonsense. Relationships, she gathered, were not like that at all.
Not real relationships.
To neutral or unaligned altars Iona prayed to Lunaris and Selene, her favorites.
They got to the room hosting the classing-up altar, when Iona hesitated.
“Did I get…?” She asked, trailing off. Priestess understood.
“Of course. A minor variant, as you’d expect. Still. Exactly what you’re looking for.” She said.
The tension went out of Iona’s shoulders.
“Good. Good! I can’t wait! And the second one?”
Priestess gave Iona a Look, like she was a moron.
“Yeah, ok, ok, I get it. Of course it’ll be there.”
Iona opened the door to the room, eyes fixed on the altar. She knelt, prayed, and felt the class change, evolve.
[Constellation of the Warrior – Celestial]
The second class was even easier. A well-worn, well-tread level 8 class. Well known, well-defined, Iona had made sure she’d gotten the requirements for it a dozen times over. Her efforts were rewarded by a higher starting color than usual, and a minor variant.
[Smooth Shot Archer – Water]
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Warrior] has leveled up to level 169! +2 Free Stats, +15 Strength, +15 Dexterity, +15 Vitality, +15 Speed, +9 Mana Regen, +2 Magic power, +2 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]
Iona took a quick look at her new skills.
Strength from the Stars: The boundless stars forever twinkle, as boundless energy courses through you. Improved stamina per level. -36000 mana/day.
Blade of the Crescent Moon: Imbue your weapons with the sharp edge of the moon, cutting and slicing through all that would block your way. Deeper penetration per level. Costs mana per activation.
Moon’s Descent: The moons above, endlessly heavy. Lift the moon up, imbue your strikes with their weight. Converts strength stat to mass when striking blows. Improved strength to mass ratio per level. -24000 mana/day.
Gaze of the Stars: The stars look down upon you with perfect clarity, as you see the flow of battle and combat with perfect clarity. See in the dark. See through light obfuscation. Improved perception per level.
Iona started with surprise as [Cute] merged into the next skill she got. Surprise! Minor variations did change things up.
Stellar Body: The constellations above shine down, immovable, immutable, in the same way your body shines, empowered by the stars to be tougher, stronger, better-put together. .5% increased Vitality per level.
Nothing was mentioned about [Cute] or looking good, but it had to be in there somewhere. Skills sometimes did more than described, especially when other skills got merged into them. Iona would bet that the [Cute] merger basically, well.
She groaned as she realized the pun.
In some ways, a bit of a downgrade. Mergers were like that. In many ways, an upgrade, and Iona got a ranged class to go with it!
Also, new free general skill slot! Iona needed to think. She needed something to help survive the coming fight.
[Smooth Draw] was self-explanatory, but [Still Water] needed a look.
Still Water: Your mind is as tranquil as the surface of a pond. Any impacts simply ripple through, restoring the mind to its former calm. Increased calm per level.
Iona wanted to pump her fist. A mental stability skill! Yes! She’d lost her old one as her Light and Dark class merged, but the System taketh, and the System giveth.
Shame that it was at level 1 though. It would’ve been nicer at a higher level.
Iona had no doubt that it’d jump by leaps and bounds in the upcoming fight.
While she was still alive.
Over 40 levels of accumulated experience though – yes please. Iona was delighted to say the least.
Trikey moved again, Iona’s head smashed against Alruna’s unyielding back, and Iona was reminded that, yes, the world kept moving around her in spite of her focus on classing up.
“Welcome back.” Alruna said, sensing Iona starting to move under her own power again, as she leaned back, rubbing her head.
“Most uncomfortable class-up ever.” Iona complained.
“Got what we planned?” Alruna asked.
“Yup! Celestial warrior, Water ranger.” Iona said. “Also, a new free general slot!”
“Nice! What merged?” Alruna asked.
Alruna twisted in her saddle to give Iona a Look.
“The hell were you doing to get that skill to merge!?” Alruna yelled at Iona.
“I dunno! I got [Stellar Body] and it just did!” Iona protested.
Alruna started laughing.
“Well, grab something like [Dodge] or [Reflexes]. Should help a bit.”
Iona decided on trying to get [Dodge]. Better to not get hit at all, right? [Reflexes] would just be her trying to dodge things anyways, might as well get the narrower, more specialized skill.
“Good work. I think we’ll have some time for you to get used to it. Anyways, now that you’re a squire with a ranger class, you’re going to be assigned to Sorok.”
Iona shot Alruna a betrayed look, that Alruna obviously couldn’t see.
“Why!? I’m your squire!” Iona protested. “I’m supposed to cover Trikey’s rear. You can’t do that alone!”
“You’re not geared for what we’re heading into.” Alruna said, briskly rebuffing Iona. “You can make full use of your new ranger class on Sorok’s platform. You’ll be safer. And, more importantly, you’ll have a larger impact on the battle from there.”
Iona gave a leery look at Sorok, a massive brontosaurus that the Valkyries had built a solid platform on. He was practically a mobile fortress, and the only reason they weren’t moving faster was they were moving at Sorok’s maximum speed already.
Iona opened her mouth to argue more, then close it.
“Yes, Valkyrie Alruna, the Perpetual.” Iona said, agreeing, letting her minor displeasure known by giving Alruna’s full title.
“Look, I know you don’t like it. You’ll change your mind after this is over. Hey! It could be worse.”
Iona quirked an eyebrow up.
“How could it be worse than outnumbered hundreds to tens of thousands, when we’re all going to die?”
“It’s not an Immortal. It’s not the start of another round of Immortal Wars.”
That was an excellent point. Iona shut up, and worked on getting used to her new skills before the battle.