I was still curled up and feeling miserable when I felt a mass that could only be Brawling’s plonk down next to me.
“Heya.” He said. “Yeah, this sucks. We won, at what price? Tell you what. Best thing for it? Go out and do something. Take your mind off of things. I’m sure there’s a dozen soldiers that need some help. From getting too drunk, if nothing else. Or heck, have a drink or five, wander around, get in trouble. Find a handsome soldier and get laid. Dance on the walls. Join us playing dice. Nature’s cheating, but Toxic isn’t. Just find something to do, something to keep your mind off of things as you process.”
“Are you cheating or not?” I mumbled into my knees.
Brawling guffawed at that.
“Not telling!” He said, with what I could now kinda tell was forced, fake cheer. He was hurting like all of us, but had better coping. Somewhat.
“That’s a yes.” I said, lifting my head and giving him an accusing look. “I suck at cheating. No way am I going to play.”
“Awww, come on! Just a bit?” Brawling said, cajoling me.
A plan came to me. In spite of the heavy weight on me, I cracked a grin.
“Ok, fine, just a bit.” I said.
Brawling bolted up, and offered me his hand. I took it, accepting his help to get up. We wandered over to the table.
I was being eyed up like a seal in front of a bunch of sharks. I gave them wide, innocent eyes. Like a lamb to the slaughter.
“I’m out.” Nature said. “She’s got something up her sleeve. Nobody looks like that.” Nature said, pointing at me. “Nobody with Dawn’s experience looks that innocent and naïve going to a game where she knows people are cheating.”
“Oh come on!” I protested. “How is that fair? Both you and Brawling are cheating horribly – heck, for that matter, Toxic’s also cheating, you just haven’t caught him yet – and when I come to the table, suddenly you’re out?”
Nature smirked, and I suddenly realized I’d been had.
“See. Told ya she’s got something up her sleeve. Come on, let’s go.” He said.
I sat down at the table, mentally cursing. He might’ve ruined everything.
Still. I ponied up a few coins, and threw them into the pot.
“Night?” Brawling prompted, after everyone else – Nature included, I guess curiosity won out – had thrown a few coins or chips in.
With a long-suffering sigh, Night threw a few coins in as well, and dice started to shake.
I wasn’t cheating. Well, I kinda was, but I wasn’t. I was banking on everyone else cheating for me. See, how else were you going to get the reluctant, but loaded, sucker who was terrible to the table?
The dice finished rolling, and it took me a moment to process what they’d landed on.
“I won!” I cried out, playing up the excitement, scooping the pot over to me.
“Yeah! Fun, right?” Brawling said, a huge smile on his face.
“Yup. Anyways, thanks all. I’m out.” I said, a predatory grin splitting my face as I scooped up my winnings.
The look on Brawling’s face – priceless. Stunned disbelief. Nature just started laughing.
“Told you she had something up her sleeve! She played you all like a lute! Oh man, losing that round was totally worth it just to see the look on your faces! Ha!”
The answer for how you get the reluctant sucker to play – have her win a few times. Get her hooked on the feeling, wanting to play more.
It wasn’t like we hadn’t played similar games when I was a Ranger.
Toxic winked at me. I flipped him his coins back – and a few extra.
“Wait! Why does he get his coins back!?” Brawling sputtered with indignation.
Night snorted at our antics, and deigned to chip in.
“Because Toxic and Dawn were on the same Ranger team together. He clearly has a strong grasp of her talents and abilities, and assisted with her victory just now. Most likely he even knew what would happen after. Instead of ruining her fun, he participated as a willing accomplice. Dawn is simply repaying the favor. Also, how you lot have not caught onto Toxic’s method of cheating is simply disgraceful. Honestly.” He said, shaking his head.
I glanced at Night.
“How are you cheating?” I asked him.
“I do not need to cheat. I am too wealthy for that.” Night said, practically sniffing with his nose in the air.
“He flips the dice when he feels like it.” Toxic stage-whispered to me.
Night gave Toxic an affronted look.
“I have not informed the others of how you are manipulating the game of chance to favor yourself.” He pointed out dangerously.
I grabbed a double handful of rations, and left before another one of the Sentinel’s famous brawls erupted.
I wandered around camp, munching on the rations. There wasn’t a shred of good food left – everyone had eaten it in the earlier celebration, which I had missed, and the logistics were still interrupted. That’d need to get fixed quick, before it became a larger issue. Didn’t seem to concern most of the soldiers, however. The mood, from how I could gauge it, was mixed. Some soldiers were celebrating, loud parties around non-regulation fires. The Centurions obviously didn’t care, as I saw a number of them celebrating and joining in themselves.
Others were sad, mopey, tucked away in corners with a mug.
I wandered around, not quite sure what I wanted to do.
“Hey girly! Wanna have some fuuuuuuuuuuuun?” A drunken soldier asked, leering at me as his friends laughed.
I shot him a disgusted look and a finger, and got struck by inspiration. The sun was out, my range had increased, and I had a new skill to test out.
[Wheel of Sun and Moon] was my new ranged skill for [Dance with the Heavens], and I focused, applying it to just the one dude. I wanted him cured of his ‘alcohol poisoning’, and with a slight mental frown, I realized a few things.
First off – my image on [Persistent Casting] was entirely gone. I’d need to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.
Second off – an image, the knowledge of how getting drunk worked on a fundamental level in the human body, and what I’d need to do to cure intoxication wasn’t springing into my mind like I was used to. I had to spend a moment straining and thinking.
Right. Alcohol. The active ingredient – and the thing that was causing most of the issues – was the namesake alcohol. As it was digested, the liver produced a substance that counteracted the alcohol, breaking it down. Getting drunk, however, was a product of drinking more alcohol than the body could break down at a time, resulting in alcohol in the cardiovascular system, interfering with parts of the brain. The coordination part of the brain was particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol – hence a loss of balance.
It also had a release of dopamine, which made people feel good. I couldn’t – wouldn’t – interfere with dopamine and other natural side effects, but the alcohol itself? Yeah, I could handle that. Technically a poison, although handling and managing alcohol had been its own unique star, given the unique status of alcohol in society.
Once the alcohol was gone, everything else would clear itself up. With a thought and a glare, I instantly sobered the soldier up, and kept on going, ignoring the confused cries from behind me.
Ethically, I was walking a bit of a thin line here. I was pushing a boundary, and I could almost feel [Oath] grumbling at me. My justification for why I was on the right side of the “informed consent” portion of medical ethics was the dude was clearly so sloshed that he’d completely missed that he was harassing a Sentinel, which suggested that he had more in him than was healthy.
I felt the loss of [Medicine]. It was going to take me a bit more mental effort to heal someone efficiently.
Then again, I’d gotten so much mana that I wasn’t going to notice the slight decrease in efficiency. I’d also gotten an entire new skill!
Well worth the trade-off.
Brawling had suggested getting laid but I had standards. Probably wasn’t happening.
What else had he suggested? Helping people out.
I figured I should see if there were any people at the infirmary, and practice my new skills while I was at it. I wanted to get a good handle on them.
I wanted to squeal with joy. My new skills were so damn cool! Like, I’d already cast a ranged heal in daylight! The moons were one heck of a restriction, but the sun? It had cost me hardly any starlight to buy that particular perk, and was more than halfway to removing the restriction entirely!
And, that was just one tiny perk on one tiny skill!
We’d left for the frontlines in a rush, and we’d naturally grabbed our combat gear. Our “looking good” gear – namely, our red cloaks – had been left behind. Good way to get tangled then killed in a fight. Now we were out of the fight, in camp, and I had the perfect idea.
With a careful thought, I used [Mantle of the Stars] to create a shimmering cape of stars down my back, clasped around my neck. I took an experimental step forward, and not only was I able to move my cape of starlight, it also fluttered mysteriously as I moved, no gust of wind needed.
I bit my knuckle to stop myself from squealing in girlish delight in the middle of camp. This was so blasted cool!!!
I puffed my chest out as I strode through camp, feeling like a total badass with my shimmering cape of stars trailing behind me. Right. [Mantle of the Stars] tested, [Wheel of Sun and Moon] tested, [Sunrise] used earlier. [Center of the Universe] wasn’t super easy to test, but it was so similar to [Center of the Galaxy] that I didn’t bother. Plus, similar to [Bullet Time], it usually only activated in bad situations.
[Solar Infusion] was up, and ideally I’d like to get some time to properly examine what [Cosmic Presence] was doing. I’d poured a ton of starlight into the skill, and I wanted to know how it worked.
Problem was, [Solar Infusion] was almost a “pre-healing” skill. I should find Brawling or someone who was going to spar, and hit them ahead of time.
[Cosmic Presence], on the other hand, I could try to test now. Would’ve been better if the fighting was still going on, but eh. I couldn’t complain too much that people weren’t dying anymore.
I continued to wander through the nigh-endless camp, crossing the occasional awkward stretch of extra-muddy ground, with no tents, and suspiciously smooth walls with an obviously different texture. Clearly where the Formorians had broken through, and where Bulwark had worked his magic to reform and reseal the walls.
The celebration was one long never-ending party, from squads grouped together, celebrating their time and survival, to soldiers who just so happened to have their tents nearby – it looked like almost everyone was partying. Everyone had broken out whatever little comforts they had with them, and was liberally sharing them around.
It was a tragedy that the camp followers section of the walls had also gotten broken into. I’d like to imagine that as soon as the first Formorian had gotten through the walls, that they’d all run away. I studiously avoided thinking about the narrow gates between the walls, how when people panic they stampede, and the likelihood that a crush of bodies would’ve trapped the camp followers in-between the walls, their safety turning into a death trap as Formorians scythed through them, grabbing and dragging their bodies back to the Queens to be eaten and turned into nutrients for more Formorians.
Nope. Nuh uh. Wasn’t going to think about it. There was nothing I could do for them, although it was clear that the lack of camp followers was being sorely felt. I don’t think I’d passed a party yet where I hadn’t been invited, and the sheer number of invitations that got walked back when someone saw the Sentinel badge let me know it wasn’t my status that was earning me invites.
To be fair – everyone was in a real friendly mood, and most of the other soldiers wandering around were getting invited to little parties here and there. Still. I resolved to find my way back to the Sentinel’s tent soon enough.
Entertainment of all flavors was on display. Dice, dancing, and drinking were popular, but games of all sorts were also on display. Heck, one Centurion looked like he’d organized all the squads under his command into a miniature sort of Olympics, which had a roaring crowd of their own.
It was inevitable that small fights and brawls would break out, and anyone I saw nursing an injury I hit with [Dance with the Heavens] at range with [Wheel of Sun and Moon]. I missed [Medicine] again, and felt the loss of the skill with the inefficient healing. At the same time, I had so much mana, I only noticed that it was less efficient because I was looking for it. Didn’t want to get bogged down in social niceties, but it was entertaining to hear the cries of realization that a broken arm was suddenly fixed, or a twisted ankle rightened. Stealth healing! Still didn’t get me what I wanted, which was testing my remaining skills.
Soldiers were a violent bunch, and more than a few liked blood sports. It was with no surprise in the slightest that I heard the distinct sound of weapon against armor, and I had enough experience to identify these as “sparring blows”, and not blows that were aimed to injure and maim.
I took a quick right turn, and followed my ears, discreetly putting my Sentinel badge away. If I showed up with my badge, the soldiers would assume I was there to shut them down entirely, and it could get ugly. I had no intention of doing that. Where there was fighting, there were injured people. This was a chance for me to see just how powerful [Cosmic Presence] was, while making sure the fights stayed non-lethal.
Heck, if I was lucky I could try [Solar Infusion], although I was pushing my [Oath] a bit here. I was enabling people to hurt each other, with the fact that they were going to hurt each other anyways acting as a balancing or mitigating factor. The fact that they might hurt each other more pushed back on that, and I was walking a thin line here.
Like. I really shouldn’t. But I was too excited! I wanted to try out my new skills! It was the perfect chance!
I ignored the little voice in my head saying that I should turn back.
I did stop and pay attention when the little voice in my head reminded me that I’d dumped the emotion-dampening aspects of [Center of the Galaxy], and that I’d resolved to check my emotions.
I wasn’t being a whiny brat though, or throwing a temper tantrum. I was simply taking a risk, eager and excited. Were those such bad emotions?
Resolved, I pressed on, squeezing myself into an extra-large tent. The stitch marks along the side spoke to a clever soldier, a half-dozen tents joined to form an extra-large fight club.
There was a packed crowd. Of course there was a packed crowd, shouting and jeering and waving coins around.
My biggest challenge was seeing what was going on, as I cursed my short height. I could hear what was happening no problem. Seeing though? I could see backs, and that was it.
An adventure that consisted of slipping, sliding, pushing, swearing, climbing, and a whole lot of cursing got me a better view of what was going on.
Two men wrestled in the central arena. One was big and burly, the other smaller and nimbler. Some half-naked men jumping up and down excitedly off to one side, and another banged-up soldier being half-carried away by his buddies, who were patting him in a reassuring way. I heard the standard roar of the crowd, baying and hooting, cheers of joy when their dude got a solid punch in, which was immediately mirrored by cries of dismay by people rooting for the punchee.
I pushed and shoved my way over to the section with the waiting fighters.
“Hey. Hey! Hey!” I called out, barely able to hear myself over the crowd. No way the people warming up would be able to hear me either. Ugh.
Also, the thought crossed my mind that by using skills on the people about to fight, that there’d be a lot of deeply unhappy people as a result. Blargh. Combine that with using [Solar Infusion] on people about to fight, which would let them fight harder and hurt each other more – never mind that they’d heal it right back up – and I gave up on testing [Solar Infusion] for now. I’d just need to wait for a more reasonable spar, instead of dealing with a fight pit.
No, this was a great chance to test out [Cosmic Presence] though. I groaned with half the crowd as the small nimble dude got a grip on the bigger dude’s arm, and threw him across the arena. The crack of breaking bones announced the end of the fight, and the winner raised his arms up in victory, to the cheering of the other half of the crowd.
Body size and obvious strength weren’t everything, not when skills and stats came in to put their weight on the scale.
I lasered in on the poor fellow being carted away by his buddies, and started to follow them, overhearing the first soldier bemoaning their loss, and their lack of drinking funds.
I made a detour towards some of the other fighters who had lost, and were nursing injuries. I mentally cursed not getting ranged healing indoors, but then again, that had been an expensive, expensive star to light, and it was rare that I needed to heal at a range inside.
Naturally, since I’d jinxed it, fate conspired to immediately put me in a situation where I wish I had it.
[Oath] satisfied, I made it out of the tent, and spotted the injured dude being carried by his fellow soldiers. I noticed with a critical eye that a number of nasty bruises were starting to blossom on the dude who’d lost the fight.
They made it to the tent, and I was in a bit of a pickle. Just standing out here was all sorts of awkward, and I was getting some funny looks.
I felt a bit awkward, like I was kinda stalking him – well, I guess I was stalking him – so I figured I might as well introduce myself.
“Hiya!” I said, walking up to them.
One of them opened his mouth, only for the second one to elbow him.
“Welcome, healer.” The second one said, throwing a significant glare at the first one. “What business do you have here?” He asked, throwing another pointed look at his friend.
I mentally rolled my eyes. Yeah, yeah, hint taken.
“Here to help out. Have a new skill I’m looking to test.” I said, deciding to have some fun and threw my most sinister smile on. With the most cartoonishly evil voice I could muster, I pointed to the fighter who’d lost. “And I’ve found my test subject!”
Ok, maybe not the best introduction, but hey. Gal’s gotta have fun somehow.
They looked at each other, while the injured dude just groaned.
“What are you going to do to him?” The first one asked.
“Absolutely nothing!” I proudly declared, which got some confused looks. I rolled my eyes this time.
“Trying out my new passive skill.” I said, clearing up the confusion a hair.
“Maybe you should just move along…” The first soldier said doubtfully.
Eh. I suppose I deserved that.
Having run out of social tolerance, I decided to press the magic “I get my way” button.
I pulled out my Sentinel badge.
“How about now?” I asked them conversationally, and got salutes in return.
I loved the Sentinel badge. I don’t know what I’d ever do without it, or the authority and listen-to-me-ness it granted me.
“Honestly – just upgraded a skill, and I’d like to see it in action.” I explained, moving closer and sitting down. “Supposed to be a passive heal, and I want to know how well it works. Your buddy here’s perfect, because he’s got a dozen bruises all over the place. Nothing life-threatening, and bruises are easy to watch heal. Long enough timeframe that I can get an idea, guaranteed to heal, not life-threatening in any way, shape, or form. Figure I can hang out here while he’s healing up, see exactly how well it works.”
Alcohol was the great social lubricant, and I’d make the two soldiers all sorts of nervous. I didn’t have alcohol but I had the next best thing – money.
Even better, it wasn’t my money! And they’d been complaining about a lack of drinking funds. Time to make some new friends!
I grabbed my smaller coin purse, and tossed it to one of the soldiers, who caught it with a satisfying noise.
“Why don’t you rustle us up some beer?” I ‘suggested’, and with my badge on my chest and my coins in his hand, the soldier moved like it was an order from a god above.
Which made me all sorts of sad again, remembering Priest Demos, which led to me remembering everyone else who’d died.
The dude who’d been left behind sensed the mood, and we sat in morose silence until the beer showed up. We all cheered up considerably after it appeared.
I had some fun chatting and trading stories with my three new temporary best friends. They had all sorts of crazy stories, and the fish kept getting larger with each one. I kept an eye on the pit fighter, and I was surprised and pleased with how he was healing.
It took about thirty minutes for his bruises to go through the entire rainbow, and at two weeks for bruises to fully vanish, that was one hell of a pace. That was what, 168 hours in a week times two, into thirty minutes? I had no way of keeping good time, so I was what, improving someone’s natural healing speed by 600 times or so?
However, vitality was throwing a massive wrench into the equation here. People with higher vitality naturally healed faster than people without it, and soldiers tended to have a good grasp on that concept, along with other physical classers.
I eyed him up, cursed that I’d dumped [Medicine] instead of expanding it to help me know how stats interacted properly with magic skills. I checked his level, mentally cross-referenced it with numerous Ranger Academy trainees I’d dealt with and their injuries, and guessed that his own natural healing was roughly twice what it would normally be, just from his stats.
A much better guess was probably speeding up naturally healing by a factor of 300, which would multiply against whatever vitality he had naturally.
[Cosmic Presence] wouldn’t restore limbs, and I needed to re-set one bone which healed wrong, but at the rate I was healing, I was more than pleased. Heck, a number of injuries that would normally be slowly fatal would now just straight-up heal on their own simply by my presence.
Blood loss and related problems also shouldn’t be a problem anymore, not unless the blow was so massive as to likely be fatal anyways.
For example, if someone had their femoral artery sliced open, a knife slicing their inner thigh open. A traditional example of a blow that, while not immediately lethal, would quickly turn lethal from a loss of blood.
Now? With me around?
Not only would the injury clot incredibly quickly, in spite of the size, but the cut itself would almost immediately scab over and repair itself. On top of that, any blood lost would be rapidly – in terms of blood restoration timeframes – restore itself.
It wasn’t just a 300x or so rate of improvement with healing. The body helped itself, and the effects on one system improving helped other parts of the system improve as well. Everything was connected in the body, everything worked with each other.
And this was just for a single person! My aura could fill maybe half a stadium.
I suspected, but had no real way of finding out, that the only thing I needed to be concerned about were immediately lethal blows, and injuries that removed significant portions of the body. Apart from that? My mere presence was enough.
Well, that and some aspects of diseases.
Take the Black Plague for example. People got sick with all manner of symptoms. Then, like a miracle, like a Goddess had descended from the skies and touched them, people would feel miraculously better. They were cured! They’d avoided the grim reaper!
Then they’d drop dead two days later.
Most symptoms of a disease weren’t the disease itself. Most symptoms was the body’s own immune response kicking in to fight the disease. Fever? A raised temperature made the body a more hostile environment for disease, killing it off faster than a human would die. Headaches? Lethargy? The body’s way of saying “Whoa, slow down, we’re sick here. Don’t do something dumb like try to hunt. Go rest.”
The feeling better was a complete and total collapse of the immune system as the Black Plague overwhelmed the body’s defenders, killing them all. People felt right as a fiddle! Then the Plague finished killing everything else in the body, and people dropped dead.
[Dance with the Heavens] solved that issue entirely, and it combined with [Wheel of Sun and Moon] gave me strong anti-plague skills, along with the ability to troll drunken soldiers.
I mentally cursed not getting [Cosmic Presence] while the war with the Formorians was still going on. I’d have saved uncountable numbers of people just by standing there.
At the same time, without the war coming to a close I would’ve never gotten the skill. No use crying over it, I had a cool new skill! It was as awesome as I could’ve hoped for.
Even better – my estimates were just estimates. For all I knew, it would range from three hundred times as fast, to six hundred times as fast. Good timekeeping. I really wanted good timekeeping.
Whistling, a bit tipsy, I made my way back to the Sentinel’s tent, eager to share my discoveries.