I woke up, buried in great fuzzy sheets, my head on a massive fluffy pillow.
So warm. So cozy.
I turned over, snuggled deeper into the bed, and let myself go back to sleep.
I woke up slowly, wrapped in warm blankets. First time in months and months and literal months I’d woken up sleeping somewhere nice. No rickety airboat, no monster horde, no soldier’s bedroll, no half-underground pit, no wooden lean-to, no rocky tunnels.
I was ignoring the spartan, but nice digs that Nolgardian dwarves had, both at their border wall, and at the town I’d visited. I’d spent enough weeks down in the mines to feel like I’d earned it.
Dreamland was nice and all, but reality wanted to drag me back, kicking and screaming. I cracked my eyes open, saw that for whatever gods-forsaken reason that the dwarvish escort saw fit to have four blasted dwarves in the room with me, and closed my eyes again.
Whatever. It was like I was sleeping in a barracks again or something.
The downside to this not being the barracks is my I-don’t-know-how-filthy clothes and armor just spent a night sleeping in here, and the sheets were ruined.
I decided to check all of my level up notifications from the comfort of my bed. I’d need to leave eventually, but I wanted to delay as much as possible.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 359->365! +3 Dexterity, +24 Speed, +24 Vitality, +170 Mana, +170 Mana Regen, +48 Magic power, +48 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]
[*Ding!* [Celestial Affinity] leveled up! 359->365]
[*Ding!* [Center of the Universe] leveled up! 359->365]
[*Ding!* [Dance with the Heavens] leveled up! 359->365]
[*Ding!* [Sentinel's Superiority] leveled up! 359->365]
[*Ding!* [Long-Range Identify] leveled up! 359->365]
[*Ding!* [Mantle of the Stars] leveled up! 359->365]
[*Ding!* [Persistent Casting] leveled up! 256->259]
[*Ding!* [Learning] leveled up! 341->350]
[*Ding!* [Learning] has upgraded to [Passionate Learning]]
Passionate Learning: You have a deep and abiding love for learning in all forms. You are intrinsically motivated to seek out knowledge in all its forms, from written to oral, and when that doesn’t suffice, you slice people open and get it directly. You’ve broken into libraries, listened to oral lectures, got trained by Rangers, attended the harshest training humans on Pallos could think of, but were you satisfied? Of course not. You traveled to distant lands and met other races, just so you could read their por - err - books. You don’t quit when stymied, no, instead, you pick up a knife and slice people open to get answers. Improved learning speed. +1.25% increased experience gain per level.
[*Ding!* [Passionate Learning] leveled up! 350->354]
[*Ding!* [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] leveled up! 301->308]
[*Ding!* [Bullet Time] leveled up! 269->283]
Holy. I needed to get all-out attacked by powerful mages twice my level more often. That was a lot of levels for one [Mantle].
Actually - that had some disturbing implications I needed to work out, once I was done with the rest of my levels.
[*Ding!* [Pristine Memories] leveled up! 205->206]
I’m not actually sure what leveling this skill up did for me. My memories were perfect now, and I could recall what I wanted. The description also didn’t mention a big change per level.
I guess not every skill improved over time. It was still worth leveling it up, just for it impacting the quality of my classes. It could also evolve later on, to something a little more impactful.
[*Ding!* [Cosmic Presence] leveled up! 270->285]
The skill was aggravating to level at times, with events like yesterday being one of the only ways to level up. Still, I had no doubt that I saved a large amount of mana in total, and I did look forward to seeing it used in a more active setting at some point.
From a leveling perspective. Anything that gave it “real” experience was a disaster. It was an annoying contradiction in being a healer - I didn’t want people to get hurt, but I couldn’t improve without large numbers of injuries. Which occasionally had perverse whispers in my ear, hoping for some disaster or another.
Blasted intrusive thoughts.
Maybe I should check out the triage tents, where the Water healers were patching people up before sending them over to the Light healers?
[*Ding!* [Sunrise] leveled up! 128->132]
I was leveling this skill up one level at a time. It really drove home for me how important sticking with and evolving skills, not resetting them, was. Sure, I had a bunch of stats I could throw at a skill to make it go faster, but it was obnoxious, no matter how I sliced it. I was glad I’d been able to build my own skills for [The Dawn Sentinel], which should serve me well for the next, like 200+ years, but it was good to remember for my [Ranger-Mage] class that I needed to weigh a high-level mediocre skill against a low-level powerful skill. Sure, the powerful skill was better in the long run, but the mediocre skill would keep me alive long enough to get there.
Also, [Sunrise] was doing a lot more work than [Solar Infusion] was. My plan had originally been to drop [Sunrise] in favor of the Immortality skill - whenever it decided to show up, hopefully before I or anyone I knew died of old age - but more and more it was looking like [Solar Infusion] might bite the dust.
I’d gotten one good use out of it. In months, and in multiple conflicts. There just wasn’t the time to hit someone with it. It had seemed like a great idea when I was building my own class - preemptive, persistent healing? Wooo! - but in practice, it was coming up short.
Well, that was it for the levels. I emerged a bit from my fortress of fluff, peering around the room. One of the dwarves noticed I was awake.
“Welcome back to the land of the living!” She said, with all the relief of a boring job getting more interesting. “Thought you were made of metal, with how long you kept going, then how long you slept for. Plus, we weren’t quite sure how long homans slept for. Water barrel’s right over there, and some fresh clothes are over here. We found you some nice shoes as well, having noticed you missing yours and all. Thoren almost forgot to get you some.” She said, with a pained look on her face as she shook her head at her boss’s idiocy.
“Thank you.” I said, starting to emerge from the thousand layers of woolly goodness. Now that I’d slept in a real bed, I could feel the layers of accumulated grime and filth. A bath was next on the agenda. I must’ve healed someone up with some sort of connection, right?
“It’s human, by the way, not homan.” I gently corrected her. In the game of telephone, screwing up a new species name wasn’t too hard to do.
“You were a bit, ah, focused two days ago, but I wanted to say - thank you.” One of the other dwarves spoke up. “You helped 30 members of my clan get back on their feet.” She said.
“31 here!” The third one called out.
“It’s not a competition. Is anyone going to keep watching the door?” The fourth one grumped.
The other three looked at each other.
“No, not really.” The first one said. “The rest of the squad’s in the other room. Plus, it seems like the orcs have moved on. Mid-level administrators. So hot right now.” She said, miming fanning herself.
“Raeg!” The fourth one shouted out, in a scandalized way. “That’s totally inappropriate!”
I’d finished getting out of bed, and was busy having a drink or three of water from a barrel, using a ladle.
“Wait wait, don’t tell me. Burned alive?” I asked.
“Thrown into molten metal. Orcs probably thought it was ironic or something.” Raeg corrected me.
“Right, well, I’m awake and up now.” I rubbed the last bit of sleep out of my eyes, luxuriating in not needing to instantly be up and at ‘em with [Sunrise].
I poked my head out of the room, and facepalmed.
Luxurious, well-guarded living quarters for one VIP, and a guard or two.
Not enough room for twelve! The wonderful space I “had to myself” had a dwarf every meter. It was like an overly packed party, with more metal and swords and less booze.
Then again, Artemis thought the best parties had lots of knives.
“Thoren. Thoren!” I said, waving down the gruff commander of the guard. I noticed Urik wasn’t around, and either they were changing shifts, or, like I’d guessed, they’d been moved somewhere else.
The recent attack on the administrators suggested the second one.
“Healer Elaine. What can we do for you?” He said.
“Well, in order, I’d like to get some food, a bath, and chat with my friends that I came here with.” I said. “If possible, I’d like to get some tools to maintain my armor, and someone who can clean up my outfit.”
“I’ll see what I can do. You saved literally hundreds of lives yesterday, I don’t think there’ll be any problems.” Thoren said, and a whirlwind of delicious activity occurred.
I ended up doing some serious thinking when I was soaking in a bath - privately.
The [War-Mage] who’d almost killed me was well over level 550, and had three whole classes supporting her. Her twitchy barrage the moment I’d entered the room spoke of a lifetime of hard battles and difficult training. She was, quite frankly, several cuts above Drin, Fik and the rest, and was probably as experienced as a senior Ranger. With the levels, and stats, of a Sentinel behind her.
And she’d been in the hospital.
Granted, she had been in the VIP section, implying that she was one of the stronger dwarves, but that established where the power ceiling seemed to lie, roughly. There were possibly a few higher level dwarves running around - their rare, high level classers, like we had Sentinels - mostly because I couldn’t believe I’d somehow stumbled upon the highest level classer the dwarves had. Especially considering that she hadn’t been seen first. She was just getting special treatment. A Sentinel would get seen first, then the leaders of Ranger teams. Only a second like Artemis would be left to “wait a minute” while higher-priority people were taken care of.
That was making a number of large assumptions and leaps in logic, that the dwarves treated people like humans did, but I literally had no other frames of reference to work off of.
Which led me back to the orcs. From what I’d seen and heard, there was a genuine war between the two sides. Which implied that one side couldn’t just steamroll over the other. Now, I’d been hearing all about how the dwarves were better, were winning, blah blah blah, they loved their propaganda as much as anyone else did.
However. Slaying the orcs hadn’t been an extermination mission. The dwarves didn’t just move in, and the orcs died. No, they fought back. It was a war. There were orc commandos in the city right now, wreaking havoc. The dwarves obviously couldn’t find them and kill them. Which implied that the orcs were able to dodge level 550, level 600+ dwarves. Which suggested they were around the same level.
The orcs were smart, and found a new way to throw wrenches into the operation of the city. The leaders obviously seemed to have some protection, the grunts were relatively worthless, but the people in the middle that kept things organized and moving around?
Well. I imagine more than a few pieces of government would work more smoothly without the presence of middle-management, but more would grind to a halt, and most would eventually buckle and fall apart.
Especially if they just randomly filled the middle manager roles with people that had no experience. Ooooh, that could go very wrong. Be worse than no manager.
Either way. I was getting distracted. I was in a nice, warm metal tub of a bath, so I could get distracted, but onto the main point.
The orc commandos probably had three classes each, and were in teams.
Two full teams of guards barely managed one single burst from one mage.
If they came after me?
I was so dead!
It’d be like if Hunting, Destruction, Ocean, and Night all decided to ambush me to kill me at the same time. There wouldn’t be a fight, just an execution. Sure, the guards would help - they demonstrated they could hold off one classer, and I hadn’t seen their counter - but none of that helped if they went for a long-range attack of some sort.
Well. I’d like to think it’d take multiple attacks to kill me, and that I’d be able to heal through a single attack. Maybe two or three. Four if they were bad.
Did not want to test that at all.
Which made me wonder why, in all these mountains, there wasn’t a major concern over someone like Destruction bringing the whole place down. I couldn’t imagine his build was that novel, and defenses of some flavor were probably in place.
Or everyone was just winging it. Given what had been mentioned about spies, and how I’d explicitly called myself a high-ranking member of the human’s military, I wasn’t going to go around asking about the city’s defenses. That just seemed like a poor life choice, and a quick way to whatever they used as gallows around here.
Either way, I needed to get out of town before the orc commandos got wind of a powerful healer undoing their fellow orc’s hard work, and decided to remove my piece from the board. For the rest of the dwarves, this place was home, this was their war. Me? I was just passing through, and the more I heard, the more appealing making myself scarce sounded. I didn’t want to be just another number in someone else’s war.
I’d do what I could for people for a few days to rest up, then get the hell out of dodge. In a perfect world, I’d get a team to escort me back home, but hell, I’d settle for a map, or even just a “Go that way.”
I wanted to go home.
I wanted to hug mom and dad.
I wanted to see Artemis and Julius again, and get all the gossip.
Kallisto and his wife and kid.
Albina, and her baby.
Autumn, and her never-ending supply of mangos.
Heck, I even wanted to hear Night pontificate all night.
I wanted to go home.
Homesickness was attacking with great force. It might eventually go away, but for now, making it home seemed like the best course of action.
Time to plan out how that was going to happen.
- Get fed, rested, and re-equipped. Maybe I could ask some of my guards if they’d be willing to refill my Aquamarine gem with a Gale skill, or my Quartz gem with another strong barrier, or some other Brilliance skill. I also had an Amethyst gem, for a metal skill. Given that their culture seemed to revolve around the stuff, I felt like I could get a seriously powerful skill for myself.
- See if I could negotiate a guard, map, whatever.
- Leave. Preferably in one piece, before the orcs got wind of me.
Honestly, it didn’t need to be complicated. I mentally gave myself two, three days tops to get my relaxing and healing done and out of the way, before I left town.
I’d love to class up here and now, but I figured getting out of Dodge was more important, with the way the scales were currently balanced. Granted, it wouldn’t take much to shift the scales - like finding out the orc commandos had been killed or driven off - but right now, leaving before classing up won by a tiny hair.
I rolled a loosening shoulder in the warm water. Was I sure I couldn’t stay a week?
The vision of the dwarf’s massive attack came back to mind, and I imagined trying to survive Night.
Two days. I’d gathered that I’d actually spent almost a day and a half on my mad healing spree, and almost as long sleeping it all off.
Now that I had a goal, and a deadline, luxuriating in the bath no longer seemed like a good idea. I was going to spend a solid week in the bath once I got back home though. I did wish I could spend enough time to fully recharge my Arcanite, but it’d be like, half full, by the time I was ready to leave, which would give me enough of an edge, even if I was immediately attacked.
With a plan in mind, I met with Drin, Fik, and Glifir for a quiet dinner, made un-quiet by my overly large escort. The meal was peaceful, eaten at a little ‘outdoor’ eatery with glowing brown moss on the building, and they were settling in alright. Where they were living was better described as “hastily erected cheap and cramped apartment blocks for the Nolgardian refugees”, rather than anything as close to as nice as what I’d gotten.
“You’re being treated the way any healer should be traditionally treated.” Was Fik’s take on the matter, to general nodding and agreement. I even caught one of the guards listening in and nodding her agreement.
In short, the rest of the dwarves were as happy as they could be, given the situation. Sure, they’d been debriefed for a few hours, and the accommodations weren’t exactly what they hoped for, but it was far, far better than it could be. They were all trying to find news of friends and family - Drin’s best friend hadn’t made it, and Fik had found a distant cousin.
I did get lured to a few smaller healing spots, which were mostly a few larger clans who had their own miniature hospital, and injuries that, either due to skill or an assassinated healer, hadn’t been treated yet. Which led me to wandering down to the triage section, and helping out a bit.
Which honestly ended up as me doing a lot of waiting around with everyone else. Most casualties occurred in the mines or in fights, and while most companies had a healer attached, it usually was not a dedicated one, just someone with a few “patching up” skills who'd stabilize the wounded until they could make it back.
Still, a few casualties trickled in. One of the healer dwarves was drinking copious amounts of water, which I asked about.
“Got a skill. Lets me recover mana by drinking water. I took it as a young dwarf, and I skimped on mana regeneration, in favor of stronger stats elsewhere. Problem is now… I’m stuck.” He explained between mugs of water.
That was fairly interesting, and led me to thinking about [Sun-Kissed]. If I got out of here, would it be worth skimping on my regeneration a bit, because the skill was improving things?
Either way, I loved learning about new magic! So cool. I didn’t quite feel an affinity for water, but it was strong stuff.
I played tourist, seeing the magnificent dwarven city, before finally getting an appointment with Silver Command Korun again, with Thoren.
“Hey Korun!” I said, cheerfully greeting him.
“Healer, err,” He shuffled through some papers, before finding the right one. “Elaine! Yes! Thank you for your help. We estimate you helped…” He said, before shuffling some more papers around. Poor dude needed a memory skill.
He found the piece of paper he was looking for, and his eyebrows shot into his hair.
“... a lot of dwarves.”
He checked something on the paper, then flipped back to my paper.
“In two days?!?” He practically screamed. “Healer Elaine, oh most wonderful healer, anything you want, anything you need, just say the word and I’ll make it so. Also, I’m getting Urik back to guarding you. He should’ve mentioned how many people you’d healed.”
“He tried to. I was there.” Thoren said.
Korun just gave Thoren the “Did you really correct me?” death-glare, which Thoren just repressed a smile at.
“Why thank you Korun!” I said, applying my best honeyed words. “I’m hoping to get home soon, and I was hoping, well, could you maybe spare a few people to help me out? A map that has the dead zone on it would be great as well, along with some supplies.”
“Let me see what I can do. Come back tomorrow, at...”
He cleared off all the papers from his desk, only for me to see that the surface of the desk looked like - was - a giant schedule. One with a dozen different colors on the column he dragged his finger down.
“After the last meal.” He reluctantly said, his finger tapping the bottom of his schedule.
I got clean clothes, and another nice tour of the city the next day. Thoren and the guards strenuously objected to me setting up an obvious “free healing” booth in a market, and I had to reluctantly agree with them. It would put too large a target on my back, for too small of a benefit. Most people getting drive-by healing were fixing minor injuries. Didn’t stop me from healing whoever I did see though, which was the norm for me. Walking around the city was good for [Cosmic Presence], although I didn’t seem to be leveling it.
I also took the chance in the afternoon to re-do my [Persistent Casting], making my self auto-healing have an excellent image to work with. Which in turn, would mean I was more efficient, and it’d be that much harder to kill me.
I still didn’t make it auto-heal others though, since I didn’t want to brush someone on the street and make them lose an expensive implant. I wasn’t sure about the current conversion, but they sounded expensive.
That “evening” I found myself back in Korun’s office, after a wonderfully large dinner that Urik paid for again. I’m sure he had a budget of “keep the healer happy”, but eh. I was going to be nice and polite to anyone paying for my food.
“Healer Elaine!” Korun said. “I have excellent news for you!”
“Oh?” I asked, excited.
“Yes! It took some wrangling, but I talked with my boss, who ended up, if you would believe it, talking with three of the clan leaders from the council of elders! We’ll be happy to give you a full escort home, as soon as this conflict’s over.”
Good news, good news, good news - wait, what!?
I took a deep, calming, centering breath. I wanted to fly off the handle, but I needed information, and flying off the handle here and now could be a poor life choice. In more ways than one.
“That’s great!” I said, not quite managing to suppress the tightening in my throat, strangling my words a bit. “How long do we think that’ll be?”
Korun flapped his hand.
“Not too long! Should only be 20, 30 years max. We’ll make sure you’ve got every luxury available here in Velduar, you’ll want for nothing! Same deal the rabbit’s got, honestly.”
“I see. If I’m willing to leave a bit earlier, and strike off on my own?” I asked, fearing the worst.
Korun got an awkward look on his face.
“Healer Elaine… we need you. We need you badly. The clan leaders, once they saw how many people you healed in two days, ordered us to keep you here, happy, and healing by any means. The three H’s Clan Leader Hakkar called them. Was quite pleased with himself. I really, honestly, think you’ll be happy here while we sort out this little mess. Think of all the levels! You got a few just from the few days you’ve been here already. Please don’t make my job hard.” Korun said, getting near begging at the end.
Healer Elaine was totally dead and gone at this point. It was time to be Sentinel Dawn, with all that entailed.
“Naturally, I won’t make your job hard!” I said, carefully not lying. His job wouldn’t be hard once I was gone, after all, and until then? I was going to be the perfect model of someone happy and content, so they didn’t think of yanking my chain too tight. It’d give me time and room to prepare, and heck, if I asked nicely, they’d give me half the resources to escape themselves!
After my first escape - not that there’d be a second, but hey, I had to plan and prepare just in case - it’d be almost impossible for me to, say, ask for a week’s worth of travel rations and a waterskin.
Which led me to another point. Korun wanted to keep me happy, and from the sound of it, I was the golden girl right now. That’d fade with time, so if I wanted to cash in golden girl status, I needed to do it now, especially when asking for a largish favor.
“Hey Korun, my second class is ready to upgrade. Could I possibly get a few extra guards keeping watch over me while I handle that quickly? It’d improve my healing capabilities.” I said, tapping my fingertips together nervously, under the level of his desk and eyesight.
It’d also improve my survival capabilities, and hopefully my flight. I didn’t think flying, or anti-flying, would be high on the dwarves skill list.
Hopefully they wouldn’t think me a flight risk.
Flying underground was super hard mode after all.
“Sure! Of course! Thank you, Healer Elaine, for being so understanding. Let me see what I can scrounge up for you. It might be a few days, is that ok?”
“Totally!” I said, shoulders slumping as they relaxed, unable to keep the relief from my voice.
Yes, I was understanding of Korun and the situation.
I understood that he was totally swamped, busy with a thousand things, and as a result not looking too closely into why I’d want to class up now, right after our conversation.
I understood I was a prisoner, a sweet bird in a golden cage.