We walked down the road together, just about fully geared up. We weren’t looking for trouble, but we were ready for it.
The elves were in their armor, crystal swords at their hips, shields on their back. Helmets that somehow fit over their horns. Cordamo was flying high, while Kiyaya was close by my side.
Which made me nearly blind to everything going on there, but also gave me a huge fluffy shield.
The only thing they didn’t have were the talismans.
Awarthril had [Rubbery Rope] connecting to all of us. I picked at it.
“Is this useful with how close we are to each other?”
Awarthril pursed her lips.
“Well, right now, no.” She admitted. “No telling what happens if there’s a fight.”
She hefted the Spatial Box, looking like a day laborer if it wasn’t for the gleaming armor.
“I’m not excited by the idea of a fight. What happened to waiting, and cooling off after a battle?” Aegion complained again.
“Oh hush you. You’ve had, what, almost a month to get over the last fight?” Awarthril retorted back.
“We don’t anticipate a fight. We’re just ready for one.” Serondes chimed in.
We were going so slowly. Humans! People! I wanted to sprint down the road, screaming with excitement.
Ok, maybe not quite. It wasn’t exactly home, just home-adjacent.
Oooh! Unless Remus had expanded!
That didn’t quite make sense with the population ratios, and the humans working with the ogres. STILL! The elves didn’t seem to know of humans before meeting me, which strongly implied that we were all in Remus. Humans being here implied they came from Remus, so if nothing else, we were damn close to home.
We crested the last hill, and I was slightly disappointed. The architecture was nothing like Remus. I didn’t have the words to describe it well, but there was a look to the walls that Remus cities had, and these walls had a totally different look. It was like, oh, how mangos and apples were similar to each other, but radically different in the details and the nitty gritty.
What Aegion had been saying about “Lots of [Beastmasters]” was made obvious. Pterodactyls were landing and taking off, some without any visible riders. A group circled high up, and the walls had the occasional dinosaur along with the guard patrols.
On the gate before the city were all manner of people trying to get in, an orderly line of farmers, merchants, travelers, and whoever else wanted to get into the city. More beasts were present here, from large, slow herbivores carrying large loads or pulling wagons, to smaller fliers flitting about the line.
A small patrol from the city was moving up and down the line. It was headed by one huge ogre in bright teals and yellows, in armor that was the right mix of practical and fancy to indicate a guard. After all, guards needed to be visible and an easy source to look to in an emergency, while also having practical gear for brawls.
Along with him were three velociraptors, with the same bright teal and yellow combination. They followed closely behind the ogre, the guard some sort of expert [Dinosaur Tamer]. Nobody in line blinked at the existence of raptors supplementing the guard, and one kid even threw a treat to the fierce dinosaur.
The ogre was tall, fat, and muscular, wielding a spiked baton so thick it almost looked like a club. He was fairly liberal with how he pushed, shoved, and menaced anyone who stepped out of line a hair, and I’d never seen such a well-behaved line waiting to enter a city.
“Well! We’re here, nothing for it! Let’s get in line!” Awarthril clapped her hands together, and we moved forward, reaching the end of the line.
I triple-checked my ring, making sure that it was displaying me as a purple [Healer]. It’d be nice if I could change my tag, and go super incognito, but if the ring had the option, I hadn’t found it yet.
“Hmmm. Are you sure about that level Elaine?” Awarthril asked me.
“Ah, yeah, why?”
“Well… do you have any idea how powerful a purple level is?”
I opened my mouth to say “no”, then remembered.
I did know how powerful purple was. Galeru, the Rainbow had been purple.
Had gotten trumpeting System notifications to everyone nearby.
Had turned herself into Lightning, and arced across the sky.
Had casually deflected attacks from Lun’Kat, who’d been able to bring the sky down on a country.
I was claiming a similar amount of power.
Purple might not be the best idea.
If I saw someone purple approaching, and I was in charge of a city? Even if their tag was as harmless as possible, I’d probably hit the “Evacuate now” order, forget about it when their tag was “Massively lethal.”
Ok, purple was way too strong.
“What do you suggest?”
“Go down, I’ll tell you when.” Awarthril cranked her neck, looking at me. Her eyes started to rapidly flicker, reading a notification I couldn’t see.
I mentally reached out, finding the “level” aspect to the ring and starting to move it down.
“Keep going, keep going, keep going, and stop!”
Roughly… level 1300ish? Give or take?
I grabbed Serondes’s hand, squeezing it briefly. Then I slipped my hand out, being ready.
I was expecting something to happen. Shimagu bursting out of hidden trapdoors or something. A magical volley from the wall. I was primed, in full fight or flight mode, eyes flickering from place to place, ready to move, to react.
Plans and tactics were reviewed, constantly shifting and changing as people moved around.
We were behind a farmer, with a wagon full of grains pulled by a mule, and shortly after a second farmer came behind us, pulling a handcart full of squash.
The farmer behind us, lazily glanced over us, saw me, and clearly checked my level. His mouth opened, the grass he was lazily chewing on tumbling out without a care in the world.
He looked over his shoulder, slowly looked back at me, then took a sharp turn, and started to cut through the fields around the city.
“Where do you think he’s going?” I asked, watching him bulldoze through an area he clearly didn’t belong. Going for some hidden weapons? A subtle alert cue? Awarthril squinted at him.
“I have no idea.”
“Going for a different gate.” Aegion said. “Decided this one was too dangerous.”
He gave me a pointed look. I gave him my best innocent ‘who me?’ face, while continuing to scan around me.
“I mean, wasn’t that the point of her ring? No conflicts?” Serondes was all too happy to score some points on Aegion.
“Yeah…” Aegion agreed.
There was only so much vigilance, so much preparedness for a fight I could have.
As we shuffled through the line, even the ogre guard pretended we didn’t exist. Just stared straight past us as he patrolled along. The boredom, lack of action, and the sheer mundanity of waiting to enter a city, quickly overcame my “fight or flight at any moment”. It wasn’t a state that was possible to maintain forever, and nothing was happening now.
Almost literally. Snails moved faster than this line. I went back to holding Serondes’s hand.
Eventually, the line got short enough where some ambitious merchants were willing to get in line behind us, although they kept at a distance.
Awarthril tilted her head, eavesdropping on the conversations everyone else was having in line.
“Not familiar with this language. Aegion?”
He spent a moment listening, shaking his head.
“I’m not familiar with it either.” Serondes added in.
They looked at me.
“What are you looking at me for!? I speak one language!”
Awarthril pursed her lips.
“A deficit which we should’ve worked on correcting. I’m sorry Elaine. I should’ve realized, and focused more on teaching you the five most common languages on the continent, over botany.”
She eyed me appraisingly.
“Don’t start now!” I begged her.
I liked learning, but there was a time and a place for everything.
“I’ll figure it out at the gate.” Serondes reassured us.
“One way or another.” Aegion muttered.
We got to said gate without incident, where we tensed up. Hands went to the hilt of weapons, and the elves subtly moved around to protect me.
This was it. This was the moment where we figured out if they were shimagu, and we were in for trouble, or if everything was going to be fine.
Well, in all likelihood. I suppose there was a slim chance that, for whatever reason, they’d allow a lethally powerful healer into the heart of their city, instead of cutting them off at the gate. I can’t think of why anyone would let a massive threat into the city instead of slamming the gates shut on them, but I guess it was technically possible.
I removed my hand from Serondes’s again. Holding hands was absolutely terrible in a fight. I needed freedom, movement. The ability to dodge and weave, room to maneuver.
The actual guard check was in the arch of the gate itself, a deliberately tight space. I looked up and around, seeing inscriptions along the inside of the gate, up and over the ceiling, each one connected to Arcanite for power.
I could start to see inside the city! The guard checkpoint was a little more distracting though.
More ogre guards, more baton-club mixes, but there were a number of short swords and shields present. And one human guard! I studied him intently, although his eyes seemed to slide right off of me. There wasn’t even a reaction to my Sentinel badge, which generally caused no end of commotion for anyone from Remus.
Although - if he did recognize the Sentinel badge, it’d give away the game that I was faking my level. “Hang on, Sentinels aren’t level 1300!”
Ok, to be fair - the Sentinel badge wasn’t nearly as well-known as the Ranger badge, and while the average human in Remus - bloody citizenship rules meant I couldn’t even talk about the Remus citizens without excluding most of the population - knew what the Ranger badge looked like, the Sentinel one was more confined in its reach and knowledge. Sure, anyone I needed to work with - captain of the guard, mayor, and the like - all knew what it was. People in Ariminum knew what it was.
People like, say, 8 year old me?
Nah. Sentinels were just stories.
Focus. This was the dangerous part! Shame I wasn’t recognized though.
Two bipedal dinosaurs loomed in the shadows of the gate, with strange, almost fur-like short feathers. They were roughly nine meters tall, and looked as heavy as a dinosaur of that size would be. Their front paws had… well, it was hard to tell where the fingers stopped, and the nails started. Either way, insanely long, sharp finger-claws that must’ve been almost a meter, meter and a half long in total. I had no doubts that whoever was in control of the dinosaurs had guided their skills to reinforce the deadly claws.
The city took their dinosaurs seriously!
The guards held up their hands and we stopped. They looked at us, one of the guards visibly flinching as he looked at me. They had a quick, rapid discussion with each other, and one went off running.
If this got into a fight, what would I do?
Well, it’d only get into a fight if they were shimagu, or if Serondes said something utterly stupid and offended all the guards.
Or if Aegion tried to “make friends” by giving them beer, then they interpreted it as a bribe or a poisoning attempt. Not that I’d blame them.
Or Cordamo went for a snack, or…
Ok, this was getting to be a disturbingly long list.
I didn’t understand a word of what was going on, but I knew guards. I’d eat my hat if that wasn’t “Oh shit, go get the boss because this person’s WAY outside of our paygrade to handle.”
They spoke something to us, entirely unintelligible.
“We don’t know that language, got another one?” Awarthril asked, careful with her tone. It wasn’t the words, so much as the “Yeah, I’m being respectful here, but clearly asking stuff in different languages.”
Back to the fight plan. I’d assume shimagu. I was in the shadows here, under the gate. The dinosaurs and guards were powerful. I’d probably try to dive backwards, out of the city. The crowd near the gate would vanish the moment violence started to occur, it’d be clear.
If one of the guards or dinosaurs went directly for me before I got out, either blow out their knees with [Butterfly Mystic], or if they got too close, slap them full of anti-parasitic healing.
Then work it out from there, trusting my training and instincts. No plan would survive any fight longer than those first few moves I’d planned.
I couldn’t follow what happened next, but Awarthril kept repeating a similar phrase in different languages, followed by the guards seemingly switching languages around, both parties looking for a common language.
I started to relax. Attempts to communicate, even after seeing my level and designation, suggested no shimagu.
Serondes suddenly jumped in, yelling triumphantly in a language I didn’t know. The guards looked slightly taken aback, hands going to weapons. The huge therizinosauruses moved forward just a hair, but two of the guards shouted them all down, then turned to Serondes and started speaking rapid-fire.
A language in common! Yaaaaay.
Ok, I needed to work on this language thing. Being left out all the time sucked.
Double suck - Awarthril had started out with Creation, and none of the guards - especially the human - had spoken it. Which implied that there wasn’t robust communication or trade with Remus. Maybe it was just a small enclave of humans that had survived out here.
In the end, some white cloth strips were brought out, and a few Arcanite changed hands, Serondes paying the gate toll. He then gave each of the elves one of the white strips, and explained.
“We’re good to enter. They require us to wrap our swords shut in their scabbards. City’s called Ochi.”
Aegion snorted as he wrapped his sword up, his bow untouched on his back, under his shield.
“Like that’ll stop us.”
“Oh hush.” Awarthril scolded him, making sure hers was tied in a simple, pretty bow. “You know most cities have barely-working security measures. Like Elaine was telling us how they have mages discharge their mana before entering, yet a good mage would have their mana back in minutes! No, you know it’s a simple test, to see if we’re cooperative and willing to follow their rules, or if we’re terrible troublemakers, and they need to throw us out now.”
With the toll paid, the guards placated, and no attack by bodysnatchers, we entered the city.
Ochi. Where I was hoping to get some answers about all the humans here.
We entered the city, to a cacophony of noises, and a kaleidoscope of colors.
The streets were wide and unplanned, crookedly going off in all directions and winding around, but wide enough that it didn’t cause too many problems. Craftsmen, merchants, and all manner of other people had rickety booths, crammed into every inch of space clearly marked on the road in red. One stall leg, clearly temporary, was a few inches into the road.
A passing guard corrected it with a casual swing of his baton, taking out half the stall with it.
Nobody gave it a second glance.
Ogres were bellowing, and I saw a few humans shouting their wares, the business of making profit the same the world around. Carts rumbled through the street, pulled by any manner of creature, as pterodactyls soared above, screeching and crying.
Each booth had a different little flag or bright ribbon hanging on it. Some high up, flapping in the breeze, others tied to a pole, made to be as visible as possible. I looked at them, trying to figure them out.
Oh, interesting! They were made out of paper!
If they were using paper, of all things, as a marker? They had to have good books. Time to find a bookstore, or even a library!
I might not know the language now, but we were close to Remus. Add in Immortality, and I could see myself popping over now and then. Not terribly frequently, just two, maybe three times a week.
There was something a bit weird about the place, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was probably just a bit of cultural shock, something I was unconsciously used to seeing that I wasn’t.
Ok, creepy city check one. Were there kids around?
Yeah, I saw a pair of human kids huddled in a corner, whispering together and eyeing a stall. Thieves, with utterly shit heist-planning skills. Either way, kids were a good sign.
What else did I see?
There was a beggar, practically hidden in an alley, with his bowl out.
Maybe that was it? Remus took an incredibly harsh approach to beggars and other people trying to live on the streets, and they usually found themselves in slavery sooner rather than later. Usually without following the proper legalities.
There were some unlit paper lanterns strung over the street. Maybe those?
“Ochi! We’re here!” Awarthril happily clapped her hands together. “Do we want to stick together? Do we want to go exploring? Anyone have anything they want to see?”
On one hand, exploring! On the other, I didn’t speak the language.
I could probably get away with it by mimeing.
On the third, more important hand? Rangers had rules about sticking together in cities. Granted, that was usually because we were a target, but I believed the same should apply here.
Although - we’d never truly break into individual groups. Plus, everyone but Cordamo and Awarthril had a signalling skill. Serondes could make eruptions of Lava, Kiyaya had a Sound element and could be just as loud as that implied, Aegion had Lightning arrows, I had my Radiance. I couldn’t imagine Kiyaya leaving Awarthril alone, and vice-versa.
Yeah, we’d be fine if we broke up in pairs. No need to say anything right this second about it.
“Let’s stick together for now, and break apart once we know where we’ll spend the night?” Aegion suggested. There were nods from all of us, and I slipped my hand into Serondes’s, giving him a squeeze.
“Ok! Let’s go!” Awarthril cheerfully plowed into the crowd, the rest of us following. Cordamo joined us a moment later, streaking in from the sky.
One nice thing about the town being full of beasts - nobody batted an eye at Kiyaya.
“Oooh! Food!” I yanked Serondes towards one of my favorites - “I don’t want to know what” on a stick, with several exotic smells.
Well, ok, it was more of a large roast, thick as my thigh, twirling under some warm coals. As people made their orders, the stall owner carefully sliced some off, skewering them on a stick before handing it over. He then threw a half-dozen spices onto the freshly exposed meat, and kept turning.
Serondes huffed, but relented, buying me one. Cordamo nosed in, and before long, he’d bought each of us one.
I took a bite, and pulled a face.
“Ugh!” I thrust it away from me.
“Tastes a bit like pork.” I was pulling the ugliest “this is disgusting” face I could. The spices were good, but the underlying flavor was anathema.
Cordamo snapped his head forward, seizing the moment - and seconds - before anyone else could.
Serondes squeezed my hand.
“We’ll just find you something else.”
I leaned into his shoulder.
“You better!” I teased him.
A raptor was behind us, seemingly well-trained enough to wait in line. After we were done, it dropped some hefty plates from his mouth onto the counter, and snatched up the offered sticks.
Amazingly well-trained animals. And with a whole society backing it! There’d never be monsters running around on the streets unsupervised in Remus like this.
Ladies of the night were openly showing their wares on the street, and I wasn’t trying to be offensive. But ogre sensibilities had to be radically different from most other elvenoids.
“BEER!” Aegion yelled, and our whole group lurched to another stand, Aegion practically breathing down Serondes’s neck as he haggled for eight mugs. One for each of us, and two more for Aegion.
“Oooh, I want some hats!” Awarthril had us staggering towards a new vendor, brightly colored flimsy hats.
I got a nice paper flower, tucked behind one ear.
Aegion got a floppy therizinosaurus hat, the paper dinosaur comically bouncing around as he walked around.
Awarthril got a little pinwheel, the paper bending in the light breeze instead of spinning.
Kiyaya got an early precursor to what I could only call a “witch hat”, her ears poking through the wide brim.
Cordamo got a little piece of paper wrapped around his head, the ogre running the stall not wanting to get too close to the snake, and not having anything snake-sized.
And lastly, Serondes, who got a small triangle of paper between his horns, acting like a banner.
The sight of the noble Serondes, elf, mage extraordinaire, first romantic fling, haggling over a few Arcanite chips with some random vendor in a new city?
Priceless. It was going into the treasured, hilarious memory archive.
Like Artemis dancing with Lightning.
Or Autumn teaching me how to make signs to advertise in the market.
I looked around, and it clicked.
That’s what was missing! Merchants were yelling out their wares, screaming about how they had the best deal possible.
But there were no signs.
No flares of magic.
No bright Mirage signs, saying “Discount Shoes! Buy one, get one free!”
I kept looking, and there were no skills being used. Nothing obvious, nor were there many of the telltale signs of skills being used. Just raw stats.
Now, it was possible that there was some sort of ban on skill use in the city. The guards were brutal and rough enough that I could believe enforcement on such a rule would get almost everyone.
There’d always be that person trying to use them. The thieves, if nobody else.
Not a skill to be seen.
I came to this realization, paling at the conclusion, as we exited a street into a larger marketplace, crowded with dozens of people and dinosaurs, jostling around, roaring, and in the case of the monsters, being smelly.
Quite a few people had lights dancing around them, lit up like a beacon. We all stopped and stared, my thought briefly knocking out of my head, only to come roaring back with confirmation.
Those lights were special. Sure, they could be mimicked by illusions and Mirages, but everyone knew those lights. They were the “Classing up” lights, indicating that someone was in the world of their soul, picking a new class.
Except these people were up and about, walking and talking, laughing and trading. Haggling and bartering, eating and drinking.
All the pieces came roaring together, the elves breaking the sashes on their weapons. Awarthril dropped the Spatial Box, and in near-unison, we yelled our conclusion.
A guard immediately took a swing at me.
[Mana Regen: 283,337 (+367,662)]
[Free Stats: 98]
[Mana Regeneration: 42,260 (+36,766)]
[Magic Power: 18,530 (+347,438)]
[Magic Control: 18,530 (+347,438)]
[Class 1: [The Dawn Sentinel - Celestial: Lv 424]]
[Celestial Affinity: 424]
[Cosmic Presence: 287]
[The Stars Never Fade: 2]
[Center of the Universe: 424]
[Dance with the Heavens: 424]
[Wheel of Sun and Moon: 424]
[Mantle of the Stars: 424]
[Class 2: [Butterfly Mystic - Radiance: Lv 348]]
[Radiance Affinity: 348]
[Radiance Resistance: 348]
[Radiance Conjuration: 348]
[Solar Flare: 88]
[Sun's Heart: 348]
[Scintillating Ascent: 314]
[Class 3: Locked]
[Long-Range Identify: 370]
[Pristine Memories: 220]
[Egg Incubation: 55]
[Bullet Time: 424]
[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 375]
[Sentinel's Superiority: 396]
[Persistent Casting: 299]
[Passionate Learning: 379]