[Bullet Time] didn’t even activate.
Ironically, weak blows that didn’t trigger the skill were almost as dangerous as skills that did, simply due to the dramatically reduced time to react. If I was gunning for me, I’d fire a bunch of weak skills that could slow, blind, or bind me, before going for the finishing blow.
The guard was slow. Unreasonably slow for his level and designation as a [Warrior]. It indicated low quality classes and poor skills.
My first instinct was to just blast his head off. It’d be easy. I was trained to do it that way, I knew the weakest paths of a body to burn through to kill people the fastest.
I caught myself.
Instead, I flickered a weak heal at him, the bright and sunny sky letting [Wheel of Sun and Moon] shine.
[*ding!* Your party has slain a [Petty Tyrant (Ooze, 288)]/[Dinosaur Handler (Wood, 190)]]
[*ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn-
I turned off non-kill System notifications. Didn’t need the distraction right now.
It was moot.
The ogre halted his swing, as the elves started to swing at him.
“Stop!” I barked out, the tone of unshakeable command halting their blades.
Glad that worked. It’d been ages since I had to order anyone, and I’d never tried on the elves.
The ogre wavered a moment, then turned, slamming his mace down on the head of a human just going about their shopping.
I could’ve stopped it.
I wasn’t obligated to, and I’d just gotten the notification that I’d killed a shimagu. With the hatred shown, I was inclined towards provoking the shimagu. Forcing them to take a swing at me.
I wasn’t barred from provocation, then self-defense. My only obligation was to heal them if they came to me hurt.
I checked my mana usage, mentally whistling.
If that shimagu was representative of what it took? I could kill thousands at once.
Or about one every one to two seconds.
I stepped forward, looking down.
Paste. The ogre had turned the dude’s head into a fine paste, along with half-splitting him open before his club’s momentum had gotten arrested. He then ripped the club out, gore splattering other shoppers.
Strangely, people didn’t panic as hard as I thought they would. Sure, everyone nearby drew back, and there was a tone of shouting that I associated with “call the guard!”, but there wasn’t, like, a mass panic and stampede out of the market.
The guard’s casual violence was playing in our favor.
“Why’d we stop?” Serondes asked.
“Hush you. Elaine just destroyed the shimagu. He’d just been freed.” Awarthril quickly cut in.
“Well, why didn’t you do that earlier?” Aegion asked. “Actually, why are we just standing here? Kill them all!”
I gritted my teeth.
Three pairs of eyes looked at me in disbelief. Awarthril sighed.
“Want me to tell them?”
Kiyaya put her head on my shoulder, reminding me how large she was. The ogre went after another person, his strike deflected by a panicked arm thrown in the way. It wasn’t a surprise anymore. Still, the ogre victim got blasted into a stall, canvas and wooden supports collapsing around him. Shielding him from the light of day.
“Yes.” I ran forward, having no time to explain. Awarthril seemed to grasp what I was doing, and threw an Ooze rope at the original ogre, restraining him from following up.
Well, new patient. Shattered arm at the least, probably dozens of ribs, well, this broke my “shimagu are people as well” tie nicely. I now needed to decide - did the ogre host live? Or did the shimagu survive?
Yeah. I had no problems answering this question. Awarthril was giving the condensed, mostly guessed-at rules of my [Oath], while Serondes yelled at the original ogre to stand down. To stop attacking.
I found a foot sticking out of the collapsed stall, the merchant running it yelling at the original guard ogre to be more careful. He was snarling back, Ooze wrapping around him.
They still hadn’t gotten it.
They still hadn’t processed what was going on.
I slapped the foot sticking out, focusing on healing the ogre. Completely. Entirely.
[*ding!* Your party has slain a [Lazy Overlord (Ooze, 300)]/[Crafty Carpenter (Wood, 299)]]
I turned off kill notifications as well.
The ogre in question exploded from the ruined stall. He snarled at me, snarled at the guard. The guard, the original freed ogre, snarled back.
I swear I saw lightning shoot between their eyes, as they came to an understanding. The merchant overheard their conversation, paled and turned.
The new one grabbed him, while the original guard crushed his neck with a club.
The screaming started. A guard killing one person? Trouble, but not too surprising.
The guard killing a second person? A random passerby helping him?
Trouble, with a capital T. Merchants started to pack up as shoppers bailed.
I felt myself getting pulled back, Awarthril’s [Rubbery Rope] getting abused.
“Protect Elaine.” Awarthril curtly ordered.
“And listen to me.” I added in, starting to take deep, slow breaths. This was going to end with a lot of bloodshed.
I idly flickered a heal at a not-quite dead human, hoping that he’d be able to explain before getting smashed again. They hesitated, seeing a torn-off limb getting fixed, before getting the idea.
The human yelled something at us, cursing us out.
Well, I couldn’t tell the words, but the tone was there.
“He wants to know why you waited, why you couldn’t do it earlier, and why you’re not helping more people.” Serondes quickly translated. “Also, he’s suggesting something anatomically unlikely with pineapples, unless you’ve secretly become a Space mage recently.” He drily added.
“Yeah, I’m not telling them the details.” I said.
“Awarthril filled us in. Details?” Aegion asked.
“I have to be attacked first, or be restoring a terribly injured host.” I gave the super condensed version.
Awarthril lashed out, a mix of Mantle chains and sticky Ooze grabbing one of the people running by. She reeled her in, the poor woman yelling. Awarthril’s crystal sword exploded from her stomach, rapidly skewering her from behind, only to bring it back and drop her at my feet.
“Like that?” She asked. I kicked the woman, healing her up, destroying the shimagu inside.
“Yes, like- oof!”
The woman practically tackled me around the legs, babbling and crying as she held onto me.
“Eternal gratitude, thanks, you’re her savior, etcetera etcetera.” Serondes lazily translated.
“Ok, let’s slow down on-” I started to say, but it was too late. Awarthril had grabbed another group with her Ooze, yanked them in, and with a single clean sweep cut off most of their legs.
“Would you stop that!” I yelled at her, as the screaming intensified and the crowd split around us, now considering us more dangerous than the three rampaging ex-shimagu.
“That takes up huge amounts of mana to fix! Just… leave it, ok? Let me run this.” The elves method was horribly inefficient.
I spent a few moments with each patient, making sure I had a good image of what was going on before healing them.
Some of them begged, some of them tried to crawl away without their legs, while still being restrained. One of them tried to fight back, a sharp knife going for my throat as I bent closer to heal him.
Without exception, all of them changed how they acted the moment I healed them. Most scrambled away.
Some armed themselves.
“Well, here’s the guard.” Aegion’s voice was tight, his hand on his bow.
“Give me first shot at them. Only defend me if it’s a surprise blow, or after I give the signal.” I started to run towards the guard squad, who were rushing at the three original freed people.
They scattered and ran through the nearly empty market. Stalls had broken and carts flipped, fruits and cheap goods of all sorts spilling out into the already-disorganized market, turning the entire thing into an obstacle course.
The small, expensive goods had either gotten grabbed by the merchants on their way out, or by opportunists.
One of the guards barked a command, and a half-dozen raptors shot forward, splitting up and chasing the fleeing people.
I leapt forward, snapping my wings open to better navigate through the debris of the marketplace. On the other end of the square, a crush of people were trampling out of the marketplace, the poor organization, narrow exits, and sheer panic turning what could’ve been an orderly escape into utter pandemonium.
I’d need to swing by there next and heal a number of people who got trampled.
I kept my focus on the guards, who pointed and shouted at me, menacing me with their clubs. I landed near them, close, but not too close.
Between them and the freed people.
I just stood there, defiantly staring at them. Daring them. “Come on, take a swing.”
I didn’t even flinch as one of Aegion’s thunderously loud arrows roared, someone on the receiving end about to have a really bad day.
The guards were cocksure. Arrogant. Beating people who put a toe out of line, day in, day out. It was their first recourse, not their last.
It was no surprise to me that two of them took the fatal swing. With a flicker of thought, two more shimagu were killed.
I did have to dodge the follow through, one of the ogres either a cooperative host, or just so surprised by his sudden autonomy that he didn’t do anything with it, his body continuing with its most recent command.
They were slow. Like, yes, the club whizzed through the air at my head, but it just felt… slow. Awkward. I didn’t even try to shield the blow, simply bending back to avoid it.
It felt wrong on some level. Like they were toying with me.
I’d been taught to never toy around in fights. Apply my best, most lethal force. Always.
The low-level pests taking out dad’s eye was a fresh, ever-constant reminder that things could punch up.
Still. No [Bullet Time], and barely any effort to dodge? Something was weird here.
The guard that stopped his swing broke and ran, while the easily-dodged guard followed his swing through, turning it into a spin as he whirled on the other guards, trying to land his own attack on them. A short scuffle occurred, which didn’t stop even when I healed everyone of shimagu.
I gave a flash of Radiance behind me, indicating that I’d worked my magic.
Too much to ask that people in a fight magically realize what happened. Nobody was going after me, but I was losing mana keeping everyone alive. I was only healing near-lethal blows, but even then? These ogres were vicious.
“Serondes!” I yelled over my shoulder. I half-jumped when his voice barked out over my shoulder. I twisted to look, seeing nothing there.Kiyaya and Awarthril were up to their tricks.
The ogres, broken and bloodied, stared at each other. Panting and heaving, not quite trusting the mysterious voice. They’d probably been fed a diet of lies their entire life.
I walked through, healing them all one last time. Slaughtering the remaining shimagu. The former hosts scattered.
“Over here!” Awarthril voice whispered in my ear, but I ignored it, taking flight over towards the crowd.
I noticed with some horror that the elves hadn’t been idly waiting for me. They figured they were in the middle of shimagu territory, and were doing what adventurers did best.
A near wholesale slaughter.
I’d never gotten any notions of “honor” or “fair play” - indeed, those ideas could get me killed - but [Oath] bound and restricted me somewhat.
The Rangers had their own code of conduct, which I largely ignored because mine was more restrictive. Artemis was an excellent example of the Rangers themselves selectively ignoring large parts of it when it suited them.
However. No matter how trigger-happy Artemis got, she never turned on civilians wholesale. Not like this.
We didn’t do things like mow down crowds of shoppers and merchants, firing Lava bullets as quickly as I could into their fleeing backs. We didn’t spray fine mists of poison over everyone, watching as they writhed in pain. As flesh melted and bones corroded.
I couldn’t fire thunderous arrows and have colorful spores explode, spreading from person to tightly packed person like a virulent plague.
My approach was just another doom approaching. The bright, colorful butterfly of death approached.
I felt a little sick to be on this side of things. I was a Ranger, a Sentinel. We were the people that stopped these types of behaviors, not perpetuated them.
I landed amidst the trampled, poisoned, spored, shot, and burned people. Heedless of the firepower coming my way, flickering the occasional shield as the wind shifted and Cordamo’s poison tried to douse me, I walked among them. Kneeling, touching.
“Here. You’re ok now.” I told a boy. He wouldn’t understand my words, but it was about the tone. The actions. The small ogre practically leapt into my arms, crying. Trying to get me to go somewhere.
I gently put him down, and hardened my heart. I moved in a different direction. A direction I believed I could do more good. A direction with a higher density of casualties.
It wasn’t the direction the boy wanted me to go. It was the direction countless other people needed me to go, other family members who’d be grateful for the choice I made.
The cold, evil necessity of triage.
I could try to blow a gigantic heal here. I could wrap everyone in a large radius inside [Wheel of Sun and Moon], and just think “Heal”. I’d probably even get everyone to boot.Then I’d be stone cold out of mana. I’d damn everyone not inside my range. I was taking a slower, more careful route. Diagnosing, touching. Being efficient with my mana, because when I had an entire city to deal with, efficiency was the word of the day.
I flitted through the fallen, pushing my speed to its limits. Only glancing at someone to immediately get a fairly comprehensive idea of their injuries and their needs. Brushing them lightly, using the momentum from the motion to move to the next patient, creating a flowing dance of life.
An old ogre, his sagging face melted by poison. A little girl, too young to have unlocked the system yet, screaming in agony and clutching the burnt stubs of her legs. A mother, hugging her teenaged kids, unaware that the spores were spreading from her to them.
I got to them.
I got to the shimagu inside of them.
I didn’t get to the ogre, trampled by a thousand feet. I was too late for a fisherman, prized catch in his arms, too many injuries to determine the cause of death.
The elves were rapidly plummeting in my estimate, although they did have the good grace and the sense not to shoot the people I’d fixed up again.
At the same time, I struggled to pinpoint how they were wrong. They were in the middle of a hostile city, filled with bodysnatchers. Their entire stated mission was to fight shimagu. They knew if they hurt someone badly, that I was free to heal them, and free them from their terrible grip.
Were they right?
Were they wrong?
This wasn’t the time or the place to figure it out. Just to move, to act. To trust in my own ethics and guidelines, to heal and fix the people in front of me.
“Ranger.” A human whispered in awe, reaching out to touch me. I froze, and grabbed his hand. Hearing familiar words, from a familiar face.
“You know me? You’re from Remus?” I half-whispered, not daring to believe.
“Yes, I -” He was interrupted, as heavy stone weights appeared around me. My legs were encased in stone, and I half-fell forward as my arms were encased in huge blocks of rocks, the conjured material entirely stopping me. It half-crushed the man I’d just been talking with. A form of how Awarthril summoned chains to bind people, using boulders instead of chains.
I was trapped.