Magic was funny. Directly impacting another person was difficult. Bodies resisted the attempts of magic to directly influence them, when it wasn’t something strictly beneficial like healing. It was part of why my healing couldn’t harm people, not without an extraordinary amount of creativity.
Blowing out the dwarven implants was the closest thing to “harm” I could perform.
If Toxic wanted to poison me, he had two options. The first was the easy one. Summon the poison, stick it on an arrow, and use quiver express to deliver.
The second was to try and summon the poison directly inside of me. Technically possible. However, he’d face an incredibly steep penalty, that only increased as my vitality increased. The penalty ramped up to the point where if Arthur could poison and kill me that way? He’d be so much stronger than me that it just wouldn’t matter. He’d be able to kill me a hundred different ways anyways, and killing me via directly importing matter inside of me would just be a creatively insulting way to do it.
That protection was only skin deep. Well, for me at least - warriors could “extend” that protection with skills to their armor and weapons, and it tended to be wrapped up in other skills they had. Meant Acquisition couldn’t just teleport their armor off of them, or teleport their weapons away. He could teleport my weapons away from me though, which was largely irrelevant since I didn’t rely on swords and spears.
People were creative, and didn’t let the System’s limitations hamper them too much. Awarthril’s build was a great example of that. She couldn’t summon metal inside of someone, so she just summoned shackles and chains right outside of them, instantly handcuffing them. At the level Awarthril was operating at, physical Classers had a solid shot at snapping the chains, although the cuffs could be obnoxious to remove. She’d need to start focusing more on her magic stats to improve the strength of the metal if she wanted to stop physical Classers.
That, or keep doing exactly what she was doing - stacking more restraints on them, then just flat-out killing them with her superior equipment and physical stats.
A weak mage like myself though? Yeah, I’d be trapped.
It wasn’t done more, because that particular trick could only be done at close, close range. It wasn’t a long-range move.
It wasn’t something that could’ve been done if [Mantle] was up.
All the thoughts flashed through my head as I slammed forward, boulders wrapping around my legs. I half-expected the next thing I’d hear to be “let her sleep with the fishes” in some terrible accent.
Rocks wrapped around my hands and arms like the world’s worst boxing gloves, forcing me to bend over from the sheer weight of it all.
An invisible mage.
I flashed Radiance around me, turning myself into a blinding beacon, determined to blow away the illusion.
I expected blinding light to flash around me. Instead… nothing happened. I started to struggle against the blocks, seeing if I could slip out. I checked my mana, seeing that it was draining away. I stopped trying to flash Radiance around me, and the mana drain stopped.
Something was stopping my Radiance magic.
I tried to throw up [Mantle], but it didn’t pop up either. I kept working on it, since it cost no mana to use.
I was making a bold assumption that a shimagu collaborator was the current cause of my problems. Host bodies didn’t use skills, not unless they were working with a shimagu.
I wasn’t sure why shimagu mages inside of normal bodies didn’t seem to be a thing, but the utter lack of skills I’d seen inside the city, along with snippets of conversation with the elves implied it just didn’t happen.
My nerves were rapidly getting frayed. Imprisoned by an invisible enemy, then nothing? The suspense was killing me. An unusual tactic to be sure, but effective.
A bolt of pure energy appeared just a few inches from my face right as [Mantle] snapped into being. Combat reflexes took over as [Bullet Time] kicked in.
I quickly adjusted a tiny hole in [Mantle], towards where the bolt was coming from. I flickered a wide-range [Wheel of Sun and Moon], trying to snipe the hidden shimagu. At the same time, I drilled a thin beam of Radiance through the tiny hole, racing, and beating, the magic bolt.
Things were happening rapidly, even for [Bullet Time]. The illusion dropped, and my Radiance beam punched a hole in the ogre’s arm. I started to mentally readjust, while also working on just how I was going to survive that big, fat Arcanite blast coming for my head.
I couldn’t move. Well, not enough to get my head out of the way, even if I had enough time and speed to get out of the way. The weights forcing me to bend over were restricting my mobility too much.
I was fully confident in surviving anything but a headshot. Even then, I suspected I could survive minor headshots, like if someone shot a needle through my brain.
The Arcanite blast was threatening to entirely obliterate my head, the mage’s level threateningly high. Over level 600.
My [Mantle] broke under the blast. Surprise, surprise.
I frantically went through my options as I redirected my Radiance beam for the ogre’s head, hoping that if I killed him before the bolt landed, that the skill would dissipate.
Fat chance. It’d been fired already.
I struggled against the heavy boulders, my muscles barely getting anything done. Wasn’t going to get out like this.
I skimmed through my options, hitting on one of my utility gems I’d never gotten a chance to try.
I blew the [Reversal] gem I’d been holding since the dwarves, and tried again. The boulders got lighter, but I was moving too slowly. I was going to get killed.
None of my other gems could help.
None of my skills.
I gritted my teeth, staring at the bolt. My only shot was to get into a flat-out stats test, where I’d tried to heal the damage as it happened, and not let the bolt blow my skull apart. I just had to hope that my [Oath]-boosted stats, and remaining mana, combined with my vitality would heal me faster than the skill-boosted shot from the mage.
Chains wrapped around me as sticky Ooze connected with the boulders, Awarthril dropping her invisibility. The elves had seen the mage wrap me in boulders, and he’d paused, giving them time to move in. Kiyaya’s enormous jaws were closing on his head, the massive dire wolf demonstrating what happened to mages when sneaky physical classers got close to them.
Then Awarthril yanked, applying her triple physical Classer stats to me. The chains bit deeply into my flesh, the Ooze stretched and pulled at the boulders as I was forcibly removed from the path of the shot. My joints screamed in protest as they were all caught between immovable rocks and unstoppable forces, but by some miracle I stayed in one piece.
[Bullet Time] dropped, and things returned to their normal pace. The Arcanite shot blurred as it slammed mostly past me, taking out a large chunk of my shoulder, separating my right arm from the rest of me. [Persistent Casting] on [Dance With the Heavens] knitted and restored the flesh, and gave me a new arm.
That would’ve absolutely taken my head off.
There wasn’t even a scream as Kiyaya’s jaws finished closing on the mage’s head, just a shower of blood as the wolf shook her head in the classic canine kill move.
I quickly checked my most recent kill notifications, just to get confirmation.
[*ding!* Your party has slain an [Inner Best Friend Forever (Ooze, 672)]/[The Twice-Hidden Illusionist (Mirage, 621)]/Echoes of a Thousand False Footsteps(Sound, 555)]]
[*ding!* Your party has slain a [The Chainer of All (Earth, 606)]/[Annul Augur (Void, 599)]/Arcane Spellweaver (Arcanite, 514)]]
Serondes touched the boulders keeping me imprisoned, dissolving them into Sand.
“Thanks.” I gasped out, putting a hand to my chest, trying to stop my racing heart.
“Abolishers.” He spat out. “Hate them.”
“Oh hush you. They do one thing, and one thing well. You’re just mad because he outstripped you.” Awarthril fretted over me.
“Look, just because physical Classers get to ignore Abolishers...” Serondes started to retort, but Awarthril cut in.
“Elaine, are you ok? Everything alright?”
I shuddered. I was alright.
I had to be alright. I didn’t have time to process and review just how close I’d been to death there.
I glanced down. Eggy was still whole and hale. Awarthril must’ve been careful with her chains.
“Oooh, Arcanite!” Aegion had wasted no time looting the body, and triumphantly held up a bag that clinked in a familiar way. “Score!”
I mechanically moved over to where the injured, half-massacred ogres, humans, and shimagu were, and got back to healing. It was practically autopilot at this point. Horribly broken and burned arm. Cure the burns, fix the bones, add in a little extra for the traumatized vascular system. Repeat with a new patient, new injuries.
I was getting all too familiar with exactly what types of wounds the elves generated.
Cancelers. Well, the elves were calling him an Abolisher, but same thing. Someone with a skillset around stopping other skills and abilities from being used. I knew we had, like, three Rangers that could do similar things. I’d never met one, although I suppose technically I did bump into the Rangers with the skillset at the Ranger Convocation.
They were an odd sort. It was magic based, although an even flip if they’d get the [Mage] designation. The skills by themselves didn’t do anything, they just stopped other mages from doing things. A lack of physical stats, and a lack of offensive magics made the class unattractive in and of itself, although teams loved a member with it.
Kind of like healers in a sense. We weren’t the best in fights, but we were some of the best support and utility a team could ask for.
Good Cancelers could selectively cancel out skills, and in retrospect, the mage hadn’t been canceling out Mirage skills - hence staying invisible himself, without stripping Awarthril of her invisibility. It was also why my shield had snapped in place with the bolt being fired, and why Awarthril had been able to use her chains - the Canceler had dropped the skill, hoping to get a quick snipe in before we could react.
Lucky for me, Awarthril was better than he had been.
I kept my head on a swivel as I continued to heal people, some of them running as soon as I was done with them, others moving into a group of other recently-freed people, muttering angrily together, fear on their faces.
It looked exactly like the start of a mob. They were getting together. Getting angry. It was going to get ugly.
“Why are we hanging out here?” Aegion complained. “We need to be moving. We need to get out of here before more of them come. We’ve been lucky so far, but once the entire city comes down on us?”
“Because people are hurt, and need help.” I retorted back, turning to give him my best death glare. “Maybe if some random adventurers hadn’t unleashed a massacre into a fleeing population we wouldn’t be here now, would we?”
Aegion got that stubborn look to his jaw that I knew too well.
“What else are we supposed to do?” Serondes’s tone made his position clear. “We came to fight shimagu. How were you expecting us to fight them?”
“Well-” I was cut off by Awarthril.
“Peace. This isn’t the time or the place.”
I shot her a thankful look, only to see the man I’d been talking with earlier standing next to her, staring at me and looking nervous.
I beckoned him over, then refocused on my patients, half of whom were running away from me.
My patients fell into two groups at this stage. The “Brink of death” - the name of the group described the group - and the “fleeing for questionable life” group, AKA shimagu who saw the writing on the wall with me walking around, and were bailing, regardless of the host body’s injuries.
I made the snap call to focus on the “Brink of death” patients, trying to wrestle as many lives out of Black Crow’s implacable talons as possible. I wrapped myself in [Mantle], just as an extra precaution against more invisible mages trying the same thing.
“Ranger. You came.” The man’s voice was full of reverence as he jogged next to me. He was keeping up with my flowing dance, tapping one patient after another, moving on before they could get up and thank me. Before they could slow me down.
“Sentinel, but close enough.” I absent-mindedly corrected him, remembering that not everyone knew what Sentinels were, even in Remus.
“Thank you. Thank you thank you THANK YOU!” He tried to give me a hug, which I nimbly dodged. Nope. None of that. I had patients I needed to work on.
“Are you here to free us? How did you find out? When -”
I cut off his barrage of questions. I had practically nothing for him. We’d come here practically on accident.
“What’s your story?” I needed details.
“Well, I’m Calavius. Grew up with my friends Oppius and Aburius. When we were young, we liked to travel around…”
Calavius could not give a concise story to save his life. Quite literally. He’d put Night to shame in sheer words to information ratio, but annoyingly, he went on massive tangents. I had to keep him focused.
Long, LONG story shortened significantly - he lived in Port Salona, which I remembered was at the very edge of Remus. He and his friends had figured the same thing, and wanted to know what else there was in the world.
Even as he was telling his story, alarm bells started to ring throughout the city. The chaos and destruction we’d unleashed had finally finished working its way through whatever channels this city had, and the alarms were going off.
The elves occasionally interjected themselves into the story, and I wanted to strangle them all. We were in a hostile city, and the longer it took for reinforcements to show up, the worse and more powerful they’d be.
To be fair, the elves did manage to redirect him back to the meat of the story. I couldn’t be too mad.
Adventurers. Adventurers everywhere. They’d be the death of me. Oh sure, he didn’t use that title, but the idea was the same.
He and his friends grabbed a ship, some rations, and went sailing, keeping close to the coast, to avoid deep-sea monsters. They didn’t stay too close to the coast though, due to monsters that could jump into shallow water.Through some skill, and hefty doses of luck, they made it quite a distance before they encountered another ship, filled with humans.Remus was a hard place, and they weren’t too trusting of these new people. First smart thing he’d said all story. It hadn’t mattered, as the other ship overtook their smaller ship, broke out the harpoons, and they were captured and infested.
The group of healed people that were sticking around half broke up, scouting around the devastated marketplace. They picked up poles, armed themselves with canes, and generally kitted themselves out with makeshift weapons.
That was going to end with trouble.
He’d been an unwilling slave ever since. His story was horrific on a dozen levels.
“... and then the shimagu who’d taken Oppius over made him stand perfectly still. See, they were mighty mad about his broken leg, and said they couldn’t do a thing about it. Seemed silly to me, just pop on over to a healer quick-like. Didn’t know then that they had no healers. How silly is that?”
“Oppius?” Aegion butted in, redirecting and keeping Calavius on track.
“Right! Oppius! They had Oppius stand perfectly still, and slowly peeled the flesh off him. Never seen him so brave! Well, I guess it wasn’t him now. They peeled the flesh off him, laughing and betting how long until he’d die. Turned him into chum, right there. Then they went fishing.”
Calavius was bawling at the end.
I finished healing the last person, and I was seeing red.
The difference between the theory of the shimagu, and the belief that all life was sacred, and having their cruel realities rubbed in my face.
I was wavering. On the brink.
What would I become if I abandoned my morals and beliefs?
This was a poor time to be considering a revisit of my ethical framework. I had some ideas though.
“Serondes.” My voice was tight as I fought back rage and tears. “Translate for me.”
“Kiyaya. Amplify Serondes.”
I was shit at speeches. I wasn’t going to try anything fancy.
“Hey you lot! You’re looking to even the score, right? Hit the shimagu? Follow me. I have a plan.”
I mentally gave myself a C- on “Inspirational speech designed to get the angry mob to follow me”, but after looking at each other, in their day clothes and holding clubs that used to be table legs, and seeing the elves standing next to me in their gleaming armor, holding onto powerful weapons, they came over, angrily muttering and talking amongst each other.
My Mistweave clothing dramatically flared as I spun on my heels and started to stride out of the market square, the elves flanking me, and the angry, armed mob behind me.
“Awarthril.” I bit out, trying to keep my voice in “steady Sentinel in charge of the situation” and not “screaming in rage” mode.
“Elaine.” She didn’t have the same tightness to her voice, just a wary grace, tightly wound and ready for problems.
I took my Sentinel badge off and flashed it at her.
“Can you project this in the sky? Large and facing down on the town?”
Bless her. Without another word, without any of the other elves butting in, she did it.
The Eagle of Remus appeared in the sky, the standard held on every banner the Remus legions carried. The golden circle appeared around it, the Ranger’s mark, and finally, the sunburst of the Sentinels exploded around it.
A burning declaration in the sky. A warning, to the shimagu. A message, a signal of hope for any of my countrymen stuck in the city, trapped in their own bodies.
Sentinel Dawn was here.