After spending so long in the baths that the slowly-eaten mangos were but a distant memory, and I was in serious risk of transforming into a raisin - the next stage in bath-wrinklyness after prune - I decided to get out. I had shopping to do! Hair, tunic, sandals, a knife, and whatever other odds and ends I could think of while out and about.
I got up, made it back to the changing room, got dressed, and left the building.
There was a full squad of guards right outside the bathhouse, talking with an employee.
“Yeah, her!” The employee pointed to me, and I stopped. The guards hustled over, surrounding me.
“Can I help you?”
The guards were looking grouchy.
“Who’s your husband?” The squad leader asked.
“Don’t have one.”
The guards quickly traded looks. One of them muttered “I don’t know an Elainus.”
“Does he live here?”
“Right. You’re under arrest.”
“Seven counts of breaking into the city, seven counts of evading the city toll, three counts of solicitation on the docks without a permit, two counts of theft, one count of menacing and intimidation, three counts of assault against a citizen, and forty-four counts of disturbing the peace.”
Well. When the guards put it that way. I suppose I hadn’t exactly been the model of a law-abiding citizen. I liked guards. I generally got along with them… except for right now.
I’d been acting like an adventurer! Blazing through the town in weird clothes, ignoring all the rules, and provoking the guard’s ire!
Still, I knew how to talk with them. I was confident that I could just explain myself, and it’d be alright. I wasn’t going to keep acting like a two-bit adventurer.
“Alrighty! Lead the way!” I cheerfully told the squad, who looked somewhat taken aback at my happy cooperation. Not exactly the usual response to being arrested for a dozen crimes.
From the sound of it, I was known to the guards. Just talking with the leader of a squad wouldn’t be good enough to get my name cleared. I’d need to talk with the captain at least, and that wasn’t going to happen here.
No, better to be cooperative. It’d make clearing everything up that much easier. Get to the main guardhouse, show the captain my Sentinel badge in my pocket, apologize, and make amends.
Except for the “assault on a citizen” business. Ooooh, that one boiled my blood. Defending myself from harassment was “assault on a citizen”??
Well. The dude had clearly complained to the guard. Maybe I could get the guards to go harass him instead. It was abusing my power just a hair… but it wasn’t invalid.
The guards surrounded me, and one of them - younger looking, with lower levels - put his hand on my shoulder. I rolled my eyes as he put one hand on my shoulder, and tried to stop my mana regeneration using [Guardsman Buff] or something similar.
Yeah. Good luck guard. You’ll probably get some decent experience for the skill trying to use it on me, although with how cooperative I was? It wasn’t going to be a lot.
“I think my skill’s on the fritz.” The guard reported.
“It keeps finding purchase. I thought after three applications it didn’t work anymore?”
The squad leader frowned, and put a hand on my shoulder.
I kept a poker face. I was sitting on close to a million points of mana regeneration an hour. I wasn’t sure if the entire town’s guard working in concert could turn it off.
Well. I was being cooperative. It didn’t mean I couldn’t mess with them a little. I gave them my best wide-eyed stare, and channeling Brawling a bit, asked them a ‘naïve’ question.
“Is something the matter? I’m doing my best to cooperate.”
I got a withering look that suggested my tone hadn’t exactly been ‘totally innocent’. I was reminded why I didn’t play extended sessions of cards or dice.
I was briskly marched over to the guardhouse, then marched to one of their small rooms. They took my sack, coins, mango pits, spare dress, gems and all. I was still holding onto my badge though - that I wouldn’t give up. One of the guards reached for my egg.
Just like my badge, I wasn’t going to let anyone take eggy, but at the same time, it’d be easier if I let them find out for themselves. I had faith in my reflexes and my shield being able to protect eggy from any harm one guard could perform.
Plus, the usual reaction to touching something hot was to let go, not break it.
“I wouldn’t do that!” I warned the guard. If looks could kill, I’d be flying with Black Crow right now.
“Prisoner. You don’t tell me what to do.” He sneered at me, touching the egg with his hand.
The guardroom smelled like a barbeque, and I was getting flashbacks to Ochi and the shimagu, the memories raw and fresh. He screamed and jerked his hand away.
“What is that!?”
“Hot.” I deadpanned back, darting my hand out to tap him and heal him of his burn.
The squad leader didn’t look too happy with me.
“Right. Going to add one count of importing dangerous objects, and one count of assaulting a guard to your charges.”
I sat down at the small table in the room and knuckled my forehead. Yikes.
I took my Sentinel Badge out of my pocket, and put it on the desk.
“Could I please see the guard captain?” I asked.
“And one count of impersonating a Ranger. Poorly. That’s not what the Ranger badge looks like, and the squad’s currently in town. I know all of them, and you’re not one of them.”
“It’s the Sentinel badge!”
“Annnnnnnd one count of lying to a guard. I’m not sure what you’re doing. Are you trying to get the longest, harshest sentence possible? Do you have some sort of bet with a friend, trying to see how many charges you can get in a day? I promise you, it’s not funny. This isn’t a game, miss.”
Welp. This was going from bad to worse. Still wasn’t in any danger, and I did want to clear this up peacefully. I’d been reaching towards violence as the answer far too often, but it wasn’t called for in this situation. These were guards! My people!
I just crossed my arms.
“Let me guess. You wouldn’t want to bother the Ranger team with an imposter either.” My voice was heavy with sarcasm.
“Exactly. I’m glad you’re starting to understand how serious this all is. I’m doing you a favor.”
Favor my ass.
“Fine. I guess I’ll just wait here until the Praetor, magistrate, or captain shows up then?”
The guards filed out of the room, and he slammed the door shut. I settled into the chair, and waited.
The egg moved again, and I looked at it in anticipation. Was it time?
A tapping noise seemed to affirm that, yes, it was time.
Then nothing happened. Boo. That’ll teach me to arbitrarily give meaning to stuff.
Port Salona was far enough north to be tropical, and the temperature was sweltering, even at this time of year. The guardhouse was built out of stone, and this room had no windows or anything.
The heat wasn’t the problem. The sweat was.
I was basically cooking in my own sweat. After I’d had a bath and everything.
It was less about the heat, and more about the sticky sweat getting everywhere, and ruining all of my efforts. I’d need another bath, and screw anyone calling me soft for taking two baths in a day.
They were taking their sweet time, although with nothing to mark the passage of time, I had no idea how long it was.
I realized part of the issue was my Deception Ring. They would’ve taken me a lot more seriously if I was showing up as deep red, and not like a little 128 healer. I’d kept it that low from Ochi, and I’d had a quick thought earlier that I wanted things to be somewhat “normal”.
Well, that was all out the window now. I set my level back to my real level.
Finally, the squad leader and a few other guards came back, along with the jackass from earlier.
How did they know my name? Right. They’d asked for my dad’s name, and it was simply impossible that I would’ve been named for anything besides my dad. Made me want to roll my eyes.
“You’ve been found guilty of a frankly staggering array of crimes. Citizen Spurius here has purchased the debt you’ve accumulated, and has ownership of you for the next thirty years. Please do not resist.”
Ok. Wow. This went from “clear up a misunderstanding” to “something is terribly wrong” in no time at all.
Bloody freakin’ entitled citizens. Today was supposed to be a day off! I didn’t want to work!
“What happened to having a trial?” I asked. The squad leader looked smug, pulling out a scroll.
“If you look here, you’ll see that you did have a trial with magistrate Gnaeus, where you admitted your guilt. Well. You would see if you could read.”
My eyebrows would’ve climbed into my hairline, if I had one.
“Being able to buy off my own debt?”
Another guard laughed at me.
“With the amount assessed? Impossible!”
“And my belongings?”
“What belongings? You just came here like that, right?” A third guard asked, to noises of agreement from everyone else. Spurius started to stomp over, and I flickered [Mantle], dividing the room in half.
“These are fairly major violations of the Sixteen Tablets.” I pointed out.
Spurius snorted at me.
“Yeah, whatever. Get over here, I’m going to make you scream before the sun sets. Humiliating me in front of everyone like that. I’ll show you. You’ll regret the day-”
I interrupted him.
“Right, thank you everyone. That’ll be all.”
Rangers. We did a lot. Fought monsters. Investigated plagues.
On our endless list of duties?
Internal affairs. Usually for the army, but we were also empowered to act upon the town’s guard when the situation called for it. Assuming they weren’t operating with the governor’s blessing.
The governor in a town basically owned the guards. They reported to him, he hired them and paid them. If they were running loose, and the governor approved? Then, and only then, was it no longer a Ranger matter, but an issue for the Senate. The approved process was to go to Ranger Command, report the issue, and have the Senators on Ranger Command report back to the Senate, who would potentially strip the governor of his governorship.
It happened every 300 years or so. Often enough that governors were leery of abusing their powers too hard.
Mundane corruption? That was more common.
Wish I could ask them if the governor was in on this. It’d make life that much easier, but alas, things were moving too fast now.
Spurius bounced off my shield, and the guards were looking angry. I didn’t think my shield could withstand constant hitting from all of them, so I followed it up with [Kaleidoscope], a field of butterflies hovering in the air between us.
“Don’t touch them. They’re explosive.” I cautioned them, before dropping [Mantle].
The guardhouse was single story, and I looked up, finding a promising spot.
“What are you-” The squad leader started to yell at me, but I ignored him. I unleashed a beam of Radiance, as thick around as my wrist, at the ceiling.
Light exploded throughout the room, the side effect of my powerful magic enough to get the guards to clutch at their eyes. Spurius was screaming that I’d blinded him.
Serondes had made me aware that I could melt stone now, and between my new and improved levels, [Solar Flare] leveling up, and gravity dripping the melted stone out of the way, I was strong enough to punch through the ceiling. My Radiance burned and melted the rock, filling the air with toxic fumes, before exploding out into the city.
I then focused on making the light bright, and rapidly flickered it on and off into the sky.
I hadn’t planned on getting the Rangers involved initially, but I’d managed to stumble upon a Ranger-centric problem. I wasn’t about to do their job for them, for so many, many different reasons.
For one, I wanted a damn break.
For two, a corrupt guard investigation was a full-team affair. Interestingly, it was one area I don’t think Sentinels were ever called in on. The work of separating and interviewing people, and investigating logs was a team effort. Also, a massive waste of a highly specialized Sentinel’s time. There was no Sentinel Investigations.
Well, not currently.
Spurius just didn’t know when to quit. In spite of being blinded, regardless of the deadly butterflies glowing in front of him - ok, to be fair, he couldn’t see them - he still tried to charge at me.
I tripped him with [Mantle]. Even if it was only by proximity, he was involved, and I doubted his involvement was simple proximity.
At the rate he was going, a number of charges were going to be laid against him. I considered myself to be kind and compassionate - ignoring the little voice whispering in the back of my head, telling me exactly how many people I’d killed two days ago - but I had limits. Involved with corrupting my beloved guards? Molesting me? Nah, I wasn’t going to turn the other cheek. I believed he should face the justice system - the real, untainted justice system. The penalty for every crime in Remus was a fine, the size differing on the crime and the judge. If he was unable to pay the fine? He’d be sold into slavery to pay off his debt.
I was deeply conflicted about it all.
On one hand, I hated the dude. Not a deep, burning hatred - I hadn’t gotten the time for a proper grudge to develop - but hatred none the less. I wanted to see him suffer, and the current justice system would do just that. He’d tried to make me a slave, and he’d promised all sorts of torment and humiliation before I turned the tables on him, so there was poetic justice there. Port Salona didn’t have lead mines, but some large fishing boats used slaves… I seemed to remember them having one of the worst qualities of life, and keeping him in Port Salona where everyone he knew would see him and know he was a slave?
He did seem to be particularly mad about getting humiliated. Hit him where it hurts extra-hard.
On the other, I hated slavery. I hated the institution. I hated how close I’d often come to it myself. It was a miserable thing, regardless of the relatively gentle implementation compared to harsher examples I knew of from history. I wanted it to end. I didn’t have the tools or the means to fight against it though, nor did I have a practical solution for what else could be done with Spurius. The only jails were short-term holding cells while the details of the crime and punishment were hashed out. Kinda weird that they hadn’t stuck me in one, but I wasn’t going to look too closely at it.
Slavery let the government essentially outsource prisons. Instead of the government needing to build and fund prisons, they got paid on a per-criminal basis. A chunk of the money was, in theory, supposed to go to the harmed party, but the governor took a cut. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the motive here - railroad people who couldn’t properly protest their treatment, pocket the significant funds. There was, quite frankly, no other alternative punishment for Spurius. The death penalty was exceedingly rare, and I did rate life in slavery as better than death.
The other benefit to Spurius ending up as a slave was I knew where he’d be. I wasn’t going to have a Kerberos repeat, with stray loose ends running around to pop up again one day.
… Artemis was rubbing off on me more than I thought. I was now making sure I didn’t leave threats behind.
Guards tried to get into the room, but the light made it so they couldn’t see. It turned into a clusterfuck, as a guard tried to rush in, tripped over another guard, then turned into a stumbling block for the third guard, who lashed out and hit the fourth…
They stopped trying after six, figuring that I couldn’t keep the light up forever, and they’d deal with whatever Classer was giving them trouble after she was out of mana.
If nothing else, I was going to be able to get a nice talk with the guard captain. Should’ve just started with this, honestly.
Then again, if I had, I wouldn’t have stumbled into corruption. Annoying day for me, but gods. How many poor people had they railroaded? How many ‘trials’ never took place? Did they pick me because I didn’t have protection? No family in town to speak up for me?
[*ding!* [Solar Flare] Leveled up! 130 -> 131]
In almost no time at all - Rangers tended to set up near the guardhouse after all - I heard Bossman roaring and shouting orders. Some of the guards started to clear off, and I dimmed the lights.
“Bossman!” I happily waved to him as he entered the room, weapon bared and ready for a fight.
“Sentinel Dawn. Emergency?” He asked, as the rest of the Rangers filed in.
“Mmmm. Kinda. It was going to get ugly. Got a case of corruption here, not sure how bad it is. Going to need a full investigation.”
Bossman nodded seriously, and Greybeard was frowning. Wolfy just looked excited, while Newbie Ranger punched Newbie Mage in the arm.
“Weren’t you supposed to stick with her and prevent this sort of mess?!”