The day after the duel, Fayette’s body ached all over. Still, they were moving along fast, quickly approaching their target. Olivia was moving as if she was possessed, stomping along the road with her eyes never leaving the horizon. Mireille walked more calmly beside her, and Marie and Fayette brought the rear.
As she walked, Fayette held her broom in front with both hands, staring at it. She held it like a sword, trying to imagine herself as a [Knight] on the training grounds. It bobbed side-to-side just a hint with each of her steps, but she tried to keep it steady, unmoving.
She held her breath. The broom kept bobbing side-to-side.
She let out her breath, then finally sagged, letting the broom clatter to the ground, dragging behind her. That really doesn’t feel like training. How do those [Knights] do it?
Yes, they were very close to their target now, only a few bends of the road away from the coast of the middle sea, but Fayette’s mind wasn’t on that. She didn’t really see the autumn forest around her, nor the birds flitting about above. She was still thinking of her duel, stewing in dissatisfaction. And more than that… disappointment.
Because she hadn’t really been training seriously. And her bones still ached from the consequences.
She hadn’t ever seriously tried to train herself at something, and now she was having trouble thinking of how to do it. Fayette had always had a natural knack for a [Maid’s] work—she had been cleaning around the orphanage as long as she remembered after all.
So, getting the class and getting to work had felt like a very natural thing, just doing what she had already been doing, gradually getting better at it. Fighting had been similar. When that first kobold had burst through the window in front of her, it was like some hidden instincts had kicked in, letting her have a chance in the battle.
And she had been good at it. Very good in fact. Quite a few dead people could attest to that, and Fayette reckoned that many of them had done more training than she ever had.
Of course, she gradually got better as she did things more, but that was learning from experience, somewhat different from actual training. Because with training, your only objective was getting better. She always had other objectives, even if they were only levels.
So, how did you get actually get better at something, when you had been trusting your instincts and levels for so long?
For a moment, Fayette focused on her [Maid Martial Arts], letting the knowledge granted to her by the skill guide her for a moment. She felt her steps grow more balanced and her poise grow firmer. But that was something granted by a skill, not something she had really learned.
And it wasn’t just straight-up battle skills, Fayette had a hint of magic in her too now. Except she didn’t have a natural talent for that. And consequently, her progress had been stagnating.
She closed her eyes for a step and focused on that ever-present link, connecting her to the bucket that Mireille was taking a turn carrying. The Slime within stirred a hint as Fayette drew in a touch of magic, then settled as Fayette let go.
The [Maid] held the magic in her grasp for a moment, then opened her eyes, aiming a finger forward. A tingle passed along her skin as the magic transferred towards the finger, then turned into a cool drizzle of water.
It splashed forward, quite limp—very pointedly not strong. Because… she just didn’t have the knack or a strong power source. And she hadn’t been training.
Her face drawn to a frown, Fayette let the magic fade, then turned to the side, looking at Marie.
The [Lady] tended to stay rather close to her these days, so Fayette had gotten used to her presence nearby, a rather comforting thing. Right now the blonde woman was keeping pace with her, somehow still managing to sketch into a notebook as she walked. Fayette took a step to the side, just so she could peer within for a moment.
She saw Marie’s sketch, a cute doodle of their slime sneaking up on the [Lord]. A hint of a smile tugged away the frown from Fayette’s face. Just in time for Marie to turn and meet her eyes.
“Oh—you like the drawing?”
Fayette nodded, taking a step closer so they were side-by-side. “It is fitting. If only the real one had doodly eyes like that…”
Marie giggled softly, then tucked the notebook into her pouch. “Are you done contemplating the way of the broom?”
“No—I’m not sure I’m making much progress really…” Fayette looked at the forest line next to the road for a moment, thinking. “Say… doesn’t your family have like… [Knights] and people like that. How do they train?”
“Well, yes we do. I have some passing familiarity with their training. I can tell you what I know.”
Fayette gave a small, grateful bow. “Thanks. I really don’t think just repeating broom swings under a waterfall is going to cut it for me.”
Marie gave her a strange look, then shook her head. “A waterfall? Why would you… never mind. Well, repetitions do have their place, but it depends on the type of training really.”
“Type of training?”
“Yes—there are different methods for different outcomes. I suppose… the most basic type would be foundational training.”
Fayette gave a doubtful look. “Let me guess, that’s the one where you do lots of repetitions?”
Marie nodded. “Yes. Basic work on honing one’s body and instincts. Sparring with opponents, running laps, repeating basic techniques until they turn into instincts… that type of thing.”
Fayette nodded. “Sparring would be good, but none of you are really a good opponent for me. As to the rest—” she flexed her left arm for a moment, and examined how her definition showed against the fabric “—I think I’m increasing my strength well enough.”
“Umm—right…” Marie said, staring at the arm for a moment, then turning away. “Well, that all gives a good foundation for skills. If you have a skill that doubles your strength, increasing that baseline will have big results. Then there’s of course Skill training, for trying to get upgrades and such.”
That sparked Fayette’s interest. “Skill training?”
Marie nodded, then began using a hint of magic to lift a pebble from the ground in front of her. “The most basic type is to get more used to your current skills. For example… trying to do things first without the skill, then with the skill—then trying to integrate the two…”
As she spoke the pebble wobbled in the air a bit, and Fayette could almost see it whenever the [Lady] moved from using a skill to not.
“So, I could try to use [Maid Martial Arts] without using the skill?” She asked.
“Well—something of the sort. It differs a lot.” Marie said, still focusing on the pebble in front. Then she lifted it up to her eye level, and with a flash of magic, threw the stone off into the sky.
Fayette followed its arc as it flew to the forest, wondering where it would land. “That looked like it could hurt.”
“A simple stone can do quite a bit,” Marie said, agreeing. “However—that skill, [Stone Spear], is still a bit limiting, as it only helps me do that one thing with my magic. What if I wanted to change that skill to something else?”
“Is that where the other skill training types come in?”
“Yes. Generally speaking—there are three main ways to change a skill—though two of them need you to have an uncommon class.”
Fayette frowned, realizing why she hadn’t ever had a proper talk like this before. I don’t think any of the caretakers at the orphanage had uncommon classes—and at the manor, it was only a few of the people…
“Mireille, have you heard of any of this?”
The [Seamstress], who was walking a bit ahead of her turned around and shook her head, showing that she had been listening attentively. “Nope. But I figured it was something of the sort. I think we’ve all leveled quite fast, and never had the opportunity for this sort of talk. Can you take this bucket back?”
Fayette stepped forward and accepted the bucket, hung it from her broom, then swung it behind her, supporting the broom against her shoulder. “How about you Olivia?”
The [Doctor] looked back and nodded, then turned right back forward. “My old teacher did speak of it.”
Guess she’s not in the mood for a long talk.
Marie’s face was thoughtful. “I never figured this type of thing wasn’t common knowledge…”
Fayette sighed. “Maybe in cities or something but well—only common sorts out in where we’re from. Anyway, what were those last few methods?”
“Well… the first one, I wouldn’t really call it training… more like detraining. You know how if someone has a skill at rank 1 and doesn’t use it that much for a while, it can become something else?”
“That one I have heard of—” Fayette said, thoughtful, “—it’s a common wisdom that you should put one point into skills you want to keep.”
“Exactly, but it also works in the other way. Make it intentional. Stop using a skill you aren’t too enthusiastic about, then hope it becomes something more useful. ”
Fayette ran through her mental list of skills. I have [Cutlery Control], [Disarming Smile] and [Dry Laundry] at rank 1, but I have still been using them… Do I want to keep them?
As she thought over it, she realized she had quite a bit of fondness for [Cutlery Control], but not so much for the other two. I guess I should put a point into [Cutlery Control] just in case… The other two—[Dry laundry] has been rather useful, but [Disarming Smile]… not so much. Maybe I should hold off more on using it?
It felt a bit wasteful to intentionally not use a skill she had, but if it could lead to a side grade that was more useful, it might be worth the risk. I’ll have to think more about it.
Finished with her pondering, Fayette turned back to Marie. “I think I have some ideas from that. What were the other things?”
Marie once more started channeling magic, gathering a new pebble in front of her. Fayette found it oddly thrilling to follow how the lines of magic ran along the curves of her skin, all the way to her fingers. How much do I have to train to get that good?
“Now, there are two main ways I could try to train this skill for a rarity upgrade,” Marie said, lips pursed in concentration. “The first method would be just working on the skill as is, trying to make it stronger. That’s generally what unlocks a straightforward power upgrade.”
Fayette nodded, thinking of her [Sweep Dust]. She had had the skill on rank 5 for a while now but hadn’t yet unlocked any upgrades for it, despite having the class for it. I guess I should just keep using it more if I want something straightforward.
“And the other method?” She asked.
Marie launched the pebble into the air, straight above. What is she—? Fayette began to push her out of its way, eyes wide, but Marie motioned her down with a hand, then caught the pebble again with her magic before it could land. “Relax. It wasn’t going to quite hit me anyway.”
Fayette huffed. “Don’t make me worry like that.”
For some reason, her complaint made Marie brighten, almost hum. “…Sorry then. But anyway, the point is to try and do something… different. If you try to push your skill into a new direction or do things that could lead it elsewhere, you can get an upgrade that changes it quite a bit.”
The [Maid] nodded in thought. Sounds similar to what happened with my [Maid’s Poise] and [Cleaning Tool Proficiency], which ended up changing to [Maid Martial Arts]. I wonder what else I could combine like that…
She had [Spicy Cooking] at rank 3, and [Unseen Attendant] at rank 5, which were both high-tier contenders. I think I want to keep these two as powerful options, but I wonder whether something straightforward would be better than something different.
Fayette turned back to Marie, who was now juggling the rock in the air. “Do general skills count?”
The [Lady] nodded. “Yes, they can end up becoming class skills in many ways. Always an interesting case when it happens.”
With that, Marie let the rock fall down, satisfied with her demonstration. “Does that give you enough food for thought?”
“I think it does… thanks for the lesson,” Fayette said, returning to her thoughts. A good time to think over these things. She was now past the level 20 capstone, so the next thing to wait for would be her next class upgrade at level 30.
Everything I do before that will matter… And I really need to get a rare class. Leveling already feels a bit slower than it was before, and I won’t always have new things to do.
She looked back to the side and saw that Marie had gone back to drawing. It… made Fayette a bit envious. Marie had no class or general skills for drawing, not anymore, but she still managed to do quite well with it. Just hard work and effort.
I want to get good at something too—not just rely on skills and instinct. But… how do I train to become a better [Combat Maid]?
It was a tough question, and though she had no answers quite yet, she had some leads to pursue. But such things would have to wait a moment because a hunter had their duty. With Fayette deep in thought, their party finally crested the final hill and saw the middle ocean spread out before them.
Fayette and Mireille both gasped at the sight, stunned at the ocean larger than anything they had seen before. A seemingly endless expanse of blue with rolling waves all over it—it was breathtaking.
Mare smiled, seeing the childish wonder on Fayette’s face because true smiles were so difficult to pull out of the [Maid]. She committed it to memory and promised herself to sketch it before the day was done.
Only Olivia was looking at what was right at the border of sea and land, a city built on an array of islands. Truly there were hundreds of islands there, but they were grouped into clusters so that only six main groupings could be made out.
The city of Bienvenizze.
A city under quarantine.
Now, it wasn’t actually the whole of the city that was on quarantine, just one of the six island groupings. Life went on in the other ones—as long as you didn’t get too close to the border.
And that was what made it eerie.
Fayette and her party had crossed the great bridge into the city and been greeted with a subdued mood. There were vendors and civilians about, but the atmosphere was tense. Windows were closed. Talk was hushed, and gazes were suspicious. More people were leaving the city than entering.
So they walked past empty plazas, and idle canals, seeing grand cathedrals and giant markets that now stood quiet. Rather picturesque, but haunting. Like a city in steady vigil, bearing silent witness to tragedy.
And as they walked deeper inside, nearer to the quarantine zone—more people started to appear on the roads. Not civilians though, but guards, soldiers, and of course, hunters. Many had answered the call and come here to help, whether it was for money or duty. Many of the hunters were already wearing the plague masks given out by the officials, even if the infected zone was a ways away.
Caution paid in this profession.
Fayette squinted at the beak-like masks, as she walked past them, then channeled just a hint of mana, and saw the gleaming patterns drawn into them light up. Monster cores inside those beaks I guess. And the type—
Well, it went without saying.
Only as they found themselves by the very border, staring at that grouping of islands just a thousand feet out, with no boats entering or leaving, did Fayette truly understand what a magical plague meant.
Because she could see into the other islands, just barely. Here next to her, there were soldiers and other armed people, and further back there had been civilians. But the island in front… she saw neither. Only shambling figures, moving slowly. She could imagine their groans on the wind.
Dead men walking. Or near-dead, reduced to a beast-like intellect. Some called them zombies—but there were many kinds. And then there were also the living who had chosen sin.
Fayette shivered, then turned to Olivia, who was also staring at the eerie islands, eyes dark.
“Can you explain this again, Olivia?”
The [Doctor] nodded, then pointed at one of the distant figures. “That is why you are not allowed to drink more healing potions right now.”
She lifted up her other hand, showing one finger raised. “There are three main ways mana affects people, and animals too for that matter. The first one is relatively harmless. A small background dosage, gradual and restrained. Like what was going on in Palogne. Causes a bit of sickness as the body fights the influence off, and eventually gains resistance to it. Humans are more resistant than animals generally.”
Olivia lifted up a second finger. “Next is the more dire case, when a bigger dose is received all at once. Like what happened to your friend Elise back then. A big dosage, which can cause minor mutations if untreated, and a bit of acute shock at first. With a proper recovery and no additional doses, things can return to normal.”
A third finger went up. “The third case is when things go bad. Either a long-term dosage of lots of mana, or a shorter dosage of a gigantic amount. More common for careless [Mages], or fools who try to gain magic by eating artifacts or such.”
She finally turned to her captivated audience, who shivered under those eyes. “That is when true monsterification happens, and you stop being human. Best case—it’s only minor and you still count for the system, becoming something like the damned elves. Worst case—you become a raging beast with no levels—no different from other monsters.”
Fayette frowned. “Then how does a plague factor into this?”
Olivia chuckled darkly. “Sometimes—you get really unlucky, and the poor sod who got monsterified has some type of fever at the time, and it decides to evolve along with him. And once that starts spreading and killing…” She gestured at the island. “Fun times.”
“But how do those plague classes you mentioned factor in?” Mireille asked, face scrunched up in thought. “I hadn’t heard of such things before.”
The [Doctor] turned back to the island and spoke quietly. “Well, the information is generally kept quiet for good reason. But it never is kept quiet enough. It’s a simple thing, really. Think about it, if you get infected with something truly nasty and deadly—like a magical plague that [Doctors] struggle to cure, what options are there?”
“Grit your teeth and try to wait it out?” Fayette tried.
Olivia shook her head, wistful. “Some people, yes. But think of levels and classes. How could someone get a [Resist Disease] skill, one strong enough, as easily as possible? That one isn’t easy to get as a general skill, trust me.”
Mireille snapped her fingers in realization. “You need an appropriate class!”
“Exactly,” Olivia said, nodding. “Renounce your old class, and see what is available. If you are fighting off an illness, you will have new options. [Infected] classes generally offers some resistance, though one level is usually not enough. How do you think classes like that level up?”
Fayette’s gaze darkened, and she looked back to the island ahead, imagining people skulking there among the already monsterified, spreading it further. Do people really do that? Spread disease to save themselves?
That type of person… it felt fouler than a [Bandit] to her.
“So—this is going to be nasty business,” Fayette said, gripping her broom. “If we get hit with something, can you cure it?”
“I always have my [Swap Condition],” Olivia said, turning back. “But that requires… someone.”
“What about your pills?” Mireille asked.
And that, finally, quieted the [Doctor]. She stood there for a moment, frozen in thought. Then, slowly, she reached into a pocket, taking out a pitch-black pill that seemed to devour the light. The gloomy woman stared at it for a moment.
“Maybe. Just… maybe.”
Everyone stared at the pill, but nobody voiced the question. Even if it felt more ominous each day.
Mireille finally sighed, then turned away, back towards the town. “Well, I guess we should head out to the officials. I want to get some proper sleep and one of those mask things.”
Fayette felt a bit nervous about dealing with officials after their previous ordeals, but according to Marie, their hunter party had never been implicated in any of the reports that had spread out. Only Marie’s involvement had really gotten out, and who would expect a [Lady] to be playing at hunter?
Still, seeing so many [Guards] give them odd looks did make her nervous until she remembered why those looks were odd.
What kind of hunter would voluntarily come deal with something like this? That and the oddness of their party's composition. Fayette shook her head. We'll show them.
But it was still annoying, so she closed her eyes as they walked, focusing instead on her [Dustsense] to navigate. If I need to train these things, maybe I should do some type of closed-eyes thing for a while. Maybe that will teach me something. She ended up tripping a bit here and there, but that’s what training was all about, right?
It was a quick walk back to the main plaza where hunters were meant to gather, and Fayette finally opened her eyes once she felt the dust on the streets grow too chaotic for navigation. Too many people out here. Then she finally took in the view.
It wasn’t exactly crowded, per-se, mainly because the plaza was just so large, clearly meant for crowds in the thousands. Empty vendor stands stood all over the white-brick square which ended on a grand staircase. Following the steps with her eyes, Fayette looked up at the city’s grand cathedral, a shining tower of white marble which loomed like an unlit candle.
There were many guards, some soldiers, and quite a few hunters. Maybe just over a hundred hunters, but they felt the most high-level of the bunch, handling their weapons with confidence rather than bravado.
Around half of them already wearing those beak-like masks, and the rest were waiting in lines by the humble hunter’s guild building, which had set up reception tables outside the main door. And among those hunters, there were also familiar faces. A friendly voice greeted them.
“Ah, your lot! I was wondering whether you would turn up here!” Said Martin, the silver-haired former [Cook], walking out from the line to greet them.
Mireille stepped forward to greet him with a quick nod. “Hello, it… hasn’t really been a while, has it? Didn’t expect to see your group here.”
“Hah! Sure, danger abounds, but so does duty!” Martin said. He pointed back at the line, and Fayette saw his son and the rest of his party there, waiting patiently. “Our families come from nearby, so we just couldn’t bear the idea of not helping. I see you’ve kept your guest too…”
Marie nodded. “I am still traveling in this company yes—though I would appreciate you keeping quiet about seeing us earlier.”
A keen look flashed in the man’s eye, and he nodded, serious. “Of course, of course. Lips sealed.”
“Thank you,” Marie said, giving a quick bow.
“Has there been any information on what the plan is?” Fayette asked. “I noticed our target is beyond some water, and I’m not sure swimming there is a good idea.”
“Hah! I trust there’ll be boats, but the plan hasn’t been decided yet. The big shots are yet to arrive.”
Fayette quirked an eyebrow. “Big shots?”
“Has there been word on high-level [Doctors]?” Olivia suddenly asked, looking around at the crowd. “This sort of thing… you need the best.”
Martin shook his head. “Haven’t heard anything, guess we’ll have to wait and see. But it should be any moment now—it’s been a few days and—”
Suddenly, a hush went through the plaza, and all the crowds quieted. Feeling a tingle in her spine, Fayette spun around, looking towards the main road out of the area. A carriage was rolling down the avenues and actually rolled over a canal, treating the air like a steady road.
The carriage was pulled by two snow-white horses, and it was painted with brilliant blacks and violets reminiscent of a night sky. Gemstones that emanated mana were inlaid all over, and lines of arcane power spread out from them, forming a weave more complex than any Fayette had ever seen. It thrummed with power.
The carriage moved calmly forward, then pulled to a stop right at the plaza’s entrance, and the [Guards] suddenly fanned out, forming a corridor of spears leading all the way to the main cathedral. Following the path with her eye, Fayette noticed that a pair of men had appeared at the doors of the cathedral, and now were waiting at the top of the stairs.
The carriage’s door swung open, and two men stepped out. One tall, confident, and dressed in robes. One shorter, rather pudgy, but with keen eyes. A moment after, a third one followed behind the other two.
Seeing the arrivals, Marie gasped, eyes widening.
“Do you recognize them?” Fayette asked, bumping her with an elbow.
The [Lady] nodded, eyes not leaving the advancing pair. “Martin wasn’t kidding, these are big shots. Most important in the monarchy, maybe.”
Fayette quirked an eyebrow, looking again at the two who had exited the carriage. The man in robes she could imagine being important, while the other was just… not what he imagined really. Turning, she considered the two waiting by the cathedral. An important priest and his bodyguard? At least the priest looks wise.
“Most important in the monarchy?” Mireille asked, stepping closer. “Details—please!”
“Don’t say that so loud!” Marie hissed, looking about. “I’m serious.”
First, she pointed at the man waiting atop the stairs, a wizened-looking man in grand, priestly robes, white a great white cap on his head. “[Archbishop] Villefore, second in command of our church.”
Then she pointed at the pudgy man, steadily marching towards the staircase. He wore fine robes and his eyes constantly roamed around, displeased, as if he was cataloging every misstep he saw. “[Lord] Du Angler, often called the [Lord of Industry], though I doubt his class is actually that. He owns most of the factories in the country through his many companies.”
Lastly, she pointed at the tall man in robes, maybe forty years of age, who walked as if he owned the world. He had an array of gleaming gemstones on his belt, and they all emanated powerful elemental energies. “[Grand Magus] Mondoug, peerless researcher, second-highest level [Mage] in the monarchy. He runs St. Jean Academy.”
Fayette nodded, then focused on the third man who followed the pair. “Is that guy important?”
Marie squinted for a moment, then shook her head. “I don’t recognize him, and based on how he’s walking, I’d wager he’s an assistant. Odd that there’s only one for the two of them.”
“Odder that there’s not a [Doctor] with them,” Olivia added, frowning.
Fayette whistled quietly, eyes following the advancing pair. “They do sound pretty important, I’ll admit. Are they high-level?”
Marie took a step closer and whispered quietly in Fayette’s ear. “Supposedly they’re all over level 50. I don’t think we’ll have anything to do with them, but if we do… be careful.”
Mireille poked her. “Seriously. Promise.”
“Right, right, of course,” Fayette said, thinking.
The pair and the man trailing them had finally reached the staircase, and to her surprise, it was the [Archbishop] who descended down. They talked together for a moment, then began walking to a fancy-looking restaurant by the plaza’s side.
I guess they prefer a more pleasant venue for meetings. I hope they have solutions. High-level people—hmm…
Struck with a fit of inspiration, Fayette suddenly closed her eyes, focusing on all her other senses one by one. [Eavesdrop] felt too risky to use, and [Dustsense] was a bit too chaotic for the plaza. Her [Dangersense] almost felt like it was pinging, but not quite. But that wasn’t everything, there was something else.
For a while now, Fayette had been able to get a vague sense of people’s classes, a [Maid’s] sense of social position or something like that. And it was that feeling she focused on. And it felt… stunning. Overwhelming.
Never before had she been so near truly high-level people, let alone three of them. And as she finally realized the distance between herself and the peak of power, something else noticed too.
[Conditions met: Dangersenseand Dustsense can be merged into Maidsense!]
[Use two skill points to merge? Y/N]
Fayette opened her eyes and grinned.
Maybe this training thing isn’t so hard after all.
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Bio: I started writing to cure my crippling reading addiction. It did not work.