Chapter 16 – General Skills Bootcamp
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Artemis vanished before we all went to sleep, and reappeared the next morning, doing her absolute best to eat us out of house and home. Given that we generally didn’t store a ton of food, it was a very serious risk. Artemis and I left the house, and took a walk to the park.

“Alright, now that we’re alone, we can start.” I looked at her puzzled. Artemis snorted at me. “I grew up with Julia. I know exactly how she thinks, and what she did with her skills. I can guess what she’s done with you and your skills. So, what skills do you actually have?”

“Identify, Knives, Vigilant, First Aid, Anatomy, Running, and Learning” I quickly rattled off.

“Elaine.” Artemis looked at me.

“Yes?” I said, all innocence.

“I can count. Come on, spit it out, what’s your last skill?”

I looked down, slightly embarrassed. What would the fierce ranger Artemis think if she knew I took [Pretty]? She probably didn’t have anything like that. I wringed my hands together as I shifted from foot to foot. Anyone else I would be fine with telling. Anyone else I would be happy to tell. But this was ARTEMIS. She glared at me, foot tapping impatiently. I couldn’t bear the look.

[Pretty].” I said, as quietly as I could. Artemis eyed me. Oh god here it was

“Solid. Yeah, I can see that. Good pick!” she said. I was confused. Artemis didn’t laugh at me for it? She thought it was a good pick? “Oh, don’t look so confused. I have a similar skill.”

“Oh? Which one?” I could believe it.

“Not telling! Nyeah” she replied, sticking her tongue out at me.

“Alright, lets head back, I need to pick some things up from your place.”

We headed back, where Artemis and mom did some running around, getting some strange things together. Some bandages I understood. What were the leather scraps for? Why were we bringing some thick woolen socks with us? And what was the comb for? This felt like a bad interrogation movie – “Won’t talk eh? Bring me a comb, a used wool sock, and an old boot.” “No! Not the boot! Anything but the boot!” I was dead curious, but Artemis had a gleam of mischief in her eyes – it was clear she wouldn’t tell me anything. We wandered out of town, into a clear-cut field around the walls.

“Why here?” Thinking about it, I had spent nearly my entire life inside of the walls of Aquiliea. I hadn’t left. There just wasn’t a reason to leave, everything we needed could be found inside of the walls of the town. Oh sure, merchants, sailors, and farmers were constantly in and out – it wasn’t like everyone just lived inside – but for some reason, we just never had a reason to leave.

“Ok, quick review time. Class, level, mana regen, and levels of each of your general skills.”

I gave a quick rundown, snapping out each point as quickly as I could.

“What on Pallos is [Child of Earth]?” Artemis eyed me suspiciously. Crap. This wasn’t good. I started to sweat – literally, it was already fairly warm, it didn’t take much more for me to start. Err Err Err…

“I have no idea” I said, very convincingly. Artemis didn’t look convinced. By Edor’s rusty trident, I was doomed. I looked down to the ground, pretending to be fascinated by the grass and ferns. Why was this field so short? The grass and ferns and other misc. plants should be growing as tall as possible should they not?

“Eh. Whatever. Congratulations on level 8. Sounds like you haven’t allocated any free stats yet, right?”

“Right.”

“Ok. Don’t allocate anything into the physical stats. You’re still growing, you can get quite a few more naturally. You probably won’t get anything more in Speed though, since you have [Running]. I’m not completely sure, but it seems like if you have a skill relating to a stat, you’ll level the skill instead of the stat. I have no idea how to level the magical stats naturally. I’ve heard of it, no idea. Glad that [Learning] is at level 8. No idea how I’d level that one either. Ok, to start, let’s dump enough stats into your magic stats to get everything to 10. Quite a few entry-level classes I’ve heard of ask for that.”

That made sense. Let me see. My magic stats were currently:

[Mana: 2]

[Mana Regeneration: 2]

[Magic Power: 2]

[Magic Control: 10]

So 8x3 = 24, 24 more stat points needed to get everything to 10. I had 32. Lucky me!

Hang on. “Hey Artemis, why are you telling me to get my magical stats up to 10? What about my physical stats? They should also unlock stuff, right?”

“Smart girl! I don’t see you going down a physical road, do you Ms. ‘I wanted to be a mage’?”

“I’m thinking more about being a healer though. I just don’t know.”

“It works either way. Chop chop, we don’t have all day.”

Artemis had an excellent point there. I allocated my 24 points, and was dismayed to see:

[Mana: 10]

[Mana Regeneration: 10]

[Magic Power: 9]

[Magic Control: 9]

“Hey Artemis, I put 24 points into my magic skills, but I didn’t get them all to 10. Magic Power only got to 9, and I lost a point in Magic Control!”

Artemis looked guilty for some reason. A torrent of foul language came out of her. I took notes, I was always looking for creative ways to swear.

“I uh” she started “May have completely forgotten about the power/control trade off. I just fucked your class change over. There’s a world of difference between a stat split of 8/10 and a stat split of 9/9. Oh shit Elaine I’m so sorry, I’m so used to training someone in physical stats – they always easily hit four 10’s. I just don’t get mini-mages to train.”

I still had a bunch of leftover free stats, why was she so upset? “Hey Artemis, you know I have 8 free stats left right?”

The shutters closed on her face. Artemis looked at me. Not in the happy way last night when we were eating food. Not in the sassy way when she had seen dad. Not in the matronly way when she was brushing my hair in the baths yesterday. No. This was terrifying. This was the look of Ranger and Monster. This was Artemis, the Huntress. I could feel a crackling in the air, my hair lifting up all around me. There was some distant yelling from the guards on the wall.

“Hey you.” Artemis called at me. That wasn’t a nice tone of voice. That wasn’t “Elaine” or “kiddo” or anything with affection. That was “you”. Artemis took out a round metal ball looking object covered with glowing runes. “This is a truth detector. You lie, it’ll go off, and a hundred lightning bolts fry your slimy monster guts.” I peed myself in terror. What happened? Why was ARTEMIS of all people about to lightning bolt me? What had I done?

“First question: What’s your [Race]?”

“Human!” I responded all to quickly. Better be thorough just in case. No time for secrets if telling them might prevent lightning. “The damned god wanted to make me a golden crow but I said no I said I wanted to be human I have always been a human I was born human never anything but a human” I babbled, falling to my knees. This is what Damonus must have felt like yesterday. Oh god, I was going to get murdered in cold blood like Damonus. Artemis had no mercy.

Artemis narrowed her eyes further at my babblings, and I could see lightning starting to spark around her. She looked carefully, deliberately at the glowing lie detector in her hands.

“Second question: How do you have excess stat points?”

What. That’s what this was about? That one was easy! Some of the relief on my face must have shown, because Artemis relaxed. Maybe one hair. Literally one of my floating hairs went down.

“It’s [Child of Earth] it gives 3 free stat points per level not 1 or 2.” Wait damnit that only got me to 24 stat points shit shit shit where did those last few points come from.

Artemis looked at the lie detector. Looked at me. Looked back. Looked… ashamed? I finished collapsing to the ground, taking great big deep breaths as the static in the air calmed down. Gods and I had peed myself. It stung and burned. This was the worse. Artemis probably hated me, that was why she had almost murdered me. Artemis sat down next to me, and after a long pause, started to speak.

“I’m sorry Elaine.” She started, slowly, hesitantly. “It’s common knowledge that humans have a max of 24 free skills points for their first tier-up. That’s because [Child of Pallos] only offers two free points per level. So, when you said you had more, I instantly jumped to monster. There are quite a few monsters that look just like a human. Remember that landed selkie I was telling you about? The one that pretended to be a human to stab me? She came to me disguised as a kid, about your age. I immediately jumped to that. Or maybe a changeling. And the thought of a changeling living with my best friends, slowly waiting to get strong enough to murder them and flee into the night, well – I reacted accordingly. I didn’t even think to ask what [Child of Earth] did. It just slipped my mind. Elainus would have never forgiven me if I hurt you. Gods, he wouldn’t be able to, Julia would have murdered me first.” Artemis buried her head in her hands. “I’ve been around monsters too much, and not around people nearly enough. I’m on a hair trigger. Can you forgive me Elaine?” Wait. Artemis was crying? I rolled over, thighs burning acrid on me.

“Two conditions” I demanded. I had been terrified.

“Anything” Artemis replied desperately.

“One: I need a fresh set of clothes after all that.” Artemis gave a choking sob-laugh at that, as she pulled out a fresh set of clothes from her bag. “I thought you’d get muddy with what we were doing today, so I prepared a few extras. Turns out we needed it much earlier, ha-ha.” Artemis tried to laugh, tried to make light of the situation. She failed miserably, but I appreciated the attempt.

“Two: Tell me about the truth-detector! I’ve never even heard you could do that!” Something that glowy and cool had to be powerful magic. It also seemed like it wasn’t a skill. Magic without a skill? I wanted.

Artemis gave a real laugh at that. “Oh this? It’s a standard-issue ranger flask. It purifies water for us when we’re in the wilderness.” What. Lies! I suppose she thought I might be a monster, so it was fair game. Still. Shiny truth detector, gone. “It’s made by our engraver. Handy stuff engraving, you can make objects that use mana with them. You can have it if you want though.”

I thought about it, but fear and terror were taking a hike, leaving just exhaustion behind. What did I need a magic water bottle for in the city? It sounded like Artemis needed that. “No, you keep it”

“Fine. How about I owe you a big favor instead?” Artemis bargained.

I rolled over, giving her a big hug, forgiving her. Artemis wiped her face, and got up, seemingly bouncing back. “Also, if you don’t tell your parents about this, I’ll owe you two more big favors!” She grinned. Artemis was irrepressible.

“Yeah yeah fine.” I waved it off. If I told my parents, I would probably never see Artemis again.

A quick, humiliating trip into town to change and clean up, and we were back outside in the field.

“Alrighty! First off, put those two amazing bonus points of yours into power and control, then you’re going to run!” I did as Artemis said, and started jogging lightly. “Come on Elaine! When I say run, you RUN! Like a vicious monster is going to eat you alive!” Artemis started playing with a knife, having it bounce up and down. I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to hurt me, not after earlier. I wasn’t going to risk it. I went up to a run, and was rewarded.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Running] has reached level 4!]

After about 12 minutes or so of running, I suddenly felt much heavier, much more tired. It was hard to move my legs. What was going on? I was in pretty good shape! I ran all the time! Artemis chuckled at my confusion.

“You’re brand new to running with a skill and mana to back it up. What you’re feeling now is how you normally feel when you run. You just got used to the skill crutch super-fast. You can keep running without it, but you won’t be as fast. Slowpoke.”

“Slowpoke!?” I huffed out “You’re the slowpoke!” Artemis got a dangerous gleam in her eye.

“Well, let’s race then! I win, you do my laundry. You win, you get the privilege of doing my laundry.”

“Hey wait- “

Ready set go!” Artemis blurted out, starting to run. I ran as fast as I could, catching up, starting to overtake her. Ha! Running skill, here we go!

“Eat my dust!” Artemis cried out, stepping up the gas. She ran directly in front of me, kicking up a large cloud of dust. How did she do that it was muddy? Coughing, barely able to see, I slowed down and indicated my surrender.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Running] has reached level 5!]

Hands waving above her head in triumph, Artemis crowed. “Woo free laundry service! Alrighty, we’re going to work on some of your other skills while your mana regenerates. Here, let’s go sit on those rocks over there.”

We wandered over to some boulders, and took a seat. Much better than the ground. Artemis pulled my knife and a MANGO from her bag. I liked where this was going! Artemis showed me how to properly hold a knife, how to properly use it safely. Always think about the direction of the cut. Always imagine what happens when it slips. Will it go into your finger? Will it go into your friend? Will it go into your face? Will it go into your family? The four F’s Artemis called them.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Knives] has reached level 2!]

Success! It really seemed like the early levels were much easier to get than the later levels. How high did levels go anyways? I started to, which as must restraint as I could muster, try to peel the mango to get to the delicious insides. “Hey Artemis, what’s the highest level?”

“Lots of people will tell you lots of things.” Artemis got a comb out from her seemingly never-ending bag. “Some people think it’s 1000. Others will tell you it’s 500. I personally think it’s 10,000. There’s a theory out there that it’s around level 4000.” She started combing my hair as I was carefully getting the rind off the mango. That was nice. It was also distracting.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 3!]

Ah, that’s why Artemis was combing my hair.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Knives] has reached level 3!]

Success! Mango peeled, ready to be eaten! I carefully carved out a slice of heaven, and was about to take a bite when -.

“YOINK!” Artemis grabbed the mango out of my hands, popped it in her mouth, and started to chew. I looked at her, mouth gaping wide.

“MY MANGO!” I cried out with all the indignation in my body. “YOU STOLE MY MANGO!”

“Yup.” Artemis kept chewing happily. “Good stuff. Got anymore for me?” She grinned cockily.

I screamed in fiery rage, and remembered I had a knife. Knives weren’t for sticking in friends, but maybe they were for sticking in foes? And a mango thief was a foe. Without thinking, I slashed out wildly, only for Artemis to laughingly stop my knife with the palm of her hand.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Knives] has reached level 4!]

“Well, you’ve got some fire in you, which is good! I was worried for a bit there. Although, you didn’t break skin, which is a problem.” Artemis looked bummed. “I hate cutting myself.”

My impotent rage died out almost as quickly as it had started, and I felt a cold sweat go all over me. That had been monumentally stupid. Artemis could quite literally kill me with a thought, and I was throwing a tantrum over a slice of MANGO? Whoof. Barely thinking, I sliced some more chunks off, and meekly handed them to Artemis without complaint. Artemis happily ate them as I made them.

In this way we passed the day. Artemis lectured a little bit on the medical knowledge she had. It was practical knowledge mostly, gathered up from needing to patch herself up from dozens of fights, but most of it was flat out wrong. I reviewed the right knowledge (or what I thought was right – I didn’t know a lot in the first place), and [Anatomy] went up. Artemis gave herself a few small cuts, had me slice the old socks into make-shift bandages to cover them, and [First Aid] leveled. We would run when my mana was full, and sometimes when it was empty, to help level [Running]. Artemis had me cut at the leather scraps she had brought, working on [Knives]. We had a lovely time with cosmetics and combs, painting nails and some beautiful tunics, and [Pretty] was boosted. A tunic might have gotten into a slight paint mishap in the process. I was glad it wasn’t my nice one.

It was the late afternoon when I finally got every skill except [Identify] up to level 8. [Identify] was apparently a real bear to level, and even Artemis begrudgingly admitted that she only had it around level 120 or so. We took a moment to review my stats after all of this:

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 8]

[Mana: 100/100]

[Mana Regeneration: 90]

[Class 1: [Child of Earth - Wood: Lv 8]]

[Class 2: Locked]

[Class 3: Locked]

Stats

[Free Stats: 6]

[Strength: 4]

[Dexterity: 7]

[Vitality: 3]

[Speed: 4]

[Mana: 10]

[Mana Regeneration: 10]

[Magic Power: 10]

[Magic Control: 10]

General Skills

[Identify: 3]

[Knives: 8]

[Pretty: 8]

[Vigilant: 8]

[First Aid: 8]

[Anatomy: 8]

[Running: 8]

[Learning: 8]

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