Chapter 53 – Dodging the Guard
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I tensed up as I heard them coming, then relaxed, remembering that we were Rangers, and could probably just flash our badges to get out of trouble. I could see them perfectly well, although they couldn’t see me all that well on top of this roughly 20-foot (~7 meter) tall wall. Artemis had a crazed grin on her face.

I knew that look. That was the look she had right before she blew up a pillar as a ‘demonstration’. That was the look she had right before she’d ask me to do some crazy exercise. That was the ‘run now and don’t look back’ look.

There was nowhere to run to. I was in for it now.

In a surprisingly serious tone of voice, Artemis said. “Ranger Elaine. You are trapped on a wall with hostiles closing in. Your Ranger badge is useless. You’re escorting a VIP with no relevant skills, and bad physical stats. Your goal: Get yourself and the VIP to base safely, before dawn. Ready, set, go!”

Crap, an escort mission. Never really played that many games, but everyone moaned about them. I gave Artemis the side-eye. Fine. I had to get us out of here? I’d get us out of here. I grabbed Artemis’s hand, and was delighted in watching her eyes go from mischievous to terrified as I pulled and whisper-yelled, so nobody would hear us.

Jump!”

The wall was high, but the fall wouldn’t be lethal. Not with an Artemis cushion, and worst-case, I could heal us back up eventually. We stepped off the edge of the wall, suddenly plunging towards the street below. When we were nearly at the bottom, I threw up [Veil of the Aurora], and prepared for a bad time.

No idea why I couldn’t move [Veil], but it’d fall with me. Magic made no sense. We hit the ground, and I felt [Veil] shatter on impact, all 1433 mana I’d regenerated so far being consumed in an instant. I heard a sharp crack from Artemis’s ankle, and she went down hard.

“Fuck, Artemis, are you ok?” I asked, bending down next to her. She hissed in pain, and through gritted teeth, reprimanded me.

“What part about safely did you miss!?” She complained. I smiled cheekily.

“Well, for one, I’m a Healer, so as long as I heal you up between here and there, you’ve arrived safely. Nothing was mentioned about staying safe the entire time. Two, you forgot your pillow. I gave it to you so this wouldn’t happen, hmmm?”

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger Lore] has reached level 2!]

Artemis just groaned as I pulled on her arm. “Come on, up. Let’s get going. Let’s see if we can ask some guards for help.” Artemis wrapped an arm around me, and limped alongside with me.

“I said you couldn’t use your badge Elaine.” She reminded me.

“I know.” I said cheekily. “Who said I was going to use my badge? You’ve taken a nasty accident,” Artemis glared daggers at me for that. “And I’m helping you to a healer. Remember, I grew up around guards. I know how they tick.” We took a few more limping steps, at which point I hit Artemis with [Vastness of the Stars].

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vastness of the Stars] has reached level 71!]

I made a surprised noise at the notification, as the pixie-haired lightning mage let out a sigh of relief.

“I leveled.” I said with surprise.

“Not surprised. That’s the point of these types of exercises. Puts you under high stress, high-stakes situations relatively safely. It’ll never be as good experience as actually doing it, but it’s solid. Ranger training is basically two years of situational training. By the way, in your plan, how do you convince the guard that you’re taking me to a healer, when you’re healer-tagged?” Artemis said. Interesting. Something vaguely resembling a school did exist, but only for Rangers. Maybe there were more out there, and Aquiliea was just too backwater to know?

“A girl, healer-tagged? Please. They’ll assume I’m an apprentice or something, and I’m taking you somewhere better.” We limped along for another few moments.

“Artemis, help me out, as a mentor not as my training partner here for a moment. If we were actually doing this, should I stop for a moment to get enough mana to heal the VIP up, or should we keep moving, and I do the healing once I have enough mana? I’ve been thinking about it, can’t quite figure it out.” I asked.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger Lore] has reached level 3!]

Artemis grunted. “Good that you’re thinking about it. The answer is: It depends. Are pursuers right on your heels? Do you need to be moving? Is the injury causing that many problems? Work it out, think about it, then decide. Don’t half-ass things, it’ll mean you die, and worse- fail.”

I thought about it for a moment, checked [Vigilant] – all quiet - then plonked Artemis down on the floor of the alley we were in, behind some crates.

“Right, I thought about it. Wait for enough mana to heal you.”

Artemis glared at me from the ground, rubbing her butt. “Gentle! I’m a VIP, remember?”

I snorted. “More like a VAP.”

“VAP?” Artemis asked, leaning against a crate to climb to her feet. I eyed her appreciatively. Her ankle didn’t hurt, but she knew enough to still keep weight off of it so she wouldn’t do more damage.

“Very Annoying Person.” I said, sticking my tongue out at her. I checked my mana – I had regenerated a few hundred points, and I figured I could fix Artemis’s ankle at this point. Touching her and focusing, I used [Phases of the Moon], waiting for a notification.

… Any minute now….

Drat. No level. Artemis could tell what I was thinking, and rolled her eyes. “Decision time healy-bug. Do you want to do this the hard way, or the easy way? I wanted to see how you’d get off the wall – I thought I’d get you trapped - and you did that admirably. The rest is easy mode, especially with your plan of talking with the local guards. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of that – guards and I tend to get along like oil and fire. Your dad excluded.”

I weighed my options. On one hand, it was fun sneaking around town, dodging guards, pretending I was smuggling a VIP into town. On the other, I’d gotten my fill dodging guards as a kid, and I wasn’t in the mood to do more of it, not after a class up and an intense session of skill training.

“Let’s head back. Today was exhausting, tomorrow’s going to be worse. I don’t have [Greater Invigorate] to help with a lack of sleep either.”

Artemis looked at me in horror, seemingly just putting the pieces together. “Nooooo! My morning pick-me-up. Revert! Reveeeeeeert!” She grabbed my shoulders and “gently” shook me at that.

“Alright, let’s head back.” It was almost that easy. We just walked back to where we were staying, making a fun little game of dodging guards, but not taking it too seriously.

“Why didn’t [Oath] stop you?” Artemis asked. “I’d imagine it wouldn’t let you shove someone off a wall.”

Good question.

“I had a greater reason – the harm from being caught and captured, then injured. I may prevent greater harm, but it needs to be real.”

“It wasn’t real though.” Artemis pointed out. “It was just for fun.”

I grinned at her.

“The real reason? I didn’t push you, you jumped on your own. I had a way to try and prevent harm – [Aurora] – for myself, and that was enough. I wouldn’t practice it though; I could tell it wasn’t thrilled. Not enough to lose a level, but if I did it, say, a half dozen times, knowing what I know now? Probably would get penalized – possibly even more harshly than just losing a level.”

We arrived back at the wagon – we didn’t want to try to go into the barracks at this time of night, it’d just be awkward, and as I entered, I encountered a familiar, but strange, sensation.

Darkness.

[Eyes of the Milky Way] had kept everything nice and visible, but being in the wagon made everything dark again. I turned around to see what the outside looked like. Bright and moonlit.

It was bizarre. From how bright the outside looked, inside here it should be well-lit from spillover light. But it wasn’t, since the brightness was artificial, from a skill, not from sunlight. I closed my eyes and shook my head. This would take some getting used to. Might be harder to sleep without shelter as well, unless….

Yup, I could turn the skill off if needed. On, off. On, off. On. Perfect.

“Bit of feedback healy-bug,” Artemis said with her mouth full, mangling and mauling the words. “Try to tilt your shield next time, see if you can slide down it instead of making it take the full brunt.”

I tried to process what Artemis was saying, but my stomach rumbled, reminding me that I’d spent hours casting skills with no food, and that I’d skipped quite a few meals today, on account of classing up.

“Hey Artemis – “ I started to ask before she cut me off.

I heard a gulping noise. “You’re a Ranger now. You don’t need to ask permission.” She said, seemingly reading my mind.

With her permission, I grabbed some food, and chowed down, Artemis and I eating in companionable silence in the middle of the night, having the wagon all to ourselves.

We finished up, and I gave Artemis a big hug.

“Thanks. I appreciate everything.” I said.

“Awww healy-bug. Anytime for you.” She hugged me back, and we stayed like that for a few moments, a moment of peace, of calm, of philia, of ludus.

“Hey Artemis,” I asked. “What do you want from life? Do you want to be a Ranger forever? Or is there something you’re working towards?”

“Woof. That’s a tough one. Why’d you ask?”

I stared up at the darkness of the wagon. “Well, now that I’m a Ranger, I wonder. I wonder what it’s like. I wonder why I don’t see old Rangers, or former Rangers. And I want to know more about you. What does Artemis want from life?”

There was a long silence, stretching out awkwardly. A minute passed. Then a second. I waited. It was a deeply personal question, and I could suppress the eternal fidgeting inside of me for this.

“I’m not quite sure.” Artemis finally said. “I’ve just been going from one thing to the next, and landed here. Kinda like you.”

“On Rangers getting old though – most of us don’t. We’ve already lost two Rangers this run, and we’d have lost Kallisto if it wasn’t for you. That’d have been our entire frontline down, and that’s the start of a Ranger team wipeout. A probable result would’ve been us needing to cut the entire route short, which would be a huge black mark for all of us.”

“Has that happened before to you?”

“Yes. Don’t ask.”

More silence.

“What do you want from life?” Artemis turned it back on me. I paused for a moment, thinking. What did I want from life?

“Freedom. Sovereignty. The ability to do what I want. But I still have a few more years to figure it out.” I stuck my tongue out at Artemis, breaking the spell.

We chatted a bit more around bites of food – we were in town so we didn’t need to ration as much – before eventually going to bed. It was late, tomorrow was going to be busy.

I tucked myself in for a good night’s sleep, ready to ravage the refined rations remaining in Virinum tomorrow.

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 14]

[Mana: 2500/2500]

[Mana Regen: 5069]

 

Stats

[Free Stats: 0]

[Strength: 19]

[Dexterity: 23]

[Vitality: 41]

[Speed: 32]

[Mana: 250]

[Mana Regeneration: 700]

[Magic Power: 250]

[Magic Control: 775]

 

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 128]]

[Celestial Affinity: 128]

[Warmth of the Sun: 105]

[Medicine: 111]

[Center of the Galaxy: 101]

[Phases of the Moon: 68]

[Eyes of the Milky Way: 88]

[Veil of the Aurora: 65]

[Vastness of the Stars: 71]

 

[Class 2: [Firebug - Fire: Lv 8]]

[Fire Affinity: 2]

[Fire Resistance: 2]

[Fire Conjuration: 2]

[Fire Manipulation: 2]

[: ]

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[Class 3: Locked]

 

General Skills

[Identify: 71]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 72]

[Pretty: 97]

[Vigilant: 104]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 105]

[Ranger's Lore: 3]

[Running: 70]

[Learning: 103]

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