Chapter 54 – Shield skills with Maximus
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I woke up the next morning to a mighty roar, a lion asserting it was king of the jungle, a dinosaur triumphantly claiming its territory.

My stomach declaring the morning plans, which was FOOD.

I sat up, immediately awake, only to find a bowl of food next to me. My money was on Artemis. I promptly chowed down, got up, only to realize: Now what?

I was supposed to be training my new skills, and today was fire. Fire. Heat and dancing flames. Eventual fireballs. Eventual flying. Couldn’t come fast enough.

I headed out of the wagon, and paused. More food, or training? Heaps of food, or training?

My stomach rumbled. A housecat, asserting dominance. A dog, letting someone know it was his territory. Fine. Food it was, and maybe I could bump into Artemis while I was out and about.

Or Maximus. He was pretty good with the skills thing. I skipped along to market, intending to raid the food vendors as hard as I could with my now-significant funds. I went, got a small mountain of food, then realized something on the way back to the wagon.

I had time off. Actual, real, time off. I’d been moving so fast, for so long, that time where I didn’t have an immediate direction, immediate things to do, felt so long ago. It must’ve been what? The summer solstice? When I last had free time like this? Let me think…

After the solstice was the never-ending cycle of work and chores, then Artemis had showed up in Aquiliea – I suppose eating dinner with her kinda counted as free time, but then again, we always needed to eat – then the whole mess with the fire, recovering, Kerberos, running away from home, camping, bandits, meeting up with the Rangers, and non-stop training.

Yeah. Free time.

What did I even do with my free time? I could play in the park, but it felt almost undignified. I could….

Hmmmm…..

Screw it, I could heal people. Have a little vendor stall, but instead of pitas, ham on cheese on bread (would it kill you to add an extra slice of bread to make a sandwich!?), have discount healing. There might be a Light healer here, there might not be, but either way I’d get healing to people who ordinarily couldn’t afford it.

Was it work? Was it play? Did it matter? It was making the world a tiny bit a better place, and it was already enough of a shit show that every little bit helped.

Operation “Elaine’s discount limb restoration” (I had to work on the name, that was the sketchiest thing I’d ever come up with) came to a screeching halt as I got back to the wagon (something else we needed a real name for), and found Maximus waiting for me. Another Ranger! Perfect!

“Hi Maximus!” I said, bounding over happily. Training time! Fire!

He cuffed me on the head, hard.

“Owe, fuck, what was that for?” I asked him, rubbing my head. It was less about the reaction to the pain – thank you [Center of the Galaxy] – and more about the actions behind it.

“Elaine. You’ve been told not to wander off on your own in towns. We move in pairs for a reason. You don’t have an emergency signal skill, and even if you did, you haven’t told anyone about it.”

“But- “

“No buts. As. A. Team. Got it?”

“Yes Maximus...” I said, poutily looking down, kicking a rock. “What should I do if nobody’s around?” Afterall, I’d woken up, and there wasn’t anyone around. What else was I supposed to do but soothe the savage beasty called my stomach?

“You wait. This is our home away from home. Stick to it until someone comes by. For reference, I was just inside the barracks. If you’d waited more than a moment, you wouldn’t have been alone. Notice how I stayed here, waiting for you?” My roasting continued, as I held my head down.

“Ready to start working on your skills?” Maximus changed the topic.

“Yes!” I exclaimed loudly, shame from being scolded quickly burned away. “Let’s go!”

I wanted to sprint to the gates as fast as I could, but the scolding was fresh in my mind, even if the shame was gone. I carefully, carefully, walked with Maximus as we made our way through the gates, outside.

“Right, might as well catch me up on your shield. Tell me all about it.” I told him everything we’d learned yesterday.

“What ratio of mana spent on a skill to mana spent dissipating the attack did you end up getting?” He asked at the end of it.

I stared at him blankly, no idea what he was talking about. He facepalmed.

“Of course. Artemis. She’s absolutely brilliant at attacking and finding weaknesses – I wouldn’t have thought to try launching attacks from inside the shield for example – but doesn’t go about things in a rigorous way. She wouldn’t think about checking mana consumption – she’s all about using all her mana immediately.” He looked to the sky, arms wide, in a pose of “why me oh Lord. Why must you torment me so.”

“Right. Let’s find out how much your shield can take, by the numbers. Shield up! I’m going to launch a skill that takes 10 mana, then 100 mana at your shield. Pay attention, and look at how much your mana drops each time.”

I did exactly what he said, noticing a small blip of 8 mana, then 83 mana lost.

I dropped my shield, reporting what I’d found.

“Why don’t we try 1000 mana?” I asked. I got a withering look back.

“Not all of us are made out of mana. I don’t have a mana pool that large. Why do you think it takes me so long to reshape a weapon, and why I do it ahead of time? It’s all on my regeneration.”

Whoops. Didn’t mean to show him up. Nobody likes being shown up, especially not by a kid less than half their age.

“Well, at least your physical stats are all really good!” I tried to cheer him up. I got an eye roll back.

“Elaine, my ego’s not that fragile.” He crossed his arms, tapping his fingers thoughtfully.

“Ok, you have a solid shield, but you need almost as much mana to oppose a skill as it takes to use the skill. That’s pretty good with your mana pool and regeneration – you should be relatively safe from mages. Unless they burst down your shield using a large mana pool, like Artemis. Also, generally speaking, you can only oppose a skill up to the point of your magic power. Again, someone like Artemis with a higher Magic Power than you can blow your shield up, before getting through all of your mana. However, that’s bad when it comes to physical blows – you’ll burn through your pool in no time. Since your shield actively burns mana when it’s hit, not when it’s created, and it brings blows to a halt, we need to do two types of training with you and your shield.”

I was paying rapt attention. I’d been playing with my shield, and I thought I’d come up with some good ideas – like using it to break a fall successfully. From Artemis’s and Maximus’s comments though, I’d just been scratching the surface of what was possible.

“How does [Oath] interplay with that?” I asked.

“No idea. It’s a self-made skill. What do you think?”

I looked over [Oath].

“I think, if I’m shielding someone else, protecting them like I’ve sworn to, that it’ll kick in. Otherwise, it’s just another skill.”

Maximus pursed his lips. “Well, better than nothing I suppose. One last note – be careful of shield-destruction skills or buffs. They’re rare, but they do exist specifically to take out skills like yours. Then again, we should be protecting you from that sort of problem, as you protect us. Ah well. Let’s start.”

“First off is reflex training. You have a snap-shield, and you’re incredibly fragile stat-wise. I’m going to throw things at you – most of us will, it won’t just be here, today, it’ll be something ongoing – and you need to snap your shield up to block it from hitting you. We’ll focus on speed first, finesse and size of the shield – the smaller the snap the better - second. It’s more important to stay safe than to get it perfect.” I nodded along. Good practice if anyone shot arrows at me, and this Ranger business was all sorts of dangerous.

“The second practice is less fun.” Maximus started by apologizing to me. That was ominous. Nobody apologized for giving me training. “It’s called ‘Take it or shield it’, and it’s something I made up here.”

“Take it or shield it?” I asked as Maximus drew his sword.

“Yeah. Stating the obvious – you’re a healer. If I’m swinging a sword at you, but it’s going to be a shallow blow, it’ll be less mana for you to take the hit and heal it, than to shield it. For example, shield up, one blow.” I threw my shield up without a moment of hesitation, almost missing the last part. I watched a huge blow hit my shield, draining 422 points of mana. I dropped my shield, looking at Maximus.

“Sorry.” He said, lunging towards me, almost as fast as I could track, sword coming down on a narrow slice on my arm.

I jumped back, [Center of the Galaxy] shielding me from the burning cut along my arm, the pain of betrayal sharp like spilt blood.

“What the fuck!?” I shouted.

“Heal it. Check the mana.” Maximus ordered. I did. 32 mana – it was a shallow cut, easy to stitch back together.

“How much did it take to shield the hit? How much did it take to heal the hit?”

“422. 32.” I said, eyes widening as I realized what he meant, and what the implications were.

He nodded approval at my epiphany. “Exactly. Shield it, or take it? Blows that’ll be shallow, that’ll be superficial, you should probably take it. Deep thrusts should probably be shielded. Lethal blows, of course, should be shielded. You need to assume unknown blows are lethal, or incapacitating. Arrows are tricky – barbed will be a problem, poisoned will be a problem, but otherwise should be taken. Requires amazing reflexes to tell on the fly, and you quite simply don’t have them…… Yet.”

That was the scariest yet I’d heard in my entire life.

“I should also dodge them, especially if I have reflexes like you’re talking about.” I pointed out; glad I could add another piece of the “keep Elaine alive” puzzle going. I cast a brief, regretful thought to skipping out on that [Dodging] skill all those years ago. Maximus made an agreeing noise. “And not be in a fight in the first place!” I added in.

Maximus threw a pebble at me, hard, fast. I tried to dodge it, but it hit. Point made, point made.

“Right. Let’s practice shields first, then we can move onto ‘shield or hit’.” He said, his point being made. I didn’t have nearly the stats to be dodging blows right now.

“Also, turn off [Center of the Galaxy] while we do this. The pain will be good for learning.”

Fuck.

We practiced. I wish training montages were a thing. No. I had to take every blow, feel every unblocked rock hit me. They stung especially hard, knowing they didn’t need to hurt at all.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 66!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 104!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger Lore] has reached level 4!]

I got some solid notifications and levels out of practicing to snap shields up. [Ranger Lore] was a bit of a surprise, but I guess I was low-level in it, which made it easy to level, and training with a Ranger was Ranger-ish enough for a level.

That was my logic anyways. After a few hours of shield-snapping practice, Maximus called a halt.

“Good work. This will continue, but you’re getting better and better with it. Constant vigilance. It’ll keep you alive.”

I giggled, imagining Maximus with a crazy eye. Maybe with some careful editing….

I had [Vigilant]! Maybe it could tell me when something was coming.

Feel an itch, snap shields. Feel an itch, snap shields.

Unless I was in town. There was a constant low-level pinging and itching when in town, usually due to various street urchins eyeing up my purse. It made it nearly useless in towns, and…

Holy shit. That’s why Artemis spent so much time in the baths or with the guards. Her reflex wasn’t a shield – it was lightning and rocks in the general direction of the problem. There had been incidents, and she was trying to minimize them without dulling her reflexes.

I groaned. Would this be my life now?

“Let’s move to shield or hit.” Maximus continued on, oblivious to my revelations. I made a small whining noise. “But my tunic…” It was still my only good tunic, and the thought of losing it after only a few days hurt me, hurt [Pretty]. Fortunately, normal skills didn’t lose levels like [Oath] could.

“But my tunic nothing. Elaine, are you a Ranger or a kid?”

I fired up at that. “Ranger!” I said, loudly, proudly.

“Then act like one! We go through dozens of tunics! There will be new ones! Now start!” With that, he whipped some long, flexible weapon towards me, something like a sharp blade on the end of a rope.

The weapon was a bitch. It was medium-range, and it could stab, slash, and move and attack from various inventive angles, as flexible as its user. I’d see it coming one way, and it’d twist in mid-air to strike at a different angle.

‘Shield or hit’ was much worse, and my poor tunic was in bloody shreds by the time we were done. [Center of the Galaxy] was on for this, since it’d help me practice getting hit in a fight and immediately healing – and partially practicing “did this even need healing.”

Maximus had brought a handful of blood-restoration potions, which I reluctantly held my nose and drank.

Hang on, could [Vastness of the Stars] help with foul tasting potions? A quick experiment said yes, [Vastness] could help with terrible-tasting medicine. I don’t think I’d ever level from using it this way, but it was creative. I half-expected [Learning] to level up from that.

[Oath] was happy. I hadn’t cut myself, I hadn’t asked to be mauled to heal myself, and so I could happily practice healing under stressful conditions well. I suspected that if I asked to do this, for that purpose, [Oath] might be a little less happy. It was a stupidly complex skill, with shades and nuances I still was unsure about.

I panted as I fixed another cut, throwing up a partial shield to handle another incoming blow. Maximus’s control was perfect – he could make something look like a lethal blow, and if I screwed up or misjudged it, he had the ability to pull it short, turn what would be a massive injury into something less lethal. He still gave me shit over it, but it was reasonable.

All of the training paid off with a bunch of levels.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 67!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 105!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger Lore] has reached level 5!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 69!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 102!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 112!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 106!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 70!]

“Good work Elaine. Your ability to work hard at this is fantastic. Let’s take a break, and then work on your Fire skills.”

I collapsed on the ground, exhausted. This had taken a ton out of me, and the only thing preserving some modesty with my shredded tunic was the huge amounts of blood coating me. Getting back to town would be interesting to say the least.

Maximus broke out some food, and I happily chowed down. I needed more food. So much more. My morning raid had been paltry, and casting skills as fast as I could, burning mana at the rate I’d been using it at, would mean I’d need even more food.

Still, nothing could extinguish the burning flame inside of me, the passion I had for what was to come next.

Fire.

[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: 70]

[Eyes of the Milky Way: 88]

[Veil of the Aurora: 66]

[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: 5]

[Running: 70]

[Learning: 105]

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