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Combat Healer (Book 1)
Red Oni Battlemage

Genre: Adult, Men's Fiction, LitRPG, Epic Fantasy

Tags: Dark Fantasy, Harem, Male Lead, LitRPG, Monster Girls, Mystery


Combat Healer: Red Oni Battlemage: a Men's LitRPG Adventure

Allister is a combat healer, and a good one at that, capable of healing that which others cannot. In fact, he might even be the best in the entire kingdom. However, he didn't become so powerful by sheer luck or coincidence.

Hiding a dark past full of horrors and torment, his already dangerous lifestyle as a Scourge Suppressor is about to become even more perilous. Thankfully, there is one glimmer of light breaking through the darkness.

What was once lost, will be found again.

And that which is found, will never again be taken from him, so long as he draws breath.

He won’t allow it.


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Combat Healer is a full-length novel (101,000 words)

Allister is a combat healer, and a good one at that, capable of healing that which others cannot. In fact, he might even be the best in the entire kingdom. However, he didn't become so powerful by sheer luck or coincidence.

Hiding a dark past full of horrors and torment, his already dangerous lifestyle as a Scourge Suppressor is about to become even more perilous. Thankfully, there is one glimmer of light breaking through the darkness.

What was once lost, will be found again.

And that which is found, will never again be taken from him, so long as he draws breath.

He won’t allow it.

 


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Combat Healer: Red Oni Battlemage by Kaizer Wolf

  • Published: Aug. 16, 2022
  • Words: 101,730
  • ISBN: 978-0463746226

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Combat Healer 1 by Kaizer Wolf

  • epub, mobi, PDF
  • Words: 101,000

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Prologue

A young elf girl with black hair slowly opened her purple eyes, her irises immediately flashing silver as they adjusted to the darkness, feeling confused as to where she was or how she’d gotten there. Her nose inhaled a gust of fresh air, starkly contrasted to the stale breath in her lungs, and she groggily sat up to stare at the bizarre sight in the near distance.

She was in an enormous cavern…or was it a stone room?

She wasn’t sure, but a pair of massive stone doors were currently open wide, revealing a brilliant blue sky and grassy fields in the distance. The sight was so bright that her eyes transitioned to purple again, the rest of the room now feeling dark.

She stared at the sight in confusion, unable to understand where she was, unable to recall what had led to her coming to exist there. Her mouth tasted of blood, and yet she felt no pain. As far as she knew, there were no injuries on her body.

Feeling in a daze, she slowly stood up, her bare foot coming to rest against something hard, only for her purple eyes to widen in alarm.

Unexpectedly, with a loud creak, the stone doors began closing of their own volition.

Panicked, she immediately made a dash for it, running as fast as her thin emaciated legs could carry her, bolting for what she knew was her only chance to escape.

Her only chance to flee from a living hell.

Her only chance…

To escape the Dungeon.

Chapter 1: Healer

Introduction to a World of Essence

A normal person without Essence Affinity was limited by the universe, never to exceed 20 points in any attribute of their existence. And never to achieve 20 in more than one attribute, even after a lifetime of hard work and determination.

Furthermore, while each attribute was theoretically capable of reaching level 10, the points associated with those higher levels varied on a number of factors, with a level 10 possibly meaning 20 points for one person, but only 18 points for another.

Not to mention, the overall maximum combined level was only 40 across six attributes, including Strength, Dexterity, Fortitude, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma, therefore preventing any meaningful growth after a certain amount of time and effort.

As were the limitations on life.

----------------------------------------

Average Human Male (Adult)

----------------------------------------

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: 12 (Lv. 6)

Dexterity: 12 (Lv. 6)

Fortitude: 10 (Lv. 5)

Wisdom: 10 (Lv. 5)

Intelligence: 8 (Lv. 4)

Charisma: 8 (Lv. 4)

---------------------------------------- 

Total: 60

Rank: D Tier

----------------------------------------

Level: 30/40

----------------------------------------

But for a person with Essence Affinity…those boundaries were higher. A maximum of 25 points was possible for each attribute, along with the capability of exceeding 20 points in more than one.

A seemingly small difference.

And yet that small difference, made all the difference.

Especially in the fight against the Scourge, the darkness that plagued the Elven lands…

----------------------------------------

Allister Rosengard

----------------------------------------

STATUS

Race: Human

Gender: Male

Age: 21

Class: Healer

Focus: Essence Diviner

----------------------------------------

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: 16 (Lv. 8)

Dexterity: 13 (Lv. 7)

Fortitude: 12 (Lv. 6)

Wisdom: 24 (Lv. 10)

Intelligence: 24 (Lv. 10)

Charisma: 12 (Lv. 6)

----------------------------------------

Total: 101

Rank: S Tier

---------------------------------------- 

Level: 47/50

----------------------------------------

But attributes and Rank were not everything.

Unlocking a Focus, the subset of a Class, was the key to increasing the maximum combined level from 40 to 50, with the difference being between having the potential to reach only C Tier with 79 total points, versus being capable of reaching A Tier or higher with 90 or more points.

A big difference, indeed.

But there was even more to battle prowess than that.

Even upon unlocking a Focus, sometimes Skills mattered above all else.

Sometimes Skills mattered even more than overall Rank, given that a Focus was unlocked.

In fact, in a world where such knowledge about attributes and levels was widely unavailable, there was nothing more important than one’s test of power and utility in an actual fight against the Scourge Beasts. But in a world where such fights were common and lethal for the poorly prepared, being overcome by the enemy ended the lives of many who might have otherwise found fame, glory, and coin in defending the lands.

As was the life…of a Scourge Suppressor.

And as was the value…of having a Healer on the team.


* * *

Present Day

A young Oni woman with rosy skin and white hair focused in the distance at the towering stone walls stretching in either direction as far as she could see, relieved to have finally made it, though knowing this was only the beginning of her real search.

A search to find hope and salvation in the powerful healer she’d heard tales about on her long journey. The exact kind of person she’d been hoping to find when she started her journey in the first place.

A healer who was rumored to live in the Elven capital of the Delanor Kingdom.

The main portion of the city was entirely surrounded by enormous stone walls that were so tall that few buildings rose above it, the main ones being a few of the numerous guild buildings on the east side toward her right, and then of course many of the royalty buildings and towers far toward the northwest, on her left.

And she’d arrived just in time too.

The previous evening was when she’d finally run out of coin, using the last of her bronze to snag a stable stall with fresh hay at an Elven farmhouse for the night.

Her host hadn’t been able to offer anything else, not even a meal, since they had their own family to feed, but she appreciated their willingness to take in a complete stranger, especially after dark.

And especially since it had been the sixth place she’d stopped at, trying to get some shelter before the rain began.

Normally, she would have just camped out in the open like usual, but a terrible storm blew away her simple shelter about a week ago, and she feared it was going to storm last night much harder than it actually did. Of course, the capital’s walls had been in sight by then, but not only were the gates closed at that late hour, she also didn’t have enough coin to actually snag a room at an inn anyway.

However, she wasn’t about to let her predicament pull her mood down.

Even though she had no coin, she was a strong fighter, and knew her skills were valued enough that she could easily make some money, one way or another. Assuming she could convince a team to add her to their group temporarily, if only for a few months.

And even though a small part of her feared that this mystery person she was seeking out might not be able to help her, a larger part of her had hope that this secret nightmare of hers would finally come to an end.

It also helped that she’d been able to rinse off in a nearby stream, leaving her feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day ahead.

With her leather bag slung over her strong left shoulder, and her long black metal mace-like staff, which was secretly a magical artifact, firmly gripped in her rosy right hand, she moved to begin merging with the throng of people and wagons already entering the southeastern gate.

There were four Elf Guard, all dressed in their dark blue uniforms with silver accents, standing guard as mostly Elves, Oni, and Minotaur made their way through, there being few humans in this region, with it being rare that travelers were stopped for inspection.

A sign of the safety of the capital, and just how effective the Elf Queen’s policies were, in stifling crime. However, as she approached, she had every intention of getting their attention, since she needed directions, even if she vaguely knew where the five biggest guilds were located.

Angling toward the nearest Elf Guard, who stood nearly half a foot above her despite the fact that she stood as tall as the average human male, it didn’t go unnoticed that he had his left hand on the hilt of his sword on his left hip, with her knowing full well the elves had a drawing technique that allowed them to draw from the same side and slice through an opponent’s neck all in one motion as they transferred the weapon to their dominant hand for a more prolonged battle, in the event their foe escaped the initial strike.

However, she wasn’t at all worried, even if she did keep her distance.

“Can I help you?” he asked right away, since her intentions were obvious.

“This is my first time to the capital,” she began simply as she stopped a good six feet away. “I’m looking for someone, and was hoping for directions.”

“Go on,” he said simply, looking neither annoyed nor amused.

By human standards, she knew she was very attractive, but by both Oni and elf standards, she was only average in appearance, her only appealing asset to most being her large firm tits.

“Which guild has the best healer?” she wondered. “And how do I get there?”

His eyebrows raised. “I wasn’t aware anyone held such a title.”

She frowned at that. “Okay, then which guild is the best?”

“Remnant,” he said without hesitation, as if that particular title was undisputed, only to gesture toward the massive open gate. “If you take the first road east, it’s the first guild you’ll come across. And then if you begin heading north, you’ll reach the others. Impossible to overlook, as they are all clearly marked.”

“Thank you,” she replied simply, ready to head inside the capital.

“One moment,” he immediately continued, taking a step forward. “I’ve never seen an object made of metal like that. Mind if I inspect your staff?”

Mel frowned, her grip tightening on her weapon, knowing it wasn’t truly a question.

There was no option to refuse.

However, then her grip loosened and she held it up horizontally for him to grab, being confident he’d have no idea it was anything other than what it seemed, considering only she could use it.

As was the nature of a Bound weapon.

And sure enough, after commenting about how much lighter it felt than it looked, he returned the item and gestured for her to continue on.

She did so, glad to have that brief anxiety over with.

And hopeful to finally be at her destination after months of travel.

Finally, she could start searching for her mystery healer.

She just hoped they could really help.


* * *

I’m a combat healer.

That’s my role in our party, and I do it really well. In fact, I’m so good at it that I’m in one of the top 10 teams of the top guild in the Delanor Kingdom. Technically, we’re ranked number ten, but hey! We’re top ten!

However, I’m also the only male healer I know, because usually healing magic is something only women excel at.

Why? No one knows really.

Men who had any affinity for essence were typically better at learning enhancement and combat magic, good for being in the middle of a fight, while women with such an affinity were often better at support magic or ranged weaponry. Although, those who could learn elemental spells were kind of a mix, with both genders being represented equally, so seeing both male and female Mages was standard. Same for Rangers and Rogues, with a good mix of men and women.

There were some slight differences between races as well, especially in regard to a person’s ‘Focus,’ which was a subset of their ‘Class,’ with certain races being more likely to be capable of specializing in a particular Focus.

For our team, our Green Oni leader, Turg, as well as his best friend Dagru were both of the ‘Fighter’ Class with a Focus in ‘Warrior.’ Pretty standard stuff.

Alternatively, our hot busty Blue Oni ‘Mage’ had a Focus in ‘Magician’ – again, very standard, though very powerful with her elemental spells.

The two oddballs in our group with more unique Focuses, included Jackel, an elf who was a ‘Fighter’ with a Focus in ‘Essence Slayer.’ And then me, a human Healer with a very rare, almost unheard of, Focus in ‘Essence Diviner,’ or just ‘Diviner’ for short.

Most healers, all women mind you, were either a ‘Cleric’ if they were human, a ‘Cleric’ or ‘Druid’ if they were an elf, or a ‘Shaman’ if they were an Oni.

The Oni themselves made distinctions based on the color of their skin, with Green Oni being Og’re, Blue Oni being Ba’ju, and Red Oni being Re’ju, but in terms of Class and Focus there was no distinction in what they could specialize in.

Now, just to be clear, the fact that I excelled in healing magic didn’t mean I was a complete weakling outside of a battle.

Despite not having any technical use for Strength, I was a normal height with a lean muscular build and had spent my fair share of time working on my physical body. By human standards, I was manly, tall, and athletic, not to mention I was decent with a sword, and even though I had zero skills in the Ranger Class, I was a fair shot with my slingshot too!

Yeah, dammit, I primarily used a slingshot.

I’m a healer, not an Archer!

But with my appearance, the only problem with it had to do with the fact that the majority of our guild, Remnant, was made up of Oni and Elves. More than that, the majority of the Delanor Kingdom was made up of Oni, Elves, Minotaur, and other nonhuman races…

And by Oni standards, I was puny.

By Elf standards, I was short.

Our Mage, Shel, was the perfect example of my undesirability. She was hot, muscular, busty, and wore a white leather outfit that revealed all of her blue cleavage, as well as most of her thick blue thighs on one side, due to the slit in the smooth white material that went up to her hip.

Really, it was a standard mage’s robe, except that she chose white leather, and had it modified to enhance her ‘assets,’ all for a reason.

She got around a lot, like most Oni.

Officially, the seductive Shel was with Turg and Dagru both. However, on the rare occasions when the guys were too drunk on ale to be of any entertainment for her, she would find another Oni man to enjoy for the night.

To be fair, she avoided Elves, and only considered humans if they were exceptionally brutish – because she liked big men.

Of course, what that meant was Shel had never even considered taking me to a room, and laughed at me the one time I’d had enough ale to consider offering, commenting it was ‘cute’ that I’d even suggest it, before turning her sights on a fat muscular human who was stopping by to see if there were any teams accepting recruits.

Our team was not, since we didn’t have need for another Warrior, but she gave him a thorough tutorial on what would have been the perks had we needed his services.

The lack of desirability was really only a problem for me, in particular, though.

The majority of the other humans were mostly female Healers, who could get by with being puny and short – pretty much no man complained about those two traits.

So yeah, I was a good-looking human male with a pretty alright physique, stuck in a world of huge men, busty women, and no love life at all.

My fault for living in the Delanor Kingdom, where humans were welcome, but also a minority.

Even the few human women weren’t interested, since, you know, they had big muscular Oni and tall majestic Elves vying for their attention. Why settle for just a normal good-looking guy when you could have all the muscles or height you wanted?

Technically, I could probably get some action if I visited the red district, but it was more expensive than I’d prefer, especially when I spent so much of my money on other pursuits.

Pursuits that kept me up late and required most of my time, attention, and coin.

You guessed it.

Books and studying.

Hey, there was a reason why I was the top healer around!

Not only did I have a unique ‘Focus,’ but I also studied my rear off well past my initial training. Healing was one of those Classes where a person could get by with knowing the basic spells of Heal and Greater Healing, with there being almost no need to continue to pursue knowledge since they could function perfectly well in a top tier team. As was the case with me being the best healer in the kingdom, yet being in a team that was only ranked number ten in our guild, with the other teams having healers who were just alright, in my opinion.

Honestly, the only main limitation for a healer’s advancement in society was their limit on the amount of essence they could store, and a test of their Essence Regeneration Rate, something that could be determined with an Essence Crystal. Typically, most Mages maxed out around 150 Essence, while most Healers maxed out at only 120 Essence.

In my case, I could currently store 230 Essence and had a high enough regeneration rate that I could recover all of it within a day, though my regeneration rate hadn’t always been that impressive.

When I was a teenager, my regeneration rate was much lower, as was my capacity.

However, being above average wasn’t necessarily that important to most, with some of the larger, stronger teams just having two healers in their party to fulfill their needs.

Granted, team strength didn’t always come in numbers.

The very top team in our guild Remnant only had three people, two strong men and a very powerful woman who focused on defense magic. She was a Mage like Shel, a Blue Oni too, but her Focus was ‘Specialist’ instead of ‘Magician.’

More accurately, a specialist in defense.

Their team didn’t need a healer, though they’d never want me even if they did need one. Being a better healer wasn’t really a necessity, and if they could choose, they’d prefer a female healer, since every team would prefer an extra woman on the team.

Needless to say, as frustrating as it was to not have a love life, I was pretty focused on my studies. I had reasons for wanting to get better at my Focus, including my own personal aspirations…as well as some pretty heavy guilt…

I was eating breakfast in the corner of the canteen within the Remnant Guild Hall, a hearty potato soup with a rock-hard hunk of bread, when I saw Turg coming down the stairs to join me.

Being that our guild was the top in the kingdom, we had dedicated land on the edge of the capital that was surrounded by high stone walls. And included was everything one would need to live and train, from lodging on the massive second floor, to archery ranges, sparring arenas, and even a special building for magic use.

Focusing up at the large Green Oni once he reached my table, I watched him plop his heavy self down onto the bench across from me, his face half a foot above mine even while sitting, before groaning and massaging his temples with his massive green hands. His short black hair was sort of all over the place, but it did nothing to hide the black two-inch horns protruding from his hairline.

“Too much ale?” I assumed, dipping the hard bread into my soup to let it soften. “Or too much fun last night, and not enough sleep?” I added.

He groaned again, his voice deep. “Such things do not exist,” he scoffed, only to take a deep breath, pressing his palms to his temples now. “But I guess even I have a limit.” He paused, peeking at me with his dark amber eyes. “For ale,” he clarified in a grumble, in case I was confused about what he meant.

I shrugged, taking a bite of my bread. “We made a killing in that dungeon. It was definitely a celebration night. How was the Holstaur?” I wondered, knowing that Shel had rented the female cowgirl’s services for the evening. Again, because an extra female was always preferable.

Unfortunately, while there were plenty of Minotaur who lived in the kingdom, few had any Essence Affinity, so the bull-men were stuck with manual labor and other such jobs, while the Holstaur women without a man in their life had to be especially creative in finding work.

Hence, if I ever did visit the red district, there was a high probability of being serviced by a Holstaur.

Oddly enough, the females of their race had very humanoid faces, whereas the males frequently had faces more closely resembling a bull. The men were also much more inclined to be interested in only Holstaurs or female Oni, never giving a second glance to a human or elf, while the women were open to entertaining almost anyone, especially if they were paying for the service.

Turg barked out a laugh, seemingly in recollection of the experience involving the cowgirl, only to groan from his pounding head. “Amazing.” He chuckled again.

I nodded, grimacing as I tried to stifle my jealousy.

“You know,” he continued in a deep tone. “I’d suggest you use some of your coin on such things, but I’m not sure if all the coin in the world would convince a Holstaur to entertain you.”

Damn. I wanted to punch him in the face right now.

I loved the guy, but he could sure be harsh sometimes.

It was Oni culture though.

Teasing, harassing, and bullying, were all the norm. And his playful teasing was nothing compared to real teasing, and if anything it was a sign that he sincerely viewed me as a buddy, as ironic as that sounded. But it was a sign of inclusion.

I tried to remind myself of that as I forced a smile.

“I disagree, but whatever,” I scoffed.

He roared with laughter at that, changing the subject. “I guess I better order some breakfast myself and then see if any new quests have posted. We’ve got to be ready for the Big Dive coming up. Don’t want one of the weaker teams to show us up, just because we kicked our feet up too long.”

I nodded as he got up without waiting for a response, not at all surprised. We rarely slept in a nice bed for longer than two or three nights. And it wasn’t uncommon for us to return to the guild, get our reward, party all night, and then head right back out the next day.

As was the life of a ‘Scourge Suppressor.’

Quests came from the Elf Queen herself, who had an organization of scouts reporting directly to her, constantly searching for new infestations of the Scourge, along with the monsters that came with it. She approved every request herself, due to her mysterious power to determine the difficulty level of a task, only to have runners send off notices to the various guilds.

There were some Quests that only our guild Remnant received, in the event that the level of difficulty was too high for the second-best guild to accept it.

Of course, those types of quests usually required one of two things – either, the Queen wanted multiple teams to defeat the monsters, or else it was a Quest specifically assigned to one of the top two teams. Often, the top team, of three very powerful people.

Interestingly enough, those higher threat Quests always came with specific instructions from the Queen.

‘Save anyone found in the dungeon at all costs.’

Which was odd, since we were supposed to do that anyway, but she always put emphasis on it when she assigned those more special Quests. Maybe she thought the top teams would focus more on conquering the dungeon than saving innocents found within? Hard to say, but it was included without fail, even though it was rare to find a normal person in a dungeon.

Most weren’t stupid enough to enter the massive stone doors, or whatever form the entrance took, that didn’t connect to a building despite having visible depths within.

But otherwise, for normal Quests, they were sent out to every guild hall, with teams competing to get the largest number of kills under their belt. The Healer, Mage, or Ranger of most teams carried an ‘Essence Gathering Crystal,’ which could absorb the Monster Essence after the creature was slaughtered.

Technically, most Scourge Beasts had an Essence Core inside their bodies, which could be turned into a Crystal, but it was ineffective to have the Assault Teams harvest them. Thus, the essence alone was collected, being far more valuable since the crystals already circulating within society were reusable, whereas the essence was decisively not.

It was also the method used to track productivity in the Dungeons, as well as the method used to divvy out coin for each team’s part. Monster Essence was truly an invaluable resource, allowing for nonmagical commoners to enjoy the magical items used to function in everyday life, such as Light Crystals.

Thus, the economical value was significant, with it being just as much a fuel to run the city as oil was for a traditional lamp.

Either way, the point was, the early bird got the worm.

Or ‘the early cockerel got the kitty,’ as both Turg and Dagru liked to put it.

Their version of that phrase was both literal and metaphorical, since they came from a place where they raised Goliath Chickens, huge cockerels, which were fond of snacking on mountain cats, big kitties, among other critters. Needless to say, they had alternative meanings for that too.

I sighed as I focused on my book again, reading and rereading certain parts to make sure I understood the content, since this particular tome was only on loan from a reputable Mage who had long since retired.

The old woman looked to be in her mid-thirties, but was easily over a century in age. She’d once been a Scourge Suppressor herself, many decades ago, but now had grown into the habit of collecting books, documents, and magical artifacts from all over the world.

She also provided services to the Queen, which was where the money came to acquire those items from Scourge Suppressors who were lucky enough to come across something valuable. And by services, I meant that in both a professional sense, as well as a romantic one, or so the rumor went.

No way in hell I’d ever bring that up to her though.

The attractive blonde elf, who stood a couple of inches taller than me, would probably freeze me to death in half a second.

After all, she was an Ice Specialist, and apparently not very fond of men.

So I did my best to stay on her good side, considering she held all the power and resources for me to access very valuable information related to my field of study.

Granted, just because I had this tome on loan wasn’t to say that I didn’t have to pay for it.

She was charging me a whopping ten silver a day, or basically a gold coin every two days, and I wasn’t allowed to take it out of the Capital. Though, once I was done, I’d just pay her in gold, since there was no way in hell I was lugging around that much coin.

Like most of my guild members, who frequently roughed it in the wilderness, I had on record with the guild treasury the amount owed to my name, and only withdrew small amounts, since there was no point in carrying around much more than some bronze and a few silver.

After all, a silver was worth fifty bronze, and a gold was worth twenty silver, making a gold overall worth a thousand times a bronze. And considering that a night at an inn was only one silver, and a meal could usually be purchased for under twenty bronze, carrying around more than a few silver was overkill, especially when the price of my lodgings was directly deducted from the treasury’s record.

That also meant the price to rent this tome was ridiculously steep when considering the average traveler could survive for three to four weeks on a gold coin, having all their basic necessities taken care of.

Yet, in two days, I’d be spending more than a month’s worth of living expenses.

But it was worth the money. This volume, titled ‘Advanced Solutions to Advanced Curses’ in elvish, was very insightful. It had information in it I’d never come across before, and I was reading and rereading it as much as possible, to absorb all the knowledge I could.

Because I would never fail again.

If I ever came across another curse I didn’t know how to deal with, I’d be ready this time. Ready to use my knowledge to figure it out, and to hopefully already have the necessary Skills to handle it.

Or so I hoped.

Sighing, I glanced up when I saw a flash of red, only to ignore the Red Oni woman walking over to the bar when I saw Shel coming down the stairs, with Dagru close on her heels like a lost puppy. No doubt our prized elf, Jackel, was still sound asleep after his escapades the previous night. He’d left earlier in the evening and came back with a young human woman.

They were up very late.

And I suspected she’d be back, assuming we were planning on staying the night again.

Doubtful we’d stay another evening though.

When I checked the Quest board earlier, I didn’t see anything that Turg would be interested in, but he didn’t like to stay in town long, especially not with the Big Dive coming up, the yearly reappearance of the massive Scourge in the north, that almost wiped out the entire kingdom nearly half a millennium ago. That was actually where our guild name came from, going back hundreds of years as the last remnants of civilization, a coalition of all races, that banded together to fight against the invasion.

And it was a yearly fight everyone took seriously, which was why Turg liked to keep his skills sharp, in preparation for the big event.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Maybe we would end up staying another night. After all, we’d spent almost the entirety of the last two months in the wilderness, only stopping by the guild for a day or two to report our progress and collect our rewards.

I glanced back at the bar, realizing that the Red Oni woman I’d noticed earlier was now sitting on a high stool, looking over her right shoulder at me, her brow furrowed, while the barkeep pointed in my direction. Her chin-length white hair and white eyebrows were a sharp contrast to her otherwise rosy skin and black leather clothing.

For half a second, my heart fluttered at the sight of her face, my cheeks growing hot.

Automatically, I knew by Oni standards that she’d probably be perceived as being of ‘average’ beauty, because her face was so feminine whereas Oni men preferred a more masculine look to their women. Not that this woman wasn’t masculine. Her red skin was a shade lighter than a rose in full bloom, doing little to conceal her chiseled muscles in her arms and shoulders, as well as her lower back where her black leather top didn’t reach, revealing a pair of dimples just above the lip to her leather pants.

Overall, her body was very toned and muscular, as were all Oni, male or female.

But the face was absolutely gorgeous by human standards. Her jawline looked delicate, her nose small and thin, her gold eyes soft, even as she leered at me, her full lips pulled slightly to the side, the color an interesting pale lavender, causing me to wonder if she wore some kind of cosmetic on them or if the hue was natural.

Given her rosy skin, I would have assumed her lips might be maroon, or some other shade of red, rather than the color of a pale lilac or aster.

To an Oni, her lips would actually be perceived as thin, but to a human, they were the perfect thickness and could only be described as full and plump. Of course she had thin horns too, that were about one inch tall, rising from her forehead – all Oni had horns, unless they’d been maimed. And then, she also had an objectively huge bust, secured firmly in place by her leather top, but that wasn’t too unusual given her race.

But objectively, she was gorgeous…and obviously disappointed that I was the person who our elf barkeep was pointing toward.

I sighed while I stood up, leaving my tome in my chair, as I decided to see what she needed.

I had little doubt anyone here would see the value in such a book, even if there were more people up at this early hour, so I had no qualms with leaving it unattended. I’d never be so comfortable or careless at an inn, but here in the guild hall, I knew few would even so much as glance at it.

It wasn’t too surprising to have someone asking for me, considering it wouldn’t have been the first time my services as a unique ‘Essence Diviner’ were requested, even if it was uncommon. After all, there were certain things only I could do, though it was rare that someone needed a curse or disease identified and healed. Usually, the effect of the curse inflicted by a Scourge Beast was very obvious, and while I could technically provide a cure, often a simple healing spell would be sufficient.

It was why most Healers didn’t make an attempt to advance in their practice. Rare was it for a healer to not be competent with their basic spells.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had once failed so miserably, in trying to remove a curse that killed an entire village of Oni, then I might not be as diligent as I was now. To be fair, they would have died anyway, but I certainly sped up the process in my attempt to undo the dark magic inflicted on them by the very presence of a nearby Scourge Dungeon.

However, now that I was more adept in my skillset, I actually was glad I had pursued getting stronger, because there had been a number of cases where I’d saved someone who would have died otherwise. Like just last year, when I saved a man’s Holstaur wife, who had fallen ill just prior to going into labor with their eleventh child.

I’d been out on a Quest when he first came to our guild Remnant, after two other healers had failed to help the cow-woman, and he continued to come back to the guild every day for three days until I returned. Just in time for me to save her life too, right as she had gone into labor, her lungs so full of fluid that she could barely breathe.

The baby was also born with a blue face, and I barely managed to save his life too.

In total, I stayed at their farm for two days.

The man was so thankful, that he actually offered me his eighteen-year-old daughter as compensation, since he had no other way to pay me, but I had to refuse the offer.

One reason was because the half-human, half-Holstaur girl had waited on me day and night while I was there, literally acting like my servant with absolute devotion, but then immediately began avoiding me when her father made the proposal. And the other reason was just because I couldn’t afford to settle down right now, and knew it wouldn’t be fair to leave the sweetheart alone the vast majority of the time while I was out on quests.

It had been a hard decision though.

I had honestly never met another woman who had such lusty proportions.

A toned waist as narrow as a human, with a massive bust far bigger than my head, and hips so wide that I felt like she’d swallow me up if she sat on my lap, her thighs toned and juicy. Yet she was shorter than me, and was literally the definition of petite in all other ways, including her delicate shoulders, thin arms, and slim neck. Never mind the sharp contrast of her blonde hair with her curved brown horns and deeply tan skin, along with her gorgeous purple eyes, that were extremely rare.

Yeah, in all my life I’d never met a more seductive female.

Which was saying a lot.

Yet she truly had a heart of gold, probably didn’t have a clue about ‘the birds and the bees,’ and vanished the moment her father made the offer. Shit, she was so innocent and sweet, that I couldn’t even bring myself to consider seeing if she wanted to spend time together as a one-time thing.

However, I knew it would be extremely rude to outright refuse such a gesture of goodwill, and the girl surprisingly had a Class, a Ranger of all things, so I told him I really needed a woman who could fight with me and would accept his offer if she ever unlocked a Focus.

Kind of harsh terms, considering Holstaur rarely even had a Class to begin with, not to mention I wasn’t sure she could effectively wield a bow with such a huge chest getting in the way, not unless she unlocked Beast Master instead of Archer, but I figured that making such a decision was best for her, considering her obvious disinterest…

Of course, not all the people I helped were as grateful, and it was hard to say how this Red Oni woman would react to my assistance, but I helped because I wanted to – not for the praise. So it ultimately didn’t matter if this particular woman appreciated it or not.

Now at the bottom of the stairs, Shel and Dagru both noticed the direction I was heading and chose to head that way as well, curious themselves as to what some stranger would request of me.

The Red Oni beauty spoke before I managed to introduce myself.

“You’re the best healer in the capital?” she asked, a hint of skepticism in her tone, her thin white eyebrows raised high now. “You’re a man.”

I cleared my throat, nodding as I moved to her right side to lean against the bar a couple stools away, leaving my teammates behind her. “That’d be me,” I admitted, appreciating that she called me a man instead of something less flattering, though obviously that was a source of her disbelief.

She was sitting down still, her leather pants tight on her thighs, but based on the length of her legs, she looked to be about the same height as me. And while she was very muscular, we were probably about the same size in that department too, with me possibly being even a bit larger. Physically, she was my equal, but that was unfortunately a turn-off for most Oni women who preferred males over females.

“A pleasure,” I continued, getting to the point. “What can I help you with?”

I thought about asking her name, but she seemed like she was more interested in business than socializing. My eyes darted to a long black staff I just now realized she had with her, leaning against the counter. It looked to be made of solid metal, the whole thing pitch-black, with the bulbous metal at the top having a crystal shape to it.

However, I could sense the residual essence energy emanating from it, knowing right away it was a magical artifact, as was one of my abilities being a Diviner, but I didn’t want her to know I was aware, so I tried to keep my quick glance casual. She also had a black leather bag on the floor shaped like a tear, with a thick white cord used to keep it closed at the top.

I tried to ignore her rosy cleavage as I returned my focus to her gold eyes. Her bust was just as large as Shel’s, and the black leather was hot as hell against her vibrant red skin. Her top also showed off her muscular torso, including firm abs, though that wasn’t nearly as distracting for me as her slim neck and juicy chest.

She continued. “If you’re the best healer, then why are you not in the top team?” she asked seriously.

Rubenic, the bartender, automatically answered my questioning look. “She’s not from around here. I tried to explain that the top team doesn’t have a healer, but didn’t get far before she cut me off when you started walking over.” He shrugged, as if to finish his statement nonverbally.

Turg was still by the Quest board, but noticed that we were all gathered now, so he decided to come over as well to see what the commotion was about.

“I see,” I replied to Rubenic, focusing back on the beauty’s gold eyes, framed by red skin and white hair. “Basically, being the best healer means shit in a dungeon. To the point that our best team doesn’t even need a healer, like he said, because they have a specialist who focuses on defense magic.”

Her white eyebrows were knitted together again. “And you’re really the best healer? In the entire capital?”

“Yep,” I agreed, deciding not to clarify that I was probably the best in the entire kingdom, if not also the best on the entire continent, ready to move on already. “What can I help you with?”

“I’m looking for someone,” she said hesitantly, glancing up at Turg as he walked up, not seeming bothered by his presence, but only acknowledging that he was there with a glance. She returned her gold gaze to me. “Have you heard of someone called Rigeris Gru’na Tik’shular?”

I frowned, before shaking my head. “No, unfortunately I haven’t. I also don’t speak Oni very well, so I’m not sure if I would have noticed that name had I heard it somewhere.”

Turg unexpectedly chimed in, scratching the black stubble on his blocky green chin. “That’s an interesting title,” he commented in his deep voice.

I glanced at him, realizing my misunderstanding. “Or title, I guess, if it’s not a name.” I focused on her. “Why do you ask? And why did you think I’d know?”

She frowned, sincerely looking disappointed. “My business is my own,” she said in a casual tone, with it being the human translation of a common phrase in the Oni language – not to be misinterpreted as something rude, because it wasn’t.

Despite the fact that few humans existed in the capital, most everyone still used the human language, and had for centuries, due to long past cultural integrations that united the various races under one banner. That, and the Elven Royalty had long ago imposed it on their people in order to facilitate trade between their Scourge wrought lands with the wealth of the human civilizations.

In some ways, things were different now that the Scourge was under control, but the use of the human tongue was extremely widespread due to events that took place long ago.

The busty Red Oni continued. “However, I will share that the person I am searching for is also a healer, which is why I sought out the top healer in hopes of identifying them.”

“I see,” I replied, trying to rack my brain if I’d heard that title before. Honestly, I hadn’t though. “I assume you must be looking for a woman. If you hang out here in the evening, then you can ask around. And if that doesn’t turn up results, then you could try asking around the other guilds too. Personally, I’d recommend visiting Raiders and Tempest, but you might try Brotherhood and Guardians too.”

She nodded, glancing up at Turg again, before looking over her shoulder at Shel and Dagru. I could see in her gold eyes that she knew who was in charge just from a glance, because while she turned her attention back to me, she had her head angled toward Turg just slightly – a nonverbal cue that she was showing her fellow Oni respect, even if he wasn’t her leader.

“I assume this is the rest of your party?” she commented.

I nodded. “Yeah, we have an elf we work with too, but this is most of us. Why? Are you looking for work as well?”

She focused up at Turg, speaking directly to him now, as if he’d asked the question. “I do need to make some coin while I’m here searching. I can offer my skills, if you’re team has room for a Battlemage.”

Turg scratched his chin again. “A Battlemage, huh?” he commented, glancing at me.

The red beauty seemed confused by the look, shocked by the nonverbal signal for my opinion, prompting her to focus on me as well.

Having been around Oni long enough to be familiar with expectations and body language, I explained what was going on. “Turg here is our leader, officially. But I’m the backbone to the team. In the field, he leads the fight, but my decisions trump his, if it comes down to a disagreement. Otherwise, he risks being eaten by a Moluska’Drsh again,” I added with a grin.

Turg barked out a laugh. “You’re not wrong.”

She seemed even more confused. I was confident she knew what a Moluksa’Drsh was, since it was an Oni term after all, with the more common name being a Scourge Squid, but she seemed shocked by the fact that I was actually the leader too. It was a foreign concept to most Oni. For them, there was only one leader at all times, usually determined first by sheer strength and second by fortitude when strength was equal. The idea that there might be a more passive leader, who only exerted their authority in certain circumstances, wasn’t something they really came across in their society.

At the very least, I could actively see her struggle to wrap her head around the concept.

“I…I see,” she managed after a moment, seeming hesitant again as she glanced at Turg, who was still focused on me. She then turned toward me in her chair more fully. “Then, do you have room for a Battlemage? If not, I’ll have to ask around. I’m broke right now, so I’ll need to find a way to make some coin while I’m searching.”

Unexpectedly Dagru barked out a laugh from behind her. “With a body like that, you could make plenty of coin in the red district,” he said with a grin. “Plenty of elves would love to partake, and I’m sure there are few Oni who would decline the pleasure of a decent pair like yours.”

The beauty didn’t even react, not shocked by the teasing, while also not bothering to give him any attention, still facing me.

Shel elbowed him in the gut, his visible green stomach flinching underneath his chest armor, which I assumed he must have put on for some morning training.

“What?” he scoffed. “She’s got a red body. It’s funny. Get it? Red Oni in the red district?”

Shel rolled her gold eyes, a sharp contrast to her black hair and blue skin, likewise not amused. Between the two friends, Dagru was a bit more on the denser side when it came to socializing, being low in charisma. And only average in wisdom. A sharp contrast to Turg.

I was still holding the beauty’s gaze, intrigued by her behavior.

Now that she’d determined that the decision was mine to make, she seemed to have no problem with it. The fact that I was a ‘puny human’ didn’t seem to bother her. Possibly it was because she was a Mage, and she understood that strength wasn’t always physical, and might not even be based on destructive capacity.

In a sense, I held life and death in my hands, which gave me a different form of power, though the lack of training was a big reason why other Healers didn’t earn the same respect. That, and the fact that there were enough of them to be taken for granted, to some extent.

However, before responding to her, I figured I should try to make an assessment using my very rare skill, that I was sure no one else owned or had even heard about. It was a skill I’d certainly never read about, and one I struggled to fully control, which was one of the many reasons why I kept the exact details a safely guarded secret.

Especially due to what it might imply.

That gods and goddesses were real…

I kept my gaze focused on her gold eyes as I silently attempted to assess her.

‘Eye of the Goddess.’

---------------------------------------- 

Total: 96

Rank: A Tier

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Perfect.

A total attribute score over 90 was always acceptable for a top tier team.

Of course, it would have been nice to divine the details of what made up that total number, especially since it could be very important, but it would require too much focus to attempt to do so right now.

Instead, I’d just wait to see her skills and assume the numbers were in the most appropriate categories. For a battlemage, it was most important that they have a nice balance of Strength and Intelligence, and a normal everyday assessment of this chick told me she was probably fine in those two categories.

If her total had been under 90 points, and she was thus B Tier or lower, then it was still possible we could use her, so long as she had an appropriate category that was above twenty points.

Which was exactly the case for the younger of the two Oni men, Dagru.

While Turg was A Tier, based on my own assessment, Dagru was B Tier due to lower Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom. However, both Oni men had two stats twenty or higher. The exact two stats that mattered for their Class and Focus of Fighter, Warrior.

Strength and Fortitude.

For regular people, who had no Essence Affinity and were not blessed with a Class, I’d never seen someone with a category higher than 20 points. But for those with classes, the highest I’d ever seen was 25 points, along with an overall average that often exceeded the typical 60-point average most people had. And then there was the maximum combined attribute level that one could achieve, being increased by 10 upon unlocking a Focus, which actually made a huge difference in overall potential.

Still, while I had no way of knowing in this moment the exact numbers for this rosy-skinned woman, a rank of A Tier was pretty much always going to be sufficient.

“We could use a Battlemage,” I admitted, deciding to ‘act’ more wary about adding her than I actually was. “But you have to understand that we’re a top tier team, which means I’d need to see your skills before making the final decision. As much as I wish I could take your word for it – that you’re up to the task – I don’t want your blood on my hands in the event we take on a quest that is too much for you.” I shrugged. “Can’t heal you if you get eaten or decapitated.”

She nodded, not at all offended, twisting slightly as she reached back to grab her tall midnight staff leaning against the counter. “That’s acceptable. Where can I show you?”

“The guild training grounds are just down the alley, behind the guild hall.”

She inclined her delicate chin again. “And who should I spar?”

“You actually don’t need to spar anyone,” I replied. “I’m not just a normal healer. I have skills related to analyzing things, so if you can just activate your skills, then I’ll be able to determine if you’re strong enough to cut it.”

Her gold eyes widened slightly, her white eyebrows high again, before her expression grew confident. She slid off her stool and stood up, confirming that we were the same height. “Very well. Lead the way.”

I grimaced. “Mind if I finish my breakfast first? I also need to return something to my room.”

Her expression dropped for barely a second, before she nodded confidently. However, I knew exactly what that look meant, since I was sincerely good at reading people when I bothered to pay attention. I also recalled her mentioning that she was broke.

“Want to eat with me?” I offered. “I’ll buy your meal if you’ll grace me with your company.”

Turg barked out a laugh, turning to leave now that the interesting part was over. He had a one-track mind when it came to coin, and wouldn’t offer to pay for someone’s food unless he expected to get something out of it, as was kind of the norm in Oni culture. Thus, he was making his way back over to the Quest board to continue his browsing.

It was very doubtful that he noticed the fact this woman revealed that she was hungry for a brief second. Beyond standard body language, he didn’t pick up on much, which was somewhat ironic when he had high wisdom and was so observant in a battle…which made me wonder if maybe he just chose not to notice. Hard to say.

Shel and Dagru likewise diverted their attention, focusing on ordering breakfast from a thin elf barmaid.

It wasn’t that they were trying to be rude, but there was really only a few reasons why an Oni would get to know another Oni – either because they intended on establishing some kind of working relationship, or else because they were interested in spending some time alone together.

Since the decision on the first possibility rested in my hands, they’d delay socializing and getting to know her until I made an affirmative decision. And since this beauty was only average by Oni standards, there was no way in hell they were interested in getting physical, even despite Dagru’s attempt at a joke.

“I prefer to buy my own food,” she said hesitantly, which didn’t really surprise me too much. Being in debt was kind of a big deal to them.

“You wouldn’t owe me anything,” I replied. “Assuming you’re willing to eat with me. Your company is payment enough.”

She pursed her pale lavender lips, her white eyebrows knitted together again. “Very well,” she finally agreed. “Maybe I will buy you a meal in exchange, at a future date.”

I grinned.

I tried not to, not wanting to seem overly eager since I knew there was no way in hell she’d be interested in me, but the smile slipped. At the very least, I looked forward to possibly making a friend who might not view me any differently just because I was human, at least based on how she was currently interacting with me. Finding Oni who would treat me as an equal was difficult, and there was a very good reason why the three I currently worked with held me in high regard.

“That works too,” I agreed, a little surprised that she gave me a stunned look briefly as if she actually found my smile charming. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a silver coin to place on the counter. “Get whatever you want and bring me the change.”

Her gold eyes were suddenly as wide as saucers, considering a silver coin would be enough for five meals, minimum. It was only twelve bronze for a full dinner, only seven bronze for my modest breakfast, so a silver was kind of overkill. However, I only had a few bronze in my pocket and wasn’t about to make her try to see what she could get with so little.

I focused up at the tall elf barkeep, who was already grabbing it in preparation to make change. “Please add another potato soup and bread to whatever she orders,” I instructed, before giving her my attention again. “If you don’t mind bringing it with your food. They’ll give you a tray.”

She nodded, her gold eyes still tentative.

“My name is Allister, by the way. Nice to meet you, and to potentially have you on the team.”

She nodded. “I’m Melantha.” She paused. “You may call me Mel, if you’d prefer.”

I tried to hide my surprise. Not only was Melantha not an Oni name, but it was kind of unusual for them to offer strangers to use a shortened version of their name. Not only did Turg, Shel, and Dagru have significantly longer and more complex names, but only the members of our guild got to use those names.

Outsiders were presented with the lengthier versions, especially if the outsider was an Oni. Granted, it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d seen an Oni provide an elf or human with a shortened version of their name, for simplicity.

I supposed it was also possible she was just that confident that she’d be a part of the team after the evaluation. Granted, given that her staff was a magical artifact and she was A Tier, I supposed that was very likely, though it did kind of make me wonder if she’d show the weapon off or try to hide what it was capable of.

Returning to my seat, I took my time working on my breakfast, letting the bread soak longer than usual as I waited for her while I perused my tome. She made a short trip to the table to drop off her black metal staff across from me, along with her leather bag, before returning to the bar.

I tried to focus on the words on the page, but I was beginning to realize it was a lost cause. Because I was instead finding myself highly anticipating talking with this attractive woman with white hair, gold eyes, and rosy skin.

There was something about her that sparked my hope again, even though I knew it was best to keep my expectations realistic.

Still, I was very much looking forward to continuing our conversation.

And to potentially adding her to the team...