A note from Selkie

Book 2 is now on Amazon! Woohoo!

If you're the sort to want to support via Amazon purchases, well, it goes up to chapter 100! Advanced reading!


Elaine Chibi (I'm working with the artist on changing the mango color)

I sheepishly slinked back, and started working on the work needed, namely, grabbing one of our massive water kegs, rolling it down to a nearby well, filling it up, and bringing it back. It kept me out of Julius’s eyesight – out of sight, out of mind – and let me have fun with my new and improved strength stat.

Look at me! Bodybuilder Elaine in the house! I could just barely lift the massive keg of water when it was full now, but I ran a serious risk of crushing myself. I rolled it instead, pleased as punch.

With almost no words exchanged, we finished everything up. The look I got from Julius implied that I’d somewhat redeemed myself by coming back early, without Artemis. Interesting… maybe it’d be worth coming back early more often, get most of the benefits of an early bath, then let Artemis take most of the ire? Plans within plans, plots within plots, mastermind Elaine is here and plotting.

“Kallisto, you’re with Maximus. Elaine, you’re with me today.” Julius said once we were all settled.

“Errr… could I be with Kallisto instead?” I asked, figuring he was better for handling Artemis’s fallout.

Julius’s eyes narrowed as he looked at me, wheels turning in his head. He put it together. I was back early, Artemis was nowhere to be found, and I was explicitly trying to not be teamed up with him.

He threw his hands up in the air.

“Fine! For the love of all the gods, be discreet this time! We don’t need a repeat of Pisae!”

I nodded sheepishly, while Kallisto grinned roguishly.

“Let’s go?” I asked him.

He nodded, and we headed off to the slums, walking here and there, keeping a weather eye out for strange lightning, or sprays of earth and rocks, or anything that could be a non-standard Artemis signal. If she used one of her standard signals, it meant she was acting as a Ranger, and for everyone to come right now, like what happened in Perinthus. Otherwise, she was trying to stay under the radar. Relatively speaking.

We wandered the streets, armor and Ranger Badge on, seeing what life was like. Some people saw us, and frantically scrambled away, clearly guilty of something. We didn’t care that much, we had no leads, nothing to go on, and whatever they were doing wasn’t serious enough for us to have been told about it.

Other people were happy to see us, a solid, reassuring presence. I had no illusions though, for every person in the slums happy to see us, there were more that were unhappy to see us, victims of perceived or real injustices at the hands of the guard, a Citizen, or someone else. Not my business, not today, although if enough people came up to us, telling us that there was corruption in the guard, we’d take a look.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Julius took a look at them every time, keeping them on the straight and narrow. It was hard for corruption to set in deeply when a Ranger team visited every few months, keeping people honest.

Come up to us and chat, people did. There was a name we heard in whispers a few times, with fear, with people checking over one shoulder before whispering it to us, between telling us perfectly normal things.

“Nero.” A teenager whispered to us, fear in his eyes, between telling us what the catch of the day was, and the best place to buy bread. All unsolicited.

“Nero.” An old man spat at us, loudly, clearly unafraid of any reprisal saying his name loudly would bring.

“Nero.” A woman brought us to a back alley, before tearfully telling us about him.

That did it for us.

“Artemis is about to go head first into that isn’t she?” I asked.

“Yeah. We’re ready to back her up, but it sounds like it might get ugly. Let’s see if anyone else is around to help out.” Kallisto said, head on a swivel.

We went to a clear square, and I climbed up onto a slightly higher statue, pointed my hand up, and focusing on [Burn Brightly], made the tallest, brightest pillar of flame I could manage.

Strange how I could manipulate the brightness and color, without changing the temperature now. Less strange was how darn long [Pyromancer] was taking to level up. I was being punished for my impulsive choice in the most boring way possible – a ridiculously slow leveling speed, even at low levels.

This wasn’t my emergency signal- my skills didn’t rate one yet, but if I could make the flames loud enough, I’d qualify – but if any of the other Rangers happened to look my way, they could see Kallisto and I were asking for backup. Not serious backup, but a bit of extra help.

“200 coins says Artemis is after this person.” I said, sliding down the statue after a few minutes. Healing was good business, gave me enough coin to make what would’ve been an absurdly large bet a year ago easily. I was starting to see why Rangers had such a hard time getting powerful healers, not when I was making buckets of coin even after I charged a pittance.

“No deal.” Kallisto said, shaking his head.

Arthur, of all people, showed up after some time.

“What’s going on?” He asked.

“Nasty fellow called Nero’s apparently around. We think Artemis is already going after him, we’re hanging out as back up.” Kallisto said, quickly bringing Arthur up to speed.

Arthur got a huge grin. “Hey, either we get the person, or we get to roast Artemis. Or both. Win-win.”

I threw him a look, punching his leg. Arthur winced slightly, and swatted lightly at me.

“Feels like you tripled your strength.” He said, rubbing his leg.

I swelled up with pride. My punches had previously been like butterfly farts on him, now a full-strength punch could get him to notice me. Barely.

That was kinda depressing, thinking about it. Ah well, I could always use flames to get noticed. Setting someone’s clothes on fire was a sure-fire way to get their attention.

“Yup! It’s over 100!” I said.

Kallisto rolled his eyes.

“Finally. It –“

He was interrupted by what could only be described as Artemis’s ‘signal’, an explosion of stone, ice, and lightning bolts from three blocks over.

We didn’t even need to glance at each other, we were off like a shot. I was still working on running with flames, and little spurts of flame came out from my feet on every push, trying to give me a bit of an edge, make me move a bit faster. It was on the famous roads of Remus, so there was no chance of setting anything aflame.

We turned a corner, pushing through the crowds of people getting out of the way. Nobody wanted to stick around when Classers started throwing around literal lightning bolts, and a quick glance over my shoulder showed the guard was hot on our heels, heading towards the action.

Artemis was there, panting, blood running down from dozens of ice spikes in her, clutching the stump of her left arm. A stone plate in front of her face dropped to the ground, having protected her head from an ice spike. A head shot was a head shot, and was basically unhealable. A “fried extra-crispy” body was lying a few meters away from her, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened, nor to figure out that this was most likely Nero.

I pumped my arms, moving my legs even faster. Needed to get to Artemis. Needed to heal her.

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Running] has reached level 91!]

Artemis was in no danger of dying, not between now and when I got to her, but I was still upset with how the moon was moving, making [Moonlight] currently unusable. I’d love to stabilize her, stop the bleeding, before I could do a more thorough healing session. No luck.

Instead I slid the last few feet to her, touching Artemis and using [Phases of the Moon] as strongly as I could, healing her, restoring her arm, feeling ice shards get expelled from her body, clattering around us, one hitting me on the head.

“Whoof. Thanks.” Artemis said, in no position to say more.

Kallisto and Arthur had arrived a moment ahead of time, clearing the way, taking up a defensive pose around her. Arthur’s hand briefly drifted towards one of his emergency signal arrows, before pausing and moving back. Artemis hadn’t seen the need to signal, and the situation was more or less under control, for a given definition of “under control”.

The guard moved in a moment later, and now we were in an incredibly awkward situation.

“Thank you for arresting the Classer.” The squad leader told us, moving towards Artemis.

We glanced at each other, carefully not looking at Artemis.

“Um. Sure. No problem.” Kallisto said, caught off-guard, without golden words on his silver tongue for once.

“We’ll take it from here.” The guard said, leaning in towards Artemis.

“Errr, could we handle it please?” I asked, thinking fast. I knew guards. What would they like to hear, that was the truth…?

“This Classer is known to us, and has caused us lots of trouble in the past. We’d like to handle her if at all possible.” I said, with a completely straight face.

What? Every word of it was true.

Kallisto had a master poker face, but Arthur had to pretend to be interested in the sky, shoulders occasionally shaking as he suppressed a laugh.

The guards frowned at us, clearly sensing something was up.

“Fine. But the fine still needs to be paid.”

I glanced at Kallisto. It’d come better from him.

“Of course.”

The guard named a figure that made my mouth drop open. Kallisto raised an eyebrow, while Arthur let out a barking laugh.

“…Sure. Come with us?” Kallisto invited the guard, bending down to grab Artemis.

Most of the guards dispersed, leaving just the squad captain and his partner to follow us as we “escorted” the “prisoner” back to the Argo.

All the gods and goddesses smiled on us, as we didn’t break out into laughter once. A few snickers escaped my lips, which I managed to roll into a cough. I was still getting suspicious eyes boring into the back of my head.

We made it back, and Kallisto went into the Argo, grabbed the main money chest, and brought out enough coin to pay Artemis’s fine. We then unceremoniously threw the “prisoner” into the wagon, and climbed in, closing the door.

I got [Veil] up just in time to contain us all bursting into laughter. Even Artemis had recovered enough to find it hilarious.

“This Classer is known to us, and has caused us trouble in the past.” Arthur said, pointing at Artemis through tears of laughter. “You couldn’t be more accurate.”

“I can’t believe that worked!” Kallisto yelled, pumping his arm. “So many problems dodged! No need to extract Artemis from jail!”

“On that note,” Arthur said, tone becoming serious. “Artemis, you’re probably confined to the Argo for the rest of our stay here. At the very least, stay here until Julius has a chance to stop by.”

Artemis didn’t even bother arguing, just flopped down on her bed roll. Arthur left, and Kallisto stepped out for a moment. We were still paired for the day.

“Was it worth it?” I asked.

Artemis’s look turned serious.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That was one of the worst.”

I slowly nodded to Artemis, going over to my chest and rummaging through it. Where was it – AHHA!

I tossed one of my few remaining, “eat in case of emergency” mangos over to Artemis, who deftly caught it out of the air, slowly nodding at me. A small speck of stone was conjured, and Artemis started to carefully peel the mango with just the sharp edge, working on her control, finding a way to entertain herself while confined.

“You mentioned wanting to teach one day.” I said to Artemis. “Try practicing some beginner lectures. Maybe write down particularly good lines or ideas. Start a manuscript, like I have.”

“Good idea. Any ideas where to start?” She asked, looking at the ceiling.

“Start at the basics. What you taught me all that time ago. [Meditate] being the base skill, types of mages, etc.”

The look on Artemis’s face grew thoughtful, as she started to rummage around for some charcoal.

I hopped out, joining Kallisto.

“Standard set?” He asked.

“No, I want to help the people Artemis just freed.”

“No money in that.” Kallisto pointed out. I gave him a flat look.

“It’s not about the money. It’s about helping the people that need it the most. Do you think there’s a more battered group in the town right now? Well, one that we know about? Do you think any of them will get a chance at a healer? They’re scared, lost, and confused, and Artemis being ‘arrested’ instead of getting her usual chance at helping them out is doing them no favors. Come on. You substitute Artemis, let them know what they can and should do now, and I’ll fix them up.”

What happened to the slaves when Artemis killed off the ringleader? It was strange.

The easiest was when they were illegally capturing and pimping or selling people. Cut off the head, kill a half-dozen lackeys, and get everyone we could back home. That was easy, simple. “Simple.”

From the sound of it, Artemis had stumbled on one of the harder cases, where everything Nero was doing was, technically, legal, just horribly unethical. What happened to his business? What happened to his slave contracts?

Under the letter of the law, they passed to his next of kin, if he had no will. If there was no next of kin, it was handed off to the governor’s office to handle, which usually resulted in a bit of a mess. Generally, the governor simply declared them all freemen, and asked if anyone would like to sell themselves back into slavery. Anyone who chose to do so would be able to keep all the coin they got selling themselves, and send it to support their family, if they didn’t feel they had a better option.

It was a coin toss if people would take them up on the offer if Artemis was the one freeing them. On one hand, she only went after the worst of the worst, people who beat, abused, and mistreated their slaves the worst. Some former slaves still had some fire, some gumption, and were happy to throw off their chains. Others had been in a pit of despair so long, they couldn’t imagine any other future, any other way of life.

We didn’t argue with those. Artemis’s crusade wasn’t against slavery, it was against women and girls being horribly abused.

At the same time, nobody would be freed if the slave contracts went to the next of kin. This is the gap we were stepping into, and, by all metrics, improperly exploiting. Kallisto was going to off-handedly mention that the records were bad, and, well, if they just vanished, just ended up with some distant family, nobody would be able to tell they were slaves…

Our job wasn’t handling or enforcing slavery. Our job as Rangers was handling large threats to Remus, and we could make a very roundabout argument that we were heading off dissent and rebellion in the early stages.

After all, we’d arrested the Classer responsible for the brutal, public murder.

Quite a few hours later – sadly, no levels – the sun was down, and we were heading back to the Argo, for Kallisto to drop me off safely before heading out on his own.

Bless him, he’d learned. He was big, beefy, and could handle himself well enough, while I, well, wasn’t.

We were halfway to the barracks, when the haunting cry of “Fire! Fire!” came up. We glanced at each other, Kallisto kneeled down, and I hopped on his back. Off he went!

Sure, it’d be better for me if I ran there, but I’d get there faster piggybacked. It was pointless earlier due to how close we were, but the red glow was far away. Distance running, a ride from Kallisto, who focused in physical stats, got us there faster.

We made it to the fire, where a familiar scene was playing itself out. A fire brigade arguing with the owners. Blessedly, there were no screams coming from the building, but the fire brigade had made a barrier, not letting anyone else come close.

“Halt! By decree of the governor, only members of the fire brigade may come close to a burning building!” A pompous lackey cried out, stepping boldly in front of us, raising his hand.

I grabbed my badge at my belt, raised it high over my head, angling it to catch the firelight. I glanced up. The moons were out, crimson and ominous, watching our little drama in the corner of the world.

The lackey saw the badge, and his lips curled in a sneer. The sneer was rapidly wiped off his face as he realized that Kallisto wasn’t stopping, and was about to go through him. His paycheck clearly didn’t rely on allowing himself to get run over by Rangers, and he dove out of the way.

The weak link in the fire bridge barrier did not get out of the way, and Kallisto ran through their arms, a crack coming from them. I threw a [Moonlight]-boosted [Phases of the Moon] in their direction, watching my mana drain horribly, but getting their arm fixed.

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Moonlight] has reached level 67!]

And we were in, burning wood surrounding us.

I tapped Kallisto and slid down, only now hearing a mild cry for help. Not desperate, not young. It gave the feel of a polite lady asking for help, and could you please hurry along before I get desperate? However, a cry for help was a cry for help, and whoever was making the noise clearly couldn’t get out on her own.

Kallisto shot off, deeper into the flames, while I focused around me, grabbing a clump. Extinguishing it. Grabbing the next set of flames, dousing them. Steadily moving in the direction Kallisto had moved.

[Fire Manipulation] was good for more than just setting fire.

I looked around, trying to find the largest hearts of flame, the places where removing a large chunk of fire would do the most good.

Grab, extinguish. Grab, snuff out.

Pull on the mana stored in my earrings. Grab, quench.

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Pyromancer] has leveled up to level 46! +5 Free Stats, +14 Mana, +8 Mana Regen, +14 Magic power, +8 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength from your Element!]

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Affinity] has reached level 46!]

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Conjuration] has reached level 46!]

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Manipulation] has reached level 46!]

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Fire Resistance] has reached level 46!]

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Fuel for the Fire] has reached level 46!]

I wasn’t scared of the flames. Not anymore. They came from me, were a part of me. All I needed to do was reach, and they were mine to control, mine to make dance to my tune.

And tonight, mine to douse.

I had to be careful though. I couldn’t tackle nearly the entire fire – I simply didn’t have the mana for it, even after pulling in all the mana from my Arcanite, even after giving it some time for my massive regeneration to kick in. The scale was completely different from what I could handle, and I needed to be intelligent about what I hit, when, and where.

Instead of say, the entire beam, I could hit the center, and parts of the edges, and kill the fire there. The remainder would hopefully burn itself out.

Grabbing the entire fire, removing all of it at once, was the domain of a power-mage, with massive Magic Power and Mana. I was more focused on Mana Regen and Control, in spite of the distribution of my [Pyromancer] stats.

A hallway. A room. Jumping back as a beam, weakened by the flames I’d just removed, fell down anyways. The place wasn’t going to be in good shape when I was done, but it sure was going to be in better shape than if I did nothing, or if hundreds of gallons of water and sand were poured in.

I followed the path I believed Kallisto had taken, only to see him emerge from the flames like a phoenix out of myth, carrying a woman. I made sure to quickly grab the flames around him, remove them from existence. I walked up to them, touching them both, pulsing [Phases] through them, focusing on burns, on lung damage from the smoke.

Kallisto nodded to me, and without another word, bounded out of the house. He was a tank, able to run through – quite literally – a house on fire, and emerge unscathed on the other side, even carrying someone. Wasn’t built to stay in a fire for a sustained period of time though.

A workroom, filled with dozens of vials, herbs in all states, mysterious implements scattered all over. Must be an alchemist who lived here. I spent extra care making sure his livelihood was saved.

I kept my ears perked, hearing almost nothing. No more cries for help. No wails of a trapped kid. Nothing but the roar of flames, steadily decreasing as I played a one-girl-fire crew.

I spent a half second wondering why more people didn’t take on a Fire mage class, before remembering how slow my leveling was. Who wanted to be stuck as a low-level most of their life? Who wanted to dive into flames unpaid? Speaking of pay, what job could a mage hold, that a specialist in a town couldn’t do better? The charcoal maker was better at burning wood, the smith was better at his forge. I was only safe because I could heal myself of most injuries, because I didn’t fear my lungs being seared from the toxic smoke. I was only paid because I was a Ranger and a healer.

Speaking of, I needed to be careful. My hubris in Perinthus was a solid reminder that this world had magic, and with all the herbs floating around, there could be magic smoke of some flavor that could do strange things to me.

Also, normal hallucinogens could be a problem.

I had no idea how long passed, but soon I wasn’t alone in the house, some other people running around, lending a helping hand. A Ranger-Mage, even without the class, diving into your home and killing a ton of the fire clearly inspired confidence, and the low lighting probably meant they didn’t get a good look at me, didn’t have any notions of my skill based on my appearance.

Or maybe, and the thought warmed my heart, they had seen me, and had faith anyways. It put a small, secret smile on my face, casting strange shadows as flames danced around me.

As embers danced around me.

As nothing but ash swirled around me.

I walked out to an irate fire brigade squaring off against Kallisto. He turned and looked at me.

“Oh great, all set?” He asked me, winking.

“Yup.” I answered, somewhat tired. Not quite exhausted, but I wasn’t going to have clinic tomorrow. Just a long sleep, followed by trying to get all the infernal smoke out of my hair. I’d let it grow long again, as poor of a life choice as it was, being on the road. I liked it though, and because I liked it, [Pretty] was happy.

Kallisto turned to the brigade, arms crossed, forming a human wall. I stepped up next to him, and we took out our badges.

“Do you really want to continue arguing with two Rangers, after one of them single-handedly took out a fire?” Kallisto asked softly. “How do you think this ends for you?”

There were some nervous looks around. Clearly Kallisto had been waiting for me before challenging them, sticking around to make sure I’d be safe on my way back.

“But-“ one of them started to say, getting cut off by another, leaderly-looking one, who was deep in thought.

“Listen. You know where to find us. Lodge a complaint! We’re in town for another week. Or don’t. She’s a healer. A healer. Practically useless by most standards, and single-handedly took care of a fire. Me? I’m a dual-classed warrior, and significantly stronger than she is. Want to see what I can do?” Kallisto asked, flexing.

That got a few of them to leave, muttering angrily about not being paid. It wasn’t fair, or right, having a fire brigade that was privately ran. No fires, no pay. Or rather, no money from the burning house, no pay. That broke them, and more and more streamed away, leaving just the leader, who took one last look at us, snorted, and stalked off.

Kallisto laughed, punching me in the arm, causing me to stumble over from the force.

“That’s how you do it! Alright, let’s go drop you off at the Argo. Assuming Artemis hasn’t burned it down in her boredom. Then I gotta get to the baths – I’m late for my first appointment!”

“What, you didn’t get an appointment with the lady here?” I shot back.

He laughed.

“That’s next week.”

I facepalmed. I guess I asked. Kallisto was incorrigible.

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 15]

[Mana: 3854/14290]

[Mana Regen: 18655]


[Free Stats: 18]

[Strength: 102]

[Dexterity: 220]

[Vitality: 135]

[Speed: 220]

[Mana: 1429]

[Mana Regeneration: 2171]

[Magic Power: 1244]

[Magic Control: 1867]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 183]]

[Celestial Affinity: 183]

[Warmth of the Sun: 148]

[Medicine: 183]

[Center of the Galaxy: 140]

[Phases of the Moon: 183]

[Moonlight: 67]

[Veil of the Aurora: 118]

[Vastness of the Stars: 132]

[Class 2: [Pyromancer - Fire: Lv 46]]

[Fire Affinity: 46]

[Fire Resistance: 46]

[Fire Conjuration: 46]

[Fire Manipulation: 46]

[Fuel for the Fire: 46]

[Burn Brightly: 35]

[: ]

[: ]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 88]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 91]

[Pretty: 105]

[Vigilant: 120]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 160]

[Ranger's Lore: 111]

[Running: 91]

[Learning: 130]


A note from Selkie

Elaine enjoys her new strength!

Also, the funniest short new novel I've read: Beware of Chicken.

Person is reincarnated into a xianxia world, and realizes the only winning move is to not play. Promptly retires to a farm.

If you could give me an advanced review, that'd be great. They're weighted more heavily than anything else, and I've been looking carefully at trending - it's clear that the rating the novel has is super important. Hence, advanced reviews help me go up in the trending list. They help more people see it, which gets more people rating and following it, which has a synergistic effect that hopefully turns into a runaway effect, which gets enough people interested that I get to do this full-time. Seriously, it matters, and it helps.

BTDEM is bog standard in many ways. However, I'm willing to do things that turn some readers off - and so far, more of my reviews have been from people that I make mad more than people who are happy. Just how the internet works. I'm hoping some of you that are enjoying things are willing to leave reviews or advanced reviews. They matter. You matter.

Help keep BTDEM going - it's as simple as rating, as easy as reviewing.

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