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A note from Selkie

Something I haven't explicitly noted - signing up for Patreon gets you access to all the ePubs, AKA what you'd get if you paid for the book on Amazon, while also getting me a higher % of the total. Figured I'd get it out there explicitly!

 

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Artemis and I slowly made our way back to the Argo, and when we got close enough, Artemis had me pause.

“Should probably throw up [Veil] for a minute while I grab some spare tunics.” Artemis said.

I looked down, at the clumps of armor and weapons held against me, sandals and helmet being the only properly placed items.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

I threw up [Veil] for a minute while Artemis made a quick trip to and from the Argo, coming back with a tunic. I quickly got into it, and we made our way back, climbing into the Argo to a pair of raised eyebrows.

“Um.” Julius coughed. “Normally I can tell how a strike went by how people come back, but I have no idea this time.”

“10/11.” Artemis said. “She missed the assassin one, got the rest of them. Last three were an ugly mess, I almost needed to step in to help with them. On that note, Elaine, want to share your good news?”

It took me a moment to realize what Artemis was saying.

“Right! I got a new skill – [Rapidash]! Movement skill, evolved off of [Running], and now I have a free general skill slot!”

“Nice, any other levels?”

Right, levels. I should check on that.

Hang on, my [Pyromancer] class had all my skills capped, and with how much I’d practiced each skill without getting levels in the class, I’d just get spammed with notifications that each skill had leveled up as well.

Let me, for now let’s disable skill level up notifications for [Pyromancer] when I got a level. Oh, but let’s make a system notification for when a skill didn’t level instead. Bless the System allowing for customization like this.

Heck, that customization, and some auto-customization, was how people who were illiterate could understand the System in the first place. A combination of verbal cues, or just telling people made it all work.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pyromancer] has leveled up to level 61! +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! [Pyromancer] has leveled up to level 62! +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!]

I felt slightly cheated at that. Only two levels? Really?

I was ignoring the fact that I’d gotten one mid-fight. How was I supposed to rage against the System if I was being reasonable?

At the same time, it was “only” five, six, a real stretch for seven if you included the goblin I’d shield-bashed goblins, that I’d killed using my [Pyromancer] class, and I was more than twice their level as I did it. From that perspective, two levels was more than generous.

I wonder if [Pyromancer] being lower level than the goblins, and it being a many vs one, situation helped as well. System needed to come with a detailed user manual, not all this guesswork.

Blah. No matter how I wanted to whine, a level for every two goblins I’d killed with [Pyromancer] was solid.

That also leaned even more towards “Don’t kill things with weapons if you don’t have to.” Lots of potential experience just poofed into the void, although I did get some residual experience.

Maybe that’s why not everyone was walking around with belts of gemstones, blasting away merrily? A massive reduction in experience gained making it worthless to grind with, only good for last-second life-saving measures?

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 187! +10 Free Stats, +15 Mana, +15 Mana Regen, +15 Magic power, +15 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 187!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 187!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 146!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 147!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 159!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 160!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has reached level 130!]

….

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has reached level 133!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 131!]

That was more like it!

“A pair of [Pyromancer] levels. A scattering of general and healing levels.” I replied. “Nothing fancy.”

“Wouldn’t expect it from goblins, although, you were outnumbered.”

We settled in, and the horses started to pull the wagon, Arthur on the reins.

“After action report. Elaine, go. Artemis, I want to hear your take on it after.”

We both saluted Julius, then I settled down and began.

“I started off not attacking the goblins directly, instead trying to pick off stragglers. This was correct. My [Oath] skill didn’t let me directly attack them, instead I needed to almost literally tap the goblin on the shoulder first.”

That line got a facepalm from Julius, and uproarious laughter from Kallisto and Maximus.

Julius looked towards the ceiling, like he was begging the gods, “Why me.” I carried on.

“Ran him through with a spear. That was the correct move, as I was able to dispatch him without a problem.”

Except to me, the memory of fists banging on my shield, steadily growing weaker.

“His cries didn’t seem to attract the rest of the goblins, and I kept going. Encountered two more goblins. Burnt one, ended up in a knife fight with the second.”

I paused a moment, hesitating.

“Shouldn’t have gotten in the knife fight. Should’ve just burned him like I did the other one.”

“The rest of the goblins attacked me then. I let them start to encircle me. Shouldn’t have done that. Broke out, stopped trying to fight physically. Kited and burned them well.”

“Then I made a potentially lethal mistake, by not looking behind me as I used a new skill. Brained myself on a tree.”

I shuddered at that. If I hadn’t recovered so quickly, if Artemis wasn’t on overwatch, I’d be in a very different position. Hopefully eaten.

“I one part panicked, one part had good reflexes as I came to, burned and stabbed the remaining goblins.”

I looked down at the marred, strap-less remains of my armor.

“I might have gone a hair overboard.” I said with a straight face.

That got another chuckle out of Kallisto.

“You also completely missed the last goblin.” Artemis said. “Anyone else, I’d be dead. Always assume your intel is bad – especially if it comes from Arthur!”

She yelled that last part through the open door.

“Hey!” Arthur yelled back, objecting.

“Your verdict?” Julius asked Artemis.

“Well, she’s puny, she’s scrawny, doesn’t scout well, and can barely handle herself in a fight.”

I hung my head at that.

“She passes!”

Twin goddess of the moon dammit all. I should’ve known Artemis was winding me up.

“Right, just a few days to the capital, and a new movement skill. It’ll be invaluable during your training, so we’re going to practice it. Elaine, you’re with me. We’re going to run suicide sprints from here to the capital and back until the Argo arrives. Maximus, refit an armor set for Elaine. You never know.”

I groaned loudly.

“Arthur, feel free to drive slowly. Artemis needs to have a nice, slow, triumphant return to retirement.”

I almost groaned again, then shut up. Julius would just make the Argo go slower each time. We had vacation time we were burning into!

We packed a lunch, then started running, me practicing [Rapidash] in various ways. On one hand, I had some intrinsic familiarity with the skill, since it was an evolution of [Running], which I’d used for years. On the other, it was a brand-new skill, and I needed to learn the quirks of it, the ins and outs.

It rapidly became clear that I didn’t have a good handle on the skill. After a few aborted moves, after one grab too many where Julius had to yank me, stopping me from running into another traveler, we took a break.

“Elaine, what’s your speed, vitality, and magic power?” Julius said, as we stopped by the side of the road.

“220, 135, and 1506.” I quickly rattled off.

Julius rubbed his eyes, doing some math.

“Right, you have effectively around 1700 points of stats dedicated towards moving fast, but only 135 vitality. You need at least an eighth of the stats in vitality that you have towards movement.”

I tilted my head at him, brushing some hair out of my eyes.

“Vitality is perception. Right now, your movement stats are outstripping your perception by a solid chunk. You need at least…” Julius trailed off, fingers twitching as he did the math. “216 points in vitality to keep up with yourself.”

Ah, made sense. There was no one stat that could be used at the expense of the rest – everything was a balance, and I’d managed to unbalance myself by getting a movement skill that worked off of my power, instead of my speed.

“It might also be useful for you at Academy.” Julius said cryptically.

I wasn’t going to pry. Academy info was something of a secret, and the fact that Artemis had let slip in Virinum about Academy training methods was something she got penalized for. Apparently, if you knew too much about Academy, you could target specific skills to help you pass Academy, which did not necessarily translate to being a good Ranger. As a result, there was an information blackout on what was useful or helpful, and getting this much from Julius was enough to get him in serious trouble if I let it slip.

I vowed to never let it slip.

100 points into vitality we go! I kept the rest spare, for use at Academy. I never knew when I’d want a particular stat to help me with a particular problem. I didn’t think I’d get in a situation where it mattered, but I was holding off for now. My life wasn’t under threat.

We started running again, and I could suddenly keep up with my movements again.

As crowded as the roads were, with travelers, merchants, pilgrims, and the occasional immigrant looking to shelter under the walls, we were given no hassle. Mostly because we blazed past too fast for anyone to complain, but also because we just looked like a pair of couriers on delivery.

Actual couriers on delivery passed us regularly, some of them giving us shit for how slow we were. One particularly obnoxious courier –

“Ha! Slowpokes! I can’t believe anyone would give you a delivery so important to have two couriers run it! And who ever heard of a Fire-based courier anyways!” He yelled, flipping us the bird as he passed us.”

I looked at Julius, who was all sorts of mad-looking.

“Go. I’ll be fine.”

I could see the indecision briefly warring in his head, before he stepped on the gas. I blew [Rapidash] to keep up, hear their conversation.

“Bet you two rods I can make it to the gate before you.” Julius yelled at the obnoxious runner.

“Ha! You’re on old man.”

Julius stepped on it, and the obnoxious runner cursed as he tried to keep up.

I tried to keep a smirk off my face.

A few hours of running later, and the shining walls of Ariminum came into view.

They were massive. Most of the towns I’d been through had standard, low, “whatever stone is nearby” walls. These were twice as tall, at almost 15 meters high, with regular guard towers along the walls. Guards, the same guards I knew everywhere, patrolled the wall, with the addition of a bow. Perhaps a concession to the shanty town? I didn’t know my stone, but it looked like the entire thing was made out of marble, or some other nice, shining white stone. Perhaps a skill was involved in making them look so nice?

What else was different was a sort of shanty town outside the gates. Clearly, the capital was so secure, that people felt like living just outside the walls was viable. There was still some fear of a monster attack, as we all looked up as a cloud passed over the sun, but it clearly wasn’t so bad that people did anything to live inside the walls – or move.

I twisted and turned my head, trying to absorb all the sights, even though I wasn’t even in the walls yet.

“Elaine! Over here!” Julius said, sporting a huge grin. “Your cut.” He said, handing me a few coins.

“Crushed him?” I asked.

“Crushed him. Mostly running backwards. I wish you’d seen the look on his face…” Julius said, trailing off.

“Anyways, back we go!” Julius said, starting to run. Over his shoulder, he yelled.

“And this time, it’s your turn to run backwards! You need the practice!”

I cursed, weaving through the crowd. Damn being short. Damn not being able to see things as well. Damn suicide sprints. Damn suicide sprints while running backwards with unfamiliar skills through a crowd while short and unable to see anything!

A few exhausting days later, the Argo was pulling up to the walls.

“Do Rangers get a special lane for entering the city?” I asked, as we were stuck in mankind’s most hellish invention. Traffic.

“Yes, but it’s an emergency/priority lane. We could take it, but why clog it up when a real emergency could show up?”

Hours of slow waiting later – I’m pretty sure we got cut in line a few times by smaller, more agile individuals – we made it to the gates.

“Name, purpose of visit?” The guards asked, the usual guardy mixture of “extremely professional” and the standard “Bored out of my mind.”

Kallisto opened his mouth, but Julius cut him off with his hand, a “I’ve been waiting two years to say this” grin splitting his face.

“Ranger Team 4. Victorious return.” He said, pulling out his badge. The rest of us also pulled out our badges, grinning at the look on their face.

We were waved in without further fanfare, although some of the guards and other people at the gate tried to give us trouble of the fangirling variety. Felt nice, although it might get old one day.

“Right, plan for the day.” Julius said as we moved through the crowded streets, looking like most other streets in Remus. “Get settled at HQ. Get Elaine settled somewhere. Then I need to report to command, while the rest of you are free. Remember, meeting on the Solstice – don’t miss it!”

I kept craning my head around, trying to see all the sights. The capital was, for lack of a better word, more than the other towns we’d been through. There was more pottery and frescos in the windows than there was in Virinum. There were more dyed clothes than Aquiliea. There were – hang on, mangos!

I quickly hopped off the wagon, and moved over to the vendor, where I’d spotted a few mangos for sale in a tiny, neglected corner. If I was ever queen, mango-neglect on that scale would be a capital punishment. Death would be too good for anyone committing such a heinous crime. No, acquiring more mangos for me would be the penalty. Nobody who committed such abuse should be permitted to keep them.

A short transaction later, made doubly expensive by everything in the capital being more expensive, doubly so at my clear inability to negotiate well, my allergy to social skills and skills like [Bartering] striking again, and doubled again when it was obvious I’d pay any price for them, I had a small stash of mangos again.

Mangos oh mangos, I’d never have to deal without you again.

Transaction complete, I hopped back into the Argo, and we continued on.

To another set of walls.

“Forgive my stupid question.” I said, looking at the guards patrolling the wall. “but why are we leaving the city?”

Artemis just chuckled at me.

“We’re not. The city’s been built over centuries, and every time it expands, it keeps the old walls. The city’s a messy patchwork of expansion and segments, with the Senate and most important government buildings being in the central district. The closer you are to central, the more expensive it is.

I looked around in wonder.

“This is the cheapest district?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yeah, pretty much.” Artemis replied.

We continued on, passing gate after gate, the buildings becoming larger, fancier. More money used for the construction.

There was one house, small, tiny compared to its neighbors, which had a wide, large courtyard, and was blinding to look at. I squinted, and –

“Is that building made of Arcanite.” I said, jaw dropping. I tried briefly to calculate how much that’d cost, and failed when there were too many 0’s.

Julius snorted.

“No, just the walls studded with it. Local guard hates it. People keep trying to steal from it, the inscriptions in the floor activate, makes a huge noise, everyone comes running, it constantly blinds people – it’s a damn pain in the ass, that’s what it is.”

We continued on, wonder after wonder. Some peacocks in a yard. An Archaeoceratops on a long leash and brightly colored harness, marking it as tame, looking like a dog. A ferocious, magical, could-eat-a-person dog.

Well, a dino-dog with a Sand affinity, judging by the small dust storm following it around. Scary stuff, dinosaurs that could use magic skills, that didn’t just have a boatload of passives. Glad it was tame, and not, oh, say, a Lava-aligned Abelisaurus, or a Lightning based Serpopard.

I eyed it as we passed.

“And that’s legit?” I said, pointing.

Artemis didn’t even look.

“Yup.”

In no time at all, we were at Ranger Headquarters. Alive. In one piece. Only three team members down, and arguably with an extra one added.

The building was massive, and there was a huge gate, five meters tall, two doors a meter and a half wide, marking the grand entrance. The Ranger symbol, golden Eagle in flight against a golden circle, adorned the door, almost as large as it was. A pair of guards were at the door, and with a start, I realized they had a golden Eagle pin on their armor.

Not the leather and batons of the guard. No, they had full combat armor and weapons.

Julius stood forward, presenting his badge.

“Ranger Team 4. We’re home.” He said simply.

The guards said nothing. They just smiled, and opened the doors for us.

Home.

 

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 16]

[Mana: 17210/17210]

[Mana Regen: 20721]

Stats

[Free Stats: 62]

[Strength: 118]

[Dexterity: 218]

[Vitality: 235]

[Speed: 220]

[Mana: 1721]

[Mana Regeneration: 2379]

[Magic Power: 1506]

[Magic Control: 2039]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 187]]

[Celestial Affinity: 187]

[Warmth of the Sun: 158]

[Medicine: 184]

[Center of the Galaxy: 160]

[Phases of the Moon: 187]

[Moonlight: 104]

[Veil of the Aurora: 146]

[Vastness of the Stars: 135]

[Class 2: [Pyromancer - Fire: Lv 62]]

[Fire Affinity: 62]

[Fire Resistance: 62]

[Fire Conjuration: 62]

[Fire Manipulation: 62]

[Fuel for the Fire: 62]

[Burn Brightly: 62]

[Rapidash: 62]

[: ]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 96]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 120]

[Pretty: 120]

[Vigilant: 131]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 167]

[Ranger's Lore: 133]

[: ]

[Learning: 148]



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A note from Selkie

A relatively simple chapter!


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