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A note from Selkie

You know, I try not to do too many cliffhangers. And I didn't think of last chapter as a cliffhanger, more so that it was ending on a mystery.

 

As a result, I feel obligated to warn you - this chapter ends on a cliffhanger. The cliffhanger is resolved tomorrow. Read at your own peril.

There were a dozen or so temporary rooms at Ranger HQ that Rangers could use when they were in town. Generally, that translated to “when there was the grand meeting of Rangers every two years”, which further translated to “First come, first served.”

The Ranger lifestyle was nomadic, and most didn’t bother owning a home. There was no point. Those that were brave enough to have families, that had relationships strong enough to survive the distance, who didn’t bring their families with them, had a house in the capital, and much, much nicer accommodations than what we had. Which was almost mandatory, as there weren’t enough rooms to accommodate all the Rangers.

Even when only half of them came back.

I was now in a strange position. I was both a Ranger and not a Ranger, and keeping my head low was the name of the game. Rather, I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy any of the benefits of being a Ranger, while being under all the same restrictions. The worst of both worlds.

The long and the short of it was I was bunking with Artemis, in a small, spartan room. There was a cot and a chest in the small room, and Artemis locating and hauling in a second cot made the room fairly cramped. Budget restrictions resulting in ‘get Rangers out of their room and mingling’. Or training. Or relaxing outside. Or…

I was no logistical and architectural expert. I left that to those smarter than me. Who knows, maybe it was just pure budget.

The day started off with Artemis getting a pair of letters. I don’t think she got them via the standard delivery method. At least, I hoped the standard delivery method wasn’t “throw them from far down the hallway at the door.”

I heard a pair of soft thumps on the door, and standing next to the door, I opened it to see a pair of letters on the ground, one half-opened from its flight, as a courier – they had special ones that only handled intra-HQ messages – fled around the corner. One eyebrow went up at that, and as I turned back to bring the letters in, I noticed a red warning signal on Artemis’s door.

Rude. Understandable, but rude.

I handed them to Artemis, noticing that one was banded in fancy colors, and one looked like a normal letter from the courier’s guild.

“What do they say? What do they say?” I asked, watching Artemis’s face do all sorts of interesting moves.

“Well….” Artemis said, drawing it out. “A few things. Most are my business, but some relate to you. Anyways, long story short, morning’s free, we’re meeting with some people for lunch, then we each have different meetings in the afternoon.”

“Oh? Who? Who?” I asked, with all the patience of a hyperactive 16-year-old.

“Only one I’ll tell you is I’m meeting with Command this afternoon.” Artemis said, sticking her tongue out at me.

She paused a moment, then relented.

“Getting the idea in your head now, so you can get used to it. You’re meeting with Priest Demos this afternoon. He specializes in god or goddess-touched individuals. The Senate insists that everyone powerfully god-touched meet with him, and what’s going on with you is close enough to qualify. He’s really nice, don’t worry.”

Well, now I was worrying. Sounded close enough to a government vivisectionist for me to be concerned. Back then I’d been desperate to stick with the Rangers, to do anything to be brought along, to not be sent back. However, now the specter of being captured and interrogated for all my secrets was rearing its head, with the added benefit? Downside? Of completely skipping the ‘captured’ part.

At the same time, the way Artemis was phrasing it made it sound almost routine. “God-Touched in line one. Goddess-Touched in line two. If two or more gods have impacted your life, please fill out form 4-E.” It certainly sounded rare from some of the way Artemis was mentioning it – one priest for the entire Republic? The fact that there was a priest, and a process, indicated that it couldn’t be that rare now, could it?

Being real for a moment, what were my options? Trying to bust out of the city on my own – which in practice meant just walking out – and striking out on my own, again? There was a slim, but non-zero chance that I’d get someone sent after me – it was a bad look when you refused a meeting with the government inspectors. It wasn’t impossible, but I had too many roots here. Might as well have that meeting.

“Enough about that! What do you want to do this morning?” Artemis asked enthusiastically.

I patted my set of scrolls, the manuscript of all medical knowledge I knew, starting with [Oath], arranged into eight scrolls. “I’d like to get to a scribe to make a bunch of copies of these, then send them out. Shouldn’t take too long, right?”

Artemis shrugged. “Nope, let’s go!”

Artemis dressed, not to the nines, but more like the sevens. A simple men’s tunic, for the freedom of motion, her cape, and her Ranger’s Badge. I was in a regular tunic, reveling in the ability to pick and wear nice clothes without any concern.

We weren’t just on vacation-but-keeping-an-ear-out. We were on vacation. Crime gets committed? Classer attempts to blow up the city? Slave rebellion breaks out?

For once, not our problem. Not only was there a full Ranger squad – Team 1 – dedicated to nothing but protecting the capital, there was Ranger Team 0, AKA half the Academy Instructors nearby, and Sentinels called the capital home, for a variety of reasons. Close to the Academy, close to the Senate, in the middle of the empire, good living, and more. There was also the Senate guard, the town guard, and personal guards. Any problem would be steadily escalated up the chain, and quite frankly, if the entire chain of problem solvers situated in the capital couldn’t handle the problem, we wouldn’t make a difference.

Hence, actual, real, blessed vacation. Hence the fancy clothes. And spending some time making myself look nice, because I could.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 121!]

We left HQ, and Artemis got directions to one of the best scribes in the city. Which probably translated to one of the best scribes humanity had, barring some amazing scribe deciding to settle with family, away from the heart of the Republic.

“Why the badge, even though we’re on vacation?” I asked Artemis.

“Believe it or not, staves off a lot of harassment. People [Identify] me, they see the badge, the level, and the class, and decide they have better things to do.”

Artemis looked at me with a strange expression.

“You’re going to have the opposite problem I’m afraid. The higher level you get tagged as a [Healer], the more persistent people will get.”

Blah, that was going to be more than a bit of a pain in the ass. Already I got a low-level background noise of people suggesting I marry their son/brother/nephew/grandchild/friend/distant relative, mixed in with the occasional obscene suggestion or wild proposition. I thought I was already at peak harassment.

Nope! Not according to Artemis.

A problem for future-Elaine. I should get a fake marriage ring to dissuade suitors. Today, I had scrolls to work on!

We were in the innermost district of the Ariminum, and the already-impressive roads that connected all the towns of Remus together were even more impressive. I could see some light, glimmering inscriptions on these roads.

“What do the inscriptions do?” I asked, as we navigated and turned down another road, happily in the white lane. Artemis’s cape and badge had a secondary effect of, while not clearing a path for us, smoothing it along.

Artemis didn’t even look.

“If they’re the same as when I was told about them, skill and stat suppression field. They won’t stop a skill, but they’ll make it harder to get the same effect out of them. A spark, not a bolt. A candle, not a bonfire. They also connect to the walls, and there’s a giant set, layers upon layers of inscriptions, on the walls – mostly defensive - fueled by a massive core of Arcanite located somewhere top-secret.”

She shrugged.

“At least that’s what I was told. Ask Bulwark when you’re at Academy. One of his jobs is knowing this, although it’s the Inscription Masters that keep it all running.”

We turned, and found ourselves in front of the shop.

What was unique about this store, what I hadn’t seen a single time before in all my time on Pallos, what made it stand out in the most subtle way, was the signage.

It simply said “Scribe”, and was made unique by sheer virtue that it was a word, and not a picture of the services. Most scribes used a scroll and quill, but this one was clearly more discerning, only wanting people who could already read to use his services.

We entered, and a little bell went off. More small, fancy things I hadn’t seen anywhere else.

“Welcome. What can we do for you?”

I plonked my scrolls down on the counter.

“I’d like to make as many copies of these as possible, with…” I paused, reaching down to grab my 4 money pouches, the total sum of nearly every spare coin I had.

Wasn’t doing that much else with them.

My hand only found three of my pouches though, and I grimaced at the smooth end of my last pouch string.

“Welp. 12 rod’s worth of coins.” I said with a resigned sigh.

Artemis looked down, eyebrow quirking.

“Damn. That’s a good thief. I didn’t even notice him. Or her. Brave to steal under the literal nose of two Rangers.”

Artemis quickly checked her own pouch, finding it intact, unmolested.

The scribe said nothing on the matter.

“May I ask as to the nature of the scrolls you’d like duplicated? There are some things I won’t copy.” The scribe said, somewhat pompously, but eyeing Artemis’s badge.

“Military documents also have a premium attached to them.”

I smiled.

“A medical manuscript, containing the sum of all the medicine I know. Hoping to get as many copies as possible.”

“To sell?”

“To give out to other healers. I want to have the knowledge spread far and wide, and I’m willing to fund it myself.” I said.

I got a long stare, followed by the scribe opening the scrolls, glancing at a few lines, repeating with the rest of them. Somewhat rude, but I suppose there wasn’t really a way for a scribe to copy the documents without reading them.

“For you, for this. 75 coins for a signature, which will mark you as the owner, creator, originator, etc., of the set. 32 coins per copy for base ink, 48 for moderate, and 64 for fancy ink.”

“Is the price for a set, or per scroll?”

I got a long, flat look from the scribe, before he gently shook his head.

“For a set.”

Artemis nudged me, encouraging me to take the deal.

“Sounds good! I’ll take the base ink.” I said.

The scribe went to the back room, then reappeared with a fancy-looking quill. It glittered and shimmered in a dozen different colors. That didn’t come from a normal bird.

“This is my standard speech I give all customers. Please do not be offended if you are aware of any of this.”

“I’m doing a standard mana signature. This will let you, or anyone else, verify that it’s your signature on the document. This helps with authenticating that you are the author. If there’s a dispute over the signature, you can bring it to any scribe, who’ll verify it for a small price. While only one signature is required, I recommend signing in a few different places. It prevents anyone from cutting the portion out.”

“Now, if you’ll relax, let me use a skill on you. [Authenticated Signature].

I relaxed, feeling a skill wash over me. I quickly unrolled the scrolls, signing at the bottom of the scroll, and at the top, right under the title of the scroll.

Elaine.

I kept it short, sweet, simple. I didn’t bother with a title, or anything fancy. Just – Elaine. That was me.

I quickly signed all 8 scrolls, feeling my mana drain somewhat. A brilliant, rainbow-color signature slowly appeared.

I did some quick math. Carry the 3….

“I’d like to get 21 copies please!” I cheerfully said, grabbing my pouch to dump the coins on the counter.

Artemis coughed at me, then leaned over to whisper in my ear.

“Might want to save a few coins to hire couriers to deliver them to all the healers. Saves you the effort of tracking them all down yourself – especially after you’re too busy with Academy.”

The scribe helpfully jumped in.

“We do offer a service where we’ll ask the couriers to deliver the scrolls where you’d like it. Unfortunately, I doubt you have enough coin, even after 20 scrolls, to pay the couriers, let alone our modest fee on top.”

I gave my best kitten eyes to Artemis, who sighed and pulled out a few coins needed to cover the difference.

Hey, I’d brought more than enough, it wasn’t my fault I’d been robbed halfway!

The scribe brought out eight scrolls, and unrolled them. With a gesture, ink started to flow out of a pot, onto the scrolls, perfectly – and neatly, much more neatly than my charcoal scribblings – replicated what I’d written.

Hang on – he hadn’t needed to read my scrolls in the first place!

Within a few minutes, the first set was copied, and he rolled up the originals, handing them back to us.

“To be clear, you’d like a copy delivered to the top 20 healers, right?”

“Right. Can you make sure Markus is on the list? Markus, the Pyronox?” I said, remembering my half-promise to him.

The scribe pursed his lips.

“Fine.”

Our business concluded, we left, and Artemis was practically bouncing as we walked down the road. Which was strange – I was usually the jittery, overexcited one.

We exited the central part of town, and moved a few districts down, where the pleasant smell of a dozen types of roasting food met my nose, mixed with the omnipresent scent of the sea.

I looked around. These were, for the first time since coming to Pallos, actual, honest-to-all-the-gods-and-goddesses, restaurants. Not a food stand, not a vendor, not a merchant or farmer selling goods. Restaurants.

We weaved our way through, Artemis having some sort of sense for where we were going, what she wanted. She found a place, and started to enter.

“Halt!” A girl – she couldn’t be more than my age – with pink hair and purple eyes, wearing a rich purple tunic with a minor stain on it, stopped us. How bloody rich do you need to be to let your purple tunic get stained, and not care!?

“I am Cornelia, daughter of General Augustus, Commander of the 2nd legion, Guardian of the Wall, Defender of mankind, Warden of…”

Artemis and I glanced at each other, shrugged, and walked into the restaurant anyways, ignoring Cornelia. A blue fish with a harpoon through it marked the name of the place.

“Any idea who that was?” I asked her, thinking maybe it was someone she was familiar with.

“No idea. Anyone leaning on their parent’s name like that though can be safely ignored. Not attacked, but ignored.” Artemis said. “Careful if they have a lover or suitor though, they can be irrational.”

I took mental notes. Powerful parent meant a shield, not a sword.

I was too busy looking around the restaurant, thinking on the meeting we just had, and missed Artemis talking quickly with the greeter at the front. She led us through the crowded restaurant to a private room.

The doors opened, and the last people I expected to see were there.

“Mom!? Dad!?”

[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: 121]

[Vigilant: 131]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 167]

[Ranger's Lore: 133]

[: ]

[Learning: 148]

 

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A note from Selkie

A long-awaited meeting arrives!

Hey, chapter 87.5 suddenly makes a lot more sense....


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.

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Selkie

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