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A note from Selkie

Choo choo! Academy continues!

I woke up to a servant – or slave, probably a slave – bringing in a tray of food into my room. I bolted up, realizing I was in clean clothes again.

There was a note on my bedside table.

Hey Healy-bug!

Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!

Can’t wait to see you later.

Cheers,

Artemis

What was unsaid was she was probably the one who’d brought me back and changed me.

I got up, both ravenous and not hungry. I’d adapted to life with barely any food, a subsistence level just above starving. I glanced at the offerings – a weak soup, designed to slowly get me back up to “full speed” so to speak.

I ate it, then found sleep claiming me again. I figured it was safe to sleep – we’d just been put through three months of torturous hell, we’d demonstrated we could take it. They needed us recovered for whatever came next.


“Rise and shine sleepy head!” Artemis said, as loudly and obnoxiously as possible.

I sprang out of bed, saluting Artemis, deeply honed reflexes from the last three months kicking in.

“Ranger Elaine ready to – oh hey Artemis.” I said, my brain kicking in halfway through, processing that I was out of hell months, and it was, well, Artemis!

“That’s Instructor Artemis to you, Elaine!” Artemis said, sending massively mixed signals.

“Sir? Yes sir?” I said.

Artemis preened.

“That’s more like it.”

Worst. Drill. Instructor. Ever. I wasn’t complaining.

“What happens now?” I asked, sitting up, seeing a tray of slightly more substantial food had been left in my room.

“Well, you’ve all passed the hell months. Congratulations by the way – I was worried about you. At this point, you’ve all but made it – it’s exceedingly rare for someone to drop out at this stage, and it’s usually due to either outside influences, a training accident, or an injury so crippling that a Trainee drops out.”

I tilted my head. “What could that be?” I asked.

“Usually something breaks in their head, and they walk away. Swear to never fight again or some nonsense.”

Mental trauma, basically. Without the proper word for it. Something I couldn’t even heal. Well, not magically. And I knew I wasn’t equipped to try and properly treat it nonmagically. Although, sympathy and a willing ear went a long way… thoughts for another day.

Also, I disagreed with Artemis. It wasn’t nonsense.

“What happens next?” I asked, between a mouthful of bread. Hot, warm, straight-out-of-the-oven bread. It tasted like heaven. Soft flakes of tender goodness melting in my mouth.

Best part? No sand.

Just how good would a mango taste if I could get my hands on one? The thought was sheer bliss.

“Well, you get a week to rest and recover. You spent four days sleeping already, so practically it’s only three days. In the meantime, the Instructors are planning an individual course for each of you, although a lot of classes will intersect.”

“Huh?” I asked, confused. Hey, I was still sleep deprived. The only thinking I’d done in the last three months had been “Put one foot in front of the next”, and the “careful thinking” part of my brain was still rebooting.

Artemis sighed.

“Let’s say you have a ranger class, like Arthur – the one that shoots arrows. And you can’t read, or sail. You’d get the general Ranger class, a class on reading, and a class on sailing. Along with everyone else that needs those classes. Depending on how good you are at shooting arrows, you might or might not be signed up for archery classes.”

“Then take a, say, healer. You can read, can’t sail. You’d get signed up for the general Ranger class, you’d skip the class on reading, and get signed up for the class on sailing. You’d be exempted from the class on healing, but signed up for the class on how to be a mage, because your mage abilities and levels suck.”

Ouch.

“You’d be in the same sailing and general class as the ranger we talked about before, but you wouldn’t be in his reading class, and he wouldn’t be in your mage class.”

“Personalized education for everyone, but the classes are for all.”

Artemis’s eyes unfocused, the typical signal of someone receiving a System message.

“Hey, I leveled! [Teaching] up!” She said, pumping her fist.

“Nice!”

Something clicked.

“Hang on, aren’t you not supposed to tell me things about Academy?” I asked.

Artemis gave me a Look.

“One, I’m an Instructor now. It means I’m allowed. Two, the main thing we want to keep under wraps are the Hell Months. It’s a bit too easy to prepare for them if you know what’s coming. A skill like your [Center of the Galaxy], and high vitality makes it quite a bit easier to pass than we’d like.”

I could practically see Artemis rubbing her hands in glee at the first point. She always did like having privilege. Not that I could blame her – every benefit she got was hard-fought and hard-won.

“Don’t repeats get to know though?”

“Sure, but anyone kicked that hard, and coming back anyways is hard to stop. They’re clearly dedicated.”

The logic didn’t quite sit right with me, but again, who was I to question the more interesting practices of the army. Wasn’t the first, second, or even third time they did stuff that I didn’t agree with. For now, I’d be a good minion, and play the game by their rules.

“Most Trainees get assigned a Sentinel as a mentor, depending on where they think their skillset lies. Ideally to help them with any skills that aren’t obviously covered by other classes. Which is good and bad.”

“Oh?” I said, encouraging Artemis to continue.

“In theory, it’s to get some wisdom from the strongest humans in existence. In practice, people good at blowing things up aren’t great at teaching them.”

I gave Artemis a flat look at that. She cuffed me.

“Don’t give me that look! I’m a great teacher!”

“Some are better than others. Sky is notoriously flighty, and I honestly think he resents being promoted to Sentinel. His life of relatively carefree flying around as a Ranger became one of responsibilities, being on-deck to move Sentinels from A to B, along with myriad other job duties. He hates it, and does whatever he can to avoid ‘extra work’, aka anything he decides is beneath him. Don’t get me wrong, in a pinch he’ll be there, but if you get him as a mentor, you’re lucky if you get one meeting with him the entire time – he’s usually either shirking responsibilities to fly around, or he’s flying a Sentinel to a hotspot.”

“He does teach a class on flying, although I suspect it’s more because he gets sanctioned time to fly around, which is what he wants to do anyways, than out of any desire to teach.”

“Sealing and Ocean are some of the best teachers. Destruction has passion, but he’s terrible at teaching. Magic always has something new and interesting, but rarely gets anyone assigned to him. Bulwark is similar – only Inscriptionists and defense specialists get assigned. He mentored Origen.”

“Almost nobody gets assigned to Acquisition, or at least not openly. Rumors are, he gets assigned to teach people less savory skills. Theft and assassination, among others.”

“Nature believes in the school of hard knocks, which also means he doesn’t have to do it. Expect to get thrown into the Kadan, and walk out a year later. Lowest pass rate, highest number of drop-outs after Hell Months, but there’s no arguing with his results – his trainees have the highest survival rate.”

“Brawling is totally average, but gets solid levels out of his trainees. Most fighters end up with him. I know he mentored Kallisto and Maximus.”

“No idea on Toxic, the mysterious new Sentinel.” Artemis said with a straight face. I punched her in the arm.

“Come on, Arthur loved teaching me all about poisons and hunting.”

Artemis cracked a grin.

“Sure! No idea how he’ll help people on their particular style of fighting though. The point is to help people on their path, not throw people on yours. Might split assassin training with Acquisition, thinking about it.” Artemis said, looking thoughtful.

“Lastly is Night. The best, but only takes one Trainee a year. He was my mentor back when I did Academy.” Artemis said. “My bet? You’ll end up with Night. You’re arguably the most promising Trainee this year, although you’re not a Trainee, and you have both night-related skills, and restriction skills, something that Night handles.”

She shrugged.

“I’m not in on the meetings, I’m just a part-time Instructor. Might end up teaching you magic, might not. You kinda know everything I’d teach already, it’d be a waste of your time.” She said.

“Right, I’m off. Enjoy the next few days! Eat lots – but don’t stuff yourself too much. There’s a bath in the lower levels of the villa that’s almost never used – it’s good for us. Cheers! And again, congratulations.”

Artemis hugged me at the end, and I hugged her back, happiness filling my heart. I’d made it!

She headed out, and as I finished eating, I decided to take a peek at my level ups.

I got a whiff of myself before I got to see them, and decided that this could be handled after a bath. I’d been changed to sleep, but I had months of literal filth still caked onto me. Bless Artemis for not saying anything, and hugging me anyways.

A hop, skip, and a jump to the nice, luxurious, heaven-sent, warm, blissful, one-girl bath, and I was reviewing my level-ups. Hmmmm… let’s merge all the level ups from the same skill together, and skip the middle. Just the start and the end.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 188! +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! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 189! +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!]

That was honestly pretty disappointing. Three months, only two levels? Blah.

To be fair, I was only healing myself, and I was only healing the lowest of low-level injuries. Sore feet, cracked skin, minor cuts and bruises, the occasional shot from one of the Instructors that I wasn’t able to shield with [Veil]. All in all, I’d done almost nothing in my class, and through that lens, two levels was generous. The added stress, and the [Learning] and [Training] multipliers were the only reason I’d gotten two.

I think. The System didn’t exactly give out details like that, much as I’d like it to.

 

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 188!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 189!]

Sometimes, it was hard to see what the Affinity skill did.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 161!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Warmth of the Sun] has reached level 189!]

Ding ding ding! Wild success! Keeping the aura on a tight, full-blast, constantly needing and relying on it did wonders for the level.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 162!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 189!]

A second capped skill! I threw my hands up happily, not caring that it got water everywhere. A brief twinge of guilt went through my mind at whoever had to clean it up, but then again, they’d just spent the last three months in a warm, cozy place. My sympathy was, probably improperly, limited.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 188!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 189!]

No way to tell if that was from the healing I’d done, or the over-leveling I’d done earlier. I wasn’t complaining.

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

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Veil of the Aurora] has reached level 181!]

Turns out, blocking shots non-stop for months was great for [Veil]’s experience. Not quite enough to cap it, but enough.

[Vastness of the Stars], [Medicine], and [Moonlight] refused to budge… which was fair. I hadn’t used the skills at all.

Speaking of, what was [Moonlight] at?

[Moonlight]: The phases of the moon are visible to all who look up at them and see them. Able to apply [Phases of the Moon] at range, whenever moonlight touches them. [Phases of the Moon] applies with a significant efficiency penalty. Penalty increases with distance. Increased range, decreased penalty per level. Current range: 10.4 meters. Current penalty: 351% increased cost per meter.

I’d worked the math out at one point – it got 1% more efficient per level, and .1 meter per level.

Right. Onto [Pyromancer].

[Pyromancer]?

Hello? System? Is this thing broken?

With the most reluctant *ding!* I got a notification.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pyromancer] has leveled up to level 63! +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!]

Naturally, I got all of my skills leveling up one.

I suppose not burning anything to the ground would bar me from significant [Pyromancer] experience, although I hoped I’d get some residual experience from everything else, and constant use of [Rapidash].

Nope, apparently not enough. Fine. One level it is. General skills, don’t let me down!

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Identify] has reached level 100!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Identify] has reached level 125!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 133!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 177!]

Welp, being constantly shot at for months clearly had a fantastic effect on [Vigilant].

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 168!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 180!]

Wait, what? What was [Oath] doing there?

I checked over the exact wording of [Oath], and it hit me.

I will teach and spread my knowledge to the best of my abilities, asking for no recompense.

The scrolls I’d sent out. Took the scribe long enough, probably took longer for them to get to healers, and for them to be read, tested, and approved, but – I bet that’s where I was getting those [Oath] levels. I anticipated a steady stream of experience from it.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has reached level 145!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has reached level 160!]

Ranger’s Lore continuing to be the silliest skill. How did running around an island improve my ability to track animals? How was lifting logs in a team helping me fight?

I’d break my brain thinking too hard about it, and the room had enough steam without any escaping from my ears.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Training] has reached level 36!]

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Training] has reached level 100!]

Sweet! This would give me a massive boost to everything I did here, and was probably responsible for everything else going up so fast. It’d be invaluable for the rest of Academy, and I could, maybe, try to cap most of my skills while I was here.

It’d also help me level [Pyromancer], which was in serious need of help.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 151!]

A perfunctory level. Better than nothing. Let’s do some math, blah.

Training – 1.5% boost per level, 100 levels. 150% boost.

Learning – 1% boost per level, 151 levels. 151% boost.

So either a 300% boost, which was a 4x multiplier to experience while here, or if I was lucky, they stacked well, and I would get a 6.25x multiplier. Roughly. I didn’t want to try and calculate the extra 1%.

I leaned back, finally getting the last of the mud out of my poor, abused hair.

[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 126!]

That skill could also use some serious help. I wonder if they’d help me level it?


All too soon, the day came for training to resume, and we were in formation in the villa courtyard again.

“Trainees! I’m proud of each and every one of you! Barring an unfortunate accident, all of you wonderful people will make it to graduation! That doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a spot as a Ranger, but it’s the closest you handsome people will get!”

The tonal shift from Quintis had all of us nervous, even though we didn’t show it. He’d gone from calling us “shit so bad not even maggots would eat us” to “wonderful, handsome people.”

Was severe mental whiplash the last test of mental fortitude? I eyed the silver gong, an escape from the mad lunacy of Quintis. I wasn’t alone in my sudden self-doubt.

“If you indicated you can read, please see Instructor Jason when your name is called. If you can’t read, please see the Instructor who raises their hand when your name is called!” Quintis called out.

“First! Ranger Elaine!”

Welp. Rank hath its privilege and all that. I fell out of formation, and headed over to where Jason was.

I stopped in front of him, and saluted. He saluted me back, and handed me the top piece of paper.

I walked away, reading over the schedule.

“What on Pallos?”

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 16]

[Mana: 17550/17550]

[Mana Regen: 20797]

Stats

[Free Stats: 24]

[Strength: 118]

[Dexterity: 218]

[Vitality: 297]

[Speed: 220]

[Mana: 1755]

[Mana Regeneration: 2419]

[Magic Power: 1533]

[Magic Control: 2075]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 189]]

[Celestial Affinity: 189]

[Warmth of the Sun: 189]

[Medicine: 185]

[Center of the Galaxy: 189]

[Phases of the Moon: 189]

[Moonlight: 104]

[Veil of the Aurora: 181]

[Vastness of the Stars: 135]

[Class 2: [Pyromancer - Fire: Lv 63]]

[Fire Affinity: 63]

[Fire Resistance: 63]

[Fire Conjuration: 63]

[Fire Manipulation: 63]

[Fuel for the Fire: 63]

[Burn Brightly: 63]

[Rapidash: 63]

[: ]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 125]

[Recollection of a Distant Life: 131]

[Pretty: 126]

[Vigilant: 177]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 180]

[Ranger's Lore: 160]

[Training: 100]

[Learning: 151]

 

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A note from Selkie

Wrapping up the hell months montage! With a shameless minor cliff.


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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