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A note from Selkie

Book 4! And naturally, I have cover artwork for all of you!

Waking up at the right time was a well-ingrained habit at this point. I woke up, stretched, and looked around my room.

I’d moved back with my parents a year ago, because why not? It had taken them a few months to move, but once they were living in the capital, the villa Night had “gifted” them was huge, so much so that it felt like we were rattling around in it sometimes. It would’ve been a waste not to live there. We were – more like, I was – able to afford to pay someone to help clean the whole place, and it was most certainly a full-time job.

Mom really, really appreciated the help. She even had her own little clinic! She was rarely in it though. She took a much more personalized approach, having a small, select group of women that she treated, along with their kids. Having a house in the fancy part of town meant that all of our neighbors were also fancy and rich, giving us automatic social standing, and made up the majority of her clients.

I didn’t begrudge her the choice. We all had different priorities. She was healing, she was putting her skills to good use, and she was busy living her best life.

Dad had originally wanted to become one of the guards that worked at Ranger HQ, but I shamelessly put my foot down on it. No way was he going to be a regular at my work. That would just be way too weird. And awkward. Dad saluting me as I went to work? Daily?

Nope nope nope.

There was some minor potential for grift, corruption, and general nepotism that I wanted to get ahead of to boot. I would never participate, but there was no telling what happened in the background. I wanted no part of it, and the doors were firmly barred.

Having a Sentinel as a kid opened doors for him everywhere though, there was no denying it. He managed to end up as a member of the Praetorian Guard, the elites defending the Senate.

Which was extra-cushy, because the biggest threat to the Senate were loiterers. Dad basically got to walk around with Senators all day, and hear the most interesting things.

Which were naturally shared with mom and I. As the Senate saw it, Dad was simply keeping things in the family, and only sharing it with women to boot. Whatever. Everyone talked to their spouse. Who cared?

I was a frequent visitor – teacher, really – to Artemis’s School of Sorcery and Spellcraft.

As was Julius. I had some sneaking suspicions why Julius was a constant visitor there, but nothing confirmed.

I had absolutely no problems letting Julius know the gossip I’d overheard – which inadvertently gave the Ranger half of Ranger Command a very good look into the current inner workings of the Senate. Sure, we were their minions. Sure, we had two Senators on the Ranger Command directly. Didn’t mean they always talked with us, and let us know everything that was going on.

Master Spy Elaine. Totally tripped right into the role. Not like I was passing anything super secret or confidential, but Julius seemed to find it interesting, and Night had blessed the activity, and didn’t try to find me anything else to do, apart from the marketplace healing.

The Pastos incident had been over a year ago, and nobody was letting me forget it.

I was entirely unrepentant. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Either way, the less that was said about Pastos the better.

I had a nice, large, luxurious bed – topped with that fur I’d liberated from the pirates way back when. Forbidden fruit tasted the sweetest, and I slept extra-well on it.

My gear was on an armor stand, along with everything needed to maintain it. I semi-regularly brought it to the Quartermaster – especially when it was damaged – but being my gear, it was my responsibility.

It was my life on the line if something went wrong. Wasn’t about to take a risk over something so minor, not when all it took to fix was time.

I nearly got in the habit of taking a trophy every time I was in a major fight, or solved a major problem, but Night had given me a Talking To.

My trophy-collecting ended before it began, and I didn’t even buy souvenirs. After Night’s little Talking To, I didn’t even want a sniff of suspicion that I was doing anything uncouth. Nope. Nu-uhm. No way.

After all was said and done, I was paid really well, and my living expenses were fairly minimal. Not only was everything I needed provided for, apart from extra clothes and food, but I was making serious, serious money at the marketplace. I gave Autumn a generous allowance, kept increasing my personal hoard of coins, donated some to the general household fund, and even then, I had a bunch leftover.

Which I used on artwork! I had a number of high-quality frescos in my part of the home, along with some paintings, and marble busts.

Of me and my family. I was working on a “Sentinel Series”, but I kept a strict budget on how much I spent on artwork each month. It was tempting to blow more, but I had self-control.

For artwork.

I had various little chests and wardrobes for my clothing. I liked mixing it up. Some days were armor days, full on Sentinel Dawn. Other times, I liked wearing some [Pretty] clothes. All depended on my mood, and what was on my plate that day.

I got up, out of bed, and put on my gear. Fancy armor day! No helmet, red cape. I looked quite dashing. I’d considered getting someone with a Wind element class to follow me around and blow air on me. Constant cooling breeze, and permanent cape fluttering.

Too impractical.

I made my way out of my room, smiling as I saw my younger adoptive brother Themis, who was groggily heading to the kitchen as well.

“Themis! Morning! How’s it going?” I asked him, all cheerful like.

I got a foul look and a grunt.

Teenagers, I swear. I mean, technically, he wasn’t a teenager, not yet, still had another year to go, but moody and untalkative? Oh yeah, he had that down pat. He was going to be a right terror as a teen, unlike me, the model of a cooperative teenager.

Apart from the whole “running away from home and worrying my parents sick” part.

“Training with the guards today?” I asked.

I translated his grunt as “yes”.

I considered a few other questions I could ask him, discarded them, and shrugged. Whatever. My poor brother was tragically lost to me, victim of hormones for the next 6-8 years or so. He’d grow up, hopefully realize he was a dickhead like most teenagers, and our relationship would improve.

Wouldn’t stop me mercilessly teasing him while I had the chance. Not this morning though.

“Morning mom!” I said, entering the kitchen – a massive affair now, much larger than the cramped little room we called our kitchen back in Aquiliea.

“Elaine! Themis! Good morning!” Mom said, sitting at a table, eating her breakfast.

Themis just grunted. I wasn’t the only one getting the grunt-treatment.

“Busy day?” I asked her.

“Oh, you know how it is. One appointment in the morning, two in the afternoon, it’s either light or crazy, depending.”

Yup. Mom’s work being the personalized healer also made her a type of pseudo-therapist, where she listened to all the various problems the rich and powerful had – most of them made up or self-imposed. Like, “The new pillars are simply wonderful, but they clash with the pool aesthetic.” I’d seen enough sick and near-death patients from the slums, enough fights and bloody clashes to have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for those types of problems.

Mom was better than me at that, and she was the sympathetic ear who could cure their physical ailments, which people interpreted as also being able to solve their mental ones to boot. Hey, it worked for her, it worked for them. Who was I to judge.

“Think we’ll be able to have lunch together?” I asked her.

Mom tapped her lips thoughtfully.

“I don’t think so. Valentina tends to talk quite a bit.”

I nodded my understanding.

I grabbed some fruit and veggies from the kitchen – mangos and carrots – and walked out the door with them, contentedly munching on them while I made the short trip to Ranger HQ.

“Sentinel.” The guards respectfully saluted, while I offered them a cheery wave. I made my way down to the Sentinel meeting room/living room, bumping into Acquisition on the way.

“Acquisition!” I said, happy to see him.

“Dawn.” He said, respectfully.

“I’d like my purse back please.” I told him, holding my hand out.

“It wasn’t me!” He protested.

“Yes, but they installed you as the best thief. You’re all the thieves’ boss. One of them took my purse, you’re the boss, ergo, you took it, and now need to return it!” I said, cheerfully explaining my extremely poor logic to him.

“I don’t control them!” He continued to protest.

I just held my hand out and glared. With a sigh, he pulled out my pouch and returned it to me.

“Probably half the coins were gone already anyways.” He grumbled to me.

“Eh, whatever. I like my pouch. It’s got a sun stitched on it, for me!” I told him for what must be the thirtieth time, cheerfully pointing out the sunburst on it. Sunburst for Sentinel, Sunburst for Dawn. It was perfect. And mine.

“The fact that every time it gets brought to my attention and I need to get it back makes it a game for the other thieves.” Acquisition complained. “More of them target you as a result!”

“Yup.” I cheerfully replied. “And I make no effort to stop them. They’ll eventually get bored of the game, and hey.” I said, tone going from ‘excessively cheerful’ to ‘dead serious’ – “It’s not badges they’re trying to steal anymore. Eventually they’ll realize that I’m letting them have it, it’ll stop being a cool thing to do, and they’ll move on.”

Acquisition shuddered. His little talk about ‘don’t steal Sentinel Badges’ hadn’t hit the mark, and when Sealing’s badge had gotten stolen – Night had words with the thieves of the town.

Well.

Night had no words. The thieves had quite a few of them, mostly “please spare me” and “Oh gods no”. Acquisition got declared the head honcho of thieves, demonstrated his prowess by stealing the clothes off of Senators while they were in session, and demonstrated he should be the boss by getting away with it.

I was glad I’d been away on a mission when it happened.

Ocean nodded to us when we arrived, taking our seats. I had a preference for a big fuzzy chair, and I figured the trick to preserving it was throwing a shield around it when a brawl started.

I had a realization dawn on me.

Man. It must kinda suck to be Ocean or Hunting. In a normal organization, they’d be groomed to take over leadership one day. Except. The head honcho of the Sentinels, Night, was an immortal vampire. Kinda hard to take over when your boss had been in the job a thousand years, and was aiming to stick with it for at least another thousand.

Everyone trickled in, including, to my minor surprise, Nature. We all sat down, and Night began the morning meeting.

“Well, now that everyone who will be here is here, does anyone have pressing business before we begin Nature’s after-action report?” Night asked. Formal. Polite. One step at a time.

Carefully checking things off a checklist perfected hundreds of years ago. He never knew what was coming up, even though I had no doubt he’d heard every message and communication already. Still. It was somewhat disconcerting to hear the exact same message and question every single time someone completed a mission.

We looked around at each other, giving subtle shakes of our heads.

“Right. Nature. Please begin.” Night said.

“Multiple caravans had been vanishing in the Kadan. Two Ranger teams couldn’t locate anything. Went there, started sniffing around. Didn’t find anything. Decided against recruiting a bunch of animals to help me look around – the Kadan is just too big. Decided to start joining caravans incognito until something struck. Took three trips until we were attacked. A big sucker of a tree had become a treant, and not only that, but it had a number of other treants under its command.”

Nature shuddered.

“Couldn’t keep the rest of the convoy alive. Living trees working as a team are tough, and my skills couldn’t get purchase. They’re not trees, they’re not animals, I had to do it the hard way.”

I winced at that mental image. Treants were tricky with Nature’s skillset. He had a number of wood-related skills, but against something that actively resisted them? It was almost a counter to his abilities.

Ironically, I would’ve had an easier time with it. Radiance against wood? Yikes. Too easy. Fire would be even easier.

Nature gave a detailed breakdown of the fight, which consisted mostly of “dodge stuff and slowly chop multiple self-healing trees in half.” It sounded incredibly tedious.

“Thoughts on areas of improvement for Nature?” Night asked us.

“Could you have kept multiple animals either on multiple convoys, or scouting up and down the line until you found something, then rushed over when they got a hit?” I asked. “No need to play the ‘hit or miss’ convoy game that way.”

Nature frowned, but nodded at my remark.

“Should’ve broken the branches first.” Brawling said. “You took too long going for a direct kill, before realizing you needed to whittle them down first.”

I groaned, along with most of the other Sentinels, while looking at Brawling with amazement. I didn’t realize he had it in him.

He looked around, and the coin dropped.

“Pun not intended.”

Magic had a new trick. Fake rotten fruit materialized in all our hands, and he made it “move” convincingly as we threw it at Brawling. Sadly, it had no heft, no weight – but it was fun anyways.

More analysis, and before long, it was time for training at Ranger Academy. I had a morning class, so I was off, jogging with Ocean down the great tunnel to the Academy. He taught sailing in the morning as well, at a slightly later time. Had a half-dozen mentees that he taught while I taught everyone else medicine.

I gave a quick blast around me with [Shine]. Nothing showed up, nothing disappeared. No Magic shenanigans. He’d started avoiding me ever since I got the skill, and applied his own paranoia against him.

After all. I never knew when there was an invisible threat somewhere nearby.

He’d been incensed when I used his own logic against him. Out of respect for his own, well-justified, paranoia, I didn’t use it during our daily meetings. A truce, of sorts. Both of us protecting ourselves.

I’d heard enough stories of his after-action reports to mentally degrade his “paranoia” down to “completely reasonable caution”.

A bonus to [Shine]- it made me look awesome while it was going. A constant glow around me, and I happily tied it off with [Persistent Casting], to give myself a permanent anti-mirage skill running, without needing to think about it.

And light in the dark.

And I looked awesome.

“I’m so glad I don’t have any mentees.” I said with gusto. I had enough on my plate.

Ocean gave me a sour look.

“Rub it in, why don’t you?” He said, no spite in his voice.

“Sure! It’s great that I don’t have mentees! Fabulous! Fantastic! Wonderful! Brilliant! Great! Thank you so much for getting that one bard to quit!”

“Ok, ok, I get the point.” Ocean said, pained. “Please stop rubbing it in now.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. He’d literally asked for it.

We made idle small talk as we reached the end of the tunnel leading to Ranger Academy, the tunnel ending in a sprawling, luxurious villa that housed the Trainees that had passed the Hell Months.

Ocean waved to me, and headed over to the docks, where he’d be teaching. No surprise he wanted aquatic-based education.

I got myself ready where I’d be teaching. I’d gotten a dead body of a relatively healthy man procured for me, and I’d annoyed the hell out of the Quartermaster by insisting I was involved with every single step of procurement. There was no way I was getting involved in the unethical body acquisition business, not even by turning a blind eye. No. My standards bordered on absurd. Had to be almost completely healthy. Needed a willing family. Needed not a whiff of foul play.

Most of the Trainees were assembled. I had it arranged like an amphitheater, with me in the middle, and rows of Trainees around me, looking down.

“Morning!” I said, bright and cheerful as ever, before jumping into my standard speech. It helped orient me, it helped wake the Trainees up and let them know that yes, it was time to start thinking again. “I wish I was given enough time to teach you enough medicine to be useful. Sadly, I only have time to lightly go over everything once, and pray to all the gods and goddesses that it’ll be enough. Get a real healer with you when you travel. It’ll save your life.”

“Today we’re going to review the digestive system.” I said, flipping open the Y-shaped cut on the body, grabbing the intestines, and displaying them for everyone. “We previously followed food down the mouth, and into the stomach. Now we’re going to follow the path through the small intestine, large intestine, and colon, then review common injuries and emergency remedies.”

I paused a moment, letting the more industrious students scribble. I mentally marked three who were basically falling asleep in my class. I had the ability to review my students, and my criteria was real easy – don’t sleep in my class.

When it came time for us to solve the giant puzzle of who ended up a Ranger, those three would be on the bottom of my recommendations. End up on the bottom of too many Instructors and Sentinel’s lists, and a promotion to Ranger at the end of Academy wasn’t in the cards.

It was possible that they’d make it up with extreme strengths in other categories. As I said. I was only one, small piece of the puzzle. Just another cog in the machine.

I gave them a brief – far too brief – lecture and overview on the digestive tract, focusing on common injuries, along with basic management.

“Onions are fairly rare, but if you happen to be in a region with them, make onion soup and drink it. Then carefully smell around the wound. If you smell onion – you’re not going to heal naturally. You must get to a healer. You will die otherwise, regardless of your vitality stat.” I said, hammering the point home.

It was technically possible to naturally heal from an injury that would normally kill someone with enough Vitality, especially when talking about slow injuries like gut wounds. I wasn’t about to start sticking that notion in people’s head. Before I knew it, people would be telling me about mages with 100 vitality biting the dust, and how I’d said that it’d be “fine”.

Rangers tended to be a smart bunch, but exposure to medicine and first aid like I was teaching was a first for many. I was, arguably, literally the leading expert on the subject.

Far too soon, with far too many salient points left, did the gong go off, marking the end of my class. With how much material I needed to cover, an hour a day for almost two years wasn’t nearly enough. I could barely handle covering normal pathology, let alone getting into abnormal! Best I could do was a light skim over everything, and pray enough of it stuck when it came to first aid.

I spent a lot of time on injuries and stabilization first aid. It was the critical skill I was trying to impart after all.

I thoroughly washed my hands afterwards, got the body back on ice, to use again later, and with a skip to my step, I headed back to Headquarters. It was one of those mornings where I had an appointment with Albina!

The joy of being a Sentinel. People came to me, not the other way around.

“Albina! Good morning!” I cheerfully greeted her as I made it to my “public” space at Ranger HQ.

“Elaine! So glad you’re here!” Albina cheerfully gave me a friendly hug. I returned it, flashing [Phases of the Moon] through her quickly, making sure she was in peak health, awkwardly trying to not press too hard around her large baby bump.

“Yup! No dire emergency ripping me away this time!” I said, happily taking my seat. “What’s up for today?”

“Nothing special! Standard [Beautician] session. Nails, hair, makeup, and I’ve got three outfits for you to try, although I think you’ve seen one of them before!” Albina happily chirped, awkwardly waddling around me. She was due in about a month, and I was keeping a laser eye on her health. I kept trying to make my way down to her place, so she wouldn’t have to walk up here, but she kept beating me here handily, and insisting that we do it here.

At a certain point, arguing more would just be condescending, and both her and baby were in perfect health.

I had a sneaking suspicion that her husband had barred her from doing any other work, and the only reason she still saw me was he didn’t dare tell a Sentinel that her personal [Beautician] was no longer available. It’d explain the sudden jump in time and care Albina suddenly had about two months ago.

It was her personal business, and she knew I had a sympathetic ear, and would rain fire down for her if needed. Some careful inquiries got nothing, and I wasn’t going to pry too deeply. Not when she seemed genuinely happy, not while she remained healthy.

Albina worked her magic, and all of our time together had been good for her and her levels and classes. She’d gotten a Mirror element class, which let her, well.

Do the most obvious Mirror trick for a [Beautician].

“What do you think? Like it?” She asked, a mirror magically appearing in front of me, reflecting myself in it.

I was way paler than a woman who was regularly outside should be. A combination of my constant self-healing with [Phases of the Moon] and getting half my face burnt off again in Massalix didn’t lend itself to a tanned complexion.

Or to scars. I’d be so horribly scarred over every inch of my body if it wasn’t for magical healing.

Even though I did spend half the summer tanning, trying to level up [Sun-Kissed]. A light tan, not a deep tan.

Bright blue eyes, flecked and sparkling with the stars, anchored my face, surrounded by long, slightly wavy light brown hair. The benefit to hanging out with Albina a bunch was I could cut my hair whenever I went on a mission – long hair was hell to maintain on the road – then immediately get it regrown when I got back.

A heart-shaped face contained a happy grin and a cute nose. I looked good, I knew it, and I had [Pretty] reinforcing it, and a [Beautician] bringing out the best in me, making me look as good as supernaturally possible.

“Thanks! I love it!” I told Albina. “I have no plans for lunch, wanna join me?”

She made a bunch of fussing noises before agreeing.

Life was good.

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 19]

[Mana: 58840/58840]

[Mana Regen: 49245 (+23244.375)]

Stats

[Free Stats: 407]

[Strength: 271]

[Dexterity: 199]

[Vitality: 770]

[Speed: 770]

[Mana: 5884]

[Mana Regeneration: 5635 (+2324.4375)]

[Magic Power: 5121 (+59915.7)]

[Magic Control: 5121 (+59915.7)]

[Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial: Lv 256]]

[Celestial Affinity: 256]

[Warmth of the Sun: 215]

[Medicine: 240]

[Center of the Galaxy: 256]

[Phases of the Moon: 256]

[Moonlight: 256]

[Veil of the Aurora: 245]

[Vastness of the Stars: 147]

[Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 215]]

[Radiance Affinity: 215]

[Radiance Resistance: 215]

[Radiance Conjuration: 215]

[Shine: 104]

[Sun-Kissed: 165]

[Blaze: 215]

[Talaria: 215]

[Nova: 215]

[Class 3: Locked]

General Skills

[Identify: 151]

[Pristine Memories: 200]

[Pretty: 152]

[Bullet Time: 230]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 234]

[Sentinel's Superiority: 240]

[Persistent Casting: 111]

[Learning: 256]

 

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A note from Selkie

A normal day in Elaine's life! 


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.

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