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Lightning played over Artemis’s body, as she bent over in agony, her muscles spasming as the lightning wreaked havoc on her.

A moment later, she straightened up as she’d grabbed the lightning herself, wrapping it up into a neat ball in her hand.

“Good try.” She told Horatio, who was looking concerned.

“Um…” He said, gulping and trailing off as his eyes locked onto the ball of Lightning that Artemis was holding onto.

“Lightning is a fantastic element, as I’m sure you know.” Artemis said, keeping half an eye on Horatio, and the other on her students, who were surrounding the area, watching her exhibition duel/lesson.

Artemis took a practical approach to teaching magic. There was practicing shooting earthen plates - then there was practicing fighting another person.

There didn’t tend to be a whole lot of earthen plates lurking in the wilderness, trying to kill young mages.

“It’s quick. It’s deadly. It’s versatile.” Artemis continued, giving her full attention to her students as poor Horatio threw up defense after defense.

Artemis glanced, and quickly evaluated his defenses. Not enough. Not for the point she was trying to make. She did wish he’d make flashier defenses though. It would make the demonstration stick all the better once she shattered them.

“Horatio’s mistake, was trying to use Lightning against another Lightning-element mage.” Artemis said, trying to keep how happy and proud she was of Horatio out of her voice.

He’d picked Lightning as his element, in an attempt to emulate her. Elaine had totally been right. This teaching stuff was wonderful. She got to see the kids dropped off with her grow and learn, and she longed for the day when one of them properly surpassed her.

Elaine didn’t count. She was Sentinel based on her healing abilities, and as much as Artemis took credit for her physical and magical combat prowess, she knew that she was still a better, stronger mage than Elaine was.

“Once it’s too far from Horatio, the Lightning he conjured up wasn’t under his control anymore. Can anyone tell me what the second issue with using the same element against a mage is?” Artemis asked, looking around.

This was a fairly basic introductory lecture, so she didn’t expect anyone to immediately know the answer.

Still, after a moment, with Horatio still frantically erecting defenses, a small flame went up. Artemis insisted on conjuration being used to answer questions, and it helped both with conjuring the element, and controlling it.

“Yes?” She said, pointing at one of the students, and mentally sighing at Horatio. He’d forgotten one of her key lessons - a good offense was a good defense. His fighting will had been broken by how casually Artemis had defeated his first attack.

Artemis overwhelming him right here and now with attacks was a basic lesson to demonstrate the point she was trying to make, but it wouldn’t work to solidify his basics. She’d need another student to spar with him, to get that lesson in his head properly.

She quickly ran the students through her head.

Theseus would be a good partner.

“Because you have [Lightning Resistance]?” The student asked nervously.

Artemis gave him what she thought was an encouraging grin.

“Exactly! There are a number of elements which mages get the resistance skill for. Lightning is one of them. Not only was Horatio’s attack dramatically weakened by my resistance, but he gave me a nice chunk of Lightning to use for myself. Watch!”

Horatio had finally gotten enough defenses up to survive what Artemis was about to do. She took the ball of Lightning, and like an Olympic shot-putter, she threw it back at Horatio.

She added a few low to the ground rocks in the mix. Keep him on his toes, if they didn’t remove them entirely. She’d given him enough of a chance to arrange his defenses, Artemis wasn’t going to give him any more of a chance than that.

The Lightning ball ripped through his hastily-erected shields, then as it got too far away from Artemis, exploded out in all directions, playing over his flesh. The pair of rocks she’d thrown down low then hit both his shins, and Artemis winced a hair as she heard the secondary crack of bones breaking.

Fortunately, the healer on-hand was already moving, having gotten used to Artemis’s methods by now.

“Lastly, Lightning is great because it’s so loud, and so bright, that it hides other attacks.” Artemis loudly announced, pointing to Horatio who was clutching his leg.

[*Ding!* [Teaching] leveled up! 188->189!]

Ha! Yes! Another level!

Artemis loved [Teaching]. It gave additional experience to her students when they were learning, and doing stuff at the school she taught at. It gave them a solid level boost when it was all tallied up.

Best of all, it stacked with them if they got [Education], [Learning], or a similar skill!

Horatio wasn’t screaming, thank goodness. That was always awkward when a student started yelling and screaming in pain. One of the first lessons Artemis tried to get out of them - screaming and crying did nothing. Worse than nothing, it distracted your teammates, and let the enemy know you were hurt, injured, and worst of all, still alive. The ultimate “kill me now” signal.

She walked over to Horatio as most of the students muttered to themselves. A few were looking a bit green, and those either quit, or pushed through and became some of the better students, as they drove themselves hard.

“You ok? I hope my performance wasn’t too shocking.” She asked him, leaning over and offering a hand. She didn’t mean physically, of course - the medic had seen to that - more of his ego, and mental well-being.

“Yeah. Totally forgot about the rocks.” He said, taking her hand and accepting the assist up. Artemis shook her head.

“When have I ever gone easy?” She asked.

“Um. Most days. New students, intermediate students, most of the advanced students.” Horatio said, starting to tick off his fingers.

Artemis swatted him.

“Oi! If you’ve got enough vigor to sass me, you can run laps. Go on! Get!” She yelled at Horatio, trying and failing to keep the laughter out of her voice.

“What are the rest of you looking around for? 10 laps! Get going!” She yelled at the rest of the watching students. “Can’t be any good as a mage if your body can’t keep up!”

With some muttering - a few of the newer students had come in good clothes, they’d learn soon enough - the students followed Horatio on laps around the Academy.

Artemis still felt like she was an imposter, that she had no idea what she was doing. All she did was a haphazard set of lectures on what she knew, mixed it up with some practical demonstrations, add in some sparring and physical exercise, and that was it!

Well. And sat with each student in one-on-one sessions, talked over their build, and gave them nudges, direction, and advice. Still, it felt weird that people were coming to her for advice.

As the slowest student rounded the corner, out of sight, Artemis saw a delightful sight for the eyes.

Julius!

She kept her expression carefully schooled. They were keeping their relationship under wraps for good reason. Still. They knew each other well enough to see the tight little lines, mirror gigantic grins on their face barely suppressed.

“Commander Julius.” Artemis said, giving him a salute.

“Artemis.” Julius said, handing her a letter. “Letter from Sentinel Dawn.”

Artemis gave Julius a quick look, then opened the letter, turning herself so only she could read it.

Julius tried to shuffle around to see, but Artemis kept twisting to keep it hidden.

“Hey!” Julius protested.

“Shoo! My letter, from my healy-bug.” Artemis said, flapping a hand at him.

“She’s my Sentinel!” Julius protested.

“Did she send you a letter?” Artemis asked, giving him a look.

“Well, no...” He said.

Artemis got the smuggest look on her face.

My healy-bug. My letter.” She said, starting to read it.

Her face went from happy-grinning to serious real fast as she read the letter, and she silently handed it over to Julius when she was done.

Artemis!

Big fight, killed a bunch of Formorian Queens, wild party. I’m OK, Night’s OK. Sadly, it looks like I’m going to be stuck out here for awhile. More Sentinel stuff to do. Don’t know when I’ll be back – it’s a mess out here. I’ll try to write lots!

On a different note – why didn’t you tell me about you and Julius!? I’m so happy for you two! You’ve got to tell me everything when I get back!

Well, not everything.

Almost everything!

Things, for reasons I can’t say, might start getting real crazy and hectic near you. Stay safe. Keep your students safe. If everything starts going crazy, hunker down and protect yourself. There’s no reason to go out and get involved in nonsense. Not allowed to say anything more.

I classed up! Got my next healer evolution! It’s so exciting! I can’t wait to get back and tell you all about it! It’s the best thing ever! I have so many cool tricks now!

Cheers,

Elaine

 

“I haven’t even gotten Night’s report yet.” Julius said with a frown.

“Mmhmmm.” Artemis said, with a distinctly unamused tone.

Julius didn’t really notice.

“What she’s written here implies some sort of large-scale event – one that we’d be better off weathering, instead of trying to fight. So it can’t be all bad...” Julius said, his mind working rapidly as it considered and discarded a dozen different possibilities, before finally settling on the right one.

“Can’t be monsters, can’t be environmental, so it needs to be people. Can’t be small, otherwise Rangers, Sentinels, or the 3rd Legion would handle it. It needs to be bigger than all three combined – which is the majority of the army. What could they be doing to make Sentinel Dawn concerned enough to send a letter? A coup’s the only thing I can think of.” Julius reasoned out.

He paled.

“That might be why I haven’t gotten Night’s report yet. The runner might’ve been told to take it nice and slow – or even intercepted. He’ll be furious, but what’s done is done.”

Artemis smacked Julius over the head.

“Never mind that! We’ll just take the students on a field trip.”

“We?” Julius asked dumbly.

“Yes, we. After you let the cat out of the bag with Elaine!” Artemis yelled at Julius, her face as thunderous as her famous element.

“Oh, um, that. She tricked me!” Julius said. “Implied that you’d told her!” He held up his hands, praying to Aion that he’d get off lightly.

“Elaine. Tricked you.” Artemis said, with a tone of disbelief. “Elaine couldn’t trick a newborn rabbit, let alone one of the most cunning Ranger Commanders.” She said, electricity crackling between her fingers.

Julius tried to bail.

He was fast. A speedster, and high level, with a powerful class.

He wasn’t Lightning-fast.

Artemis activated one of the Inscribed Scrolls she had. Cheaper than a gem, but single-use, she couldn’t wait for the day when she could reliably get a gem, and charge it with a similar skill.

“Twenty more laps everyone!” She yelled, her voice being amplified throughout the school, as the Inscription burned through the scroll, the material unable to handle the power coursing through it.

Damn cheap things. She cursed as she chased after Julius.

 

Two weeks later, Julius was in his office, doing scrollwork. Endless scrollwork. If Ranger Command had told him how much scrollwork he would be doing when he got promoted, he might’ve said no.

Ah, who was he kidding. Julius would’ve said yes anyways.

He finished off the current report – a request for a Sentinel, to handle a mine that nobody came out of – and leaned back to stretch in the sunlight, coming in through a narrow window.

A smile played over his face as he remembered his latest adventure with Artemis. Gods, she was radiant to be around. Witty, smart, strong. Didn’t take shit from anyone – himself included. He wanted to marry her, but knew what her response would be.

Didn’t stop him from having a ring tucked into his desk drawer, for a day he thought proposing would work.

A knock came on the door, interrupting his musings. He straightened himself back up – always had to put on good appearances.

“Enter.” He said, and the Ranger’s internal runner popped in.

“Mail for Command.” He said.

Julius rubbed his eyes and motioned him forward. Downside of being the newest Commander – all the scut work was his.

He motioned the runner forward, and took the scrolls from his hand. There were a lot of scrolls, far more than usual, and he narrowed his eyes.

Extensive paranoia was part of the job, and he had a sense that a full meeting of all the Commanders was in the near future.

He checked the dates on the scrolls, seeing that they’d been dated over roughly three weeks. Someone had been tampering with the mail.

First was a missive from Night. Short, sweet, to the point.

 

Victory. The Formorians have been defeated.

A scroll, dated two days later, gave Julius the full details of what had transpired, including the casualty count.

“Kyros.” Julius ordered, the guard in question popping into his office a moment later, saluting.

“Run down to the apothecary. I’m going to need a lot of stamina potions.” Julius said, handing over a few coins. He lowered his voice.

“And if you want to get into some good graces, the rest of the Commanders will probably want some once the meeting gets started.” He said with a wink.

Everyone won if Kyros was the one pre-emptively helping. If Julius did it, it’d look like he was being presumptuous. If one of the guards did it? Well, they were just being diligent.

Still, potentially promoting one Sentinel was a headache. Now they had multiple open seats, which created a dizzying maze of potential promotions.

The next scroll came in, which detailed Night using his emergency powers to promote Ranger Falerius to Sentinel, title Maestrai. Julius felt the flavor of his headache change. One problem was gone, creating three more in its wake – the inevitable endless arguing over if Night had overstepped his authority or not being the first one.

Julius had spent a lot of time with Artemis. Artemis, who’d been mentored and taught by Night once upon a time. That, combined with what he’d seen of the reclusive leader of the Sentinels, let him know that Ranger Command existed in part because Night didn’t want to handle it. He was the power behind the council, the reason Rangers had lasted so long.

Night wanted to promote a Ranger to Sentinel? It was done, and arguing it was a waste of time. It wouldn’t stop the fools from the Senate protesting until they were blue in the face.

“Lykos.” Julius ordered, his other guard stepping into the room and saluting. “I need Sentinel Ocean here, on medium to high priority. Thank you.” He said, dismissing him.

Ocean was probably findable, given how reliable he was. He was also hyper-aware that he was the only combat Sentinel left to deploy, and there was at least one festering problem that a Sentinel would usually be sent to handle, that was currently being sat on.

Ugh, and Sealing was dead. He would’ve been the go-to Sentinel for that particular problem, which meant Night might have to be deployed.

Except Sky was gone and the rapid deployment Sentinel, Maestrai, was brand-new, not even in town or given the shakedown, and...

Julius thanked his lucky stars that there were eight Ranger Commanders, not one. That particular issue was one that would be solid for the entire council to discuss.

Moving on.

Scroll after that detailed the deployment of all the Sentinels. Brawling to fetch Ranger Falerius – pardon, Sentinel Maestrai – and Hunting and Dawn into the Formorian lands, ensuring all the Formorians were dead.

The next scroll was extensively detailed an incoming coup, along with each faction, allegiances, strengths, and estimations of how the fighting would occur. Night must’ve spent days working on this, and it included simple instructions.

“Do nothing.”

A pain, but full instructions were given. The council would argue furiously over it, and the Senate would then be informed by the Senate Commanders, but that was going to be their headache, not Julius’s.

The next scroll was Julius’s headache though, and had him reaching for his hidden jug of wine.

Hunting and Dawn had made contact with another civilization! One that built large wooden walls, as far as Hunting could see. His estimation of their military strength was mixed. While the walls were expertly crafted and the weapons second to none, the actual manpower and discipline of the soldiers manning it were severely lacking.

However, they took a shine to Sentinel Dawn, and they’d made the snap decision to leave her there, to make a good first impression.

Julius needed a single stiff drink to get through that particular scroll. He’d been Elaine’s team leader, once upon a time. He knew Elaine.

Elaine? First contact?

The last scroll confirmed his worst fears.

 

...Three days before we arrived, the sky lit up in all manner of fantastical colors, and two soldiers on watch claimed the stars and moons did strange things. Still, we carried on....

Julius knew exactly what night that had been. Rumors of the moons flickering to a different shade for a brief while were so widespread as to be fact. Heck, one particular Senator with a slightly looney reputation was suggesting changing the calendar to have the “night of the flickering moons” be year 0.

He was roundly laughed at for the suggestion, but it’d been made.

 

… When we arrived, there were no walls. No civilization. Instead, smoldering buildings, some still weakly on fire, others with warm embers inside, met our gaze. There was a forest and mountains further on, but what was not charred and blackened was still alight, merrily burning away.

We spent days searching, but we could locate no sign of Sentinel Dawn....

Julius read the report over three times before drinking the entire jug of wine, eyeing up the scroll in the room that detailed Sentinel Dawn’s exploits.

Including the Pastos incident.

Damnit Elaine! What did you do this time?! Julius thought, as he prepared the necessary paperwork.

Sky – Killed in Action.

Sealing – Killed in Action.

Magic – Missing in Action, Presumed Dead.

Dawn –

Here Julius hesitated a moment. He hadn’t been there, but he could imagine the scale of the devastation. If Elaine was alive, she would’ve worked her way back over to Remus.

At the same time, maybe there hadn’t been enough time for her to work her way back over? Elaine was tough, almost unkillable. And while the report stated they’d stayed a week, maybe there was something that prevented her from making it back.

Either way, Julius judged that the circumstances of her disappearance didn’t merit assuming the worst. He wasn’t looking forward to telling Artemis, or the rest of Elaine’s family.

Still. It was with a heavy heart that he wrote the words about the plucky girl he'd picked up once upon a time, feeling that in many ways it was his fault.

Dawn – Missing in Action, Presumed Alive.

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Selkie

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