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A note from Selkie
Schedule Update

Hey everyone!

 

I'm back from my break and feeling GREAT! It helped me realize that, yes, I was in the middle of burning out, and I wasn't noticing it. The last few weeks I'd been feeling like I needed to sit down and write chapters, while now I *want* to sit down and write chapters. Tiny word difference that makes all the difference in the world. 

 

I have lots of story to tell with BTDEM. Like. Years of story left to write out. I have plots, plans, arcs, cool events, medical problems, ethics, and more. A lack of creativity or "not knowing where to take the story" is unlikely to ever be an issue. Burning out is. Trying to write while horribly burned out is. 

 

The next few chapters - todays, and the next 5-7 or so - I don't think are super strong chapters. They're the result of me writing while burning out, and it shows hard. I've been trying to edit them into decent shape, but all in all I'm not thrilled with them.

 

I don't want to write more chapters like that, or chapters like the Deva arc - another set I wrote while somewhat burned out. I want to write high quality chapters, and consistently release them. 

 

Covid has made this extra-hard. Without Covid, my wife and I would be happily sticking Flora into daycare, and I'd use the time to write and make sure I was looking after myself. However, Covid is a reality, and the risk is too large for us, so I'm still splitting full time child care with writing, and of course keeping the house running. Those of you with kids know just how crazy all of this is!

 

As a result, I'm going to be taking a leaf out of Pirateaba's book. Sadly, it's not the "Write 30k word chapters twice a week" leaf, but it is the "Take some time off every month" page. Roughly on the 3rd full week of every month, I'll be taking 2 posting days off. You'll still get a chapter that week, and I'll try to add in fun bonus material to make up for it - artwork will be posted then, fun little contests and events, worldbuilding material, etc. Stuff that's still content, without me frying. 

 

I'll make sure to give you all the dates well ahead of time. For example, November I'm taking off the Wednesday and Friday around Thanksgiving - November 24th and 26th.December I'm taking off two days around Christmas - Friday the 24th and Monday the 27th. I'll do my best to keep you all updated on what days I'm taking off and when they are, so they're not a surprise.  

 

Again, I feel awful for giving sub-par chapters, and for needing to take regular time off. However, I don't see any other way to keep BTDEM sustainable. I'm making sure to tell you all this now, so those of you who'd like to switch your patreon around have the time to do so. Be a bit of a dick move to wait for the start of the month, eh?

If you are going to leave because of this though, do me a favor and don't tell me? I already feel terrible about it, please no kick while I'm down <3

 

Thank you all for understanding! Here's to many more years of BTDEM!Cheers!Selkie MythPS: I'm getting a new book 5 cover. Going to be Elaine in dwarven armor in a mine tunnel. 

I looked up, and up, and up at Lun’Kat. Part of why I’d been able to see her from the mines was due to whatever spatial shenanigans were going on here.

 

The much larger part was she was bloody huge! Her claws could skewer me, and I’m pretty sure if she tried to eat me I’d go down the hatch mostly-whole. Maybe crushed by her tongue a bit.

 

Now that I was so close to her as well, my old, entirely reasonable fears awoke once more. The lizard part of my brain was screaming “ABANDON SHIP! ABANDON SHIP! ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP!” and was generally making itself into a grade-A nuisance. Heck, even as I tried to inch a little closer, I was trembling furiously.

 

I hadn’t planned on trying to climb Mt. Loot to get next to Lun’Kat, in large part due to Mt. Loot’s inherent instability, but the fact that I could barely keep myself going, that I’d regularly just stop and pause, trying to wrestle my emotions back under control, reinforced that decision.

 

Flying was totally out of the question. It’d break my invisibility, and then I’d be touching her. I didn’t believe I could touch Lun’Kat and get away with it. Not in the slightest.

 

This would be so much easier if I just accepted that I was a dead woman walking, and said acceptance would, ironically, make it easier for me to survive. White Dove seemed like a much gentler way to go, in the end.

 

I just lacked the proper mindset. It was Black Crow or bust for me. I would fight to my last breath, I would rage against the dying of the light.

 

Which wasn’t helping right now! Calm and collected would see me through this, not raging against my inevitable fate!

 

I took another breath.

 

How was this any different than jumping into a fire? How was this different from charging the Nothasaurus with the Rangers? Both led to death. Both I wasn’t terribly likely to walk away from.

 

This was just another fire. Just another monster that could casually end me with a thought. When had I gotten so soft?

 

The lies I was telling myself worked.

 

I faced my fears. I acknowledged them. I recognized they were valid, and I let them flow through me. I embraced them.

 

I was still terrified, but I was no longer trying to hold my fear back. It weighed heavily on my limbs, but unrestrained, it didn’t make me tremble. It was no longer an albatross around my neck. It was a simple reminder that what I was doing was dangerous, and to take utmost care in how I dealt with Lun’Kat. It helped sharpen my senses, focus my entire being on the problem in front of me. My attention wouldn’t be broken by distractions, I was hyper-focused on Lun’Kat.

 

Onto the patient herself. I’d viewed her injuries, and while extensive, I believed my [Dance with the Heavens] could handle the problem.

 

At a massive penalty, but still. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

 

I cursed that I’d decided not to take the “heals monsters” aspect to [Cosmic Presence]. If I thought [Cosmic Presence] could do the job for me, I’d literally just hide somewhere in the cave, out of easy sight, and spend my time praying to any god or goddess that could hide me.

 

NOPE. I wasn’t nearly that lucky. I had to do this the hard way. The only thing I thought might keep me alive was the exit.

 

Namely, Lun’Kat, being a dragon, had a modest exit located at the top of her lair. It made it a little harder for someone to just wander in, although I had to wonder how she handled dumb sheep falling in or something.

Wasn’t important.

 

What was important was that the exit looked up at the sky.

 

It was currently night time, and I circled around Lun’Kat, until I was roughly between her and the exit, the hole in the ceiling. Then, I waited, each second stretched into intolerable lengths by [Bullet Time] stretching my perception.

 

Lun’Kat currently wasn’t in danger of dying. As long as my actions were aimed towards healing her, as long as I didn’t abandon her and continued to put effort forth to heal her, I was within the bounds of my [Oath]. That meant, for example, that I could wait to heal with [Wheel of Sun and Moon], instead of flying up to touch Lun’Kat directly. I firmly believed, no matter how successfully I was sneaking around in her lair, that if I touched Lun’Kat, she’d notice, and kill the intruder that was laying hands on her while she slept, injured.

 

Eventually - minutes, hours, I don’t know my sense of time was totally off - the event I was waiting for occurred. The moons rose, shining through the entrance to Lun’Kat’s lair. I slowly watched their light creep through her cave as they performed their own dance across the sky, and finally the light touched the edges of Lun’Kat.

 

This was the moment I’d been waiting for. For a short, brief moment the light of the moons was both touching Lun’Kat, and low enough on Mt. Loot that I was still in it.

 

It was time for [Wheel of Sun and Moon] to come out and play, after being stuck underground for months.

 

I worked quickly. While I was behind Lun’Kat, the scars and burns that lightning bolts had inflicted upon her were a full-body experience. Lichtenberg figures usually faded quickly, but there was magic at work here, and I could believe they had burned channels through her body.

 

Without a detailed look at them, without knowing Lun’Kat’s anatomy well, I could only make educated guesses how she worked, and what, exactly, was going on with her injuries. Still, every little bit of efficiency was needed, and having formed what I thought was the best image I could in the time I had, I unleashed my [Dance with the Heavens], focusing on clearing out those injuries.

 

To my dismay, only a modest patch of the scars vanished with roughly 290,000 points of my mana. A heartbeat later, and the circle of healed lightning scars expanded a small amount, as my remaining 50,000 and change mana vanished down her metaphorical throat.

 

As long as it didn’t become her literal throat, I’d be fine.

 

I was eating a moderate distance penalty between myself and Lun’Kat, but the real killer was my piss-poor knowledge of draconic anatomy combined with my healing not being at all attuned towards dragons. My inability to properly know and understand her injuries wasn’t helping, and Lun’Kat was enormous. All of these penalties multiplicatively stacked with each other. Heck, it was practically a miracle that my skills were taking hold and having any sort of impact in the first place!

 

I’d also been taking a quick peek at my new and improved level while looking at my status, and even as I watched it was going up.

 

My non-existent tombstone would read: “Here lies Elaine. Highest-leveled human healer, her record breaking stayed unknown.”

 

I quickly looked around me, seeing the pillars of glowing Arcanite. I spent a bit of time thinking about it, hesitated, then figured should head over anyways, and do my thinking along the way. I started walking towards the nearest one, which happened to be near the egg collection.

 

I had all the time in the world to think as I was speeding over to the Arcanite, and no matter what I decided to do, I wasn’t staying near Lun’Kat.

 

Grabbing mana from Lun’Kat’s Arcanite was arguably suicidal. Squinting at it, looking at it sideways, it was stealing from a dragon. A crime worthy of the death penalty, from all my knowledge on the subject. Other capital crimes I’d committed, according to dragon-lore: Breaking and entering, trespassing, seeing Lun’Kat injured, seeing Lun’Kat’s treasures, and the biggest sin of them all, seeing Lun’Kat’s intimate paintings.

 

I’d realized, after all, that was what the picture of her and the other dragon closely entwined were.

 

At the same time, it sped the process up significantly. Instead of waiting for all my mana to regenerate, I could get another bout of healing in, which multiplied the speed I was working at by a significant factor. If, say, Lun’Kat woke up once a week to chow down regardless of how hurt she was, I did not want to be in the cave when that happened.

 

By the time I reached the Arcanite pillar, my mind was made up. I was in for a coin, I might as well be in for a rod. I’d nick a little bit of mana from the dragon, because it was just going right back into the dragon herself. I was already super dead if I was noticed, and Lun’Kat’s collections indicated a keen, intelligent mind. I could only bank on her deciding “well, maybe I’m short a bit of mana that’ll recharge in a minute, but all that mana went back to healing me, so it’s ok.”

 

… Yeah. HA. Like I’d be that lucky. Probably more like “You disgusting selkie how dare you violate my lair and put your grubby paws on my stuff. Dragons just naturally shed their injuries away, don’t you know?”

 

Then fire, brief screaming, and back into the cycle of Samsara I’d go.

 

I touched the pillar, and tried to pull the mana into me. It came, but only with great reluctance, like I was pulling teeth. It did not want to leave, and my thinking was Lun’Kat had somehow super-attuned the Arcanite to herself. It was a shame the pillar wasn’t in the light touching Lun’Kat, otherwise this would be a breeze.

 

I hoped she wouldn’t detect my transgressions. If she’d demonstrated having an Arcanite element, I’d be a lot more worried.

 

I snuck back over to Lun’Kat, noticing with concern that the moons hadn’t stopped for me and my musings on the subject, and had continued their endless march across the sky. The window where the moonlight was both on Lun’Kat, and low enough to the ground for me to be in it was small to begin with, and while I had high speed to zip around with, it didn’t mean I was going to be full-out sprinting with Lun’Kat here. Good way to knock something over. I was still [Sneaking] around.

 

When I finally turned my notifications back on, I was going to get some insane [Sneaking] levels. Rather, I was getting [Sneaking] levels, and everything else, passively, in the background. It’s why my mana pool was steadily increasing in size, along with the amount of magic I could use in a moment.

 

I was still invisible, and I had some thinking to do about how and why the gem was still running. Either way, I reached my hand up, nicking the last bit of moonlight that I could, and focused again on healing her lightning-based scars. Another modest patch of them healed, and a full-body ripple went through Lun’Kat’s body.

 

I froze in terror, eyes unblinkingly watching her every movement.

 

She shifted around, stretching out like a languid cat. My heart was racing as she curled back up into a sleeping ball, moving at what I’d consider normal speed.

 

Forget the fact that I was under the effects of [Bullet Time], and every motion I made took an eternity to complete. Lun’Kat just casually moved at such high speeds that it didn’t seem to matter.

 

Or rather, I could only half-follow her casual actions thanks to [Bullet Time].

 

I stood there frozen for I-don’t-know how many minutes, then finally my mind un-blanked enough for me to sprint-sneak away. Yet, even as I took my first step, Lun’Kat moved again, causing me to freeze - and nearly topple over, as I was still trying to take a sneak-sprint step.

 

It didn’t seem like she’d noticed me. No, she simply scratched her side like a cat, scales flaking off the area I’d healed. Then she settled back down, and I resumed my sneaking away.

 

I was flat-out of mana, and the moon was no longer in position. I couldn’t do anything more for her. Ok, that wasn’t quite true. I could absolutely fly up to Lun’Kat, touch her nose, and try to heal her that way. It’d be an extremely short healing session, as there was no way in my mind that Lun’Kat wouldn’t be woken up by me touching her. It’d be like a spider crawling across my face while I slept. Absolutely wake me up.

 

No, [Oath] demanded that I helped. It didn’t require that I perform suicidal measures to try and restore her faster. A slow and steady healing method - as long as it was reasonable - was fine. Leaving her be for now, waiting for the sun to rise for another session, was good enough.

 

Which didn’t mean I could leave the lair, but I’d be damned if I stayed right next to her. If I was in something that vaguely pretended to be a hiding spot, and Lun’Kat, I dunno, had a bad dream and briefly opened her eyes, or went raiding for a midnight snack, I might be out of the way enough for her to not notice, and survive.

 

I felt my stomach rumble in a way that would’ve gotten me killed without [Muffle]. Which brought me back to [Muffle], [Invisibility with Eyeholes], and [Tracks-be-gone].

 

From everything I could tell and knew, they operated off of “how hard” they were working. If I activated [Muffle] then started banging pots and pans, the skill would work hard, then break. There was only so much mana in the gemstone in the first place.

 

To contrast, if I activated [Muffle] then was as quiet as a mouse, the skill could last hours, days, if not longer. Hence my focus on physically sneaking around, and not just striding in, trusting the gems to keep me safe.

 

In short: It helped smooth over little wrinkles and flaws, and the less noise I made, the less Lun’Kat looked at my invisible form, the better.

 

Also, I was starving, and exhausted. I’d been getting chased by the Inevitable Shluggoth before coming here, and it seemed like even that monster had more sense than I did, and wasn’t poking the dragon in her lair. Out of the frying pan, into the maw of the dragon. [Nectar] wasn’t helping, as the boosted regeneration was making me hungry, faster.

 

I had quite a few choices where to hide. I had a place in mind to sneak towards though. Tip-toeing through Lun’Kat’s lair, I rounded a corner into one of the side passages, not clearly visible from the main lair. More importantly, not visible from Lun’Kat’s perch on Mt. Loot.

 

The “Orchard room”. With dozens of fruiting trees of every type, in neatly arranged dragon-sized rows - the better for Lun’Kat to peruse the current offerings. There were fruits I hadn’t seen since Earth, and a few that I’d seen since being reincarnated here on Pallos. Apples and oranges, bananas and pineapples joined the avocados and cherries, the apricots and coconuts.

 

There were things in the chamber. A few tightly twisting spirals of cloud and wind went from tree to tree, bush to bush. On occasion one would release a careful trickle of water, properly watering the plants.

 

I didn’t want to use [Long-Range Identify], not when Lun’Kat had already demonstrated that she could sense it. However, between the mini-twisters, and a few other things roaming the room, I had a weak guess what they were.

 

I’d never seen or even heard of them before, but I bet they were elementals. Creatures of pure elements, not having any sort of biology or anything, somehow a living, thinking being with no flesh or blood.

 

I couldn’t even think how I’d fight one. How did one cut through water? Even if it had no skills of its own, even if it lacked a System, it could simply engulf and drown whoever it wanted to. And there was no way they lacked a System to boot, although I’d bet every last coin I had that they were granted System-access.

 

Above the Storm elementals was a Fire, Light, Radiance, Verdant, or some other elemental, acting as a miniature sun. Some mud or ground elementals slowly lumbered down the paths, occasionally patting trees. Lun’Kat groundskeepers.

 

A bodacious verdant-green woman, wearing nothing but some leaves and vines, with a crown of flowers in her hair, was ambling through the rows of the orchard with a resigned look. At each tree, she look a look at it, touched a branch or ate a fresh leaf, nodded to herself and moved on.

 

My best bet was she was examining them for disease or something, and I tried to hide, to make sure I wasn’t near her line of sight. Just a short time - an eternity later - she reached the largest tree, and vanished into it.

Was that a dryad?! Did Lun’Kat keep an Immortal protector of trees as a gardener!?

 

Her actions drew my attention to the walls of the place, painted a bright blue with some white clouds to mimic the outdoors. That, or it was an illusion - I had a hard time telling, but with Lun’Kat, I could never be sure.

 

Bushes of berries lined the walls, invisible from the outside. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries were only the start of the vast cornucopia that Lun’Kat was growing.

 

Naturally, no bounty would be complete without the goddess of all fruits, the ambrosia, divine perfection in fleshy form. I spotted it past a dozen trees, the bright color of its fruity goodness instantly drawing my eye.

 

Mango.

 

I didn’t let my gluttony get the better of me, as much as I wanted to. I reached for the forbidden fruit, reasoning to myself that, like the Arcanite, I needed to be able to keep going to heal Lun’Kat.

 

My hand on it, greed in my eyes, I was halfway through twisting it off when I froze, despair crashing through me.

 

Mangos were the most perfect fruit. Included in their perfection was handy ammo with every fruit, great for braining annoying Rangers. Sure, I’d never managed to hit Julius - he was too fast - but everyone else was fair game. Sadly, the pits meant less edible nectar, but hey! They were still fun.

 

However, I had to do something with said pits. My mouth, my teeth, for all my vitality and strength, probably couldn’t just bite through a mango pit. I couldn’t discard it - leaving evidence behind? With my saliva on it? Nooooooo. If Lun’Kat didn’t find it, the dryad would. My only hope would be to bury it in one of the dirt elementals, but maybe they’d take it as an attack.

 

I could try to burn it, but it’d smell, and I imagine a dragon - especially one with a lava bath - had anti-fire precautions, along with a good nose for flames and burning things. She clearly wasn’t in a terribly deep slumber, and I was already taking huge risks here.

 

I could try to bury the pit, but that was nearly as many problems. I could keep the pit with me, but then [Tracks-be-gone] would be working overtime to keep me alive. It’d break much faster if it needed to preserve a rotting mango pit.

 

Time to let go. I thought to myself.

 

My treacherous hand wouldn’t release the mango, half-twisted and ready to be popped off. With effort, I forced myself away from the mango, looking at the sub-par offerings before me.

 

With a sigh, I forced myself to find other fare. Strawberries, so sweet they felt like the sun kissing my lips with every bite. Blueberries, exploding with flavor on my tongue. Apples, crunchy and filling. The elementals didn’t seem all that bright, but I made sure to perform my filching when none were near, or seemed to be looking at me.

 

They all paled before the glory of the almighty MANGO that I knew could be mine. My sweet, delicious mango. Oh, how I missed you so.

 

I was totally going to grab one when I left. Lun’Kat surely wouldn’t begrudge me a single fruit, would she? They grew back after all. The mana in the Arcanite restored itself over time, and fruits grew back. Nothing that would be missed over time.

 

Either way, I was totally exhausted. I’d think about this more after a good night’s sleep. There literally wasn’t anything else to do, besides wait for the sun to come up, and for me to perform another round of healing on Lun’Kat.

 

Sleeping inside the garden with the elementals seemed like a mediocre idea. I snuck out to check out a few more chambers. Each one had elemental helpers though, and I gave up after three, figuring that the garden was one of the least-likely places for the meat-eating Lun’Kat to visit, and the thick and wild growth of the bushes and trees could do more to conceal me than the straight, well-laid out and organized chambers from the other rooms.

 

Still, to be safe, I found some thick blueberry bushes in the most isolated corner I could find, and scuttled under them. I instinctively wrapped myself in [Mantle], before realizing - it was past my invisibility skill!

 

Terror coursing through my veins, I dropped the skill, not daring to breathe. Had Lun’Kat noticed? Had one of the elementals seen? Would the dryad sound the alarm? Was there some glint of light that had gone off my skill?

 

Hang on.

 

I’d used a few healing skills already. What was done was done.

 

Still, I spent ages staring at the thin branches and ripe berries before I’d calmed down enough. I eventually closed my eyes, and was out like a light.

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Selkie

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