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A note from Selkie

SHOUTOUT TIME! Grrlpower, a fantastic webcomic about superheroines! Been going on 10+years, with almost 1000 pages of comic!

https://grrlpowercomic.com/archives/comic/gp0001/

“Why we’re here?” Awarthril repeated, tapping her lips thoughtfully. “Well, we’ve all got our own reasons, but one word’s enough to explain it. Shimagu.” She said, looking at me expectantly.

 

I blinked, tilting my head. Was that supposed to mean something?

 

“Do you not have Shimagu where you’re from?” Aegion asked.

 

“No, I’ve never heard of them before.” I said, wondering if this was the name of some creature I was familiar with, but simply didn’t know the word for.

 

“Ooof, you should know about them. If you don’t, you’re a ripe target.” Awarthril said.

 

“Let me tell you all about them!” Serondes jumped in with his musical voice.

 

Wait, right, Sound element that he sang with. Of course he’d have an amazing voice. He settled down into a ‘teaching’ pose, and began lecturing, covering everything from the basics up.

 

“Shimagu are body snatchers. They’re made out of ooze, and all have the element. While they can’t take over the brain, or use the host’s skills, they’re more than capable of seizing complete control over a body. Warriors, and large, powerful monsters are a favorite target of theirs, while mages are practically useless, and healers are actively avoided. Warriors, Laborers, and other physically-inclined classes tend to have powerful passives, focusing on the body. Shimagu are able to use those buffs when they take over a host, since they are innate, intrinsic. Rangers and some Artisans are considered mid-tier targets, while mages, like myself, are terrible targets, because the host’s skills are unusable.”

 

He paused for a moment, letting me absorb that. Short version - they got the body, not the skills. Which also meant…

“Can the person being hijacked get free? Or is it like, getting taken over kills the host? Can the host communicate at all, or do anything?”

 

I was thinking about Ned, and the changeling that had taken over. I was wondering if they were the same thing? It didn’t sound like it.

 

“Good questions! I’m the perfect person to ask. Yes, they can get freed, although it’s rare. The Shimagu needs to voluntarily give up control, or a healer needs to be involved. It’s part of why they’re so nasty to deal with. It’s the same person, the same “shell”, which makes analytical skills almost worthless. Any Shimagu that wants to take over someone intelligent has skills to drain mana and cripple regeneration, which will often double as buff skills to improve the body they’re in. It makes them stronger than they look, since there are often two sets of skills and abilities improving a single body. Now, technically, the host can still use skills, but it’ll only last as long as they still have mana. No mana, no skills, no communication or fighting back.” Serondes explained.

 

“It’s why they don’t like healers or mages.” Aegion jumped in with that appealing intensity, and Serondes glared at him for the interruption. “Healers and Mages usually have skills that can hit at the Shimagu - if they’re willing to throw, say, a spike of lava through their body - and have mana pools large enough that they don’t drain quickly. Gives them plenty of time to fight back, or just self-destruct, instead of being taken over. Also, since the bodies aren’t buffed, and they have low physical stats? They could take over a warrior a quarter of the level, and have a better host.”

 

Ha! I wasn’t a target for bodyjacking! For once, I was at the bottom of the priority list! Not that it mattered, I was still leaning towards “go home”, because what else was I going to do? Join the elves on their crusade? Fat chance they’d want me.

 

“Yeah, they tend to kill healers they find. They count as a parasite, and every healer worth their salt can handle parasites.” Awarthril happily added in, flicking her hair in a way that was oh-so-appealing. It didn’t stop her comment from bursting my bubble. “It’s why we knew you were fine, and not a Shimagu trying to infiltrate us. Healers are able to, more or less, instantly kill a Shimagu they find, usually at a range. It’s horribly unfair to them. Hence them getting rid of most healers. Except for a few sympathizers, who’ve joined them willingly.

 

Awarthril’s tone of voice made it entirely clear what she thought of people willingly “joining” the Shimagu. It also implied other people willingly joined them, giving them access to mages - and healers! - if the Shimagu weren’t mages themselves. I was curious - I wanted to know more, like could a Shimagu survive without a body? It also started a train of thought - if I got caught by Shimagu, would it be worth bluffing a surrender to save my life? Could I escape later? Could - but before my questions could come out, Serondes started talking again.

 

“By the way, what were you doing here? I’d love to know your story.” Serondes asked, staring at me with his fantastic eyes.

 

“Well, it all started about a year ago, when I got some bad news…” I started off.

 

I kept it simple. Formorians, big fight, victory. That was a hit - “Almost as good as an elf!” Aegion had commented.

 

Exploring the new lands, meeting the dwarves, getting caught up in the fight between the dragon and the guardians.

 

“Why are you acting like that?” Aegion asked as I tried to mime the dragon, causing a flush to crawl up my cheeks at the rebuke.

 

“Because I’ve heard they hear their name when they’re called.” I mumbled to the ground.

 

Awarthril snorted.

 

“That’s ridiculous. Pretend it’s true for a moment. How many people are constantly saying their name? How many conversations are they hearing? To them it’d just be a non-stop stream of ‘dragon, dragon, dragon’ in their ears.”

 

I visibly winced at that.

“Drive anyone nuts. If they came out and tried to wreck stuff anytime their name was said, they’d all be dead or the world would be a flaming wreck.”

 

Uh - that was a really good point. I still wasn’t sure what was right, or who was correct over the whole thing.

 

“Candy?” Aegion randomly asked, tossing me something that looked like a lollipop with no stick. I eyed it, remembering the drink.

 

“Sure, I guess.” I held it in my hands, figuring that the longer I talked, the longer I could stall on trying Aegion’s newest thing.

 

“Anyways, from there we fell into the mines, although one of the dwarves didn’t make it…”

 

I continued to regale my tale, from being trapped down in the mine, fighting the orcs, meeting the Khazad dwarves, implants, gentle imprisonment, and escape.

 

I glanced down at the egg I was holding. I skipped Lun’Kat’s lair, just telling them that I’d found it while escaping the Inevitable Shluggoth from the Below Levels.

 

“You have no idea what’s inside the egg?” Awarthril asked, and I shook my head.

 

“Mind if I take a look?” Serondes asked, offering up a hand.

 

With a small degree of reluctance, I handed the egg over, the three elves huddling around it with me, poking and prodding at it.

 

“I have no idea.” Aegion said after a minute.

 

“I don’t recognize it either.” Awarthril said a few minutes of poking, prodding, and picking it up later. “I know all the medium and high-quality eggs though. I’m sorry Elaine, I think you might have a bit of a dud here.”

 

Serondes remained fascinated.

 

“Well, there’s a chance that we could discover something entirely new.” He said. “Elaine did mention that she’d found it deep underground, in an area that seemed volcanic. A burning crimson egg, found deep in a dormant volcano? Even if it’s low tier, no Lava creature is weak. Elaine, I would be delighted to help you hatch the egg, and see what emerges.”

 

Serondes might be somewhat biased with his element, and his conclusion was based on faulty data - I hadn’t found it in a volcanic tunnel, I’d found it in a dragon’s lair. I also bristled at Awarthril’s assertion that she knew ALL the high-quality eggs. Something in the place of honor in a dragon’s lair?

 

It did support my theory a bit that I’d maybe gotten a red dragon’s egg. Or maybe a gold dragon’s egg. I had no idea what dragons were like here! Maybe red scales, with gold trimming between the scales, kinda like the egg? That’d look so cool.

 

Either way, I’d be shocked if elves knew what a dragon’s egg looked like. Then again, they looked somewhat normal, so…

 

I was getting horribly distracted and off-topic.

 

“That’s be wonderful!” I said, taking the egg back. “What do you suggest? I’ve just been trying to keep it warm for now.”

 

Aegion interrupted.

 

“That’s all very good and all, but could we hear the end of your tale? How did you escape from the Below Levels? How’d you end up here?”

 

“Learning how to properly look after an egg isn’t fast or easy.” Awarthril mentioned. “Might as well finish your story.”

 

Making stuff up was hard. I just skipped over it.

 

“Well, I finally managed to find tunnels that led up, and I got out.” I said. “Nothing too exciting. I figured I’d head north, then east, trying to find my way back home. It’s in the dead zone, do you know where that is?” I asked.

 

I got a frown back.

 

“Not sure where the ‘dead zone’ is, but that doesn’t sound pleasant. We might know it under a different name, what’s it like?” Aegion asked.

 

“Well, it feels all sorts of bad when you’re in it, but I didn’t notice until I’d left. It’s also an area of reduced experience gain, or so the dwarves claimed.” I awkwardly explained. “No idea what causes it.”

 

The elves looked at each other.

 

“Sounds like the Low Experience Zone.” Serondes said. “We know where that is, yeah. We’re even vaguely, sort of heading that way. Come with us for a time.”

 

“Serondes. Can I talk with you?” Awarthril said, in that oh-too-sweet tone I knew too well.

 

Even when angry her voice was simply magical.

 

The three elves retreated slightly, and the most bizarre argument I’d ever seen erupted. They were animated, hands being thrown all over the place and mouths twisted in yells, but the whole thing occurred in complete silence, as Kiyaya came over, begging for scratches.

 

I happily obliged.

 

“Who’s a good girl?” I asked as I scratched her stomach with my one free hand. With her size, giving her a good scratch was a full-body experience. “Oh yes you are!” I said, to her happy wriggling on the ground.

 

I needed to figure out a better way to carry this egg around. Being permanently down one hand hadn’t been too hard when I was just flying, but I wasn’t always flying.

 

Cordamo glided over on his pale wings, and as he got closer I realized he wasn’t just white - he was more like an albino. He landed next to me, and cautiously nuzzled my left arm.

 

I wasn’t much for snakes. I just flat-out didn’t like them. Something deep and primal inside of me recoiled, yelled that I should keep a distance from the danger-noodle. Sure, I was a powerful healer, but that was a bit too abstract of a concept for my lizard brain to handle.

 

However, deadly snake - couatl - or not, if it wanted to attack, it would. A bit of distance wouldn’t help.

 

I steeled myself, then when that didn’t work great, I adamantiumed myself. That worked, and I tentatively stopped scratching Kiyaya to stroke Cordamo’s head. Cat-like, he worked himself under my hand, getting it to rub just the right spots.

 

Then he poked his nose forward, tapping the egg I was holding under one arm with his nose twice. A question.

 

“You want the egg?” I asked. Cordamo was smarter than he looked - not hard - and nodded his head twice, opening his jaw wide.

 

“You want to eat it?” I asked, more than a bit skeptical. He nodded furiously, wings flapping in excitement.

“Heck no!” I said, pulling the egg in closer. “My egg.”

 

My indignation overcame my fear somewhat, and I lightly booped him. Not enough to do anything, just let my displeasure known.

 

[*ding!* You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Egg Incubation]! Would you like to replace a general skill with it? Y/N]

 

Egg Incubation: You defend your egg as aggressively as a velociraptor, and sit on it as cluelessly as a chicken. Serious intervention is required. Please take this skill, and help the young one out of her shell. Increased egg incubation knowledge per level.

 

On one hand, I wanted to keep [Lost and Found] in case I misplaced the egg. On the other, [Egg Incubation] seemed like a great skill for hatching the egg. There was a benefit to having a skill specifically for what I wanted, and this whole egg hatching business was going to be hard enough as-is. I had no idea what I was doing.

 

Also, did the System just leak that it was a girl!? I wanted to do a fun gender reveal party, preferably without burning down thousands of acres of woodland.

 

Alright magic, work for me! I took the skill. I shifted how I was holding the egg slightly, adjusting my grip slightly as the skill took hold, nudging me a hair.

 

[*ding!* [Egg Incubation] leveled up! 1->2]

 

Having just had the experience with [Lost and Found], I turned off my notifications for that one skill, to not get spammed horribly. I’d keep leveling up, keep improving, but I didn’t need to know every single detail of the low level skill slowly increasing.

 

“Hey Elaine! Mind if we ask you a few questions?” Awarthril asked, making me jump a hair. I hadn’t seen or heard her approach.

 

“No, not at all, shoot!” I asked.

 

“Well, first of all, are you interested in traveling with us for a time?”

 

“I mean, if you’re heading in the direction of home, yeah, sure I am!” I said, dreams of spending more time with the lovely woman dancing through my head.

 

“Ok, what are your class qualities? And how many stat points do you have, before and after buffs?” She asked. I could see Serondes and Aegion listening in, but not crowding me. Between Kiyaya, Cordamo, and Awarthril, I appreciated it.

 

However, judging someone by class quality and stats was a novel way of looking at it. I’d never been asked that before. I suppose it was a solid way of gauging someone’s strength, especially with how little level was starting to matter as I continued on my journey.

 

Like take Ned. I’d been the same level as him, yet totally blew him out of the water stat-wise. It wasn’t even close. I guess the elves were wise to that, and asked the right questions.

 

“Dark green and light green on my classes.” I said. “I got to build my own class on the dark green one, and the light green one seemed awfully close to dark green with the stats it gave.”

 

The elves’s eyes flickered to Serondes, and Aegion slid in closer.

 

“Dark green? That’s amazing! Doing a reset cycle before you get your third class is suboptimal, but it sounds like you pulled it off! You go!” He said, offering me a high-five which I took.

 

“Thanks! What do you mean by reset cycle though?” I asked.

 

Serondes joined in, and I was the center of attention. I could only hope that all the elves made me the center of attention fo-

 

Focus.

 

I’d been around incredibly good-looking people all the time in Remus, with appearance skills being popular, but I’d never been so distracted in my life. Elves were just unfair. They were all super nice to boot.

 

“Reset cycles refers to getting all three classes up to level 768, or in some cases 1024, then resetting the classes one at a time back to level 8, and starting over again from there. The increased stats from the other classes greatly improves the offered classes when resetting, which often results in a jump in class quality. Then, once the reset class has been maxed out again at 768 or 1024, the process can be repeated with the next class, then the third. Once all three classes have gone through this process, we call it a single cycle.” Serondes helpfully explained.

 

“We’re all on our initial cycle.” Awarthril explained. “It’s why we’re out hunting Shimagu. The local minotaurs asked the Tympestshard Council for help, and they let us, and a few other ambitious elves know about the problem.”

 

She shrugged.

 

“Not everyone goes out to improve the world. However, there aren’t too many ways to get enough experience to leap up forward like this. Kiyaya needs all the levels she can get, isn’t that right?” She said the last part to her wolf, who nuzzled up to her.

 

Ok, a ton to unpack there. Reset cycles? I suppose if a species had unlimited time, they’d figure out the best way to get all the levels - or, thinking about it, the more important thing, all the stats. Plus it let them play around with different elements, see what clicked, see what resonated with them. Heck, someone could completely switch over from a Warrior to a Mage! Sure, it’d take them ages, but the elves were immortal. They had all the time in the world to pull it off.

 

Also -

 

“Why level 768?” I asked. It didn’t make sense from what I knew of the leveling structure.

 

“There’s a class-up there.” Serondes explained.

 

Oookay. I had no reason to disbelieve him, it just sounded weird.

 

“Well, I’m on what you’d call the initial cycle.” I said.

 

Awarthril blinked at that.

 

“That’s incredibly good! Good job! You might only need to do 18 cycles total to get the highest quality class with that head start!” She enthused, then got slightly downcast.

 

“Not that you’re likely to live long enough to do eighteen cycles.”

 

I opened my mouth, hesitated, and Aegion cut in.

 

“It's excellent for your initial cycle! I wish I’d managed to hit dark green on my first 256.” Aegion added in.

 

“Not to be a downer, but she did mention she grew up in the Low Experience Zone.” Serondes chimed in. “It’s impressive, don’t get me wrong, but that played a hard-to-replicate part. I’d guess more like 24 or 25 cycles total. I’ve got two yellows and a light green for my first cycle.”

 

“Still impressive. You’ve got what, about 200,000 stat points total?” Aegion said, running a finger down Cordamo’s spine, who’d flown back up to join him.

 

I checked my stats, wincing a bit.

 

“No, more like 140,000” I said, quickly tallying them up.

 

“Low dark green. Class levels are probably a bit out of balance to boot.” Serondes analyzed.

 

These elves were smart, on top of being well-educated, knowledgeable, and everything else. Cripes it was unfair.

 

“Well,” I teased, “That’s all pre-buffs. I am a healer, after all, so I’m a bit better there.”

 

Time to bring out the big guns. If this didn’t impress them, I was going to dig a hole, crawl into it, and die from a bad case of “massive inferiority complex.”

 

“I have roughly 360,000 each of magic power and control when I’m healing.”

 

I dropped that bombshell with a triumphant smile, which only grew wider as I got exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

 

Stunned amazement.

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Selkie

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