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A note from Selkie

AN: Hey all! I just want to make some comments on this arc.

 

It's not my best writing. Not by a long shot. For that, I apologize.

I take regular breaks now, two days off a month. This arc is a large reason why. I tried something ambitious, and I burned out horribly in the middle of it. These chapters that I'm currently posting on Royal Road are basically peak burnout chapters. They're slow, meandering, and take three chapters to do what I wanted to get done in two.

Sorry.

The breaks I now take have managed to fix the issue, and I promise you all - it gets much better. Current Patreon chapters are HYPE.

I was rudely awakened in the mid-afternoon by Serondes practically rolling onto me. I had a brief moment of panic, thinking I was under attack, before realizing what was going on and calming down.

 

Didn’t make the bicep to the face any more pleasant though. The bicep in my face was pleasant though!

 

Then I had another panic attack as I realized I might be squashing my poor egg! I shot my hand out, breathing a sigh of relief as everything seemed fine.

 

Just how tough was this egg!?

 

Serondes was, at this point, half-hugging me in his sleep, his arm wrapped around me. However cute it was, however nice it might be, I was awake, I had needs, and I wanted to be up and about.

 

“Geroff you big oaf.” I murmured as I wriggled free of his grasp.

“Mmmm, mornin honey berry.” He groaned, then turned over.

 

My heart did a little flutter at that.

 

“Honey berry?” I poked at him.

 

The mighty Serondes is sleeping. This beautiful elf has enough Lava magic to entomb me instantly!

 

I’ma poke him with my finger.

 

The lazybones just kept snoozing away. I rolled my eyes, and grabbed the glass basket.

I settled the egg into it, made sure it was warm enough, then left the hut.

 

I wanted to squeal in excitement! We’d slept together! I had a nickname! I liked nicknames. Loved my own name as well, but!

 

“Morning Elaine! Did you sleep well?” Awarthril asked, while Aegion waggled his eyebrows suggestively. I wanted to throw something at him, but didn’t have anything handy. I just flipped him off, and sat down at the table that Awarthril had pulled out, along with numerous healthier non-barbeque foods.

 

“Slept alright! How about you?” I asked, taking a bite of breakfast.

 

So good. New goal in life: Get an elvish cook. I could probably trade a favor somewhere down the line for a cook for a year or two.

 

“Oh, I slept fine, thanks for asking!” Awarthril was extra-cheery this morning. Aegion just nodded, then a small puff came from one of his barrels. He was off like a shot.

 

“No. NO no no NO NO!” He cried out at something going terribly wrong with his moonshine. He hurried over, and banging noises started coming from his direction.

I didn’t want to know how cooking liquids ended up with banging. Ignorance was bliss in this case. I had no desire to level up [Passionate Learning] here.

 

“Wanna move the table a bit?” I asked Awarthril, jerking my head towards Aegion and the now-shaking barrels.

 

“I think that’d be wise.” Awarthril agreed, and with a bit of effort, we shifted things over such that a catastrophic explosion would only wreck half the table.

 

I finished my morning ablutions - we’d camped out near a small stream for ease of access - and got back to the campsite.

 

The elves had everything. Including a towel, which I was using to dry my hair.

 

“Hey Awarthril?” I asked.

 

“Yes Elaine?”

 

“I’m all for helping Kiyaya, but, like, right now I’m getting close to no experience. Do you have any ideas on how I can get a ton of experience to help out?”

 

The question had been bugging me. Awarthril had wanted me to level up a bit, but didn’t seem to provide a good way how. Like, the fight with the hydra had potential, but no. She’d been against me even participating. It was frankly impossible that she didn’t know how classes worked and got experience, and it was only natural that I would need to fix people up to get more experience.

 

Which led back to the question - if I was wrapped in silk, living in a bubble, how would I ever struggle enough to level?

 

“Oh, there are programs for people to level back in the Tympestshard Council.” Awarthril blithely replied. “It’s faster for some classes, and slower for others. Healers are a mixed bunch, where depending on how many of you there are, you’ll level faster or slower. I’d front the entire fee of course, provided you give restoring Kiyaya an honest shot.” She flapped her hand like it was nothing.

 

Huh. I suppose the elves were a bit more with it and cooperative than humans were, and had industrialized leveling in a way humanity hadn’t figured out.

 

I almost asked why she was here and not there, but remembered that she was looking for something for Kiyaya. Aegion didn’t seem too interested in levels, more in searching out new and exotic items for his drinks.

 

Why was Serondes out though? I thought he wanted levels. I’d have to ask him.

 

We hung out a bit and chatted, and while talking was fun, I was feeling a bit antsy.

 

I needed a hobby that I could do on the road.

 

Well. Last time I was bored on the road, I wrote the Medical Manuscripts. I should do that again, give a copy to the elves.

 

“Hey Awarthril, got some paper and ink?”

 

“A few sheets, why?”

 

I kept the disappointment off my face.

 

“I was hoping to write you a copy of my Medical Manuscripts.

 

“Hmmmmm. That could be nice! Sadly, no, we don’t have enough paper for it.”

 

“And we’ve got no spare books I could scrape and overwrite.” I added in.

 

Asking about books had been one of the first things I did, especially when we’d spent that time with Tyriss and I’d been bored.

 

Serondes appeared a while later, blinking the sleep out of his eyes. I bounded over, as excited as a puppy, and wrapped my arms around his neck, giving him a kiss that he greedily reciprocated.

 

My mind whirled as we kissed, and I came up with a nickname on the spot.

 

“Morning lazy lips!” I greeted him. I had the best naming sense. He gave me a Look - he must like it! - and his mouth was in the middle of opening when an almighty bang came from Aegion’s direction.

 

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

 

Naming: You need serious help. Please seek professional help, or better yet, stop giving out names. Dramatically improved naming sense per level. Not that this is a high bar to clear.

 

OH COME ON. It wasn’t that bad.

 

Right?

 

It wasn’t that…

 

Ok, I guess I was calling my boyfriend lazy, and also somehow implying he was a terrible kisser at the same time. Maybe that wasn’t my best name, but I’d been busy when I came up with it!

 

Serondes cursed at Aegion, spitting foul invectives at him.

 

“You Pachy-fucker! It’s first thing in the afternoon! Don’t you dare have that blow up on us!”

 

Aegion whirled around, brandishing a ladle at us. Well, mostly Serondes.

 

“Yeah!? Well, you’re a -”

 

Aegion glanced at me, and swallowed his words, instead throwing a one-figured salute at Serondes. A hissing of steam from yet another barrel, and he was back at it.

 

I slipped my arm into Serondes’s.

 

“Why don’t we go for a nice walk?” I suggested. He half-shook me off, freeing himself. Missing my crestfallen face - unless he had eyes in the back of his head - he headed over to the breakfast table.

 

“Sure, give me a few minutes to eat and wake up and everything else.” He grumbled.

 

That… was fair enough. I could be grumpy rolling out of bed.

 

Serondes grabbed food with rapid, practiced efficiency. I followed along, because I wasn’t doing much else. He ate, then we went for a walk in the woods.

 

We made some idle chit-chat, then I remembered what Awarthril had said about leveling methods.

 

“Hey, Awarthril mentioned something about leveling up in the Tympestshard Council? What can you tell me about that?” The fallen pine needles crunched in a most satisfying way under my feet.

 

“Oh, the Academy? They’re slow. They’re alright for crafters and healers and the like, but for anything involving fighting, they’re close to useless.” Serondes’s tone made it clear what he thought of them. “I briefly attended, but found them worthless. Soon after, I heard about the Shimagu.” He shrugged. “Here I am.”

 

He had mentioned something about schooling before this adventure in his life story before, but it was good to get the details. Also nice to hear confirmation that it was decent for healers. Given the level the elves were working at, it sounded like a decent place to head. Go home, talk with everyone, make sure everyone was OK and alive, turn back the clock so everyone would stay alive, then head back out? Help the elves with the Shimagu, head to their Academy, get a ton of levels, upgrade [The Stars Never Fade] to work on Kiyaya, head back home?

 

Sounded like a solid 10-year plan. Like any of my 3-year plans had ever worked out. I think the best I’d ever done was two years at Ranger Academy.

 

No wait. That was half-interrupted by the frontlines. It wasn’t exactly standard.

 

Hmmm. Roughly 21 months traveling with the Rangers I guess? Even that hadn’t quite gone to plan… more like 18 months of traveling had gone to plan. Which was roughly the same as the part of Ranger Academy that had gone to plan.

 

“Hey, wanna play a game?” I asked Serondes, having an idea in mind. He waggled his eyebrows at me.

 

“Only if there’s kissing involved.”

 

“Oh, there is.” I tried to flirt back, somewhat successfully.

 

“Well then, I’m all ears.” He took me in his arms. I shuffled the egg basket out of the way.

 

Must. Not. Make. Ear. Joke.

 


 

“Elaine!”

 

I was tackled by an oddly familiar grown up human woman, much taller and stronger than I was. It took me a moment to process what I was seeing.

 

Who I was seeing. In the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere, far from any human lands.

 

“Lyra!?” I exclaimed. “But? What? How?!” I asked, confused to see her alive, and from her energetic greeting, well.

 

She just laughed.

 

“Sorry about that! I was never going to get anywhere in Aquiliea, not with the way my parents were. You saw them, what they wanted me to be and do.”

 

She clenched her fist.

 

“Never.” She spat out. “That was never going to be me. No, I faked my death and escaped.”

 

“I saw the System message! We burned your body!”

 

“Oh, I just faked that.”

 

Joy, impossible hope welled up inside me.

 

“And you’re alive!” I cried out, hugging her. Letting tears stream out, letting go of the guilt that had plagued me for over a decade, for more than half my life.

 

“I’m alive! And I’m not going anywhere!” Lyra said, and I woke up with a gasp, headbutting Serondes in the nose. His arms were wrapped tightly against me, and I struggled free as he woke up with a swear, his hand going to his face.

 

“Owe! Elaine, what was that for?” He complained at me, as I sat up, heart racing.

 

“Just a dream. Just a bad dream.” I spat the last part out. “A fucked-up dream.”

 

Serondes pinched his nose, massaging it.

 

“Well, it was just a dream. Everything’s fine honey berry. Next time, try not to headbutt me.” He said the last part teasingly, trying to lighten the mood.

 

“Yes, I’ll make sure to control my sleeping self better. Like you and your elbows.” I drily responded, putting the egg in the basket and getting up.

 

“I’m too awake now, you should get some more sleep.” I told Serondes on my way to the door. I swear he was asleep before I left.

 

Would it have killed him to be a little more comforting? Then again, he’d demonstrated remarkable consistency with being grumpy after waking up. Everyone had their own little quirks, and I was no different. He was perfectly pleasant once he’d had time to wake up.

 

In time, everyone else got up.

 

“Big party tonight!” Awarthril brightly cheered as we were all sitting around the table. “Everyone ready? Everyone excited?

 

I was less than thrilled by the idea of partying with the trolls. There had been a different violent episode each night, and those were just the ones we could hear and see. The troll’s natural insane regeneration meant they were more than happy to brutally tear into each other, knowing that nothing they did would be lethal to each other.

 

Aegion glanced up from a mug he was carving out of wood, large enough for troll hands to get an easy grip on.

 

“Yeah! Things are going great! I’m super excited and ready for this!”

 

Aegion threw his arms up in the air, his sentence punctuated by one of his barrels blowing its lid cataclysmically, spraying us all with…

 

Beer would be too generous a term for the goop that was raining on us.

 

The five of us exchanged looks, as Aegion rushed over to his barrel.

 

“No! No no NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” He cried out. Serondes wiped a smear of liquid off his robes with a displeased look.

 

“Why don’t we all wash up before the party?” Awarthril’s words were nice, but her tone was anything but. If looks could kill, Aegion would be my newest source of healing experience. Kiyaya was whining as she licked her short fur, trying to get everything out.

 

When Team Mom suggested we wash up, it wasn’t exactly a suggestion. Still, I was all too happy to get cleaned up.

 

Aegion took a moment to extract himself from his latest disaster, pointing eastish.

 

“Lake’s that-a-way!” He reminded us, ducking back into his barrel.

 

Well, he was atoning somewhat. Grabbing some towels, we headed off towards the lake, leaving a trail of poorly-fermented beer in our wake.

 

“Cordamo! No! Ack! Stop!” I yelled, as the couatl wrapped himself around my neck, starting to furiously lick at the beer stains on my shirt. I tried to rip him off without hurting him, but failed, flailing around as he had his way with me.

 

“A little help!” I asked, and a moment later a wedge of sand extracted Cordamo from me.

 

Serondes clicked his tongue at Cordamo, who hovered in the air, hissing angrily. The flying danger-noodle then half-tackled Serondes, furiously licking him.

 

Awarthril marched forward, determinedly ignoring the fiasco behind her. Kiyaya trotted along, but I felt obligated to help my boyfriend.

 

“Bad snake!” I wagged my finger at Cordamo, not wanting to get involved in the mess of thrashing limbs. Eventually, a much-molested Serondes broke free, and like an arrow, trailing a slipstream, Cordamo shot over to Awarthril.

 

Only to get bounced off of an Ooze-pad.

 

“Don’t you dare.” Awarthril didn’t even look at Cordamo. He hissed his displeasure, but flew in lazy circles around us as we walked.

 

Hang on.

 

Hang on!

 

I’d been a dumbass! [Scintillating Ascent] improved by watching butterflies primarily, but I’d gotten some decent mileage out of hawks, crows, and flying dinosaurs. Cordamo should totally be on the list!

 

How had I not thought of this?

 

Serondes’s hand slipped into mine, and I was reminded why. General prejudice against scaly things, never making the connection between “flying snake” and “butterfly”, and hot elves all conspired to knock the idea out of my head.

 

Speaking of.

 

I hadn’t been leveling that much recently, but maybe that was a good thing. I’d been in go-go-go life-and-death mode for far too long. Not leveling three times a week was normal. I could use some more normal in my life. Less screaming and murdering. Fewer limbs chopped off. Not increasing my “how many times have I stripped my old body” count.

 

Focus.

 

Squeezing Serondes’s hand, I watched Cordamo’s flight, whatever Serondes was trying to say to me going in one ear and out the other. I was a little busy here, studying his wings, the way they caught the air, how his body twisted and turned, snaking through the trees in a serpentine manner.

 


 

We made it to the lake without too much fanfare, and I wanted to keep studying Cordamo. Sadly, the couatl had other ideas, happily diving into the water and splashing around. I needed more time with the scale serpent.

 

“Hmmmmmmmm.” Serondes eyed the large pond - small lake? - critically. “I’m going to make it better.”

 

Saying that, the master got to work. Water hissed and boiled as Lava roiled underneath, creating warm spots and walled off sections. Arches of Sand criss-crossed the area, being flashed into glass by Serondes’s Lava overlapping with it. He started to whistle, carving and shaping the glass from the roughly-shaped forms it started with, into elegant flows.

 

It was like something out of a picture book when he was done. Glossy, hardened Lava formed multiple “bathing pods”, while glass arched, crossed, and lined everything, creating an elegant and high-class look.

 

Everyone stripped and went to their own respective bath. Serondes had made a bunch, each one heated by a pillar of still-hot Lava, kept molten and warming the water near it by sheer mana expenditure.

 

“Want to join me?” I invited Serondes, as I stripped out of the Mistweave.

 

“Sure!” He eagerly agreed, slipping into the water next to me.

 

We spent some time touching each other. It was nice.

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Selkie

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