A note from Selkie

My heart was racing at the voice, the words fading out of my ears, yet echoing in my mind, impossibly colored. How words in my mind had color, I’d never know.


“Serondes. Did you hear that?” I asked, shaking him.


He just grunted and rolled over.




I debated waking him up, but apart from the weird words, nothing was happening. My hut wasn’t exploding, swords weren’t flying through the walls, and there was no [Bullet Time].


I was awake for the second time in a night, and at this point I was giving up on getting more sleep.


However, creeping paranoia was setting in. I used [Mantle of the Stars] to cloak and shield myself with all the brightly colored stars in the sky, just as a quick added layer of protection.


I got up, and got dressed. Mistweave, ring, and finished it off with the glass-woven sash with the egg. I picked the egg up, needing to do a quick ‘hot hot HOT!’ juggle before getting it into the sash, then turning on the heat with my Radiance.


I’d gotten lucky that no stray shots had gone this way. I’d gotten lucky that Awarthril throwing a weapon to Serondes hadn’t hit the egg. Lucky, lucky, lucky.


An egg didn’t have System access, and no defenses besides natural hardness and shape.


I got outside, seeing Aegion and Cordamo on watch.






The night attack seemed to have hammered the idea that a watch should be established hard enough that it stuck.


“Aegion! Did you hear a weird voice just now?” I sat down next to him, tentatively accepting some raw piece of meat that he handed me.


Just. Slap. Raw meat right into my bare hands.


“No.” His voice was toneless.


“What is this?” I pulled a face.


“It’s heart. For you.” He sounded shaken.


“You ok?” I sat down next to him, swatting at Cordamo who was sniffing around. I glared at the couatl.


“Just because you killed the spinosaurus doesn’t mean you get this. Seriously. Just leave it be. Didn’t you already get your share?”


I was remembering that the elves had some bizarre tradition of eating the raw heart of their enemies, and, well, looks like this time nobody had intercepted my share.


I’d eaten so much worse, but with my magic it’d been years since I’d eaten it raw.


Ah well, nothing for it. I popped it into my mouth, and started chewing.


The danger noodle slid off, something in my tone warning him off. He took flight, trying to peer through the darkness for any danger.


The raw heart was, well, raw heart. Exactly as tasty as the label claimed. Aegion wasn’t bothering with pranks or anything. He just didn’t seem to have it in him, like a spark had gone out.


Aegion and I sat in silence for a moment.


“Is this what it’s like for everyone else?” Aegion broke the silence.


“Is what?”


“This… this fear. This worry.”


I shrugged.


“I dunno what you’re feeling exactly, but in a sense, yes? We all know the world is dangerous. We live like we could die any time. We take precautions. Like having a watch.”


I glanced significantly at Aegion at the last part. I was probably going to be somewhat insufferable.


“I almost died!” He wailed.


My sympathy levels were zero.


“I’ve been stabbed through the heart, had all my limbs broken, been impaled by traps, practically tortured, decapitated once, burned, fought off innumerable illnesses and diseases, gotten blown up, and that’s just the start! The full list would take way too long. I’m lucky to be alive, and I know it. Ripped in half? I’m lucky it’s been so long since the last time that happened. This is what life is like for mortals. I’m just durable enough to be able to tell you, first hand, what all of those things are like. Everyone else gets their name on the wall.”


That last part would probably go right over Aegion’s head, but eh. Hopefully he’d get the idea.


I paused for a moment, thinking.


Eh. We were close enough to home.


“Toughen up, go home, or die. Those are basically your options at this point. Now, if you’d like, I can take over watch. The gods and goddesses know I’ve spent enough nights on watch to do it alone.”


Aegion stilled, working through all the things I’d said. Finally, like it pained him to say, he spoke.


“Can you teach me how to properly keep guard at night?”


I turned my head to hide a grin. Still slipped into my voice.


“Happily. First… Just leaving a carcass of a huge dinosaur out there will attract predators and scavengers. We don’t want those.”



Watch was boring. Talking about watch was almost as boring. I checked on my level-ups from the fight with half an eye while I kept chatting with Aegion. I’d get fidgety and antsy otherwise.


[*ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 421->424! +3 Dexterity, +24 Speed, +24 Vitality, +170 Mana, +170 Mana Regen, +48 Magic power, +48 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]

Three levels! I didn’t think my healing had been worth that much, but I guess the combination of the ridiculous levels involved and my ever-growing [Passionate Learning] was paying off.

My capped skills re-capped themselves. Nothing interesting there.

If nothing else, I was going to advocate that Ranger Trainees, and maybe Sentinels, should take trips outside of the Dead Zone to level up. How much stronger could we all get, just spending a few months out here?

Assuming the casualty rate was acceptable.

[*ding!* [Sunrise] has leveled up! 345 -> 347]

Wasn’t going to complain about free levels.

[*ding!* Congratulations! [Butterfly Mystic] has leveled up to level 347->348! +8 Strength, +8 Dexterity, +70 Speed, +70 Vitality, +70 Mana, +70 Mana Regen, +70 Magic power, +70 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Strength, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]

I resisted the urge to complain about only getting one level. My Radiance contribution hadn’t been stellar.

[*ding!* [Solar Flare] has leveled up! 52 -> 88]

That was more like it!

[*ding!* [Scintillating Ascent] has leveled up! 314 -> 319]

More levels! I needed to cap the skill at some point. Then find a mirror.

[*ding!* [Bullet Time] has leveled up! 420 -> 424]

[*ding!* [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has leveled up! 374 -> 375]

[*ding!* [Sentinel’s Superiority] has leveled up! 394 -> 396]

[*ding!* [Persistent Casting] has leveled up! 296 -> 299]

No surprises. Levels!



Serondes was the last one awake. Awarthril silently joined us in the middle of the night, listening to what knowledge I had to share about keeping a proper watch in the middle of the night, and how to best have an early warning for attacks. To better avoid issues like being woken up in the jaws of a dinosaur.


Rude awakening, that.


“Did anyone not level?” Awarthril asked. We all shook our heads, and she grinned.


“Levels for everyone! This calls for a celebration!”


I gestured with my gnawed-on spinosaurus sail.


“What more could we possibly need? This seems like party enough.”


“Pooh. Don’t be a spoilsport.” Awarthril retorted, but when nobody else chimed in support of her, she gracefully let it go.


Aegion was being uncharacteristically silent.


“Where to?” Serondes asked as we were finishing up breakfast. I was regretting some of my life choices, specifically selecting the spino-sail to try and eat.


It was bad.


“Please toss me a leg.” I had ambitions, requesting an entire leg that was larger than I was.


I gave my best eyes to Serondes, who conjured up a few mage hands to deliver only part of my request. Only enough food to stuff me, not make me go pop! Fortunately he didn’t try feeding me or anything like that.


We’d discussed it! Hurray for good communication!


I took a few bites, and feeling fortified, made my case.


“I’d like to get back home. As soon as possible.” I was taking small nibbles, to better keep talking.


“What’s the rush?” Serondes asked. Couldn’t quite blame him, given that our fling would probably end once I got home.


“I just lost my last memento of home. It’s been way too long for me. Remember, my family’s mortal, and I’ve been gone a year and like, two months at this point. Not sure how that is for elves, but that’s ‘let’s hold a funeral’ in how humans view time.”


I wasn’t entirely sure on the timeline. My only strong markers were the solstices and equinoxes, and the elves had a different calendar entirely. Either way, too long. We were near, and I was going to head towards the Low Experience Zone, elves in tow or not.


To my surprise, Aegion was the first to jump in.


“I know we take breaks after big fights. I think I need more than a short break though. Let’s head towards Elaine’s home. I could use a few weeks or months being the scariest thing around.”


He nodded at me.


“No offense Elaine, but according to your own stories you’re one of the best, and one of the highest-leveled, scariest things around. I’m much stronger than you are, and if you’re an apex predator, what does that make me? A relaxing vacation, that’s what.”


That… was one hell of a non-sequitur, but I wasn’t going to call it out when he was agreeing with me.


We looked at Awarthril, whose decision - along with Kiyaya’s weight - would break the tie.Mostly. If she agreed with Serondes, we’d be split in half.


“Oh Elaine! I hadn’t quite realized that your family would think you were dead! No no, we can’t have that. We’re going to get Elaine home now. As quickly as possible!”


I felt my heart expand three sizes at her pronouncement.


“By the way, Elaine?” She said.




“Wipe your face. You’ve got something right there.”



We packed up, oriented ourselves east, and started to move.


Sadly, the road wasn’t leading in that direction, so we slowed down due to the rugged nature of the terrain. At first.


The latitude suggested we were kind of near Remus. It should’ve been winter at this point, but the weather was still warm. On the occasional strong winds from the north, I could even smell the ocean. Or perhaps a sea, but either way, it generated strong nostalgic pangs, and feelings of homesickness.


We started to cross the occasional road, then they became more frequent, and better maintained. We saw the occasional caravan, but after the last meet-up with one, we decided after a short discussion to not bother stopping for the day - or longer! - to chat.


There wasn’t anything we needed.


I got good with my ring, able to rapidly make it invisible, then visible again, along with changing the level I was displaying. With the elves helping, I was able to properly mark 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, and a few more levels that I thought might be useful, so I could almost instantly change my level to the exact “right” level that I wanted to show.


A nice bonus - the elves had helpfully mapped out every class-up for me! 512, 768, 1024, 1536, 2048, 2560, 3072, and 3584! 4096 was the highest level, but apparently there was something weird about it? The elves themselves didn’t know, the information was restricted, and they were too young, and too low-level.


I kept getting lectures on what it was like to be an Immortal, Immortality, and all sorts of other random factoids that the elves thought were important for me to know.


I finished the Medical Manuscripts, Awarthril giving me a thoughtful look when she saw the [Oath] written in the back. She didn’t say anything, and I wasn’t sure if that made me happy, or scared. Either way, she didn’t tell the others about it, which I appreciated.


I was getting more and more excited by the day, every step increasing my pulse.




We were getting there. Irrationally, with no basis for it, I could feel it in my bones. Remus was getting nearer.


My best guess for the feeling? A hefty dose of hopefulness, combined with subtle changes in the ocean breeze smell, that I subconsciously associated with home. The smell had gone from occasional, to frequent, to near omni-present.


“There’s a city up ahead.” Aegion reported one late afternoon, as we were walking on some nice roads. We’d already dodged three caravans today, and a close city was a good suggestion why we were dodging so many people and why the roads were nice.


He kept his eyes closed as he reported in.


“Tall, thick walls. Guard towers. Well-planned city, large. I’m seeing parks, buildings belching normal smoke, a port, either alchemical buildings or weird multi-colored fires, a fortress in the middle of the city, patrols on the walls.”


He paused a moment, thinking.


“Patrols are primarily ogres, although I thought Yugark was to the west of here.”


“Mortals move around quite a bit, and the map is 800 years old for this area.” Serondes pointed out.






They were expecting 800 years old and accurate map to go together? I take back all the nice things I’d been thinking about them.


“There’s a second species that’s rarely on patrol, but they’re there.” Aegion continued reporting. “Most are in armor, hang on, trying to spot some that aren’t.”


We waited a few moments.


“Alright. Elvenoid form, two arms, two legs. No horns, hair just on top. Tend towards tall and muscular, no super distinguishing features. No offense, but they’re as dull as you are Elaine.”


Hang on.


Waaaaaaaait a minute.


“How are they different from me?” I asked, not daring to hope.


“Taller, stronger. Mostly seen males so far.”


I wanted to half jump for joy, half punch Aegion.


I did both. My fists were as strong as a butterfly’s fart, I was in no danger of causing harm.


“Pretend for just a moment I’m a scrawny, short, under-muscled version of what a human woman looks like, and that the men tend to be taller and burlier. What then!?” My voice was hungry, demanding one answer and one answer only.


“Mmmm. Yeah, probably humans then.”


I screamed with joy.


“Humans! Let’s go! GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I charged down the road, only for Awarthril’s ever-present [Rubbery Rope] to yoink me back like some bad comedy.


“Whoa there! We’re not even in the Low Experience Zone yet. If we’re unlucky, this is shimagu territory. They shouldn’t be out this far east though.”


Bah-what!? Humans!


Although the mere mention of shimagu was enough to put a dampener on the wild unbridled joy running through me.


“Let’s get a campsite ready to discuss what we’re going to do.” Serondes suggested. “Regardless of what’s going on, I don’t think we want to find out at night, or potentially sleep in a hostile city.”


“Plrbrbrbrbrbrb.” Awarthril was rubbing off on me. I blew a raspberry at Serondes, mentally cursing his good sense.


He was right though, we should talk this over.



“Let’s!” Awarthril agreed.


“Yeah sure.”


We moved off the road, deep into a small patch of forest. More and more of the land we were going over was farmland of one sort or another, but we tended to ignore the few farmers we saw, and they ignored us entirely. Just another set of travelers. Serondes built a single, low hut out of Lava, half-burying it to reduce visibility. Finally making concessions to visibility, and that they weren’t invincible.


We huddled up, eating a nice dinner of jerky and berries that Aegion had foraged during the afternoon.


“I see two options. We either go through the city, or we go around the city. Any other choices?” Serondes started off the “what do we do now” meeting, after some light dinner chit-chat.


I didn’t see anything else, so I kept my mouth shut. I did mentally chant in the city in the city in the city in the city.


Humans! I wasn’t speciesist or anything, but there was something about familiar faces after far too long.


“We could bulldoze the city then keep going!”


To nobody’s surprise, Aegion had the absolutely absurd idea. Even Cordamo was giving him an “Are you serious?” look.


He chuckled weakly at us, waving a hand.


“Bad joke, bad joke, sorry.”


We all spent another half-moment giving him the “what the fuck” look, then moved on.


“Benefits of going around the city?” Serondes asked.


“Avoid any conflict. I don’t see anything else.” I quickly threw in. I didn’t want to go around the city. I wanted to see what was going on, find out why there were humans here.


Also, to be fair - I’d only come up with one so far.


“Downsides?” Serondes asked.


“Takes longer, and if we wanted to be undetected, we’d need to take a semi-significant detour. Given how few cities and towns we’ve seen, I doubt there’s another one, but if there is we’d keep circling even further out.” I jumped in. Taking longer to get home? Booo. Even if the humans here were great, they weren’t mine.


“Pros of going through the city?” Awarthril asked. “I know we can confirm if it’s a shimagu encampment or not, which is valuable. I know it’s unlikely, but it could be worth checking. We could circle back to it once Elaine’s reached home.”


“Can buy someone else’s food. Buy good beer. Get some souvenirs. Get some cheap gems. Buy some Arcanite. Sleep in a real bed. Have someone else make the bath for once. If there’s someone good enough, get our armor fixed. Our weapons repaired. The thousand and one tiny luxuries civilization has to offer, or knowledge that it’s a threat.” Serondes looked somewhat haggard at his torrent of words, and thinking over his life story, I was reminded that this was his first real adventure away from home, his first extended trip in the wilderness.

I was also tempted to make a flirty comment about how he liked making baths with me well enough, but went with shutting up to get what I wanted, namely, visiting the city.


Unsaid - I wanted a real bathroom. I had no trouble running around the wilderness, but I didn’t want to replace the bear in the classic joke “Does a bear shit in the woods?”


Leaves were awfully close to becoming my new nemesis.


“I’m not sure about this. I’m still hoping for some peace and quiet, and I think we should detour around the city, even if it takes a month.” Aegion flopped back, looking listlessly up at the roof of the Lava hideout.


“Oh don’t be like that! Think about what’s in the city! More arrows. Parties. All the parties! You could make a dozen new friends in a night! Show them how to throw a proper party. They might have some cool herbs to throw in your next beer!” I was blathering. Someone better with people might have a better way of doing it, but eh.


I was a “Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” sort of girl.


“And rare ingredients! Oooh, and new brews! By the dozen!”


Splat went the Elaine offensive. Time to see what slid off and what stuck.


Aegion was getting a distant look on his face. I wasn’t sure if he’d heard anything I’d said. Kiyaya booped his nose with her paw to bring him back to Pallos.


So much for operation “Pasta fling”. If the wall didn’t even have ears…


Ok, apart from “The walls have ears” saying, my analogy was rapidly breaking down. I was too excited, and not exactly a social master at the best of times. I was going to practice the ancient art of shutting up for some time. It seemed like Awarthril and Serondes wanted to go to town anyways.


I’d let them do more of the talking.


“The downside, of course, is if we go through, and they are shimagu, we might be in a bit of a pickle.” Awarthril delicately added in.


She spent a few moments carefully thinking, before asking me a slow, thoughtfully worded question.


“Elaine, if a body controlled by a shimagu attacked you, could you heal the person of the shimagu infestation?”


The second reminder of shimagu sobered me up a bit, and my newly found resolve to shut up was thrown out the window in the face of a direct question.


I appreciated her careful phrasing, hinting that she had internalized that I had [Oath], and not giving it away to the other elves. They hadn’t bothered to read the Medical Manuscripts, and while that was fine for Aegion, I was a little hurt that Serondes hadn’t even tried, declaring it dry. Like, yeah, it wasn’t for everyone, but it would’ve been nice if he’d given it half a shot.


“Yes, I can.” I’d gone over the ethics of it recently, working out that was possible.


“Ok, the worst-case scenario is that it’s a shimagu-controlled city, and they take offense to Elaine’s presence. Right?” Serondes asked.


“The worst case is worse than that.” I muttered unhelpfully. I hated sabotaging my position, but it was best to go in with eyes open.


“What do you think it is?” Awarthril coaxed.


“I have no idea, I just know the worst thing you plan for is never the worst that can happen.”


Aegion barked a laugh at that, breaking his melancholy somewhat.


“Here’s the breakdown.” I said. “There are two options, and three possibilities. The first is we go around the city, ignoring the minor chance of there being more cities.”


“Or a patrol catching us!”


“What do we care if a patrol catches us?” I asked. “We’re just traveling through.”


“Ok, fine.”


“The second is we go through the city, and everything’s fine. We spend a nice day in the city, then keep going.” I said. “I imagine some of us will want to spend more than a day. OH! Aegion, you mentioned ports, right?”


“Yeah, there was a fairly large port.”


“They could have a ship to travel to the dead zone! Home!”


“It’d be nice.” Awarthril sighed wistfully.


“The last is we try to go through the city, and it’s filled with shimagu. Then we’re in trouble.” I finished off.


A penny dropped for me. Well, more like an entire damn anvil, with a full parade behind it.


I was an idiot. An unthinking idiot.


I needed to know if the city was infested by shimagu. I wasn’t just Elaine, happy-go-lucky wanderer. I was Sentinel Dawn, guardian of Remus. Humanity’s last line of defense against threats.


A city full of bodyjackers, taking over humans? Parasites that could easily be burned out by a healer?


Yeah, if that was mentioned in a Sentinel meeting, every head in the room would be turning towards me, and I’d be out the gates before lunch. It was my duty to check it out, especially if we were as close to Remus as the elves seemed to think.


I needed to explore the city, with or without the elves.


“True. But we’d be stopped at the gates.” Awarthril pointed out. “It’d be easy enough to just walk away at that point. Heck, if you wanted, I could just Ooze the guards, and we bail.”


I didn’t like the idea of casually taking lives.


At the same time, I’d walked into a goblin encampment and provoked the heck out of them. Right now, provoking shimagu seemed to be equally valid. After all, they could run away, and breaking chains on top of everything else I did?


Seemed attractive.


I was glad Serondes had suggested we break for the night and plan. Walking in all excited would’ve gone poorly. Now I was able to sit back. Plan.




“Skills?” I asked.


“Shimagu are basically restricted to purely physical skills - and passives at that - unless they’re in a rare cooperating host.” Serondes reminded me. “While possible, I doubt a high-quality host that’s cooperating is acting as a gate guard. Since, after all, people who are cooperating with a shimagu have significantly more power than the average shimagu-controlled body, or even a regular individual at that level. Since the shimagu would be augmenting them.”


A good reminder. If I only needed to worry about physical attacks, and my healing was at a strong range?


Arrows were still a concern. Otherwise?


“What are the chances that it’s a shimagu city, versus a normal city?” Awarthril asked.


“Oooh, hard to say. Somewhere between 1 in 12 to 2 in 12?” Aegion ‘estimated’, which seemed to just be pulling numbers out of his ass.


“Right. I think we have our options?” Awarthril confirmed. Nods went around the circle.


“Hang on, I’ve got one more thing to add.” I said.


“Go on!” Awarthril encouraged me.


“If there are humans in the city, I need to look at it, one way or another. My job as Sentinel demands it. If the rest of you don’t want to go, that’s fine, but I need to investigate it either way.”


I held my chin up, daring any of them to contradict me. None of them did.


“Well, that’s quite something! Who wants to go to the city?” Awarthril asked, and I raised my hand. Kiyaya nuzzled up to me, and sat in my lap, practically engulfing me and hiding me from everyone else. She was a big girl, and when I was sitting on the cooled Lava floor?


Gigantic. She seemed to be voting with me.


Good girl. She’d get all the scratches.


I waved two hands around her, making my vote clear.


Awarthril gave a polite laugh.


“I’m going to agree with Elaine here.”


There was some hissing as Cordamo, of all people agreed with me.


“Can’t let my honey berry go alone! Plus a real bed? Oooh, the things I can do with a real bed.”


I made a gagging noise at Serondes, who waggled his eyebrows suggestively. I threw him an angry finger. I’d told him I didn’t want super suggestive stuff in public!


“Go around the city?”


“I’m clearly outnumbered here, with everyone else wanting to visit, but yeah. I’m not feeling up for even the chance of a conflict.”


“Oooh. Hmmm. Is there any way to make this easier on Aegion?” Awarthril fretted, digging through the Spatial Box for…


Honestly, I had no idea what she’d been looking for.


I thought about it for a few minutes, while Serondes and Awarthril tried to extract information from Aegion, trying to work out a compromise to keep everyone happy.


“Wait! I’ve got it!” I exclaimed, fiddling with my ring. “I’ll just show up as the highest level healer I can. That’ll deter just about everyone and everything, right? We’ll still figure out what’s what, but who’d want to attack us? No conflict, and we get what we want, right?”


If I saw something that [Identify]’d as purple walking down the street?


Yeah, I’d be getting out as fast as I could. Have a nice picnic, 3,000 miles away. I didn’t go for black like Lun’Kat, because maybe people would think their ID was on the fritz. There was no question with a deep violet.


“Oh brilliant Elaine! Nobody can know you’re a healer without them [Identify]ing you anyways! Aegion, does that work for you?”


“Eh, sure, I guess.”


Awarthril clapped her hands together, happy that we’d all come to a harmonious conclusion. “Now, let’s get some sleep. Kiyaya, first watch?” She asked, and the wolf nodded.


I locked eyes with Serondes. He jerked his head over to his bedroll, in its own little alcove.


I crossed my arms at him. I was still annoyed about the bed comment.


Either way, I wanted a good, full night’s sleep before tomorrow. It was either going to go great, or terribly. There was no in-between.



The next day I geared up, with everything I had. Because if shit hit the fan, the plan was always the first to go.


I put on my Mistweave dress, my ring. My Sentinel badge, as unlikely as it was to be recognized. My sash with the egg, and I retrieved the pieces of my dwarven armor that held my Arcanite, and my few remaining utility gems.


I still had [Reversal], [Water Conjuration], [Shocking Paralysis], [Watery Manacle], [Mana Void], [Cast Scream], [Amplify Voice], and [Curse Breaker].


And almost a dozen empty gems, mementos, reminders. Skills I’d blown on this long adventure, keeping myself alive. The remaining ones were quite frankly weak.


I felt geared and ready to go.


“Let’s go.” I said, and stepped outside, into the clear sunny day, without a cloud in the sky.


We turned east, hit the road, and took the first steps towards the city.


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