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A note from Selkie

I shouted it out the other day, but A Practical Guide to Evil just finished. Amazing serial.

https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/

I also want to shout out mark of the Crijik, which kept me up for too many hours binge reading it. https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/50243/mark-of-the-crijik-a-litrpg-portal-fantasy-adventure

 

We kept hanging out until Newbie Mage finished his laps. I wanted to chat with Wolfy and Artillery Mage C, and catch up with them. See what they’d been up to.

 

They’d survived their first round as Rangers, and were now experienced Rangers. Oh the stories they had! The adventures!

 

This wasn’t the time or the place, and I had more pressing needs. Like a bath.

 

And mangos.

 

I was going to turn the city upside down for some of those sweet, sweet fruits. Honestly, they should be part of the food pyramid, in their own section.

 

“Critical to life: Mangos.”

 

How’d I manage to go a whole year and change without eating one? I had to be severely nutritionally deprived. I was in dire need of some vitamin M.

 

“Ranger Decimus! As the last one, you will be facilitating Sentinel Dawn’s stay with us! You are relieved of all other duties until Sentinel Dawn is no longer with us!”

 

Newbie Mage saluted.

 

“Dismissed!” Bossman called out, and we all started to work our way back to town.

 

The guards were slightly happier to see us this time, given that it was a sane hour and the gates were open.

 

The sun was up, and as we walked through the streets, I subtly let loose.

 

In the largest radius the skill could manage, I blasted [Dance with the Heavens] and [Wheel of Sun and Moon], actively healing every person I passed.

 

[Cosmic Presence] passively did the same thing with every step I took, but as I was walking, people didn’t get to spend a ton of time under its influence. It did help in larger fights and brawls, like in Ochi. It just wasn’t flashy.

 

This wasn’t the first time I’d pulled this trick. I’d done it regularly back in Ariminum, before the Formorian invasion.

 

The “before times”.

 

At the same time, I wasn’t being entirely benevolent. I was keeping a close eye out for shimagu kill notifications. I wasn’t sure where I was in relationship to shimagu anymore, but I did know any infiltrators in the city were fair game. It did nicely clear the entire Ranger team, and I didn’t get any notifications.

 

I did see the occasional knot of excited people, taking deep excited breaths, a persistent cough cleared. A dull ache gone. That warmed my heart.

 

I also knew I was clearing out dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller problems before people knew they were problems. Early stages of cancer. Brewing infections. Fixing up an aneurysm before it could rupture.

 

I decided to play the “silent secret benefactor” this time. It was more fun in a way.

 

I did feel guilty when one veteran felt at his face, looking for a scar that wasn’t there anymore.

 

Most of the Rangers peeled off before we made it back to the wagon. Just Bossman, Greybeard, and Newbie Mage followed me back to our base of operations.

 

Bossman promptly sat down at the “Rangers get complaints” table, and sighed. I had to respect any leader who jumped on the shit jobs themselves, and first shift on the complaint table was no fun. I’d done it often enough.

 

“Hey Greybeard!” I called out to the old man.

 

“Sentinel. May I assist?” He politely asked.

 

“Maybe. I need to rework my physical sparring from the ground up, and politely, you look like you’ve got the experience needed to help me work out a new fighting style.”

 

He inclined his head a hair.

 

“I wouldn’t presume to teach a Sentinel how to fight.”

 

I tapped my foot impatiently, crossing my arms.

 

“I got roughly a hundred levels two days ago. My stats have gone entirely haywire, and I’d bet every coin I’ve got that you know an appropriate fighting style.”

 

“Wait, what level are you?” Newbie Mage butted in, having missed the earlier conversation.

 

“Ranger Decimus!” Bossman barked at him. I held my hand up.

 

“Peace, I don’t mind sharing.” I did look around, and lowered my voice to a whisper though.

 

“511. One short of unlocking my third class.” Newbie Mage looked shocked. I winked at him. “What, did you think I’d propose a race where I thought I’d lose?”

 

“She’s got you there.” Bossman threw in.

 

“How’d you get a hundred levels in a day?” Greybeard asked.

 

Awww. No surprise at the third class. I guess the other Sentinels must’ve spread the word at the last Ranger Convocation.

 

Drat.

 

I looked Greybeard in the eye.

 

“The only way anybody gains a hundred levels in a day. I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

He saluted.

 

“I would be honored to assist you. Would you like to begin now?”

 

I grimaced.

 

“Ok, well, I should start now. But I need a bath. Desperately. Year and a half in the field. Tonight?”

 

He saluted, and started doing… whatever Greybeard did when he was on break in a town.

 

“Ranger Decimus.” I called out to Newbie Mage, showing a shred of professionalism when giving orders.

 

“Sentinel.”

 

“I need a sack, seven rods, enough food from our stores to feed six people, and a map to the best bathhouse in town.”

 

He paused, waiting for any other instructions from me.

 

“No, seriously, that’s it. Dismissed.” I shooed him away. I could get away with some minor unprofessionalism.

 

I settled in next to Bossman.

 

“I’ll probably have change, don’t worry. I know you need the funds for the round. I’ve been gone a long time. Has there been any, ah, interesting political changes recently?”

 

He gave me a flat look, then his eyes widened in realization. He smacked his forehead with his palm.

 

“Gods. A year and a half. With no news. Of course. Of course…” He muttered to himself, then shook his head.

 

“Long version, or short version?”

 

“Short version please. I have no stomach for politics, and the less I’m involved, the better.”

 

I got a Look from Bossman, suggesting that he thought I knew a lot more than I was letting on if I was asking for political updates first thing upon returning home, while claiming a complete disinterest in politics.

 

“Short version. General Augustus, after his glorious victory against the Formorians-”

 

I gave a loud, derisive snort at that.

 

“Bullshit.”

 

Bossman held up his hands.

 

“Peace, Sentinel. Simply trying to give the popular version of events, as most people know them. To my understanding, Sentinel Night and the Ranger Command didn’t see fit to fight him on the credit or the glory. There may have been some backroom dealing on the matter.”

 

“What about Destruction’s earthquake? Demos’s sacrifice? Katastrofi!?

 

“All known. Quite a few songs to boot. General Augustus was ultimately responsible for the defenses, and the credit for the victory landed at his feet.”

 

I snorted in disbelief. I did not like General Augustus.

 

“He formed a triumvirate with General Numerius and General Titus, and they marched back to Ariminum, at the head of their - pardon, the Senate’s - army. The Senate welcomed them with open arms, and happily declared General Augustus dictator for life.”

 

The last sentence was dripping with heavy sarcasm.

 

“Long live Emperor Augustus.” Bossman ended with a flat note.

 

“Huzzah. Long live.” I mimicked his tone.

 

However, the whole thing sounded remarkably peaceful. Gave me high hopes that everyone I knew made it through alright.

 

“Any mention of casualties? People dying?”

 

“The stories report it was entirely bloodless. However, twelve legions descending upon a city, with their blood up and pockets full of pay? The guard needed to call in Ranger Team 0, who needed to call in the Sentinels to assist. Nothing too major from what they told me, it was more of a manpower issue than anything else.”

 

“Do you know Ranger Kallisto? He’s on Team 0. Former teammate of mine.” I hoped he was alright. Sounded like he’d gotten the worst of it.

 

Bossman gave me a look like ‘yeah, I’m suuuuuuuuuuuuuure he’s a former teammate.

Given Kallisto’s reputation, I didn’t blame him.

 

“Ranger Kallisto was the one who told me most of this! Fantastic Ranger.”

 

I doubted I’d get news of anyone else. Newbie Mage showed up, with the items I asked for.

 

“Sentinel.” He respectfully placed the items on the table. I swept the coins into the sack, and started to look at the map while chowing down..

 

“Thank you, Ranger. That’ll be all. Have fun!” That’s what I tried to say at least. I was mid-squirrel impression, and it came out garbled. I shooed him with one hand to make the message clear.

 

“Well, if you need-”

 

“What I need is a long bath and some good food, and you’ve fixed one and the map to the other. Now shoo. I know what vacation time means to you. Go. Git. Have fun.”

 

I heard Newbie Mage salute, then scamper off before I could get new ideas for him.

 

Food. FOOD!

 

I was starving. I’d been ignoring the signal until now, but I needed a serious chow session. Even if I found mangos now, I’d be too hungry to properly appreciate them.

 

Speed, strength, and dexterity were good for more than running quickly and lifting heavy objects. High-speed eating was also on the menu.

 

Pun intended.

 

“I’m off. Bossman, signal if you need anything. Actually, what are your team signals?”

 

“Newbie Mage uses a Gale and Mantle combination. If the wind picks up, look up. If you see an exploding ball of metal, that’s him. Greybeard uses Pyronox. Everyone else works in pairs, although technically the Ranger you call Wolfy and his wolves have their own signal - howling.”

 

I appreciated him using my nicknames. Made life easier for me.

 

“Sounds good. Doubt I’ll run into any trouble I can’t handle, but you can’t miss my signal. Look for the blinding light… or don’t.”

 

I chuckled weakly at my own joke. Bossman wasn’t amused.

 

The privilege of rank - Bossman wasn’t going to call me out on my terrible jokes. He wasn’t going to laugh at them - he had more self respect than that - but he wasn’t going to call me out.

 

“Right, I’m off!”

 

I double-checked that the egg was secure and warm, hefted my loot-sack over one shoulder, and triple-checking the map, set off.

 

I’d thought about it some.

 

The first order of business was a nice, long, hot bath. There was no sense in buying a tunic when I’d just make it dirty, and no self-respecting [Hairdresser] or [Beautician] would let me in their store smelling the way I did. I’d gotten caked in blood, guts, gore, and other viscera two days ago, and in spite of my best efforts to scrape some of it off, the rest had hardened and baked in.

 

The Rangers probably hadn’t said anything, because who was going to tell their boss that they stunk? Thinking about it, I should get something to make the wagon smell nice. And get Newbie Mage to hire someone to wash the blankets I’d befouled.

 

Mmmm. Yes. I might be a bit of a menace to the poor Team 11.

 

I practically skated down the streets, gracefully weaving my way through the crowds at high speed on the white roads. No more grey zone for me! Too many stats. If I hit a kid at the speed I was going?

 

… Well, shoot. I couldn’t even say they’d go splat, because my healing was just that good these days. Nor would I lose that much mana.

 

Still, it was good to be back in Remus. Jostling through crowds, seeing familiar stalls and stands, vendors, merchants, and apprentices shouting their wares.

 

I was on a mission, making a beeline for the baths, when an all-too-familiar fruit caught my eye.

 

The merchant had mangos.

 

Well, it was a bit early, but I wasn’t going to say no. I darted up to the stall, ignoring the woman he was haggling with.

 

“Mango me!” I shouted, dumping three rods worth of coins on the table. I didn’t bother haggling, negotiating, or waiting for his response - I just grabbed two dozen mangos, stuffed them in my sack, and was off before the outraged merchant even got two words out of his mouth.

 

Eight coins for a mango was more than fair. Best deal he’d make all day. I dunno what he was complaining about.

 

I escaped back into the crowd as I contemplated the mango in front of me, working out how to best gain access to its succulent interior.

 

I needed a knife. It’d make life easier as I traveled back home. Didn’t think I had enough coins for a good knife right now, not with everything else I wanted to buy.

 

Eh. I’d done well enough so far.

 

I could just burn the skin off, using Radiance to carefully slice through the skin of the mango. Issue was what was behind my Radiance beams. I was in a crowd, and I knew my magic had enough oomph to leave scorch marks in the road. Firing beams into the air would look like the “help” signal, and there was no way I was sending the help signal out for “I’m too powerful to peel a mango.”

 

I did what any reasonable person would do in my sandals. I bit in, skin and all.

 

The sweet release of mango in my mouth. The succulent textures. The sugary notes, the leathery flesh. Every bite sent waves of orgasmic bliss through me, and I found myself comparing the sensation to Serondes, and finding him wanting.

 

Each careful bite was filled with new, familiar sensations. My teeth sank into the tender flesh, then I twisted, ripping it away. It slid over my tongue, giving a wonderful tingling sensation. Then my molars got to it, teasing out the delicious sweetness, before it went down the hatch, only for the process to repeat again.

 

Mangos. Sheer divine bliss.

 

I tried chewing on the seed with my newfound strength, and, well, mango pits continued to be perfection in their ability to act as a projectile. Only people I knew well enough to try and brain were Wolfy and Artillery Mage C, and, well.

 

I was the boss.

 

I couldn’t just go around flinging mango pits at people.

 

Bah.

 

Sometimes this Sentinel thing was no fun.

 

I paced myself. I didn’t just inhale the mangos all at once. No. I savored them, drawing out every bite, making sure every ounce of tasty goodness was mine.

 

The buildings got nicer as I continued down the street, ending up in the wealthy part of town. My ears pricked as I heard a magical, skill-enhanced bard, and I nearly did a spit-take as I heard what he was singing.

 

Beloved of Julius, Artemis! Would’st thou knowWhy angry Phoebus bends his fatal bow?

First give thy faith, and plight a senator’s word

Of sure protection, by thy power and sword;

 

What.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAT!?

I stood some time in the crowd the bard had gathered, just listening with open-mouthed shock.

 

That had to be Arthur’s doing. He’d always been obsessed with bards and The Illiad, and the changed names? The senator instead of a prince? Yeah, it had his greasy fingerprints all over the modified song.

 

I spent a minute listening to the song, noting where Arthur had made some minor changes. It was well done, but my mood and fun were utterly destroyed by some jerk who decided my ass was fair game for his hand.

 

For a moment there I wasn’t in Remus anymore. I was back in Ochi, people grabbing at me. Velociraptors tearing into me. My adrenaline spiked, and I went into full fight or flight mode.

 

I didn’t have eyes in the back of my head. I couldn’t see behind me, although I had situational awareness that people were behind me in a crowd. [Bullet Time] wouldn’t activate for something that wasn’t even close to a threat on my life, no matter how I squinted.

 

A threat on the molestor’s life, sure.

 

I whirled around, instantly breaking the contact, ready to fight. Ready to kill. My Radiance was primed and ready, and I was already calculating what angles, and from what parts of my body, would be optimal for blasting this latest threat, without incurring added casualties in the crowd.

 

I was high, high level, so any strike of mine would be enough to be lethal. The only consideration I had was for collateral damage.

 

I was going to either swing my hand low, or kick my foot out, and beam Radiance from there, up through the torso and head, and let the punch-through hit the sky. Not ideal, but from my short stature, I couldn’t blast down. I wouldn’t hit anything vital enough.

 

I finished turning around, coming face to face with a leering face. Some young, rich by his purple-trimmed clothes, jackass.

 

An [Artisan]. Low level at that, only 135 or so.

 

I slammed the brakes on my combat reflexes. I removed all thoughts of murder and Radiance trajectories. This was not a threat to my life, just my dignity.

 

Now, if he tried to push and go further? Yeah, break out the lasers. I wasn’t going to summarily execute him for what he’d done though, as much as I’d like to.

 

I half-shuddered as I realized that I’d get away with it legally to boot. The absolute worst-case was I’d need to pay a nominal fine. How screwy was that?

 

I wasn’t going to let him off scot-free though.

 

I was fast. Far faster than some random young civilian. I slapped him, making absolutely certain to keep my strength to a bare minimum.

 

I didn’t want to flat-out murder him, and with my strength and his presumed lack of vitality, it was a risk.

 

My hand connected with a satisfying smack, and his neck snapped to the side with the force of my blow, leaving a nice, crisp handprint on his cheek.

 

“What the fuck.” I yelled at him, making no effort to be quiet. “Don’t grope me. Don’t grope women. Did your parents teach you nothing?”

 

His face uncrinked back, and people shuffled away from us.

 

“Relax girl! It was just a joke, why take it so seriously? You should be flattered that I-”

 

I stabbed him in the chest with a finger, poking him a few times. He tried to catch my hand, but I was too fast for him.

 

“Do. Not. Fondle. Women. In. The. Street.” I emphasized each word with another poke to his chest.

 

“Hush girl. You’re being hysterical, and ruining the show.” Another man butted in. “If you can’t tolerate a compliment, you shouldn’t be out and about. What would your husband say?”

 

He looked me up and down, frowning.

 

“Dressed like that, she probably doesn’t have one.” A third man butted in, his tone making it clear what, exactly, he thought my career without one was.

 

“Mmmm. Either way, stop disrupting the show.”

 

The jackass smirked at me, and emboldened, reached out to grab me again.

 

It was entirely possible to defend myself with non-lethal means, and frankly, I’d seen far too many people die recently. I didn’t want to kill if I could help it, and the paperwork would be epic if I did.

 

Plus, I had that pesky [Oath] stopping me from just flat-out murdering him in the street.

 

I swept my foot out, tripping him. He landed hard on the street, and I pinned him there with [Mantle of the Stars]. He wouldn’t move unless I willed it.

 

I didn’t.

 

I left him trapped there, and ducking low, abusing my short stature, slipped through the crowd and back to the streets, where I stomped my way to the bathhouse.

 

Sure, [Mantle] probably dissipated a dozen seconds or so later, as I got too far away to maintain it, but the message was hopefully clear.

 

My good day had been utterly ruined by him though. I was giving him way too much mental space, but argh! Why! I didn’t even want to eat a mango anymore, I was in such a shit mood!

 

I did keep up my healing though. Might as well do something productive. I’d eventually get my mind off things.

 

Grumble grumble grumble.

 

I made it to the bathhouse, and after paying an obscene amount - seriously, half a rod for an entrance fee? - entered. I undressed, folded my clothes neatly, then resecured the egg. I did bring my sack full of mangos though, planning on munching a few of them while in the bath.

 

I paused for a moment as the egg rocked. Did I hear tapping noises? Cracking noises?

 

How close was it to hatching?

 

After a few minutes of standing around in the changing room like an idiot, not moving at all as people came in and out, I came to the conclusion that nothing else was going to happen. I gratefully slipped into the bath, and started to scrub.

 

As I scrubbed, I let all the negative emotions filling me slowly get washed away. The action wasn’t entirely cathartic, but it did let me slowly get my mind off of things.

 

I wasn’t going to let him ruin my entire day. I focused on my enjoyment of where I was.

 

Ooooh, blessed baths. Serondes had turned numerous bodies of water into baths while we traveled, although I was still filthy. Just not “evacuate the entire building Elaine stinks” dirty.

 

Awarthril needing to throw me into the pond was easily in my top three most embarrassing memories.

 

There was something different about the Remus baths. There was a sense of nostalgia, of homeliness to them that was entirely absent in the wilderness. I’d grown up visiting the baths, and they were one of the places I found myself constantly gravitating towards. That, and libraries.

 

Thinking about it, I should avoid going to the local library. I’d start reading, and it’d take divine intervention to get me back out, and heading home.

 

I let myself luxuriate in the warm waters. I let the heat soak into me, loosening and relaxing my muscles. I let the bath cradle me, wrapping me in its warm embrace. I let the minor current, a skill from the bath’s owner - or employee - wash away my worries and fears, my anger and guilt, my accumulated dirt and baggage. I let the steam hide me from the world.

 

For a time, I found peace. Just floating there, head on the edge, legs trailing out.

 

Calmness.

 

Serenity.

 

After turning myself into a prune, I finished scrubbing, the last of the gore coating me flecking away effortlessly. There was possibly a skill at work there, and I’d need to tip whoever was running the place.

 

I noticed that the water around me was nice and toasty warm, and at a strong boil. Vitality for the win. However, it was hotter than what the baths were normally at. I stood up, somewhat concerned, only for the boil to subside.

 

I cocked my head, and sat back down.

 

Boiling.

 

Stand.

 

Calm.

 

It only took me a moment to figure out what was going on, and I rapped the egg with my knuckles.

 

“You knock that off! People are trying to bathe here! If you boil everything, they can’t enjoy themselves!” I scolded the egg in a harsh whisper.

 

Ah well.

 

I had some fun, half-swimming around with just my eyes above the water, blowing little bubbles, watching them rise all around me.

 

Bubble. Bubble. Spinosaurus Elaine is hunting through the tropical Remus baths, searching for her prey. She spots it on the edge of the bath, erupting out of the water, jaws snatching a mango! Oh the humanity! Another mango has met its ultimate destiny, to be eaten by me!

 

Why did they sell mangos to other people anyways?

 

Putting aside merchants’ strange proclivities for wanting to make a profit and selling mangos to not-me, things were looking up. Nice bath. A dozen mangos left.

 

Spending a few hours here, relaxing and enjoying myself, was just what my mental health needed.

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Selkie

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