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A note from Selkie

New week, new chapters!

“Thanks! I think Auri’s a pretty name as well! Can you acquire nest supplies?”

 

Wolfy whistled, and Moonmoon went scampering off.

 

“Can I touch?” Wolfy asked, and I looked at Auri’s sleeping form.

 

“She’s had a rough hatching… when she wakes up, sure!”

 

Wolfy and I traded a few stories of our respective adventures. He’d gotten in a rough fight against a heavyweight Ash mage-warrior, who used ashen limbs like an octopus to punch people. She’d left the fight after declaring it boring, chowing down on soup of all things.

 

“Had to call in a Sentinel.”

 

“She left you all alive?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.

 

Wolfy nodded.

 

“Seemed to be after good fights, and nothing else.”

 

Well, it took all sorts, and the normal people didn’t make it into our stories.

 

Meanwhile, I was able to expand on my elven adventures while Moonmoon brought us small sticks, the wolves practically tip-toeing to keep the delicate sticks and twigs from breaking. We soon assembled…

 

Well.

 

I wanted to call it a nest, but it was more of a gigantic mess.

 

“Can you do a supply run in town?” I asked Wolfly. “More fruits, and some cheap fabrics?”

 

Wolfy grinned.

 

“Sure! Anything to stay busy.”

 

“So you don’t have to work the investigation?” I drily asked.

 

“Exactly! You know me so well!”

 

I rolled my eyes, but Wolfy got the stuff, letting me tend to - and protect - Auri.

 

“Let me grab a pinch of sand.” Wolfy said after his latest supply run.

 

“Yeah, birds need some, and sand seems harmless if we’re wrong.” I agreed.

 

Frankly, we only had a modest idea of what we were doing. For all I knew, birds didn’t need rocks for their gizzard until they were older, especially since we were doing the pre-digestion by mashing up Auri’s food for her.

 

It went alright, and Auri woke up again, brrrrrpting for more food.

 

I was pleased to see that mango seemed to be her favorite, but to be fair, we hadn’t exactly been able to provide her with a wide variety.

 

She woke up a few more times, but we were ready this time. Fruits were pre-squeezed into little pots, and bugs were already mashed. I kept offering water, and Auri managed to figure out how to drink.

 

She was inhaling food at a prodigious rate. Every hour or so she’d wake up, eat what seemed to be a quarter of her weight in food, then go back to sleep.

 

Night falling, and my own desire for sleep didn’t stop her in the slightest. Every time I started to drift off - “BRRRRRRPT!” came her demanding cries for food and attention.

 

Time started to blur weirdly. The sheer unchanging monotony of what I was doing, combined with the constantly interrupted sleep, and the never-ending vigilance quickly put me into a weird frame of mind.

 

“BRRRRRRPT!” Came Auri’s demanding cry in the middle of the night. I groaned as I rolled over, head pounding, and hit myself with a dose of [Sunrise]. I immediately woke up, and half-cursed myself.

 

[Sunrise] was great, but it also meant I wasn’t going to get back to sleep anytime soon. I’d drift off right as Auri was inclined to wake up and want more.

 

Wolfy, curse him eight different ways, just rolled over in his bedroll and pulled the blankets over his head. Practically sleeping like a baby.

 

Except no. The baby in the tent was the one sleeping terribly, and waking everyone else up.

 

I blearily grabbed Auri, grabbed a pot of mango juice, and sleepily put the two of them together. She drank her fill, and I put the mango juice back in Auri’s nest, and put Auri back where the mango juice belonged.

 

“Brrpt?!”

 

Hang on.

 

The mango juice shouldn’t be chirping.

 

I blinked, realizing my mistake, and swapped the two.

 

“Brrrpt! Brrrpt!” She happily cheeped at me, flapping her proto-wings in delight. I couldn’t help but smile.

 

“Brrrrpt!” She tumbled right out of the nest, proto-wings flapping in a vain attempt to grab some air.

 

I wasn’t sure on the timeline of when birds left the nest, but Auri was way too young, and, I suspected, something of an idiot. My hand flashed out, and carefully, gently, caught her on the way down.

 

“Brrrpt!!” Auri seemed to think me catching her was great fun.

 

“Now now. We’re trying to sleep. It’s sleep time.” I put Auri back in the nest, and she promptly flung herself right back out.

 

“Bbbbbbbrrrpt!” She called out as she fell, wings flapping manically.

 

Of course I caught her, and gave her a half-evil eye.

 

She’s just a baby. She doesn’t know better. She’s not trying to be a pain. Don’t shake the baby. I repeated the mantra in my head.

 

I took the nest down from where we’d jerry-rigged a few sticks to make a small “tree”, and put it on the ground. If Auri was going to be jumping out of her nest, I was going to make it a little safer.

 

Intellectually, I knew that one day she’d need to be jumping out of the nest and practicing flying herself. However, I worried. I didn’t think now was the time.

 

Auri promptly hopped out, and tried to eat a small pebble.

 

“No! That’s not food!” I quickly swept the choking-sized rock out of her way.

 

“Brrrpt!” I swear Auri was making an annoyed noise at me, as she continued to chase down the choking hazard.

 

On one hand, I wanted to let Auri listen to her instincts. She might need real rocks for her gizzard after all, damn the sand we poured down her throat.

 

On the other? That rock was too big to go down her throat. She was a bird-brained baby. I didn’t expect intelligent choices, and the elven lessons on “don’t let the baby companion kill themselves” was fresh on my mind. Auri was proving them correct once again.

 

I was feeling better about our chances as we successfully completed the first few days. However, Auri didn’t stop trying to kill herself. She started being able to walk around, and we’d let her, since keeping her permanently confined seemed like a poor choice for her development.

 

Naturally, she tried to throw herself under our feet when we walked around. At one point, she got to the edge of the water barrel, and threw herself in.

 

Fortunately I was constantly watching, and immediately rescued her as she flat-out sank.

 

“You have no talent for swimming do you?” I asked her rhetorically.

 

“BrRrRrRrRrRrrrrrrpt.” Auri shivered, her r’s rolling. I carefully, carefully applied some Radiance to dry her off and heat her up, all too aware that a tiny twitch, a minor loss of self control, and BLAP no more Auri.

 

She also tried to throw herself in the fire, brrrrrrrrpting pitifully when I snagged her and stopped her attempts at self-immolation.

 

She did snuggle nicely into my hand after I caught her.

 

“Brrrrrpppppptttttttt.” She contently chirped as I warmed her with Radiance after her latest attempt. I smiled at her.

 

I did get a pinch of campfire ashes for her, and she seemed to like playing with them, getting herself utterly filthy in the process. I could only laugh, roll my eyes, and clean her up after.

 

A week passed, and Auri grew. Molted downy feathers dried off, then slowly turned into colorful feathers. Her beak stayed thin, but it grew longer and longer, as her wings and tail filled in.

 

She looked exactly like a hummingbird. If it wasn’t for her tag being [Fledgeling], I’d assume she was one.

 

Well. That, and being in a place of honor in Lun’Kat’s lair, and hatching in an inferno of flames. She hadn’t shown too many indications of fire since then, but something was up. She was more than just a hummingbird, but what was the big question.

 

The other suggestion that something was up was Auri wasn’t doing too well. Auri was slowing down. She wasn’t moving as much, or as energetically.

 

It came to a head one day when Auri decided that blueberry juice wasn’t tasty anymore.

 

“Auri’s dying.” I voiced my fears out loud. Wolfy frowned.

 

“Maybe? She’s not doing great.” He hedged.

 

“Look, I’m the healer here. This is almost classic failure to thrive. Happens in human babies.”

 

“Well, what’s the cure for human babies?”

 

I frowned.

 

“It’s either organic or non-organic.”

 

“That means nothing to me.”

 

I glared at Wolfy, who gave me his best wide-eyed innocent “oh me?” look. Moonmoon in the background giving the same look twisted my mouth into a wry smile.

 

“Ok. The simple version is: either it’s the wrong food or we’re feeding her wrong.”

 

“Well, you’re the boss, but could it be something else instead?” Wolfy asked.

 

I held my hand out flat in front of me and wiggled it.

 

“Maybe? I’m not going to discount anything, but let’s try a few different things first. Can you get some honey? And while you’re at it…”

 

I listed off a few more things for Wolfy to grab. He made himself scarce, and for good measure, I blasted Auri with as much healing power as I could.

 

Honey could be bad for human babies, but the concerns were over infections. Right now, infection was waaaaaaaaaaaaay down on my list of potential problems, and I could always heal it.

 

No, with starvation being an issue I was going to throw everything I had at that problem, and handle secondary problems as they arose.

 

My efficiencies were terrible across the board, but Auri was tiny, and I had power and mana to spare. I healed a dragon for crying out loud, a slightly ill tiny bird was nothing.

 

Nothing happened though, so whatever was ailing the little grey bird wasn’t something my healing magic could tackle. I was more convinced that Auri’s problems were food and starvation related.

 

Wolfy was back in no time.

 

“Right, first thing. Auri looks like a hummingbird, so I’m going to try honey in water in various concentrations. Also going to try boiling off some of the water from the juices, then cooling them off to concentrate the sugar.” I explained to Wolfy as I started carefully measuring out honey and sugar.

 

“Makes sense. Oh! By the way. Another Ranger team’s in town. They caught up to us while we were on break.” Wolfy paused, looking uncharacteristically nervous.

I was a little focused on Auri and her issues.

 

“What is it? Spit it out.” I demanded.

 

“Bossman’s hoping you’ll raid their coin stash instead of ours!” Wolfy quickly belted out. I rolled my eyes.

 

“Yeah, sure, no problem. Let me know when and where.”

 

Wolfy looked relieved. Like I’d leave them hanging.

 

Bah.

 

I fed the various concentrations of honey to Auri, along with the concentrated fruit juice. To each of them, Auri only took a few sips, before giving me a sad “brpt.”

 

I persisted for two more days, Auri slowly fading.

 

“I wish I knew what was wrong!” I cried out in frustration, wanting to throw something but not wanting to disturb Auri. She was sleeping in my hands. I wanted to keep her close, in case being near me helped somehow. I was also constantly pushing healing through her.

 

“I mean, let me help.” Wolfy said. “Tell me what she is, and we’ll figure it out.”

 

“I don’t know!” I cried out in frustration.

 

“Well, where did you get her?”

 

“I can’t - can’t - tell you.” I gritted my teeth.

 

“Well… think about where you got her. What was it like?” Wolfly prompted me.

 

I was kinda mad, but at the same time, if it had been almost anyone else in the Ranger team, they wouldn’t feel free to prod me, and sometimes I needed prodding.

 

Where did I get her?

 

Easy. In a dragon’s lair. Part of her collection of eggs, from everywhere. Every creature under the sun.

 

She obviously wasn’t a dragon, and could be literally anything that Lun’Kat could get her hands on. Given that Lun’Kat was keeping fairies and angels as mood lighting, I didn’t think there were many creatures that could escape her.

 

Auri hatched from an egg, and was clearly related to birds, if not a bird herself. I’d been treating her like a bird. That train of thought seemed like a dead end.

 

Lun’Kat had massive collections of everything. Almost everything was well laid-out. Could I figure out her organizational system for the eggs, and figure out what Auri was from there?

 

Well, the bulk of the organization was moot. Auri had been snatched from the place of honor, from the nine eggs front and center of the egg collection.

 

Except they hadn’t been nine eggs had they? There’d been a unicorn foal there.

 

And a tree pot.

 

I was getting stuck on the sapling and the foal. There hadn’t been any other baby animals stuck in suspension in the egg collection. What made those special?

 

Well. Unicorns were special, and I could see why Lun’Kat would want one. But were unicorns so super extra rainbow special that they were the only creatures to get non-eggs?

 

And the sapling. How the hell had a sapling made the cut?

 

How could unicorns be extra special? What made them different from everything else, that a foal made the cut into the extra-special segment when nothing else did?

 

Actually - was that a question worth focusing on when I needed to fix Auri? Shouldn’t I be focusing on something else?

 

Eh… I had time to puzzle stuff out. If I got too far off track I’d circle back to Auri and the eggs I found her with.

 

Unicorns. What did I know about unicorns?

 

Well, a whole lot of Earth mythology, and not a ton else. I’d seen Asura during the Guardian battle against Lun’Kat, and all the magic she’d cast. I’d also seen Etalix, the dinosaur we venerated in Remus, along with Galeru, Yarok -

 

Wait.

 

Yurok, the Plague.

 

A treant.

 

A baby treant would look just like a sapling, wouldn’t it?

 

The sapling for Yurok.

 

The unicorn foal for Asura.

 

Did it work for the rest of the Guardians?

 

Let’s see…

 

There was the nearly see-through egg, with a dinosaur inside. It had a long, crocodile-like jaw, and seemed to be a shoo-in for Etalix if I wanted to stretch things that way. It was a bit weird that the spinosaurus eggs Aegion had gotten and we’d eaten hadn’t looked like that, but then again, they’d been unfertilized eggs, and we’d eaten yolk and white, and not a nearly-born baby dinosaur. That could explain the difference.

 

I had no idea about the Celestial egg. It was in a place of glory even among the frontrunners, but none of the Guardians I’d seen had Celestial vibes. It also wasn’t Lun’Kat’s egg.

 

One strike against the Guardian theory. I suppose some of the Guardians might not have shown up though? Or hadn’t shown up by the time I left? It was a bit of a stretch, but not a huge one. I was willing to keep entertaining the theory.

 

Next was the leathery egg with green lightning, and I remembered that snakes tended to have leathery eggs. Galeru was a master of green lightning, and I was starting to feel kind of dumb here. How had I missed this!?

 

I skipped the aquarium. Whatever came out of that was aquatic, and I hadn’t seen any deep-sea creatures. We’d kinda been in a mountain range.

 

I wasn’t going to discount high level sea creatures being able to get up and walk on land, but I was willing to give it a pass.

 

Although! I had seen something open up a portal, and a ton of water and sealife had exploded through! Score one point for “Not all the guardians were there” - there’d been that aborted message - and one point for “There’d clearly been an aquatic guardian that tried to show up!”

 

Then, if I made the quick assumption that the egg that looked like a two-in-one was Hebai, the Xuan Wu with the turtle’s body, and the snake instead of a tail…

 

There was one guardian left. One red, flame-related bird.

 

“You’re a phoenix.” I whispered in awe at Auri.

 

“What’s that?” Wolfy asked. I ignored him. I was busy, my mind racing.

 

I knew what she needed now. I stared at the campfire, and chewed my lip as I hesitated, deep in thought.

 

If I was wrong, I was going to commit the biggest [Oath] violation possible. “Yeah I tossed a baby into a bonfire and let it burn alive” was a recipe for a major, major violation. “I thought I was helping!” was a tiny defense, and even in my mind I didn’t believe I’d get let off the hook.

 

I didn’t think I should be let off the hook.

 

At the same time - Auri needed something more. Perhaps her attempts at jumping into the campfire was more than baby bird silliness, like her attempts at drowning herself in the water barrel was, or nearly getting stepped on, or jumping out of the nest. Perhaps there’d been some instincts at work, a primal part of her that demanded fire.

 

She’d needed considerable heat to hatch in the first place. She hatched in a blazing inferno. I still didn’t have my hair fixed again after that.

 

Focus.

 

Everything about her had revolved around fire until now. I eyed her.

 

Her coloring hadn’t changed a bit as she’d grown up. Even now she looked like ashes and soot.

 

If I was wrong, Auri would die. Either way.

 

If I kept her ‘safe’, she might die because she needed flames.

 

If I exposed her to fire, she could die because of it. She was so tiny. So fragile. I could believe her life getting snuffed out before I had a chance to save her.

 

I made my choice.

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Selkie

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