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A note from Selkie

I want to give a quick shoutout to a story one of my beta readers writes, Feast or Famine!

 

Morgan Mallory was a perfectly ordinary college student until she was whisked away to another world full of strange creatures and wondrous magic. She is completely mentally stable, has no childhood trauma to speak of, and has certainly never engaged in self-destructive behavior as a form of punishment and emotional regulation. Morgan has always dreamed of getting isekai’d like the heroes in her favorite light novels, and she wants nothing more than to emulate those heroes. She has always wanted to help those less fortunate than herself, to stand up for the weak, and to be a righteous heroine who puts the needs of others before her own wants. And she has absolutely, positively, definitely never fantasized about murdering thousands, controlling minds, and pursuing total world domination. Trust her.

A few days after Auri ignited, I left Port Salona.

 

There wasn’t much of interest that happened, apart from Bossman and the rest of the Ranger team nearing the end of their investigation. Two squads of guards, with varying degrees of guilt, a single corrupt scribe, and a judge going senile seemed to be the score.

 

The scribe seemed to be the lynchpin of the operation. He was able to forge - well, forge was a bad word, since he was the one writing them out ‘for real’ anyways - documents that said a trial took place, and the verdict was whatever he decided it was. Generally harsh penalties for the loser.

 

The scheme was vaguely clever, in an evil way. The slaves were then often sold to a wealthy farmer, who needed extra farmhands or help around the house, keeping them away from the city and potential sources of justice. When the person being railroaded - always poor, and without connections or help to lean on - protested, the guards would cover each other.

 

If they made an appeal to the Rangers, and if the Rangers had enough time to investigate, they’d go to the courthouse. The paperwork - regardless of which scribe was looking things up - would always be in order. If, by some miracle, the Rangers went a step further and asked the judge about the case, the judge, not wanting to admit to the holes in his memory or declining faculties, would “remember” it happening.

 

At which point, why investigate further? Why hunt down the prosecutor in the case, who was harder to find than the judge at the jailhouse? Why look for any other collaborating evidence? Rangers were busy people, and multiple sources verifying that, yes, it was real?

 

It wasn’t like every single criminal ever claimed they were innocent, and appealed to the Rangers, hoping we’d screw up and let them go free. Our tolerance for looking into things depended on the team, how many complaints we got, and how busy we were.

 

Bossman and co’s problem at this point was unraveling just how long the scheme had been going on, trying to tease the fake trials from the real ones, and figure out how to “unwind” the dozens - hundreds? - of cases. How to resettle all the people back into lives and careers, and what compensation, if any, they could be given.

 

Selling the guilty into slavery could only generate so much coin, not nearly enough to cover all the costs.

 

The scribe was scheduled for public execution last I heard, which would reduce the pot of coins to cover the costs.

 

Their motive was, naturally, profit. The slaves were being sold “off the books” so to speak - in spite of them being on the books - and the guards and scribe were splitting the rather significant funds. Kind of like how the pirates were looking for slaves to sell.

 

The flesh industry was lucrative.

 

The governor was happy with us, and Bossman had reluctantly concluded that he was in the clear. The guards were effectively stealing from his coffer, and the governor’s [Penny Pincher] was delighted. We’d found the hole in his accounts! Balance to the balance sheets! Or some other nonsense that had him throwing us a “feast”.

 

Leftovers from an extravaganza the governor had thrown the night before. Dude lived up to his class alright.

 

Honestly. Leftover fish.

 

I was glad to be out of the way of all that, and just as happy to be able to leave on my own timeline. Wolfy wasn’t happy that I was leaving before the investigation was completely finished - he was going to have to get back to it!

 

I had quickly stopped by the temple on my way out, thanking all the gods and goddesses for my safe return to Remus. I figured while I was there, I’d drop a whole wishlist of things I wanted, most of which were impossible. Eh. Might as well try, right?

 

Auri was a troublemaker and a half. I double-checked my gear one last time.

 

Oversized backpack filled with supplies - check.

 

Metal plating for said backpack - check. Fireproofing my stuff from Auri was a challenge!

 

Deception Ring - check. Set back to 200. It had given me trouble in the past, but so was displaying my true level. Heck, most levels came with a degree of trouble, and when push came to shove, I’d rather be under-estimated.

 

Three amphorae of clay corked fruit juice - check.

 

Mistweave - check. Auri would burn anything else, and think it was great fun.

 

Heavy-duty gloves intended for forge work - check. I could just grab Auri with my bare hands, but I didn’t like the smell of my own flesh cooking. Gave me horrible flashbacks.

 

“Ok Auri, we’re going to get going now. We’re going to my home! You’re going to meet my parents! And the other Sentinels! And Kallisto! And everyone else! It’s super exciting, right?”

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri agreed with me!

 

“If you let me carry you, we can be there SUPER FAST! Isn’t that cool?”

 

“Brrrrrpt.” Auri fluttered in front of me, wings beating so quickly they tried to blur, throwing multi-colored sparks everywhere. It was only due to my crazy vitality that I could see them at all, although she’d be a menace if she invested in speed.

 

“Ok, yes, flying is the best thing ever.”

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri zipped down to where I had a jug of mango juice at my waist, and tapped on it a few times.

 

“I just fed you!”

 

“BRPT! BRPT!”

 

I held back a sigh, and refrained from rolling my eyes.

 

“Auri, if you do nothing but fly, of course you’ll be starving! That’s what I’m trying to say!”

 

BRrrrrrrpt” Auri trailed off sadly.

 

I narrowed my eyes at her.

 

“Fine.” I uncorked the jug that not five minutes ago Auri had gotten a drink from, and tipped the bottle over just enough for the juice to be at the lip.

 

Auri hovered right next to it, embers landing on my hand as she drank her fill. After a few seconds, she stopped and zipped around me.

 

“Brrrpt! Brrrpt! BRUPT!”

 

That last one sounded like more of a burp than a cheep of joy.

 

“Ok, you’ve had your drink, now come here! And we can get going!”

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri just kept zipping around me, excited to simply fly.

 

It did give me a chuckle. We were like two birds of a feather in that respect. I knew how much fun flying was, and I didn’t want to put a damper on her enthusiasm.

 

Instead, I took the moment to study her flight, hoping to improve [Scintillating Ascent]. I was torn if it was helping or not. On one hand, Auri was a low-level baby bird.

 

On the other, she was a phoenix. I couldn’t think of too many creatures that were better to study. I didn’t have a great grasp on how [Scintillating Ascent] evolved yet, but I couldn’t imagine constantly studying Auri was a bad idea.

 

We walked along for quite some time. I was going super slowly - compared to how quickly I could walk, let alone run, but I was letting Auri set the pace.

 


 

After an hour I was starting to get impatient though. At this rate, it would literally take me a year to finish getting back home. I decided to try and get a proper move on.

 

“You don’t want to fly on my shoulder? I can go super fast and super high!” I tried to cajole Auri.

 

“BrPT!” Auri fiercely denied me.

 

I frowned at her.

 

“Ok, now listen here young miss. We need to get a move on, and your antics are slowing us down!”

 

I got out The Gloves.

 

“Sorry Auri, but we do need to get moving.” I first caught her in my [Mantle], then closed the heavy-duty gloves around her. She struggled against the heavy gloves, not liking being trapped. Just like me…

 

I then took off, my wings interacting awkwardly and badly with the backpack I had on. I couldn’t properly flap them, which limited my speed.

 

Derp, right. I could just take it off, flip it around to make a front-pack, and go from there.

 

It was still a heck of a lot faster than nearly every other method of transportation I had available.

 

“Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpttttt… brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpppppppppttttttttt….” Auri was crying pitifully from where I was holding onto her, and my heart wavered.

 

Three minutes of her crying her little heart out later, and I yielded. I wanted to get home fast, yes, but not at the cost of our potential bond and relationship. If we had to get home the slow way, the slow way it was.

 

“Well, let’s go then.”

 

“Brrpt!”

 


 

Minor Interlude - Auri

 

6th day since Igniting.

 

Free! I was free! Freed from the crushing non-burning things. The things sick-mom put on her not-wings!

 

Nasty not-burning things. Mom had many many not-burning things.

 

Poor mom! Poor Elaine! She was SUPER SICK! All of her feathers were GONE! She had pretty wings of light-fire! I liked. They weren’t as pretty as me, but mom tried.

 

Free!

 

Free to fly around! Free to flit and weave, duck and dive! Free to explore the grand world around me! All the way from the ground that Elaine spent too much time walking on, all the way up to where trees started to have leaves!

 

Would you believe it, it looked like there was more above there? That trees grew endless leaves just for me to burn??

 

I zoomed around mom! Zoom! Zip! Pew! I let her know how happy I was!

 

“Thank you! Thank you! More juice?”

 

Mom bared her teeth. It meant she was happy! Yay happy mom! Yay happy! See, letting me fly was good! Everyone happy!

 

I flew to the edge of the world! The great shiny stone desert! Mom was walking across it. Go mom!

 

I helped! Lots of not-fire on the side of this “road” thing. Lots of leaves and sticks and - OOH!

 

Flower!

 

Yummy flower!

 

I buzzed over to the beautiful yellow flower, and took a sip of the nectar inside.

 

Mmmmm. Tasty!

 

Poor flower though. So sad. So droopy.

 

I help!

 

BURN!

 

It burned! Bright yellow, like the color of the flower! It was all ok now.

“Look at me! Look at me! Mom, I did it! I burned it! FIRE!”

 

“Auri, if you burn the flowers, how do you expect to get more nectar from them?” Mom made that big breathing noise. She did that a lot. More proof that she was sick.

 

Bug! Food! Tasty food! Whooof! Flames! Burn the bug! Cook it!

 

Zoof! Zap! Catch!

 

Yummy yummy in my tummy.

 

More things to burn! Whoosh! The flat green things burn! The long brown things are on fire.

 

Fire.

 

FIRE.

 

Glorious fire!

 

“Auri, stop burning everything. Come on, let’s go!” Mom said.

 

Stop… burning everything?

 

What?

 

No way mom was ok.

 

My stomach felt unhappy. I flew to mom’s bath in a bottle and pecked at it. Peck! Peck! Mom said to be polite. I was polite! Tap! Peck!

 

“Please?”

 

“Ok, but you should find your own. We don’t have unlimited amounts, not at the rate you drink at.” Elaine grabbed the bath, and opened it up.

 

My eyes went as wide as a berry. Mom’s portable cave was endless. An endless sea of delicious liquid! It tizzied! It tittered! It was the SECOND BEST THING EVER!

 

Mom was the best thing ever! She needed to get better! No sick!

 

First though. Delicious liquid was tasty-yummy! Made my mouth happy! Stomach happy!

 

Drink with the mouth! Made the mouth happy!

 

Wait!!!

 

If I used my wings, would that make my wings happy? My feet? ALL OF ME!?

 

YES! It must!

 

I zipped into the cavern!

 

“No!” Mom cried out. I ignored her. Full-body happy time!

 

Strange that mom kept it dark, and didn’t keep some fire in here. Everywhere should have fire!

 

JUICE!

 

I dove right in! Splish splash! Straight into the-

 

WET! WET! COLD! WET!

 

MY FIRE!

 

Mom grabbed me, and immediately heated me back up. My flames flickered. My flames caught.

 

I lived.

 

“Th-th-thank you.” I shivered out.

 

Mom was safe. I was going to stay with mom for a bit.

 

Elaine put me on the Podium of Adoration. All could see my beautiful flames from here! The reds! The oranges and blues, the greens and the whites, and best of all the purples and ulfires and jale!

 

The Podium wasn’t burnable today.


“Boo! BOO!” I let my displeasure be known.

“I know, you like that spot don’t you?” Mom answered back.

 

Bah. Mom didn’t always get me.

 

Mom also didn’t have her head-feathers. I did her a great favor! I turned them into fire! Good Auri! Good work!

 

“Brrrpt!” I cheeped happily at the memory.

 

Then mom’s burning-hair-feathers went away. EXTINGUISHED! Mom was super-duper sick. Her head should always be burning. Everything should be burning!

 

Then there was A Voice. A mysterious voice, a powerful voice, the Voice of Everything.

 

“Congratulations! You’ve survived your early weeks, and the System is now fully unlocked for you!”

 

“Congratulations! You’ve unlocked a number of General Skills! [Phoenix’s Perfection], [Alarm Call], [Begging], [Brrretty], [Large Appetite], [Preening], [Cute], [Flame Body], [Flying], [Presentation], [Adoration], [Vanity], [Understanding Mom], [Tough Feathers], [Baby Bird], [Precocious], [Incandescence], [Far Seeing], [Hovering], [Cutie Power], [Pointy Beak], [Mimic Mom], [Ponder], [Promethean Insight], [Adorable], [Flower Fascination].

 

“Congratulations! You’ve earned your first class - [Feather of Flame] - Inferno!”

 

Feather of Flame - A starter class for a phoenix, hatched by humans and elves working together.”

 

“Your class - [Feather of Flame] - has advanced from level 1 to level 8!”

 

“What?” I asked the voice.

 

“You now have access to the System.” It repeated. “For reaching level 8, you now have the ability to class up!”

 

“Can you tell me another way?” I asked, confused. Strange mystery words coming out of the air? It was confusing.

 

Flames erupted in front of me! Fire burn!

 

Ooooh. Eternally burning! Burning nothing, burning forever, good flames!

 

The flames made sense. The flames spoke of power - my power. They told me how to get stronger. How to make my flames burn bigger, hotter. How to make more fire. How to build an inferno.

 

And - AND - I could make it different! I could add more flames! Little sparks! Colorful embers!

 

I wanted EVERYTHING!

 

I only had 1, 2, 3… 4…counting was hard… 5… 6!

 

AND MORE!

 

MORE THAN 6 SPACES! Wow! It was like I could get EVERYTHING!

 

“Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Counting Hard or Hardly Counting?]”

 

Wow! Even more!

 

Ok!

 

I wanted THAT skill! And that skill! And those skills! YES!

 

Mom was the best! Flowers were the best!

 

I quickly filled in all the fires, making it the BIGGEST BESTEST FIRE EVER!

 

A glorious multi-colored flame was in the middle. I just knew what it did.

 

With some will, I went to the happy-fire-dreamland.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Flowers! Flowers everywhere! Glorious flowers stretching in front of me, almost all a blazing red color! The best color, the color of FIRE!

 

A few rare ones weren’t red. I buzzed over to them.

 

Zip! Zoop!

 

The after-burning color. Mom called it “grey”. It had a small red spot of nectar in the middle.

 

Fwish! Fwoop!

 

Mom-wing color. “Yellow”? Orange nectar!

 

Swish! Swoop!

 

Dark burning color, with little spots of brown. Not-red nectar.

 

Buzzz!

 

Two flowers near each other. One evil water color. “Blue”? Almost-red nectar in the middle. Boo! Bad blue! Zoom to the other flower!

 

The other was the same color as the HUGE birds in the sky! The birds were weird! Always the same color, didn’t flap their wings.

 

Vroop! Vrisht!

 

Last weird flower! Charcoal color! Good color, color of burning things. Orange fire nectar spot.

 

Then a huge bird of flames came! Big wings! Huge beak! Great talons! Every color of fire!

 

I wanted to be just like her.

 

“Auri!” She said. “Hi! I’m your guide!”

 

I instantly knew what a guide was, and what she was for. The flower petals were the type of flames I’d get. The nectar inside was how strong the flames would be.

 

But why was red the weakest? Red should be the strongest!

 

Although…

 

Although….

 

Thinking hurt.

 

I was every color of fire. Yup yup. That was good. All was right with the world.

 

The nectar was… also every color.

 

So… red wasn’t the best fire color. It was just a fire color, like the rest of them.

 

All fire colors were equally good! They all burned things!

 

Hurray!

 

“Yay! Guide! What do I do?”

 

Knowledge flooded into me, information communicated by some arcane means.

 

“Whoaaaaaaaaaaaa.” I looked at my guide in awe. “Cool! Do it again!”

 

She gave me an evil black-burning eye.

 

“Pick what you want.” She said. “I can help you.”

 

“BURN EVERYTHING! Oh, and have the BEST COLORS. Lots of fire. Make everyone look at me on the Podium of Adoration! Flames! Make mom better. She’s sick.” I got sad thinking about that.

 

I then perked up.

 

“Wait! Mom’s awesome! She’ll totally figure out how to get better! Give me an INFERNO!”

 

I learned all the burning words quickly. I was very happy with myself.

 

Guide swished her great beautiful wings, and the field of flowers flew under us. A beautiful red fire poppy awaited me, with a single drop of yellow nectar.

 

I hovered in front of the flower, my wings giving off wonderful sparks of flame. Spread the joy! Spread the fire! Look at how pretty I am!

 

The petals were telling me things.

 

Zippiness: FWISH! SWOOP!

Fancy Flying: All the twirls!

Kindling: Lots and LOTS!

New Juice: Two mango’s worth.

Flame Size: HUGE!

Fire Control: Smol.

 

Eh, that wasn’t needed.

 

“This one!”

 

“Excellent choice. Light the flower on fire, and make your choice.”

 

“NO!” I protested. “I want to burn ALL of them!”

 

“Just one.”

 

I wasn’t going to let the guide tell ME what to do! I burned the first one, then quick as thinking, went to burn ALL THE FLOWERS!

 

They wanted to be burned! They needed to turn into beautiful flames, like me! They would go away when I was done!

 

No!

 

Bring me back!

 

BRING ME BACK!

 

~~~~~~~

~Elaine~

 

I was flying fast. Auri was finally somewhat cooperative - and by that she wasn’t actively resisting me - and I was taking the chance to haul. I figured at this point I could fly at high speeds while Auri was sleeping, and walk slowly while she was awake. Suboptimal, but it shouldn’t add too much time to my trip.

 

The colorful phoenix had, after much excitement, suddenly gotten the distinct glowing halo of colors that indicated that she was classing up.

 

I was a bit jealous. Roughly a month after hatching, and not only had the System unlocked for her, but she’d gotten to level 8? Lyra, after a whole 8 years, had only managed to get level 7! Level 8 in a month, when all Auri did was eat, sleep, and burn things, was absurd!

 

I felt Auri stirring, and I dropped back down to the road, landing heavily among some travelers. I glanced down at her, [Identify]ing her to see what happened.

 

“Brrrpt! Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpt!!” Auri flew out of my hands, circling around me, all excited.

 

My jaw dropped, and with my vitality, I was able to pick out small details in her eyes.

 

“You’re an Inferno [Mage] now!?”

 

This must be my comeuppance for when I took a Fire mage class with the Rangers. Karma was biting me in the ass for the prank I pulled on Julius and the rest way back when.

 

I looked at Auri, happily blowing off jets of Inferno around her, reveling in her new abilities.

 

I looked at the travelers on the road, giving Auri and I wary looks. at least no sword was being unsheathed, not that I could blame them. I’d be doing the same if a tiny monster landed in front of me and started throwing around Lightning or something.

 

I thought about Auri’s inclination to burn everything.

 

Oh boy. I was in for it now.

 

[Name: Aoife Auri Stentor]

[Race: Phoenix]

[Age:0]

[Mana: 720/720]

[Mana Regen: 667]

Stats

[Free Stats: 0]

[Pushing Power: 48]

[Fancy Flying: 32]

[Reactions and Reflexes: 41]

[Zippiness: 46]

[Kindling: 72]

[New Juice: 71]

[Flame Size: 76]

[Fire Control: 71]

[Class 1: [The Eternal Flame - Inferno : Lv 9]]

[Inferno Authority: 1]

[Phoenix Rebirth: 1]

[Inferno Manipulation: 1]

[Inferno Conjuration: 1]

[True Flames: 1]

[Burn Magic: 1]

[Domain of Fire: 1]

[Burning Quills: 1]

[Class 2: [Locked]]

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[Class 3: [Locked]]

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General Skills

[Phoenix's Perfection: 1]

[Incandescence: 1]

[Adorable: 1]

[Precocious: 1]

[Flower Fascination: 1]

[Flying: 1]

[Preening: 1]

[Brrretty: 1]

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Selkie

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