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A note from Selkie

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“Auri! NO!” I yelled, throwing up a [Mantle] to protect the poor farmer’s harvest from Auri’s attempts to ‘improve’ it.

 

I was fast enough. This time.

 

“Brrrpt! Brrrrrrrrrrrpt!!!” Auri complained at me, flitting around the protected cart.

 

“I’m so sorry.” I told the poor farmer, who just narrowed his eyes at Auri.

 

[Pest begone]” He pointed a finger at Auri, and a high-speed jet of water sprayed out of his finger.

 

My reflexes were great. I flickered the shield, changing it from protecting the cart from Auri’s attempts at pyromancy, to protecting Auri and the cart.

 

I wasn’t going to be paying out for another farmer’s harvest.

 

I got the evil eye from the farmer, which, I suppose was fair. From his point of view, some creature had zipped in, and was trying to burn a chunk of his harvest that he was bringing to market. He was simply trying to get rid of the pest - he literally had a skill for it - and I was randomly barging in and saving said nuisance.

 

And Auri was a nuisance and a half. Still loved her though.

 

The farmer opened his mouth, probably to yell at me. I curtailed all that by speaking super-duper fast.

 

“Sorry! Super sorry! Won’t happen again! No harm, no foul, right? Auri, let’s goooooo!”

 

I wrapped a protesting Auri in [Mantle], and hauled ass before the farmer could get a good yelling in. I just didn’t feel like listening to the same “you need to be more careful” or “you need to keep that bird under control” lecture for the 8th or 14th time, respectively.

 

Worse was the “That menace should be put down!”

 

It’d only happened once, but Auri had been super upset over it. We’d needed to find a nice tree for her to entirely burn down before she was happy again.

 

“Brrrpt! Brrrrrrrrrpt! BRPT!” Auri was protesting her treatment. She didn’t like being in the hamsterball.

 

“Aoife Auri Stentor.” I gave her full name. She seemed to realize that meant she was in trouble, and she shrunk down a bit. “You are in a lot of trouble, young miss. You can’t just go around burning everything!” I tried to explain for… at least the 30th time, I’d lost count a while ago.

 

“Brrrrrrrrrpt!”

 

“No.”

 

“Brpt!”

 

“No!”

 

“Brrrrpppt!”

 

I’d gotten over arguing with a bird a long time ago.

 

Hang on. My current methods weren’t working. I released Auri, and she flitted around me.

 

“Brpt! Brrrrpt!! Brpt!” She sang her song of joy, alighting on my shoulder and nuzzling my cheek.

 

“Yeah, you’re pretty awesome.” I brought one finger up to stroke her along the beak, then over her head and down her back.

 

“BrRRRRRRRrrrPT!” Auri peeped in delight at the move, and I kept it up.

 

“Ok, you like burning things.” I stated.

 

“Brrrpt.” Auri was unimpressed with my amazing deductions.

 

“You like burning everything.”

 

“Brpt!”

 

“How would you feel if I burned your flowers before you could?”

 

“BRRRRRRrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRppppppPPPPTTT!!” Auri’s outraged shriek, right next to my ear, made me wince.

 

“Auri, that was very loud. I don’t like it when you’re very loud in my ear. It hurts me when you do that.” I slowly, patiently explained to her.

 

“Brrrrpt.” Auri gave me an apology.

 

“Right. You dislike it when other people burn your stuff. That farmer is using what he’s bringing to make money, and with money, he can buy things like firewood, so he can burn it. You burning his stuff, means that he can’t burn it himself. That makes him sad.”

 

“BRPT!” Auri sounded like Artemis had gotten ahold of her. I looked over at the bird sitting on my shoulder.

 

She was sitting there with a thousand-mile stare, eyes wide open as realizations crashed over her. Her mind was completely blown. I could practically see empathy developing as the idea of “other people want to and are allowed to burn things too” rocked her little world.

 

I walked in silence with her, getting further and further away from Deva. Nice to see the city again. Didn’t want to try taking a boat back to Ariminum, not after the pirate disaster last time.

 

Also. Auri, over a lot of water, with the only thing to burn being the BOAT?

Yeah. I could only see that ending in flames, screaming, a torrid romance, and a captain stoically going down with his boat.

Or ship. Whatever.

 

Plus, I suspected I was faster, even with Auri slowing me down.

 

I was super pleased with Auri finally seeming to figure out “don’t burn other people’s stuff”, and I decided to play one of her favorite games.

 

I snagged a broken branch on the side of the road.

 

“Here! Burn this!” I suggested to Auri.

 

“Brpt!” She exclaimed as the wood went up in flames. I looked at the burning stick I was holding.

 

She’d gone for the “slow burn” this time, as opposed to the “incinerating pillar of fire”.

 

Well, whatever made her happy.

 


 

A few days later, I turned a corner on a road, deep inside a forest, and cursed.

 

“Oh not this again.” I complained at the numerous ‘fallen boulders’ on the road. “Honestly, every time I come back home from Deva, it’s [Pirates], [Thieves], or [Brigands]. Seriously!?” I threw my hands up in frustration. A voice chuckled from the woods, and the aforementioned [Brigands] emerged.

 

There were a lot of them. 26, all with the characteristic ex-military look to them. Right level range as well. Bunch of [Warriors] levels 160-230. Made me wonder if the Senate - or Emperor, I had no idea what the details of the current governorship was - had disbanded a number of armies, and some of the soldiers had decided to keep using violence to fill their stomachs.

 

“Well miss healer, if you’ve been robbed before, you know the drill.” One of them said. “Your money or your life!”

 

I rolled my eyes at the bandit.

 

“Fine, fine. Three coins, and you all move the boulders out of my way.” I proposed.

 

“Brpt!” Auri defiantly cheeped, flying off my shoulder and hovering protectively in front of me.

 

We all stared at the little bird. I facepalmed.

 

“Auri, yes, thank you for trying to protect me.”

 

“Brrrrrpt!” Auri was making the most adorable threatening noises. She was trying to be fierce, but she was so SMALL AND CUTE!!

 

Oh no.

 

Oh NO!

 

That’s how most people saw ME.

 

That’s why I’d been offered the [Kitty has Claws] skill back with the dwarves!

 

“I mean, yes, you can burn the bad guys, but it’s a bad idea. They’re much stronger than you! You need to-”

 

Auri completely disregarded me, and threw as much fire as she could manage at one of the [Brigands].

 

Which was, quite frankly, a pathetic amount. I’d be surprised if she had 1000 mana points total, and it wasn’t like she was swimming in magic power to make her flames particularly impressive.

 

They splashed over one of the bandits, and they seemed to stick.

 

The former soldiers responded the way they were trained. Overwhelming violence to “solve” the problem, in this case, a hostile monster.

 

They… weren’t exactly wrong in their assessments or actions. I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt Auri, and it was trivial to reasonably assume that they’d be attacking me next.

 

There was no contest between my power level, and theirs. I was faster and tougher, and that was my pseudo-dump stats against their primary stats.

 

That was before my magic, of course.

 

I was sick and tired of killing. I didn’t need to kill right now, the disparity in levels, stats, and training was so large. [Bullet Time] wasn’t even activating, which was more than a bit obnoxious.

 

At the same time, I wasn’t going to take any risks with Auri.

 

I threw my shield around her, and launched dozens of Radiance beams, flickering them in and out of existence as quickly as I could imagine them. I aimed for their knees, elbows, hips, shoulders, and hands.

 

They were all [Warriors], and as much as I was calling them [Bandits] and [Brigands], truthfully they probably all had [Soldier of Remus] or [Legionnaire] variants. Classes and skills from the Formorian war.

 

Two by two they dropped, screaming and spasming as I blew through their joints, as I crippled each one in rapid-fire succession. My sixth-biggest concern was blow-through. Shooting bandit #8’s shoulder out had my Radiance beam go through bandit #19’s lung, and I’d be pissed if any of them died after I tried so hard to keep them alive.

 

Bandit #20 flashed silvery as I tried to destroy his knees, and my Radiance beams angled off wildly. Each one burned through bandits that were already on the ground, drilling new holes through their torsos.

 

I quickly evaluated them. No heart shots. Nothing that couldn’t wait a minute or two.

 

I moved on, dropping the rest of the [Brigands] while bandit #20 charged me with a roar, sword out. I finished dealing with the rest of them before #20 got to me, then moved.

 

He only had a short sword. The standard [Legionnaire] equipment of shields, spears, and their heavy armor was entirely missing. He was wielding it like a soldier did.

 

Like Rangers did.

 

Like every single one of my sparring partners over the long years did.

 

I knew the moves. I was familiar with the motions. I’d seen them, done them, tens of thousands of times.

 

I drew my knife, and twisted out of the way of his thrust, slicing lightly along his bicep as I passed by him.

 

Damn my low strength. I’d wanted to slice clean through his muscle and disable his arm, but no luck. I noticed that my arm twitched sympathetically in the same spot.

 

A reflection skill? Maybe?

 

It didn’t matter, my healing was too good.

 

I got a second slash across his back, abusing my high speed before he whirled on me, and thrust his sword at my belly.

 

I dodged this time, his arm going right past me. I brought my own hand and knife close.

 

I was in position for a textbook disarming, but part of the textbook disarming required a certain amount of strength relative to my opponent. I didn’t think I had that. I wasn’t quite so powerful that the stat I ignored entirely would be higher than a stat my opponent focused on.

 

Instead, I slashed at his wrist and delicate tendons, opening up his arm and forcing him to drop his sword. With one fluid motion, I continued the knife’s path upwards, to the brigand’s eye.

 

He stopped short as I held my blow, the tip of my knife touching his eyeball. The threat was clear, the result of the fight obvious.

 

I was so much better than him that I could afford mercy.

 

“Down.” I snarled.

 

Everything had happened fast.

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri made a noise of protest at being trapped in my shield again, the poor bird’s stats so low that she didn’t even start to process what was happening until now. The fight was over, and her reflexes were just kicking in now for the start of it!

 

The highwayman dropped to his knees, and at my light tapping - a scratch or two on his eyeball wouldn’t kill him - he laid down belly-first on the ground.

 

“Now, do you really want to make this a full fight?” I asked the Mirror bandit, in an oh-too-sweet voice.

 

Internally, I was sweating bullets. A physical Mirror classer was one of my worst nightmares. My magic was almost entirely useless against them, and if I couldn’t run, I’d have to fight them hand to hand. I was not a hand to hand fighter. I had some training, I was alright at it, I had [Sentinel’s Superiority] - ok, fine, maybe I was OK at it. As demonstrated by the fight we’d just had.

 

I felt like I’d gotten lucky though, but I couldn’t pinpoint why. Maybe it was the sheer tyranny of stats, and that I hadn’t encountered a Mirror classer that was too powerful?

 

Plus, I could always just go for “Let’s both stab each other” then just heal whatever they did to me.

 

Only if I dramatically overpowered them though. Too easy to imagine a Mirror classer utterly outclassing me to the point where I couldn’t manage that.

 

“No.” He squeaked out.

 

“Good!” I remained kneeling on him, looking around at the men who’d just tried to rob me. About a third were screaming and crying, and the rest were more sort of twitching, antipain skills stopping things from hurting. Didn’t mean they could use their arms with their shoulders and elbows burned through.

 

“Now, for the conversation I was hoping to have before this got ugly.” I said from my new throne. “You all look like you used to be soldiers, right?”

 

One of the brigands tried to spit at me, having no chance at actually hitting me. It was more about the message.

 

I expertly sniped it out of the air with a precision blast of Radiance, leaving him cross-eyes at a brand-new scorch mark in front of him.

 

“Yes.” One of them eventually admitted.

 

“It’s a sad day when soldiers have turned to banditry.” I shook my head somewhat dramatically. “Anyways. Let me introduce myself. Hi. Sentinel Dawn here.”

 

Loud groans and cries of dismay across all the robbers met my proclamation. They were soldiers. They were intimately familiar with Rangers, and by extension, Sentinels.

 

We were the best. Creatures more myth than reality, they’d probably only heard stories of us. Stories, where we grew bigger and stronger with each retelling, like the prize fish that got bigger every time the [Fisherman] described it.

 

My complete domination - seriously, one vs almost thirty? It was the sort of stuff from stories - made my announcement all the more believable. So did taking out my badge, and letting them all get a nice, long, good look at it.

 

“You can double check my level if you’d like.” I let some mischief enter my voice, as I edited my level to 600.

 

“This is your fault!” One of the bandits flopped over towards a second one, trying to headbutt him. It looked like - and was as effective as - a fish out of water. Kinda funny though.

 

“Now. I’m in a decent mood. I’m back in Remus. I’m almost home. I really, really do not want to either murder you all, nor leave you out here to become dinosaur food.”

 

I got some appreciative noises, and a few sycophantic ones.

 

“Oh great Sentinel! I’ll serve you to the end of my days!” One cried out. I gave him a flat stare.

 

“And have you hanging around me all the time? Ew. No.”

 

Some of the other bandits - honestly there were too many to properly keep track - went with jeering and insulting the one bandit I’d insulted.

 

“Ha! Cadmus! You’re so ugly, even as a free slave you got rejected!”

 

Blah. Too many people trying to figure out how to get on my good side. I clapped my hands to get their attention.

 

“Ok! Thank you! Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to heal you all up. Then you’re all going to march back to Deva as quickly as you can, report to the local guard, and let them know that Sentinel Dawn has sentenced you all to three months of slavery. I’ll be checking back on you, to make sure you did it. You don’t want me to find out you haven’t. Any questions?”

 

Three months was the largest penalty I was willing to issue. Any longer, and the bandits would start to seriously consider their chances at just… running away, and taking their chances.

 

It wasn’t a great solution. It wasn’t even a good solution.

 

But nobody died today. The bandits would get off the road, leaving it safe for travelers. The local guard would become aware of them, and know their names and faces.

 

If I was extra-lucky, the few months in slavery would also get them to know people, and a new profession, and they could move onto more honest work. I was dreaming a bit with that last one, but hey, a girl could hope.

 

One of the soldiers - the one who got his lung hit - coughed.

 

“How are we supposed to get there?” He cried. “I can’t even breathe.”

 

I rolled my eyes. He was being melodramatic.

 

“I’ll fix you up. I literally just said that. Did none of you see the [Healer] tag?”

 

Dumbass.

 

“What if we don’t all get there?”

 

Hmmm. The more questions I let them have, the less mysterious and scary I was, the higher the chance that this would all go sideways.

 

Time to do one of the [Drill Instructor]’s favorite tricks! They were all ex-army, they’d totally understand me.

 

“I’m so glad there are no more questions! I expect you all to get to Deva by nightfall!” I put on a fake-cheery voice, which hopefully had them all going ‘oh shit she’s being WAY TOO NICE.’

 

It wasn’t one of the official Ranger Academy lessons, but we’d all learned how the army worked. I was pulling from my memories of when the instructors had been scariest.

 

I got up, and lightly kicked Mirror bandit.

 

“Up you go! Run soldier, RUN! Run like the Formorians are out to get you! Run like there’s a mad Sentinel behind you who’ll change her mind and catch you! Run!”

 

“Brpt!” Auri ‘helped’ the soldier along by scolding him herself. It was a good effort.

 

I had my best “tone of command” voice, and it worked. I hated calling him a soldier - he’d clearly left, and was a bit of a disgrace to the name - but doing so touched something deep inside, triggered his memories and training, and he moved.

 

I gave him a bit of a headstart, then did the rest in one big group. I didn’t want them to get inured to my shouting.

 

I shook my head as I watched the last dust cloud settle.

 

“Good job Auri.” I told my little troublemaker as I released her.

 

“Brrrpt!” She flew around me, complaining about her rough treatment. “BrrrrRRRRRRrrrrrRRRRRRRpt!”

 

“I needed to keep you safe.” I explained as I grabbed one of the mango juice jars. I needed a stiff drink. Barring that, a sweet drink would do just fine.

 

“Brrrrrpt!”

 

“No. You can’t keep yourself safe yet, let alone me.” I offered Auri the open jug. She took a sip, then hovered in front of me, all the colors of fire blazing in the afternoon light.

 

“Brpt! Brpt!” She protested.

 

I was still riled up from the fight, and I snapped a bit.

 

“Auri. You are a kid. You are a baby. You have no idea how big the world is. You don’t even have the slightest idea how dangerous it is. You attacked with everything you had, and the bad guy shrugged it off like it was nothing, because, right now, you’re not very strong. People and things can hurt you. They can hurt me. Be careful! Please! That’s all I want, is you to be safe and happy.”

 

“Brpt…” Auri cheeped sadly. I felt my heart melt, and some of the stress left me. I patted my shoulder.

 

“Come on. Why don’t you take a break here? Show off a bit. Show me how colorful you can be! Show me how pretty you are!”

 

“Brpt!” Auri dashed over to my shoulder, and fanned her flaming wings out.

 

“Brpt!” She showed off one angle, then the next.

 

“Oooh, how pretty!” I cooed.

 

“Brpt!” Some of her flames flickered, changing color slightly.

 

“Wow! Amazing!”

 

“Brpt!”

 

We kept walking along, Auri showing off as I gushed over her.

 


 

In what felt like no time at all - less than a week, most of the distance covered by high-speed flying while Auri napped - I saw the gleaming walls of Ariminum break over the horizon.

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Selkie

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