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A note from Selkie

Back to the regularly scheduled shenanigans!!

“Oh thank goodness.” I collapsed back in my chair. Julius was only missing, not dead.

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri agreed, hopping onto the table. I quickly repositioned a plate to catch her.

 

Ooof. There went the rest of my food, but at least Auri was happy and distracted for the moment.

 

“Thank goodness?!” Artemis stood up so fast her chair hit the wall. “What do you mean, thank goodness?!”

 

“Brrrpt!” So much for keeping Auri distracted. She flew up, hovering protectively in front of me. “Brrpt! Brrpt!”

 

“I mean, the way you were talking about him, I was thinking he was dead!” I protested. “I got declared missing in action, and look at me now!”

 

Artemis looked vaguely embarrassed as she got her chair back. A mollified Auri went back to igniting my lunch.

 

“Oh right. Yeah. Gotta tell me more about that… fireball… of yours. Still, Ranger Commanders don’t exactly fall off the map, and he went missing near here. There aren’t exactly a lot of holes that he could’ve fallen into, and still be alive.”

 

My mind whirled, thinking of possibilities. Not so much actual ideas, as much as reassuring Artemis. And myself.

 

“Could’ve…. Been secretly arrested?” I ventured tentatively.

 

Artemis snorted.

 

“You think I don’t have a long list of possibilities already?”

 

There was the sound of a door being violently opened from across the house.

 

“Elaine!?” Dad shouted with everything he had.

 

“DAD!”

 

I left Auri on the table, and sprinted through the house. Rooms blurred, and why did I agree to take a place so big?!

 

“DAD!” I yelled, seeing him.

 

“Elaine!”

 

He threw his arms out as I practically tackled him, grabbing me in a hug and twirling me around.

 

“We were so worried about you!” I could hear him crying.

 

My face was buried in his chest. I just nodded, tears running down my face.

 

“I’m home now.” I said, doing my utter best to crush dad.

 

I had a BUNCH of strength now! Rawr! Feel my grip!

 

“Yeah… you are.” Dad agreed, just continuing to hold me. As he rocked me, like I was a small kid again.

 

I curled up in his arms, and just let him, hoping my hug could convey all the emotions, all the feelings, I didn’t have the proper words for. Who cared that he was wearing his hard, formal Praetorian armor? He was still here. Still dad. Still fine.

 

“Elainus! Get your lazy ass over here!” Artemis shouted from across the house, breaking the moment.

 

“Artemis!?” Dad almost dropped me in shock.

 

“Oh yeah, she’s around.” I said.

 

Dad squeezed me again.

 

“Cool your blasted impatient heels!” He roared. “My daughter’s back home at last!”

 

“Well, that’s your call, but your table’s on fire!” Artemis seemed positively gleeful at that.

 

“Fuck! Auri!” I wriggled free of dad’s hug, and sprinted back through the house.

 

“What!?” Dad… was quite a bit slower than I’d expect. Kinda made me sad.

 

I was all grown up, and faster than he was.

 

I made my way back to the dining room, annnnnnnnd yup. Auri had, for whatever reason, set half the table on fire.

 

Artemis, with her usual aplomb, had made a small earthen wall splitting the table in half, and was still eating on her non-burning side, practically ignoring the fire near her elbows.

 

“Aoife Auri Stentor! You put those flames out right now.” I waved my finger at her.

 

“Brrpt! Brrrrrrrrpt!”

 

Auri flew up from the table, all of the flames seemingly following her, then getting sucked in and absorbed by her tiny body. She flew around me at what was high-speed for her, cheeping her happiness at seeing me again.

 

“Brrrpt! Brrrpt! Brrrrrrrrrrrpt!!”

 

I grinned at her.

 

“Yeah, I just needed to step over for a second! This is our home! Dad just came back!”

 

“Brrrpt!?!”

 

“Yes, I have a dad.”

 

“Brrrpt!?!”

 

“Almost everyone has a mom and a dad, yes.”

 

“Brrppt….?”

 

Oooof.

 

“I… don’t know about your dad.” I admitted.

 

I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t really her “mom”, because for all practical purposes, I kinda was.

 

“Where’s the fire?!” Dad burst into the room, taking it in at a glance. Seeing the half-burned, half-perfect table, and Artemis continuing to eat, he came to the natural conclusion.

 

“Artemis! You didn’t need to set our table on fire! I was coming!”

 

She froze, a duck wing halfway to her mouth.

 

“I didn’t!” She protested, and I giggled. The long tradition of Artemis getting blamed for everything that went wrong when she was around continued.

 

“Yeah, ok.” The corner of dad’s lips quirked, and I could tell he was having fun at her expense.

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri flew up in front of dad, and hovered in his face.

 

“Auri! Careful of your embers!”

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri protested. Dad leaned back, getting out of the danger zone.

 

“Whoa! Who’s this?”

 

“Dad, Auri. Auri, this is my dad.” I said, making the introductions.

 

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Auri.”

 

“Brrpt!” Auri decided she liked dad, and landed on his shoulder.

 

“Awww, so cute, she-”

 

Dad managed a few words before learning that Auri either didn’t have good control of her fire, or wanted to light him on fire.

 

I was pretty sure she was just being friendly…

 

Either way, the bit of tunic sticking out was now Auri’s favorite material.

 

“FIRE!” Dad yelled.

 

His reflexes were entirely understandable. He tried to shrug Auri off, while slapping the fire out - which had Auri directly in the line of fire.

 

A quick [Mantle] slowing - no, wait, stopping - his arm, and my own hand darted out to grab Auri.

 

Dad was doing a lot of yelling, Auri was crying a bunch, Artemis was shouting, it was pandemonium.

 

I took a few quick steps back as Auri protested in my hands, burning them as dad wildly slapped at his burning shoulder… and hair.

 

“Barrel!” Artemis pointed to the water barrel in the corner of the room. Dad ran over, and dunked himself in it.

 

I grimaced. Oooh, that was going to be a pain to replace.

 

“Brrrpt!! Brrrpt. Brrrpt.” Auri was crying and complaining. The bad man didn’t like her fire, and liked the water more. This sucked! This…

 

“Ok, well, when I woke up this morning the last things I expected were to see Artemis free, my lovely daughter returned, and for me to get set on fire by her pet.”

 

“BRRRRRRRRRPT!” Auri did NOT like being called a pet. She shot a burning quill at dad, and I intercepted it with a flicker of [Mantle].

 

Auri needed to grow up and mature before she leveled up too much. I couldn’t imagine the chaos and problems that would arise if I couldn’t quickly and easily overpower her in every way.

 

Dad gave Auri the side-eye, but didn’t say anything more about her. He wasn’t an idiot, he saw how protective I was being of her. He was also all too happy to see me home, and indulge me in every way.

 

“What’s next? Thousands of rods rain down from the sky?” Dad raised his arms and looked up, as if begging the heavens to open up and deposit money into his arms.

 

“That would destroy the entire house.” Artemis pointed out between mouthfuls. Crisis averted, she was back at the trough. “Probably kill most everyone in the city as well.”

 

Dad glared at Artemis. “Let me dream!”

 

“Of killing everyone? Welllll…….” Artemis drew it out, letting dad know exactly what she thought of that.

 

“How’d you get free?” Dad was freely shucking off his armor and clothes, getting out of the wet, burned mess.

 

Artemis jerked her head over to me.

“Elaine here just freed me.”

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri wasn’t quite sure about this whole “freeing” and “slavery” thing - I hadn’t gotten to that part of her education yet - but she clearly approved of whatever I’d done, and Artemis being happy about it.

 

Dad’s shoulders slumped, tension bleeding out of them.

 

“Oh thank goodness. Wait, what? How? How much was it?”

 

“2000 rods.” I answered.

 

Dad went white.

 

I paled as my heart thudded in my chest.

 

“Please tell me I didn’t screw things horribly money-wise.”

 

Dad took a deep, bracing breath and shook his head.

 

“Probably not. Once we got your letter, we did what you suggested, and invested in the new town. Drained most of your savings. However, once you were declared missing in action? They stopped paying you.”

 

My face must’ve been a sight. Why, I was going to storm right over to Ranger HQ and -

 

“Chill healy-bug!” Artemis spoke around a mouthful of food. “They’ll pay you everything once you show up.”

 

Oh thank goodness.

 

“Elaine! Where’s my baby!? ELAINE!” Mom’s voice echoed through the house.

 

I wanted to sprint off and greet mom, just like I had dad.

 

I knew that Auri would cause even more trouble if I did.

 

Gritting my teeth and clenching my hands, I yelled back.

 

“Dining room!”

 

It killed me to wait. To hear mom’s slow - to my ear - footfalls going through the house.

 

“Come on Auri!” I said after a brief moment. “Let’s say hi to mom!”

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

I walked, mentally squashing the urge to curse Auri’s slow speed. She was just a baby. She was doing her best.

 

An eternity later - in a flash, a heartbeat - mom was there. Hugging me, holding me.

 

“My baby.” She murmured into my ear. “My poor, sweet baby, home at last.”

 

I was bawling.

 

“I’m here mom. All safe. Home. I love you. Thank you.”

 

I didn’t know what I was thanking her for, just… yeah.

 

I was home again. There was nothing quite like a mother’s arms, a mother’s love. There wasn’t anything the same as the bond we had - except maybe my bond with Artemis.

 

She was holding me tightly, and I swear I felt all her worries melt away. The endless nights, laying awake, wondering if I was alive or dead. The times she was sure I’d died in the wilderness - what else could possibly stop me from coming home? Cursing herself for letting me have a dangerous job.

 

“You’re home now. You’re home. It’s all ok.” She continued to murmur in my ear.

 

I just nodded, tears staining her tunic. Neither of us cared.

 

All that was gone now. Her only daughter was home, safe and sound.

 

“Brrrpt!” Auri interrupted our reunion. “Brrrpt! Brrrrpt!”

 

“Oh?” Mom kept hugging me, but popped her head up and looked around. “And who’s this cutie?”

 

“This is Auri!” I proudly told mom. “Found the egg, and hatched her myself! I hope we’ll become companions one day.”

 

“Oh my! How wonderful to meet you Auri!”

 

“Brrrpt!!” Auri moved like she wanted to land on mom.

 

Mom was a healer, but was much more fragile than I was. I shifted myself, preparing to intercept.

 

“Now, you look a little hot to land right on me! One moment, little Auri.” Mom disengaged, and I reluctantly let her go. A quick movement later, and mom had grabbed one of her famous wooden spoons from somewhere.

 

“Here! A perch for you!” Mom held the large spoon out - practically a ladle - and Auri buzzed over to it.

 

“Brrrpt!!” Auri landed, and, predictably, the top of the spoon where she was sitting burst into flames.

 

“Brrrpt!!!!” Auri crowed her delight.

 

Mom looked at her flaming spoon like she’d never seen it before, a maniacal grin crossing her face.

 

“Oooh, I like you Auri. I like you a lot. I think we’re going to do great things together.”

 

That WAS MORE THAN A LITTLE OMINOUS. Mom!? What the heck?!

 

…. Maybe pyromania ran in the family. Was my love of fire inherited?!

 

Either way, I didn’t want to get walloped by a flaming spoon.

 

Mom waved the spoon around experimentally, embers popping off as Auri clutched the end.

 

“Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpt!” Auri’s voice went in and out as she spun around wildly, laughing at the sensation. “Brrrrrrrpt!”

 

“Yeah, you like that don’t you?” Mom cooed at her.

 

I was starting to feel a little jealous.

 

“Let’s go sit with everyone else! Artemis is here!”

 

“Artemis!” Mom cried out. “You should’ve said something earlier!”

 

We bustled over to the dining room. Mom took one look at the table.

 

“Now listen here young miss.” She addressed Auri, still sitting on her spoon. “We’ll have none of that nonsense here in this house.”

 

“Brrrpt?!”

 

“No.” Mom’s tone was Final.

 

“Brrrpt…”

 

Holy shit.

 

How had she done that?!

 

There was no way it was because of her experience with me. I had been a paragon of virtue growing up! I hadn’t gotten into that much mischief. Just the barrel incident. And the case of the crossed tunics. And that time when…

 

Nope. Wasn’t me. Not at all.

 

“Right. Food! Elainus, where are your clothes?! Go get dressed! Elaine’s back! Artemis is here and free! Then grab the nice bread from the kitchen on your way back. Artemis, plates, utensils, mugs for everyone. It’s not just you that needs to eat, you know. Get enough for everyone. I’ll be in the kitchen, seeing what you savages have left for me to cook. Chop chop!”

 

Artemis jumped at being called out.

 

“But I just got freed!” She whined. “This is the best place to eat!”

 

“And that’s no excuse for poor manners. Now go!” Mom waved her newest weapon at Artemis, who went cross-eyed trying to keep track of mom’s new flaming spoon.

 

“Yes Julia! Why doesn’t Elaine have to do anything?”

 

Mom and I sent identical glares Artemis’s way, for entirely different reasons. I was trying to figure out why Artemis was throwing me under the wagon.

 

“Elaine has practically come back from the dead. She can have a day off.”

 

“Yeah, I’m really hard to kill. I can survive decapitation!”

 

Mom whirled on me. “Just how would you know that?”

 

“Uh…”

 

A few minutes of me trying to evade mom’s questions, and her relentless interrogation - combined with dad, who also wanted to know - and I confessed. All the training in the world was useless before loving parents.

 

“YOU WHAT!?” Mom shrieked at me, her volume drowning out anything anything else said. She pointed her new flaming spoon at me.

 

“Elaine. There will be no more decapitations, do you hear me? It’s strictly forbidden.”

 

Well, geez. When you put it THAT way, thanks mom.

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“I don’t need sass from you as well.” I gave Auri a Look, who smugly let it slide off of her.

 

She had my mom - and her flaming spoon - on her side.

 

Auri and I sat like queens as activity swirled around us, everyone getting a lovely repast ready. Auri even had some nice fruit juice!

 

But best of all, mom had mangos in stock.

 

I slowly ate them, one at a time, splitting off a piece for Auri whenever she wanted some. Hey, I needed an appetizer! And it’d be bad for Auri to go hungry.

 

Dad was the first to sit down, and nodded at me.

 

“Julia always made sure we had some fresh ones in stock.” He said. “No matter how we despaired at the odds of you making it home, she never gave up. No matter how tight money got, no matter the seasons, she always managed to find a fresh batch in the market.”

 

My throat closed up as I tried to keep the tears from turning on again. I slowed way down, savoring each piece in my mouth until it practically dissolved, before going onto the next one.

 

Mangos were the best.

 

These? These were the best mangos I’d ever had.

 

That I ever would have.

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Selkie

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