A note from Selkie



The best story I've read in a while: Fox's Tongue and Kirin's Bone:


Seriously, it's fantastically amazing. I don't have enough good words to say about it.

So how about this? #5 on best rated, for a damn good reason.


Second shoutout! Trollmore asked me very nicely for a shoutout: Almost the front page of rising stars!

Lunch crept into dinner with the family as I regaled them with stories of my adventures, my mission Beyond The Wall to lands strange and fantastical.


They got a heavily, heavily redacted version. I would’ve skipped the decapitation, if it hadn’t already slipped. No almost-starving in the Below Levels.


No dragon.


No shimagu massacre.


I wasn’t quite ready to open up about them all.


At one point, Themis came back, and quietly inserted himself at the table. He hadn’t been able to escape guard training, the downside of being a trainee. He listened, as enraptured as everyone else.


“After Auri hatched, I got slowed waaaaaaaay down.” I leaned back in my chair, hands over my stomach. I swear I was going to pop with how much I’d eaten. “Couldn’t just fly right over.”


“Brrrpt!” Auri cheerfully agreed. I gave her a side-eye, unsure if she was happy about slowing me down, or what.


“The trip would’ve been boring if it wasn’t for Auri attempting to light everything in sight on fire. The first time she lit a farmer’s harvest…”


I pinched the bridge of my nose at the memory.


“Brrrpt! Brrrpt! Brrrrrrrrrpt!”


“Oh, don’t sound so pleased with yourself.” I managed to keep my tone playful.


“Sis. You’re talking to a bird.” Themis pointed out.


I narrowed my eyes at the brat.



“It’s kinda weird, you know?”


I shot Themis the unofficial one-fingered salute that every guard knew, and knew well.


“Had a run-in with two dozen bandits -”


Dad looked alarmed.


“Alone? By yourself? Are you ok? They didn’t do anything too bad? Rob you too-”


I rolled my eyes as I interrupted him.


“DAD! I’m fine. Radiance mage, remember? Sentinel, remember?”


Dad didn’t look convinced.


“But there were so many more of them than you. How…?”


“You’re vastly underestimating Elaine’s class quality, and how the advantage just gets larger past 256.” Artemis was acting the part of the wise sage, which was totally out of-






She’d been running a school for years now. In my mind, she was still Artemis, the totally cool Ranger, moving with thunder and fury.


She had another side - Artemis, the wise old teacher.


I shrugged.


“Yeah, it wasn’t any trouble. Mostly. One of them had a strong Mirror class, had to use my knife.”


Everyone at the table winced. Even Themis, which brought a smile to my face.


He might just be a kid, but he wasn’t glorifying fighting. He didn’t think it was TOTALLY COOL that I’d “handled” someone with a knife. His training with the guards was going well - he had some idea of just how dangerous and deadly a knife fight was.


“Then I was here! Home! Annnnnnnnd yeah. That’s it. Questions?”


Everyone erupted with a dozen questions. I held up my hand.


Which did nothing.


“ENOUGH!” Dad roared, smacking the table hard enough that everything jumped. “One question at a time. One person at a time.”


He hesitated a moment, then pointed to mom.


“Dearest, you can go first.”


“What, I’m not the dearest?” Artemis teased dad.


“One of us stuck around and was comforting.” Mom shot right back.


I blanched. Themis was just as grossed out.


“Oh gods please no.”


“Immortality!” Mom jumped on what I thought was one of the biggest parts of the story. Granted, a few other things were tied with it, but… well, with the redacted version, it was the clear winner. “You can turn back the age for anyone? Can you put it in a gem? Can you-”


Dad lightly thumped the table with his fist, arbitrating the question-asking.


“Well. Any human, yes. I don’t think I can use it on pets. As for gems? That’s an interesting idea…”


My mind started to wander down a labyrinth of possibilities with storing [The Stars Never Fade] in Moonstones. I was interrupted by dad pointing at Artemis.


“Mmm. Elaine, lean over. I want to whisper my question.” Artemis said. She got a round of glares.


“Hey! Wait-” Themis protested, but Artemis just caused a localized thunderclap, and leaned near me.


“Your level is way too high for what you said you did.” She rapidly spoke, as everyone was shouting protests - myself included. “I’ve got some ideas of what had to have happened. Wanna talk about it later?”


The thunderclap finished echoing around the tiny room.


“Brrrpt! Brrrrrpt! BRRRPT!” Auri was crying, nuzzling up to my cheek.


“Artemis! No! Bad!” I scolded her, stroking Auri’s burning belly to try and calm her back down.


I kicked - nudged really, my kicks could actually hurt now - everyone under the table, hitting them with healing and fixing the damage Artemis had inflicted on everyone.


“Well?” She asked.


I hesitated. I… probably should talk about it with someone, yeah. I had to tell the Sentinels, but Artemis would be a comforting ear. I didn’t want to, but it was probably a good idea.


The elves had the right idea on long-term mental health. If I wasn’t careful, I’d end up a gibbering wreck. A powerful, Immortal gibbering wreck.


“Yes.” I answered her.


“What was the question? I have to know!” Mom asked.


“Do you remember it’s supposed to be one at a time?” Dad interrupted. “What I want to know is the creature the Guardians were fighting. What can you tell me about it? And are you sure it’s the reason for the moons?” He asked.


“Ahem, yes. I remember, it’s supposed to be one at a time.” I gave my best straight, serious face to dad.


I thought I was hilarious.


There was silence around the table, a pregnant pause as everyone waited on me to say something. Artemis finally broke it by cackling with laughter.


“Ooooh, Elainus, she’s got you there!”


The rest of us broke out into laughter while dad just sat there, going red in the face then sighing with defeat.


“Ok, ok, you got me. Elaine?” He prodded.


I was a generous daughter. I licked my lips as I tried to think of what to say.


“I… can’t say too much about the creature.” I finally hedged. “And yes. The Mirage on the moons turned off when she took a powerful blow.”


“Night of the Flickering Moons.” Artemis muttered to herself. I started, then realized - of course, everyone must’ve seen it happen.


It must’ve caused a nearly world-wide phenomena. I was reminded of the sheer scale of Lun’Kat’s powers. An illusion of the scale of two moons, demonstrated the world around, as a casual flex.


Assuming it wasn’t more than that. Could she see through them? Could she launch attacks from them?


Gods. The idea was terrifying.


If I ever got a swollen head. If I ever thought I was powerful, or if I ever started to grow an ego?


I’d just look up at night, and remember. Get a reminder, smacked in my face, that I was nothing.


Dad nodded, and pointed to Themis.


“Son?” He asked.


“Cordamo sounds SO COOL! A super FLYING SNAKE?! That sounds totally badass. How can I find one?”


I shrugged.


“No idea. Go fish. Next question?”


Somehow, dad was up next.


“What were the guard procedures for defending against the orc commandos?”


He would be interested in that - it was his entire job to keep VIPs alive.




The questions continued, everyone wanted to know something, get clarity on one detail or another.


Finally, mom leaned forward.


“My turn! That Serondes didn’t sound all that great, but how was he? Decent at least?”


I had a moment of confusion, before realizing what mom was asking.


I’d faced dragons. Bandits. Slavers. Pirates. Formorians, earthquakes, angels, dwarves and more.


I’d rather re-do all of those than face mom asking about my sex life.


I sent a quick prayer to all the gods, asking them to open up the earth, and have it swallow me whole. Lun’kat, Remus is ready to be razed. Fairies, if you even exist, please whisk me away.


None of them answered.


None of them ever had, which is why I didn’t put much stock in praying to gods. They were fickle, and the only person who’d ever get me out of trouble was me.


“Auri!” I grabbed the bird, turned, and fled back to my room as my face turned into a temperature gauge, steadily getting redder.


How did those things work anyways?


The sound of my family laughing - kindly - chased me through the house.


It was late, and I was kinda tired. My family would be there again in the morning. No rush.


Did see bits here and there that were dirty though. Dad’s comment about a lack of money hit hard. The house was so big, mom and dad combined couldn’t quite keep on top of it.


I should see how my investments were doing, and maybe rearrange stuff. I didn’t want my parents to get screwed again. They deserved a life as long as they wanted. It was the least I could do for them.


For some reason I was feeling a bit skittish, a little jumpy. I made it back to my part of the house.


My section - mostly my room and my bath - had been kept lovingly perfect. Every inch swept, my bed perfectly made and the bath filled with clean water. With a sigh of relief, I stripped and sank gratefully into the cold water.




With a thought, and a hair too much Radiance, I warmed the pool up. Steam billowed off the pool, and I relaxed, closing my eyes, letting the heat soak into me.


Having some faith that Auri wouldn’t fly away and light the house on fire in the… two hours… I’d need to become clean again.


“Brrrpt!!?” Auri flew around, worried about me. She then landed on my forehead, keeping me “safe” from the Evil Water.


“I’m fine.”




“No, really, I like the water.”




“No, I’m not sick.”


“Brpt. Brpt. Brpt.”


I cracked open an eye, and decided a lecture on sass wasn’t needed. Auri was allowed to speak her mind.


I was hoping that’d foster a healthy relationship, which was needed for a companion bond.


“Brrpt brrpt brrrpt?”


Oh hm. What was mom talking about before?


A realization crashed over me.


Oh no.




I knew my responsibilities. I knew what I had to do.


I didn’t want to do it.




But Auri had unlocked her System after like, a month, and it’d taken another month to get here. If I extrapolated human lifespans to Auri - I honestly didn’t have a better measuring stick - we had to have an awkward conversation.”


“Ok Auri, I think you should know about the birds and the bees…”




I started explaining. I thought it went well, but…


“Do you understand?”


“BBBBBRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRPPPPPPPTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Auri shrieked in outrage, and promptly exploded a chair into flames.

I facepalmed. Nope, she hadn’t gotten it at all.


“Auri, I didn’t mean you had to do all that with a bee!



I was in my room, getting ready to sleep, when I heard a knock on my door.


“Come in!”


Dad entered.


“Hey kiddo! Got Auri a little something.” He dragged in a metal stand.


“Brrpt?” Auri flitted over, and started hovering around it.


“For you!” Dad cheerfully told Auri, all while leaning away from her.




“Where do you want it?”


I took a look. It was basically a birdstand. Solid base, thin metal pole, perch with a loop at the end.


“Right there.” I pointed to an empty spot near my bed.


Dad dragged it over.


“Brrpt!” Auri landed on it, cheeping approval. “Brrpt?”


“Metal… is hard to burn.” I hedged. I didn’t want to say impossible, because she’d take that as a challenge.




She took what I said as a challenge anyways.


Flames erupted from Auri, as she tried to ignite the metal. However, her mana pool was still small, and she couldn’t make and sustain super hot flames.


“Ha!” Dad just had a good chuckle at that. “Tell you what. Auri, right?”




“Burn that down, and I’ll let you pick and burn anything in the house!”




“Cool, yeah?”




I looked at dad with horror, and he just winked at me.




Auri better not burn any of my stuff.


And I had my stuff back!


“Thanks dad!” I gave him a quick hug.


“Brrpt!” Auri was also happy, and wanted to show her affection in her own way.


“Bye!” Dad beat a hasty retreat, fortunately faster than the fiery menace.


Mom showed up a bit later with a small ceramic bowl of fruit juice, which perfectly fit into the loop on the perch.


“Brrrpt!” Auri was liking the service here. I rolled my eyes at her.


“Oh! I need to be up early. Can you make that happen?” I asked her.


Mom put her hands on her hips, and sighed. I knew the look well. “You’re an adult, and should be doing this yourself, not relying on me.”


That’s not what she said though.


“For tomorrow? Of course! Anything for my baby.”


I smiled at her.


“Thanks mom.”


It did remind me - I had a bunch of habits that I needed to get back into. Waking up early was just the first of dozens of more “civilized” behaviors I needed to do again.


I finished getting ready for bed.


Auri’s soft red glow, combined with the flecks and specks of her other colors, lit the room like a comforting night light.


She even seemed to know that my bed wasn’t for her. Auri didn’t mind - she liked being tall and high up.


I slept like a baby, in my own bed.


Home, sweet home.



I woke up with a start as loud bangs echoed around me.




I rolled off my bed, throwing my shield around Auri. I looked at the door, ready to shoot whoever came through, and -




My door?




Reality snapped back. I wasn’t under attack. There wasn’t a monster breaking into my room. Just someone knocking on my door, letting me know it was time to get up.


I shook my head, dropping my shield as I stood up.


“Brrpt! Brrrpt!!!” Auri was flying around, panicked and worried.


“We’re fine Auri. It’s ok. Just… a bad dream.”


Close enough to the truth.




It took me practically no time to get ready and leave. The only thing I needed was my badge. And my Mistweave, I wasn’t going to run through town naked.


I could’ve blitzed out the door if it wasn’t for Auri. She needed a morning drink, and dad had been kind enough to leave a jug out on the table for her. Auri instantly knew what was what, and vanished inside.


She’d gotten better at not dunking herself in juice. That had been bad.


There was a strange metal device on the table. After turning it over a few times in my hands, it clicked - it went on my shoulder, and could act as a perch for Auri!


I put it on - it was kinda awkward and unwieldy - and asked Auri “Wanna hop on?”


“Brrpt.” Auri fluttered to my head, and I couldn’t suppress a sigh as the fuzzy bits of hair I had growing back went up in flames.


I was this close to getting a fireproof hair skill. They had to exist somewhere.


Why hadn’t I stuck with Fire and [Fire Resistance]?


I debated yelling goodbye as I left, but nah. People were still asleep.


I made it out onto the streets, the sun still not up. The roads were starting to get busy, and a few [Knockers] were up and about, knocking on doors and waking people up for the day.


Took all kinds to keep the world running. Mom had probably asked one to knock for us. Woke her up, then she woke me up.


I assumed. Hadn’t seen anyone this morning.


I made it to Ranger HQ without incident - although I’d gotten quite a few looks for a burning bird sitting on my head. So much for that perch. I noted that unless things had radically changed, I was really early for the daily Sentinel meeting.


With the Immortal vampire Night at the helm, running the show? The same Night that insisted on daily Sentinel meetings immediately after the Formorian threat was over?


There was no way the meetings weren’t at the same time.


I might as well visit the Quartermaster, and see about getting FUCKING PAID.


Nobody worked for free, and there were no words more enraging than “I’m sorry, due to a clerical error we haven’t paid you for the last YEAR AND A HALF.”


A grin crept across my face. Prank time!


I made it to the Quartermaster’s window, and frowned. It was shut.


I banged on it a few times.


“Coming! Hold on.” A grouchy voice echoed from behind. I folded my arms and tapped my foot.


The shutters opened, and one of the Quartermaster’s minions blinked owlishly at me.


Sentinel Dawn?!” He cried out.


“In the flesh!” I couldn’t help it. I spun around, letting the Mistweave dress flare as Auri shrieked. “Back and alive!”


“Wow. Just. Um. WOW.” He said.


My happy tone turned dark and threatening.


“Now. I believe I’m owed quite a bit of pay. Hmmmmm?”


“Brrpt! Brrrpt!”


“Um. Yes, of course you are. Just need the [Quartermaster] to get in to authorize it.”


I gave him a glare, letting him sweat a bit.


Eh. Fair enough. Tired minions shouldn’t be allowed to dispense that much money in the middle of the night. Too easy to trick and rob.


“Fine. Are invisibility gems still easy to recharge?”


“Sentinel. All due respect, no, but we’ve got a [Flawless Camouflage] gem that’s become the new standard. Would you like one?”


I nodded.




“Great! Also, when will you be turning in your gear for repair?”






How did I break this to him?


Thank all the gods and goddesses it wasn’t THE [Quartermaster] that I needed to confess my sins to. Dude was scary.


“I have no gear.”


“To repair?” The minion asked me.


I pulled a face.


“No - no gear. At all. Every last bit ended up destroyed - usually with me inside - lost, broken, burned, or otherwise not with me. Only managed to keep my Sentinel badge.”




I glanced up.


“And Auri here.”


He shrugged, which surprised me.


“Right, that makes it easy. We’d already struck all your gear from the inventory, now we can toss the backups.”


That was a lot less ass-chewing than I expected. Then again - minion, not the actual [Quartermaster].


He handed me an Opal, and I signed a scroll acknowledging I’d gotten it.


I turned and headed towards the Sentinel’s meeting room, practically in the basement through the somewhat hidden wall. When nobody was around, I activated the gem, watching my arm change color, seamlessly matching against the wood and stone all around me.


As I tilted my head around, the colors I was seeing on my arm changed, to better reflect what was behind it.




Magic was so much fun!


“BRRPT!?!?!?!” Auri shrieked in confusion. Where was I!? Where was she?! AHHHHH!


“Shhh, shh, Auri, I’m right here, it’s all ok.”




“We’re being sneaky! We’re going to surprise some friends!”




I felt Auri settle down “lower” on my head, trying to maintain a low profile. Why did I bother with a shoulder perch…


Then again, a burning bird wasn’t exactly subtle. Auri was included with the skill, but…


I snuck around, making it to the Sentinel meeting before anyone else. I was going to wait for everyone to make it, then BOOM! Drop the camo, and SURPRISE! Sentinel Dawn is back!


Not the most professional of moves, but with my practical return from the dead, as far as they were concerned? Eh, I could get away with it.


“Ok Auri, we’ve gotta be quiet.” I whispered to her. “I’ll let you know when it’s time.”


“Brrpt.” Auri was trying her best at being quiet.


I leaned against the wall, and waited.


Night was predictably the first to show up. He paused as he crossed the room, then whirled, charging at me.


Gods he was so fast.


I dropped the camo and started to put my hands up.


“Night! It’s me!” I yelled as he slammed into me, forearm across my neck.


“Who-” He hissed at me, then his eyes widened in realization.


“Sentinel Dawn!” He drew back, letting me breathe again.


“Brrpt! Brrrpt!” Auri was flashing her wings from on top of my head, fire brewing around her.


Night gave her a devastating glare.


“Silence, bird.”




Night’s intimidation was successful. Auri withdrew into a tiny little scared ball.


“Night!” I scolded him. “She’s just a baby.”


“Then she has little business here.” Night observed. “On a different note. Dawn. Allow me the pleasure of being the first to welcome you back home. The survival rate of Sentinels who’ve been missing in action for greater than a year is abysmal, and I can not begin to express my pleasure that you have managed to beat the odds. Receiving your letter was a joy, although I do believe we need to have an extensive debrief.”


I felt a warm glow go through me, and I gave Night a big, genuine smile.


“Thank you! I can’t tell you how happy I am to be alive myself. Long debrief, yup. By the way - how did you know I was there?”


Night gave me an amused look.


“You have the levels, but you lack in lived experience. The skill isn’t perfect. The sound in the room was wrong. Your bird emits too much heat. And a dozen other issues with your hiding. Please.”


It took half a moment for the full implications of what Night was saying to hit me.


The blood drained from my face, and I felt my heart plunge. My knees grew weak, and I had to grab onto Night just to stay up.


“Dawn? What is the matter?”


I looked Night in the eyes. I tried to speak, and my words failed me. I licked my lips, and tried again, barely able to whisper out my confession.


She knew.


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