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A note from Selkie

Shoutouts! 

Trace, by MelasD! Trace https://www.royalroad.com/amazon/B09VZM9VV1

 

and an author asked me very nicely so! https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/51439/neverstien-this-city-is-doomed-a-superherosci-fi

 

Humans, Legends, Arias, oh my! The world isn't big enough for the three of them. Reina Romane just wants a normal life, at a normal school, with normal friends, in an ideal world. However, when your school teaches teenagers how to control the elements, your ideal world has government agencies going around freezing time and fighting gods, and you're pretty sure your friend is seeing through her power, the definition of "normal" becomes loose. Oh, and there's a murderous psychopath who wants to kill her. Will Reina Romane be able to get through school without setting people on fire? Will the psychopath kill her? Or will something else happen. . . .?

Two days later, and I was still reeling from Emperor Augustus’s offer as I made my way to the daily meeting. The entire thing had kept me up at night, tossing and turning as I wrestled with the question, and the implications.

 

Fortunately, Auri was with Plato. She was so excited to learn! It was adorable. Hopefully personal tutoring wouldn’t wring the flashy phoenix’s desire to drink deep from the wellspring of knowledge.

 

Or… light the flames of learning? The analogies got weird when water was anathema.

 

Like. I’d fought monsters, humans, abominations. I’d only paused a moment when I saw a dragon, before boldly striding into her lair.

 

However, those had all been easy decisions in a sense. Eat, or be eaten. Kill, or be killed.

 

Slaughter the shimagu, or don’t.

 

Binary choices. Do, or do not.

 

Run away from home, or be trapped with Kerberos. I suppose that one had some nuance, but a benefit of having been a dumb teenager - I didn’t see all the other options.

 

Decision paralysis was my root problem. I had a blank check from the emperor, and I could write anything in it.

 

Just about.

 

A million rods would be practically impossible to spend in a single normal lifetime. Yet, I had the sense that it wasn’t even close to the start of what I could ask for. There were things that money couldn’t buy.

 

This was less true in Remus, where with enough money I could buy - my dad - a seat in the Senate, the governorship of a town, a get out of jail free card from the justice system, and more.

 

I could own a town.

 

I could own three towns.

 

I could make my own healing school, staffed with dozens of the brightest minds in the country. I could make Artemis’s school the place to be. I could own a dozen mango orchards.

 

I could own the mango industry. Flat-out buy a monopoly on mangos.

 

Sweetest of all - I could build the library. Convert an entire city block to the grandest library the world had ever seen. I wouldn’t have to work a day in my life, simply kick back in a chair, and just read. The world of my soul would become my reality. My every need would be tended to, a rounding error on my account employing dozens of people to make my life easy. I wouldn’t need to risk my life.

 

I -

 

I had too many options. I was completely overwhelmed, and that was just the cash offer. I didn’t have the slightest idea of what non-cash items I could negotiate for.

 

Like. Could I ask Remus to outlaw slavery?

 

I thought of myself as a principled person. I’d like to think that I was selfless, and self-sacrificing. I’d pushed myself constantly, going into plagues, warzones, the lair of a dragon, and more. All to help others, at great personal risk to myself.

 

But the sheer amount of money was making me pause. I could buy - assuming I didn’t utterly fuck the market doing so - 32 million loaves of bread. Had Remus even cooked that many in its entire history?!

 

That had serious pull. I didn’t think I could be bribed.

 

I still knew I was unbribable on my core principles. Heal others. Stick with my family - including the Sentinels. Follow my [Oath].

 

I disliked slavery. A large number of people in Remus - mostly slaves, if I was being honest - weren’t too thrilled with the institution either. Hence the frequent slave rebellions.

 

But obviously, I wasn’t entirely dead-set against it. I was no fanatic. I tolerated Kallisto and his family employing a few. Just about all of the Sentinels had several slaves on staff, and I was still friends with them. I didn’t break chains wherever I saw them. Hell, just three weeks ago or so I’d told a number of bandits to go turn themselves in, and sign themselves up for a few months of slavery!

 

All this to say - I had an idealist side, that hated slavery and wanted it to end, and a practical side, that recognized it was how Remus currently worked, and that by loudly declaiming it and freeing slaves everywhere, I’d shortly end up with my own head on a pike. I had to be smart about how I abolished slavery.

 

And I was being tempted. I’d get slavery ended, one way or another. It might be too big of an ask, and maybe I should go for something else. Wealth and power, which would jump-start my abolitionary dreams.

 

Needed to talk with someone about all this. Neptune, Ocean, and Night were my top picks. I’d wanted to see if I could do some thinking about this on my own first, before consulting them. Get a loose framework arranged.

 

There was also the matter of women’s rights, more practically, my rights. Augustus had offered to make me a citizen. Yaay. That still didn’t fix a dozen other issues that I had, which could be all solved with the stroke of a charcoal stick.

 

I could ask for the world, and -

 

Damnit.

 

I’d moved without thinking, and I was already at the Sentinel’s meeting room.

 

I shook my head, and refocused myself. I could ask Night for advice after the meeting.

 

I was in the middle of the pack. Senti-Null, Ocean, Night, and Hunting were already around. Slowly, Destruction, Bulwark, Nature, Mirage, and Maestrai shuffled in.

 

We waited quite some time, but Acquisition didn’t show.

 

“This is most unusual.” Night narrowed his eyes. “Acquisition’s attendance record is flawless, and he has not even sent a runner to inform us that he would be unable to attend. Does anyone have pressing business?”

 

We shook our heads.

 

“Hunting. Destruction. Dawn. MMmmmm. Brawling would be ideal. Barring that. Ocean. Bulwark.”

 

We paid rapt attention to Night.

 

“Investigate. Discreetly. Acquire the appropriate gems from the Quartermaster. Maestrai, inform Ranger Team 0 to stand by, and their assistance may be requested. Nature. Senti-Null. Mirage. The three of you are dismissed to your regular duties.”

 

He paused a moment.

 

“Sentinels. Move out.”

 

Welp, so much for the relaxing morning.

 

“I’ll take point.” Hunting announced, and the four of us followed him out the door, through the halls of Ranger HQ.

 

“Do we have time to armor up?” I asked Hunting. He was in his full gear - practically lived in it - but Destruction, Ocean, Bulwark, and myself were all in more casual clothes.

 

“We don’t know what’s going on. If you’re able to quickly.”

 

I grinned. It was always nice knowing something everyone else didn’t.

 

We rolled up to the Quartermaster's window.

 

“I need five sets of [Camouflage], [Muffle], and [Communication].” Hunting briskly ordered.

 

“And my set of armor.” I added from around his arm.

 

Quartermaster took one look at five serious-looking Sentinels, and moved. No snarky comments. No remarks. In a heartbeat, we each had three gems, and the rest of the Sentinels were helping me strap on my armor in speed-mode.

 

Not my favorite way of getting dressed. Real awkward on so many levels.

 

The Quartermaster was busy listing off all the gems I had.

 

[Gust], [Shocking Paralysis], [Brilliant Barrier], [Camouflage], [Muffle], [Cast Scream], [Hear Me Roar], [Tracks-Be-Gone], [Wall Buster], [Curse? What Curse?],...” He listed off all the gems I had, some old, some new. I didn’t quite have time for a full breakdown.

 

“Dawn. Destruction. Bulwark. Can you fly while [Camouflaged]?” Hunting asked. I shook my head.

 

“I haven’t tested it, but unlikely. My wings tend to passively kill illusions, and they’re not exactly subtle.”

 

“I’m able to.” Destruction replied. “Worse-case, I use a tiny slate in my sandals.”

 

“I’d rather be on the ground.” Bulwark answered. “Half of my skills relate to buildings.”

 

Hunting grunted.


“Shame. Destruction, you’re on overwatch. Right, activate the gems.”

 

We all activated the gems we’d been given, fading away into the walls. A minor, very expensive barrage occurred as we tossed the used gems back through the Quartermaster’s window, who roundly cursed us out.

 

“Likely nothing, but we’re Sentinels. No telling if something’s gone wrong, and if someone’s decided to take a swing at Acquisition.” Hunting’s words came directly to my ears, although I hadn’t heard a thing. “Everyone to the roof.”

 

I started moving that way, jostling into… someone. I didn’t know who, but I got practically bowled out of the way, slamming into the wall.

 

“Shit, Dawn, was that you?” Ocean asked.

 

“Yes. Thank you.” My voice was dripping with sarcasm as I picked myself back up, and headed towards the roof with everyone else.

 

“Sorry.”

 

“I love [Communication].” Destruction said.

 

“One of my crew has a similar skill when we’re building. Good stuff.” Bulwark added in.

 

“What’s the range?”

 

“Couple of city blocks. In a gem? Might be smaller.” Destruction said.

 

“What’s the plan?” Ocean asked.

 

“Rooftop our way to Acquisition’s place. I’ll poke around, then yell at you all when I’ve found him. Then we wake him up, yell at him for an hour for drinking too much, then let Night give him a pompous lecture about responsibility.” Hunting’s tone was amused, but there was a tight undertone to it.

 

Nobody completely blew the meeting off. Ocean had even let a huge fish go to make it on time! Worse-case, we sent a runner.

 

And like. We were all crazy well paid. We almost all had extensive families, and barring that, we had servants - or slaves, as much as I hated to admit it - helping out.

 

“Bulwark? Directions?” Hunting asked.

 

“Depends on Dawn, and how far she can jump.”

 

“Don’t I have more speed and strength than you?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, but I can glide on rocks between buildings.”

 

I made it to the roof as Bulwark finished talking. I eyed the streets around us.

 

“I can probably make the jump across the three narrow roads around us, but not the main throughway.” I said. “Strength’s a little low for that, although I’ve got plenty of speed.”

 

“Right. I’m going to call out buildings. Let us know when you’ve landed.” Bulwark said. “First, the Pompeii Building.”

 

“I have no idea which one that is.” Destruction said. “They all look the same from up here.”

 

I was thankful Destruction had spoken up, because I had no idea either. Made me feel less bad.

 

Bulwark gave a long-suffering sigh.

 

“Brutes, the lot of you. No appreciation for the architecture that surrounds us. The one to the south, with the dome in the middle.”

 

I ran and jumped, a terrified thrill running through me as I spun through the air, letting the wind blow over my face.

 

[Beloved of the Wind] was all too correct. I loved it, and it loved me back.

 

As I soared through the air, the rest of the Sentinels reported in.

 

“In.” Hunting said.

 

“Landed.” Ocean said.

 

“In.” Bulwark said.

 

I landed, bending my knees.

 

“Here.”

 

“I’m overhead.” Destruction added in a half-heartbeat later.

 

“Right. Next roof is… the one with the statues.” I could practically hear Bulwark’s frustration at our lack of appreciation for the finer things in life.

 

I could say the same about him and food.

 

We hopped around, having a fun moment with one of the inner layers of the city walls. We had to land on it, then run from where we landed to a completely different spot, dodging guards the entire way.

 

A few sensed the breeze we made as we passed, and one started to raise an alarm.

 

The Sentinel symbol popped into being in the stone in front of him, black stone on white walls making it all-too obvious. The guard went white, and while I would’ve liked to laugh as I passed him, [Muffle] was hiding our sound.

I did poke him as I passed by though, finding an exposed hole in his armor. Poor dude yelped and practically hit the roof, getting funny looks from everyone else.

 

“Ok, whoever did that, that was funny. I know this is just a quick check, but let’s leave it at that. No need to rile up the poor guards just doing their job.” Destruction’s voice came to my ear.

 

“Guard with the white crest can see us.” Hunting reported. “I doubt he’ll do anything, just keep it in mind.”

 

Didn’t surprise me that some guards could see through the camouflage skill. It was exactly the sort of skill a burglar would have, and in almost every case, someone using the skill was up to no good.

 

Still. Getting an anti-camo skill was rare, and not something I expected to see outside of the guard.

 

A number of heavily-armed, high-level people working together?

 

The thought running through his head was probably along the lines of “don’t acknowledge the black ops, don’t acknowledge the black ops.”

 

If nothing else, this milk run to Acquisition was good practice. We didn’t get nearly enough chances to stretch out legs like this, probably why Night had gone completely overkill and assigned five of us to check on Acquisition, when just Maestrai would be enough.

 

We hopped off the wall, and kept going.

 

After what seemed like a short time, we made it to the roof before Acquisition’s house. It was surprisingly bland, with a few palm trees swaying in the breeze around a modest home.

“Hold here.” Hunting said.

 

There was something like a quick flicker of heat or something in the space between the home we were on, and Acquisition’s home.

 

“Anyone want to go fishing later on? Bulwark?” Ocean asked.

 

“Busy today. Finishing up some idiot’s apartment for his lover. He wanted plain pillars. Plain.” Bulwark’s pain was clear. “Tomorrow afternoon? After sparring?”

 

“Yeah, sounds-”

 

Silence.” Hunting half-barked, half-hissed, not wanting to strain [Muffle] too hard while he was sneaking around Acquisition’s place.

 

We hung around for a few more minutes. I was getting increasingly nervous - an all-clear would take a few seconds. The lack of anything from Hunting was disturbing.

 

I started to limber up, doing some stretches, and imagining [Kaleidoscope] flight paths and patterns.

 

“Right, issue. Someone - Acquisition mentioned who but I have no idea who these chucklefucks are - grabbed Acquisition’s kids, and are ransoming them. Yada yada, don’t go to the Sentinels or Rangers, yada yada, meet at… some place that’s all thieves' talk. Not that I’d trust that, I’d just track Acquisition directly. Stay on the roof, I’ll be right over.” Hunting said.

 

Aww fuck. And the day had started off so well.

 

“Dawn. North corner. Ocean. West corner. Hunting. East corner.” Destruction’s voice came into my ear. “Dropping a rock on each spot. Keep your hand on it, I’ll use it to give you all a boost if we need to cross a wide road.”

 

“Good call, but forget my rock.” Hunting grunted. “Dawn, do you mind giving up your Deception Ring for this? Acquisition took to the streets, and either people would run into me all day, or they’re going to get spooked when they see a level 514 Classer coming for them. They have to know they’re aiming for a Sentinel, they have to be prepared. Acquisition further knew we’d be coming after him, he left enough clues.”

 

“Sure. North corner, taking it off now.” I picked up the rock, about the size of my fist, and put my Deception Ring down after making it visible. I stepped back, and a moment later the ring vanished.

 

A minute later Hunting reappeared, looking like a level 160 [Warrior]. An off-duty guard, perhaps.

 

“Get rid of your beard.” Ocean was entirely serious. “Your blue beard is literally your name Bluebeard, and they’re watching for Sentinels.”

 

I didn’t know Hunting had such a verbose selection of curses, but his chin suddenly saw the light of day at long last.

 

“Follow me.” Hunting was pissed.

 

We followed Hunting, traveling through the city until we got to the slums.

 

Acquisition was one of the more interesting Sentinels. He was the only one who hadn’t been a Ranger. Either the “Deception”, “Thief”, “Rogue”, or some other Sentinel seat - I wasn’t sure which - was considered critical, and when no Rangers met the criteria, the Sentinels had recruited Acquisition from the more interesting parts of the population. Even when I had been a new Sentinel, I was a better combatant than Acquisition, but there was nothing he couldn’t get his hands on - and by extension, there was nothing the Sentinels couldn’t get if we really needed to. He was also our connection to the seedier side of Remus, a sort of [King of the Thieves] or something.

 

Exactly what he did I couldn’t say, but he probably couldn’t tell me how many bones were in an arm. Fair was fair.

 

Still meant he had significantly more contact with the criminals and gangs in Remus, and could apply pressure in the right places when someone stepped too far out of line. Like when they’d gotten into the game of “steal Sentinel badges”.

 

Well, part of that life had caught up with him.

 

“Fuck.” I cursed as I saw an issue.

 

“Problem?” Ocean said. I just knew we’d all stopped. Advantage to all being trained the same.

 

“Yeah. Dude with no legs down there.”

 

“Leave him.” Hunting said.

 

“I can’t. Oathbound. Heal him now, invisibly, and carry on, or hang back?”

 

“Your call.” Ocean said. “You’re Dawn.”

 

“Hunting, how close?”

 

“We can’t be that far, but I can’t break cover.” Hunting was admiring some beggar’s wares, artificially interested in some rusty armor. The ex-soldier shouldn’t have that, but we frankly didn’t care about some old army gear going wandering.

 

“Right. The rest of you go ahead. I’ll wait a moment, hit the heal, then sprint to catch up. Hopefully we’ll get there.”

 

“Do it.” Hunting ordered, and was off again.

 

I waited about ten seconds - long enough for the rest of the team to get some distance, but not so long that I’d get lost trying to catch up - then blasted a long-range heal, and I was off.

 

I was two rooftops away when a disbelieving shout of joy reached my ears, and I smiled.

 

“This is the building. Dawn?” Hunting said.

 

“Almost there.”

 

“Right. Destruction, far side. Ocean. Right side. Bulwark. Left side. Destruction. From the top. Dawn, second floor, front side. Everyone drop [Camouflage] the moment you get in, I don’t want friendly fire. On my mark.”

 

Hunting was approaching another multi-storied building, the landlords in this part of town built tall to cram more people in the same plot of land. This building, however, was likely the safehouse of some criminal gang or another. They usually didn’t land on our radar, being a problem for the guard, or rarely, Ranger Team 0.

 

There was a pair of mean-looking [Thugs] openly guarding the door with clubs in their hand, giving Hunting a glare as he walked along the street. They weren’t worried about him though - just showing off how tough they were.

 

Everyone else on the street also got mean looks, but most gave the building a wide berth.

 

“Go.” Hunting ordered, and the world exploded in motion.

 

I snapped my wings open as I launched myself across the street, aiming for an open window on the second floor. Hunting’s fists blurred as he punched both of the [Thugs], large voids appearing in their body as his fists connected, and his skills annihilated part of their bodies. They dropped dead, as a stone spear and sword came screaming from the sky. Hunting grabbed them out of the air, Destruction helpfully arming his fellow Sentinel.

 

Then I was through, blasting bright Radiance all around me as I exploded through the window, aiming to disorient and confuse.

 

Four [Gangsters] were in the room, roaring with pain. Three of them were reaching for weapons.

 

I killed the three with a burst of Radiance lancing through their heads as Destruction’s voice came into my ears.

 

“Roof clear, six down.”

 

“Down.” I ordered the last one, cursing my [Oath]. He was sitting there stunned, and wasn’t a threat. I couldn’t harm him.

 

I didn’t wait to see what he’d do, instead going through the door into the hall.

 

“Second floor, one room, not cleared. Three dead, one terrified.” I reported, as the rest of the Sentinels reported various successes.

 

A few criminals were storming through the hallway, weapons in hand. The leader paled as he saw me.

 

Full Sentinel gear?

 

Level 512?

 

He met his maker a heartbeat after he realized just how badly he’d fucked up, along with the rest of them.

 

We exploded through the building. Eight seconds after Hunting gave the go-ahead, Ocean spoke.

 

“Acquisition and his kids secured. Dawn, third floor, first door after the stairs.”

 

I came to a screeching halt, pivoting on my heels and sprinted back towards a staircase I’d just passed. I could think of exactly two things that’d get Ocean calling for me over anyone else.

 

“Everyone else, keep clearing.” Hunting ordered.

 

As I flashed up the stairs, I briefly got to see Destruction at work further down on the floor. He had a storm of stones whirling around him at high speeds, creating a blender that anyone would need to go through to reach him. He was firing shotgun blasts of sharp stone at anyone he saw, the barrage of rocks shredding through all opposition.

 

I shuddered.

 

He was Destruction. His signature move was an earthquake, but his stats were heavily regeneration focused. While he didn’t have as much power as a pure mage his level did - I might have more, thinking about it - he could endlessly fire off those shots. A strong build, worthy of the ridiculous title he had.

 

I blew through the open door, immediately seeing the problem. They’d stabbed Acquisition’s kid - well, one of the two - at the last moment, when they realized it’d all gone to shit.

 

But not very effectively. They slit her throat, and it took time to bleed out. Time enough for me to fly up, over Acquisition who was shielding his kid, hands futility around her throat. Blood was welling up between his fingers, crimson life fluid gushing out from her neck, denying Acquisition’s attempt at stopping the bleeding. A wicked serrated knife was next to him, but I was fast. I had time. Time to reach past him and touch her, time to seal her throat.

 

Black Crow would not be carrying off this small life today.

 

Acquisition looked up, grateful tears pouring down his face.

 

“Building clear.” Hunting announced.

 

Eleven seconds after the go order.

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