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A note from Selkie

This chapter was hard to write. trigger warning:

Domestic abuse. 

 

Book 7 is on Amazon!

There was more than a bit of fallout from Acquisition getting blackmailed. We all escorted Acquisition back home, then Bulwark hung around Acquisition’s place while the rest of us headed back to Ranger HQ. Hunting gave me my ring back.

 

After hearing a quick after-action report, Night sent a few Sentinels and Ranger Team 0 to perform some “cleanup” duty, primarily directed by Acquisition.

 

He knew the gang that went after him. His plan had been: cooperate for the moment, get his kids safe, then either rob them blind - including the entirety of the ransom they’d been asking for - or ask the Sentinels to help him. Either way, his priority had been getting his kids out of harm’s way first.

 

Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to join. Given what was going on, I think Night knew that I’d be mostly useless, and me standing around grumping at the other Sentinels for what they were doing wouldn’t be great for morale. Or a dozen other things.

 

[Oath] getting me out of work! Huzzah!

 

The rest of the day passed in a blur. I was quiet and reserved when hanging out with Autumn, and she noticed.

 

“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” She poked at me.

 

“Killed a half dozen people earlier today.” I grumped back. It was still on my mind, how easily, how casually I’d been able to kill them. A single thought, with almost no effort, and they’d dropped dead. Would I one day kill someone with an idle thought? A moment of uncontained rage? An intrusive thought?

 

All in all, it didn’t have me in a great frame of mind, which brought me back to the emperor’s offer.

 

I could retire. I’d never need to work again - well, except maybe for selling the occasional rejuvenation every 400 years or so - and be done with this.

 

Frankly though, I knew that I wouldn’t stop, I’d just take on different flavors. Plus, I could heal people and-

 

I was in a bad state of mind, my thoughts endlessly swirling around. Autumn picked it up, and fortunately left me alone.

 

One other place my thinking wouldn’t let me be was the man I’d healed.

 

I wasn’t doing any good here. Autumn knew her stuff decently well, and didn’t have any urgent, burning questions. Sure, she still needed to learn a ton more stuff, but she wasn’t having any questions that needed addressing. Auri was well in hand with Plato, and I was just running myself ragged, thinking in circles and casting a dark cloud over everyone nearby.

 

I swear Neptune was getting less business, as nobody wanted to get near the very high level, very pissed off Sentinel.

 

I might as well stretch my legs, and do some good.

 

“Sorry. Having a bad day. I’m going to take a walk, clear my head.” I told Autumn and Neptune.

 

“Get better, you’re a huge grump right now.” Autumn frankly told me.

 

I weakly chuckled, and left.

 

It was somewhat known that I had a stall in the marketplace, and generally provided free healing to people. Heck, there had even been a service to help people get to me at one point!

 

Well, word hadn’t quite fully spread yet that I was back, and I’d be deluding myself if I thought everyone would know about me. I generally didn’t head over to the slums, but it seemed like I could do some good, even if it was just walking around with [Dance with the Heavens] on full area of effect-blast.

 

I double-checked that my Deception Ring had me showing at 512. It was a balancing act - did I show up in my full gear, showing my level and status? If I did, people would run, assuming that I had business there, and frankly, most of the time that the powers that be - which I was a part of - came down to the slums, it meant problems for the people living there. It was like a natural disaster, and they wisely kept their head down and out of the way.

 

On the other hand, if I didn’t, if I set myself to be level 170 and put on a normal tunic, I’d be inviting harassment from practically everyone. A short, pretty woman with a “defenseless” class and a modest level?

 

Problems by the dozens.

 

I was in a bad mood. I elected to give myself fewer problems for the day. Most of the people who’d see me and turn around would already be in my healing range, so it was mostly not a problem.

 

I made my way to the slums, and started walking through them, healing on blast. As I predicted, most people took one look at the stormy-faced Sentinel stalking through the area, and found that they had forgotten an urgent appointment somewhere else.

 

Bah.

 

“Ah! Miss! Excuse me, your eyes are most radiant! They sparkle, so much brighter and clearer than the stars in the sky! Just like these gems. My father tragically passed away, leaving me with them, and I was hoping you could take them off my hands, for just a few coins to help me feed myself and my seven children. Their mother has tragically passed away, and-”

 

Of course, there were a few scam artists who saw a wealthy mark. I glanced down at what the man was offering.

 

“If you keep bothering me, I’ll start to care enough to tell the guard that you’re trying to pass colored glass as gemstones.” I told him in a cold tone.

 

He vanished, and I slapped an invisible hand tugging on my pouch. My heightened vitality helped me feel the delicate vibrations.

 

I blasted Radiance around me, lighting up like the sun, but keeping it entirely non-lethal. The Mirage got stripped away, and a skinny teenage girl looked at me, frozen and utterly terrified.

 

I sighed, forcing myself to remember what my options as a teenager had been. The risks I’d been willing to take.

 

Marriage, or trying to survive on the streets as a [Pickpocket]? Thievery, or slavery to a brothel? Easy choices. Wasn’t going to condemn her for making the same choices I had, that I would’ve, just because she was earlier on her journey than I was. I didn’t want to pull the ladder up behind me.

 

“Normally I’d say shoo.” I idly told the girl, who went even paler and started to sway on her feet. “But instead, I’m going to say shoo, and ask you to tell your friends to not bother me. Unless they’re sick. Free healing. Any problem you’ve got? Just get close to me in the light, and it’ll be fixed.”

 

She muttered something unhappy under her breath. Something, something, evil Ranger-guards, something. I rolled my eyes.

 

“I’m blasting a healing skill. Anyone gets near me, they get healed. That’s it. Now leave my coin purse alone.”

 

She scrambled, and I continued walking through the slums, taking no particular path. Letting my feet wander where they would.

 

I did end up in a loop a few times, having to deliberately go down super sketchy paths to find my way into new spots. I did buy random nonsense from a few vendors either brave enough to keep their shop open, or more likely, who had enough things that they couldn’t easily pack their shop up as I approached.

 

It was a bit sad to think about, that I was so feared down here that people tried to get out when they saw me.

 

I did see a number of kids - I used the term loosely, given that some were older than I was - pop in and out around corners, slowly getting bold enough to approach, only to run back the moment [Wheel of Sun and Moon] touched them.

 

I was doing some good at least. Atoning, in a sense, for the lives I took earlier in the day by bringing new life to others.

 

I didn’t have any metrics. No numbers on “kill one person, heal three and I’m fine.” Just a lessening of the frustration with the sheer stupidity and waste of life.

 

One constant background buzz in the slums was the same as it was in the marketplace, as in the fancy part of town where I lived. Men, who believed they were Almorae’s gift to women, shamelessly catcalling anyone they saw. Remus unfortunately reinforced that somewhat, like that jackass back in Port Salona.

 

Nobody tried to get too handsy or pushy with me, but I knew I was lucky. I let them fade into the background, their calls darkening my already black mood.

 

The slums were the bad part of town. Guard patrols were rare - I only saw three in the hours I spent. I broke up a mugging. I watched with a heavy heart, bile rising in my throat, as a leering man grabbed the hand of a young prostitute, her eyes already looking like a dead fish’s.

 

Legal. Disgustingly legal, and if I stepped in, then what? What changed? What would be different? How could I make it better?

 

I was feeling sick to my stomach as I noticed a wanna-be thug trying to smash a vendor’s stall.

 

That, at least, I could fix.

 

Going to the slums had been a mistake, if I thought I was going to feel any better. My only consolation was the sheer number of people I healed up. That I fixed. Push and pull.

 

I might not be able to fix all of society’s woes, but I could fix the physical problems people had. One at a time.

 

[*ding!* [Celestial Affinity] has leveled up! 472 -> 473]

 

The sun was starting to get lower, and I did have a number of obligations weighing on me. The walk had been good for clearing my head, if nothing else, and I’d been able to meditate on the actions from earlier in the day.

 

I started to head home, electing to walk. One last sweep through.

 

Physical stats multiplied everything. Strength was the most obvious one, and speed was right behind it in terms of “well, DUH, it makes people faster.”

 

Vitality was subtle. Tougher. Healthier. Harder for magic to impact. Better reflexes. Sturdier, younger, helped with illness and disease. Subtly one of the best stats.

 

Included in it?

 

Better perception.

 

I was sitting on over 14,000 points of vitality, which was monstrous by Remus terms. The elves calling me “fragile and delicate” still stung a bit. Either way, among other things, my hearing was greatly improved. Which let me eavesdrop on too many private conversations, and overhear private going-ons in houses.

 

I generally tuned it all out. I would hate it if someone was spying on me, I didn’t want to spy on others. I did vaguely keep a half-ear out instead of entirely ignoring the rest of the world, because I never knew when danger was around the corner.

 

Which let me hear the sickening thuds of fists meeting flesh, and the associated screaming.

 

Pausing just a moment to pinpoint exactly where the commotion was coming from, I snapped my wings open and flew over to the apartment.

 

The slumlord had elected for no windows at all, and I didn’t want to think of just how hot it had to be in the summer, especially with a cooking fire. I briefly debated burning through the stone, but no. My odds of hitting someone on the other side were too high.

 

Instead, I flew in through the main door, and blasted my way through the halls, using [Mantle] to politely but firmly make sure that people who’d pressed themselves against the halls to get out of my way stayed out of my way.

 

They didn’t even have time to see I was a Sentinel - just a heavily armored warrior soaring through the building. Bad news all around.

 

In no time at all I burst through the main door to the apartment, and took in the entire scene at a glance.

 

The apartments in this part of town sucked. A single room, a large… I hesitated to call it a bed in one corner, a charred pile in another, a few meager possessions strewn about.

 

In a third corner a woman cowered, shielding her two young kids. Her left arm dangled in a way that told me it was broken, her lip was split and bleeding, and she had a black eye, before the numerous bruises in all stages of healing were scattered over her malnourished body.

 

The kids were in only slightly better shape. She’d been shielding them with her body.

 

And of course, there was the patriarch of the family, who I’d interrupted mid-swing. A level 150 [Laborer].

 

“Stop!” I ordered as I threw up a [Mantle of the Stars].

 

“Bitch, what did you say?” The man spat, slowly turning to look at me.

 

“I said, stop.” I strode over, kneeling down to touch the woman and her kids, to heal them back up. To my disgust I saw that the man’s knuckles were split, and I’d never hated my [Oath] more than I did in that moment.

 

I’d have to heal him as well, unless he explicitly rejected my healing.

 

“No, please don’t.” The woman begged at… me? “It’s ok, it’s my fault, I deserve it.”

 

“Yeah, you hear that? Bugger off. Get out of my home.” The man sneered at me, smashing a fist against [Mantle]. It held. He didn’t have nearly enough strength to break it, or even tax my mana. The two kids looked up at me, terrified. Looking for any measure of reassurance.

 

“It’s ok.” I whispered to them. It wasn’t ok. Not by a long shot. I gently reached out, and healed the three of them. The youngest started to sniffle, then looked at her dad and bit her lips.

 

My heart broke. No two year old should be that afraid of their dad.

 

“Please just leave, he’ll get angry and just beat me more. He loves me, he doesn’t mean it, he just had a bad day then dinner was cold. It was all my fault, it’s ok.” The woman wailed.

 

“I can take you away from here.” I spoke softly to her, like a wounded animal. She furiously shook her head.

 

“No, what would I do? What options would I have? How would we live? I don’t want to be a slave. I don’t want Claudia and Secondus to be slaves. He loves me, please just leave us alone.” She begged as she tightly hugged her two kids.

 

“Are you sure? I’ve got a place for you. You’ll be safe. Ok.” I kept the pain out of my voice, keeping it soft.

 

She nodded furiously.

 

“He loves me.” She repeated, like a mantra.

 

I noticed Dickless punching the [Mantle] again. Be so easy to arrest him for trying to attack a Sentinel.

 

My mind raced as I processed my options, all of them utter shit.

 

The first option was the brutal one. I dropped [Mantle]. Jackass took a swing.

 

I killed him. Easy, simple, defense of a patient.

 

Then… what? She was in no better of a spot. She was just barely avoiding slavery, her and her entire family. Her kids lose their dad. She’d get sold off into slavery before the week was out. Most likely she’d get separated from her kids.

 

Her kids would get forced onto the streets, or into slavery themselves. They looked to be two and four.

 

No two year old was going to survive the streets. A four year old would be lucky to be sold into slavery, but it was possible.

 

The add-on to that was I ‘adopted’ them, in a sense. Had them live with me, work for me, save them like I saved Themis. It was just a drop in the bucket.

 

Would she want to live with the woman who’d murdered her husband? Would her kids tolerate being with the person who killed their dad in front of them?

 

The middle option didn’t exist. The patriarch of the family had complete control, up to life and death, over their family. There was no calling the guard to arrest this… subhuman filth. What he was doing?

 

Entirely legal. It was Octavia all over again.

 

And his neighbors could undoubtedly hear what was going on, and just… didn’t care. Or if they did, they weren’t stepping in to stop it.

 

The last option was to walk away. Before his fragile ego got trampled on any more. Before his rage could build further. I knew what his outlet would be. There was no question what happened after I left.

 

No, I could… modify the last option. Just a bit. In two small ways.

 

The first was to make the mockery of a human come with me. Take him on a long, LONG walk, then get a pair of guards to get him to walk even further. Tire him out, such that by the time he got back home, he was hopefully too exhausted to take things out on his wife, and he’d just go to sleep.

 

Fuck. It was such a stretch, I barely believed it myself. It only kicked the can down the road, and what if he was about to go to work? What if they needed every coin? They already looked like they were on the brink of starvation, what if that just tipped things over?

 

Fuck it. I’d leave a few dozen coins, that should make up for it. Or maybe I could just pay him to go for a walk.

 

The second part?

 

Screw everything. Screw the nice library, screw the mango orchards, screw a life of ease and luxury. Fuck the long-term plans. Forget about doing things the slow, safe, steady way. Not after the day I’d had.

 

One last option came to me. I continued to kneel next to her.

 

“Hey.” I called, and her eyes slowly dragged away from her husband, back to me.

 

“I can take your kids. Keep them safe. Adopt them into my family.” I softly cajoled her, damning myself as I did.

 

Gods, the options I was giving her.

 

‘Give up your kids.’

 

‘Let them get beaten when you’re too broken to protect them.’

 

Disgust welled up inside of me, starting to override my good sense.

 

She looked at me, really saw me. Looked back at her kids. They were fixed, healed, but I couldn’t do anything about their protruding ribs. Their torn, blood-stained shirts.

 

“Ok.” She practically whispered at me, starting to sob as she did. “Ok.”

 

I tossed my pouch of coins in the man’s direction, feeling sick with myself. I felt like a slaver, although I considered myself anything but.

 

Plus, the coins weren’t for them.

 

“42 coins to just take a long walk.” I said, knowing it could easily be a week’s wages. His eyes moved between me, his wife, his kids, and the coins, scattered carelessly around the room.

 

He knelt and scrabbled for them, like I’d make them disappear.

 

I grabbed one kid in each arm, looking at their mom. Searing her face into my memory.

 

Letting the goodbye linger for a moment.

 

There was a chance it’d be the kids - Secondus and Claudia’s - last meeting, last memory, of their mother who loved them so very much. Who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.

 

“Sentinel Dawn.” I choked out, my emotions washing over me, starting to cloud my normally good judgment. “Find me when you change your mind.”

 

She got some energy and rushed over, kissing her children.

 

“Goodbye Secondus. Goodbye my sweet Claudia.”

 

“Bye-bye.” The youngest one - Claudia - said, waving her little hand.

 

Secondus teared up, and after two aborted tries, choked out. “Goodbye mom.”

 

Then I left, crying around a lump in my throat as the man continued to collect fallen coins.

 

It was time for me to have a long talk with Emperor Augustus.

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Selkie

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