Showing 1 - 25 of 191
  • <
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • ...
  • 8
  • >


  • For all the ePubs to be easily findable. 

    Book 1: https://www.patreon.com/posts/book-1-epub-46132273

    Book 2: https://www.patreon.com/posts/book-2-epub-46130163


    Three days. It took three whole days of meetings and wrangling and preparation and gods-knows-what-else to finish working everything out, and getting everything, and everyone, organized.

    It was a far cry from Perinthus, where we’d been able to get everyone done in a day. Motivation, and prior organization went a long way.

    Bless the governor. He’d organized nearly the whole thing, and not only that, he was paying some of the healers. Sure, it was only a quarter or so of what I’d offered them, but the removal of some stress helped.

    I had a suspicion that he was going to end up with a lot more in his pocket at the end of it, once he did all his politicking-things well. “I paid for the people to heal everyone” and all that.

    While people didn’t elect their governor – it was decided by the Senate – popularity was a factor that was considered, and the Senate would never remove a well-loved governor, which this one was well on his way to being. Well – they’d never remove one that wasn’t actively planning a rebellion or something. Why a governor would plot a rebellion, I dunno. Rich, powerful, got everything you want? Anyways. He could probably also raise taxes, under the excuse of “Had to fix that plague//pay for this event”, and people wouldn’t grumble toomuch.

    Excess tax ended up in the governor’s pocket, of course. His pay for running things well. That was ripe for abuse. More of my lessons coming in handy!

    They’d still grumble, of course. Nobody was happy when the tax man came around. But the tax man would just get deep sighs and the occasional insult, instead of a shallow grave in the backyard. The governor would get his taxes, and I’d get my damn politics headache removed.

    Never. Again. I was going to camp outside of Night’s room until I had minions to help me out with this part of it again. I hadn’t given Kallisto and the like enough credit for making my life smooth and easy in the past. Or all the people in Perinthus who made things smooth.

    Nor was I going to discount organizational and social skills. With all the damn work I’d been putting it, I’d hope to get an [Organize] skill or [Meetings]or SOMETHING like that offered to me. But noooo, the System had it out for me.

    I looked over my skills quickly.

    [Phases of the Moon] - arguably the best healing skill possible.

    [Talaria] – Letting me fly.

    [Fireball], later [Nova]- The System giving me exactly what I wanted.

    Heck, getting [Detailed Restoration] at level freaking 100 – that was amazing, and quite literally saved my life.

    Fine. The System loved me, it just tormented me by not giving me anything social. Not that I’d take it… so what was I doing complaining?

    Back to the healing event.

    We’d split the town into 12 districts, each one roughly 500 people. Sure, the wealthy district had fewer, with the overage made up by the slums, but potato, potato. It was being billed as a massive party, an extra festival, all sponsored by various wealthy citizens.

    Man, how did he do it? Convinced a bunch of people to throw a moderate party for the whole town? I was impressed. I would never have thought of the idea.

    Ocean, to my great surprise, even chipped in a hair. Not enough to count as help, but, well, he’d managed to fish a fairly large sea monster out of the Nostrum, and had happily sold it to the organizers. “Try out exotic sea monster – Extra tasty!” had more than a little bit of appeal, and was helping get some of the more reluctant people out and about.

    The guard was going through and talking with the last few stubborn holdouts. Flavinius was starting out stationed in the wealthy district, giving personalized healing to the rich and powerful, which was a lot of hand-holding and bedside manner, for not a lot of actual healing. Still, even if he wasn’t getting his money’s worth out of me, he was making it back tenfold in connections and a personal touch on the richest. I suspect his clientele would dramatically increase after this, especially with the Wood dude’s patients needing new homes.

    Heck, if I had billed it this way from the start, he’d probably have worked for free. Ah well. I was happy that he was getting one of the better deals, given how nicely he’d treated me, and how much he’d helped.

    He was also on-deck to run around the town with the guards, going directly to anyone who refused to join the event directly, and just flat-out healing them. We suspected we might miss a few people here and there, but the situation wasn’t nearly as urgent as Perinthus was, and the disease was more liable to burn itself out if we missed one or two people. Especially if they were so reclusive as to skip a big party paid for by someone else, and managed to dodge the guard’s attention.

    Caecilius had eight districts, and Blue had four to manage. Caecilius had more on the basis of being specialized for this type of work, and quite frankly being dramatically stronger. He could do more than twice as much work and healing as Blue could, but we’d settled on this split.

    Privately, I’d told Caecilius that I’d double what I was paying him, but to pleasenot gloat or boast about it, otherwise I’d need to do a whole second round of negotiating with everyone. He seemed pleased at the recognition, and my attempt at fair treatment of everything, and had agreed without making a fuss.

    There was some muttering between him and his apprentice, and what I’d gathered was the apprentice was going to try his own skills first, do what he could, before Caecilius cleaned up.

    I had no idea what Blue’s plan was, but it was probably similar.

    My role was both easy, and hard.

    I was doing everyone.

    In the same way Markus had set up his Pyronox gates as a back-up for any last bits of healing, I was going back over where Blue and Caecilius had already done their healing, and doing a secondary heal, to catch anything they missed.

    Or in Caecilius’s case, anything he Mist.

    Artemis was a terrible influence on me.

    All my work with Night had resulted in me having a strong, strong grasp on my [Oath]. Something I hadn’t mentioned a ton with the other healers was my free healing sessions after – throwing a rock through their business – but not only was it part of what I’d offered the guards for their help, before realizing I’d been an idiot and should’ve just talked with the governor directly, but it also let me see and heal basically everyone in town without [Oath] kicking in and demanding I take a detour.

    I was just going to heal the current disease, and any and all problems were for tomorrow.

    Sure, if someone was critically injured, I’d step in and help, but most problems could wait a day.

    The sun was setting, and after some time, the moons started to rise – the only way we’d make this work honestly, if I had to lay hands on everyone we’d never succeed, and it was nice to throw a party in the evening – as the governor started his speech to the wealthy district.

    I was on a makeshift stage with him, dressed to the nines. Part of my contribution to this whole thing – showing up, looking good, making the governor look good. I was treading dangerously close to politics and being political, but the entire damn mess was politics and political, and there was no dodging it at a certain point. Just had to look as neutral as humanely possible, smile and wave, and get out as soon as I could.

    At last his speech was winding down, and fortunately he’d given me a heads up for this next part.

    “…and now, Sentinel Dawn, with a few words!”

    Whyyyyy did I have to give a speech.

    “Thank you so much governor!” I said, mustering up as much cheer as I could. “I’m not going to hold you all – let’s get started!” I said.

    A cheer from the crowd, a dirty look from the governor.

    Hey.

    He didn’t say anything about a long speech, and I was sick and fed up of all the social stuff. I was never ever dodging a party to go to one of these ever again. A party I could at least… well… no that wouldn’t work…

    Eh. A party was over after a few hours of agonizing.

    This? This was ENDLESS DAYS of hours of agonizing.

    Anyways.

    It was kicked off, and Flavinius had already started socializing. I was staying on the stage, waiting a moment or so, shaking hands and plastering a smile on my face as people came to meet me.

    “Sentinel Dawn! What a pleasure to meet you!” Another nameless, faceless dude in a purple toga said, offering his hand.

    I took it and shook it.

    “It’s such a lovely town here! So peaceful! So quiet! I’d love to spend more time here!” I said, faking enthusiasm.

    Dude beamed at me, completely missing that his name had gone in one ear, and out the other. Good trick, complimenting the town. Everyone had some small amount of civic pride. Usually.

    “Have you seen how the light hits the harbor at sunset? Prettier than any gemstone! Why…”

    Yup. A real fanatic.

    Blessedly, all I needed to do was nod my head and make appreciative noises, and nobody else butted in. Dude was content to tell me all about the town.

    Come on Blue, where were you? I needed you to kick off your bulk heal before I threw mine out, then I could start swinging round to the areas where Caecilius was managing.

    A shimmering series of flashes that went on for almost a minute, noises from the crowd, and I was jealous. Dude had a much larger area of effect. Was a lot slower than I was though.

    Oh well. That was my signal.

    “Excuse me, gotta start now.” I said, politely smiling at the dude.

    “No worries! Thanks for letting me blather on!” He said, giving me a cheery wave.

    Note to self: Find people who loved to talk, and were high enough on the food chain, and let them talk to me for hours on end when at my next social thing. That was so much easier and less painful than I’d imagined.

    I walked through the crowd, focusing on [Phases of the Moon], empowered by [Moonlight]. I focused on healing only the plague, on catching anything that wasn’t caught.

    On one hand, I didn’t need line of sight to people I was healing. On the other, if a group of kids hid under a table and declared it their fort – good fun that – [Moonlight]wouldn’t touch them.

    My mana did some wild fluctuations. It was basically impossible to tell if someone nearby was severely ill, or if it was someone right at the range of my area of effect being a little sick. The [Moonlight] distance penalty was harsh.

    To offset that, I kept “flickering” it – turned it on, healed, turned it off, walked around a bit, turned it on again. I made a few rounds – it was possible that someone was sick and somehow walking in a way that exactly avoided me – but this was good enough.

    This wasn’t Perinthus, where we had to get every single person. There quite frankly wasn’t the political will for it, and having a big party like this was the best we were going to manage.

    I had some fun diving under tables though.

    “Rawr! The great monster is here!” I announced to the kids, diving under a large table that they’d commandeered to play with.

    “Yar! Get her!” One of the kids waved a stick around, with great enthusiasm.

    There had been two sides to their fight, and it looked like they had been playing “Humans vs Formorians” – Deva was more on the west coast, so it made sense. The war was a lot closer and a lot more real for them, than it was where I grew up.

    However, the great Sentinel-Monster was fun and novel enough that they were suddenly all humans, and ganging up on me.

    Perfect. I’d get to contact all of them, and I wasn’t going to just heal the Coughing Illness from them – I’d smack them with everything I had.

    About 15 minutes of roughhousing later – hey, it was fun, and I was in desperate need of a break – the monster was “slain”, and screw the “bad optics” of the Sentinel, in her gear, being the monster and killed by kids. It was good, clean fun.

    I got up, dusted myself off, grabbed my guard escort, and we were off to the next party/gathering!

    I had a little map with me, with the order of who was doing what where, and long story short – I did a lot of running around town, from spot to spot.

    More monsters were slain, although I did mix it up once, doing a surprise appearance as myself, a Sentinel, when it looked like one side was badly losing. Same difference really.

    I made it to the last stop on my merry heal-go-round – the slums – and checked my mana, and my Arcanite.

    I was doing well on both.

    “Caecilius! How’s it been?” I said, initially greeting him. Somehow, in the mad rush around, moons glaring down on us and torches flickering light all over the place, we hadn’t bumped into each other. Spoke to a well-executed plan in my opinion.

    “It’s going well. Any issue on your end?” He asked, dignity in his voice betrayed by the chicken on a skewer leaving grease marks all over his fingers and chin.

    I resisted the temptation to laugh.

    “Nope! Blue’s only so-so on his bulk healing. I don’t think I had a single person who needed anything more from any of your sections.”

    Caecilius looked pleased with himself, pride in his word lacing his voice.

    “Why thank you. Mist is pretty good at getting everyone.”

    I refrained from mentally wincing. [Moonlight] was, like, a C at best for bulk healing. Hopefully I could upgrade it on the next class-up.

    “Yeah, I’m pretty sure with a solid supply of Arcanite, you could’ve knocked the thing out by yourself.”

    Caecilius smiled at the compliment.

    His apprentice jumped in.

    “Not without me!” He said.

    “No, probably not.” I replied, too happy to do anything.

    “Anyways, you wouldn’t mind if I did some mass healing?” I asked, gesturing around broadly. The party in the slums barely qualified, although it looked like someone had pulled a string, and the bulk of Ocean’s sea monster was here.

    “No, but it might deteriorate the relationship you have with the other healers.”

    I shrugged.

    “Not my problem” I said, focusing on [Phases of the Moon] to the max range of [Moonlight]. I mentally winced at the mental image that was forming – just ‘heal’.

    Screw it.

    I focused, and discovered a new trick. I didn’t need to say the skill, just be focusing on it.

    With a voice that tinkled like the stars, a word laced with moonlight, an intonation that invoked the vast skies above, I said:

    Heal

    Limps vanished. Eyes restored. Fingers fixed, and arms un-broken. A new lease on life was given to dozens within my range, as my mana vanished in a second. I breathed in, pulling more mana in, and repeated the process, watching most of my mana disappear again.

    Caecilius blinked at me, looking around, processing what I’d done. It was his turn to start catching flies.

    “What? What’d she do?” His apprentice asked.

    Caecilius didn’t answer him directly.

    “Sentinel Dawn.” He said, as politely and formally as he could manage. “That was incredible. Could my apprentice perhaps follow you and take some notes the next time you perform a feat like that?”

    “Sure.” I said, a little puzzled by his request, then it clicked.

    “Oh. Yeah, I’m going to do it again in a moment. Just gotta move to a different place in the crowd.”

    Caecilius bowed to me, then straightened up. Seeing his apprentice still looking bemused, he cuffed him.

    “Owww.” The apprentice said, rubbing his head.

    “Follow Sentinel Dawn. Watch her. Try to learn. She’s the most powerful healer alive right now. Her area isn’t the largest, but her speed and detail is unrivaled.”

    Awww shucks.

    I gave Caecilius a brilliant smile at that.

    “Thanks! Let’s go apprentice!” I said, diving into the crowd, who was just starting to process that some of them no longer had old injuries.

    I repeated the process twice more, draining a good chunk of my Arcanite in the process. I did have a frankly absurd amount of the stuff though.

    I was slightlyoffended that I wasn’t getting credit for my moves though – once the crowd figured out what was going on, they descended upon poor Caecilius, giving him thanks and credit.

    I snuck out, after answering a few questions from the properly-awed Apprentice. Hey, he got a nickname now. Sort of.

    I worked my way through the empty streets, to the guard barracks, where I had a little room/cubby thing, and crashed. I’d check my level up notifications tomorrow – I’d gotten a few. Hurray!


    To celebrate hitting 1,000 Patrons (I expect to no longer have this number at the EOD, but hey, celebrate the victories when I can), I'm announcing an art contest for Beneath the Dragoneye Moons!

    Everyone can participate! Even if you don't read the story! Granted, you'll have a hard time if you don't read the story, but hey. I don't discriminate.

    Winners will be decided 70% by Patreon Voting, 30% by my own judgement. Which is to say, if a poorly drawn mango gets the most votes over an epic high-quality piece, just due to the meme potential, I'll use my own judgement to declare the epic high-quality piece the winner.

    There might also be run-offs, depending on how many submissions I get. We'll see!

    The prize pool is 550$ (US) split as follows, and will be paid out over Paypal:

    1st: 250$

    2nd: 150$

    3rd: 75$

    4th: 50$

    5th: 25$


    Almost anything is fair game for the drawing. Unless it'd cause legal trouble. 

    Don't cause the author legal trouble.

    Please upload your work to Artstation, DeviantArt, Imgur, or some other hosting site that I can access without an account. That means not Instagram, that means no Pintrest, etc. If I can't see your submission, it might as well not exist.

    You can submit more than one submission, but if they're low quality, I'll probably toss all but the one I think is best. AKA Please don't spam me with a bunch of 30 second MS paint drawings. 

    Please include in your submission a short description of the piece, the name you'd like to be credited with, and your paypal address in case you win.

    All rights are retained by the artists. Winning submissions will be posted on Discord, RoyalRoad, and Patreon. If I want more rights, I'll contact you again in the future.


    Message me if you've got any more questions!

    Cheers, good luck, and have fun!

    Selkie



    Some artistic license taken.


    Elaine throwing [Fireball]s around on an outcropping into Formorian hordes. 





    I looked around the room. Lavish. Luxurious. Probably standard for how a healer lived. Whatever.

    What was more interesting were the people here. Four men sat around a central table loaded with the tastiest of – was that a mango!?

    Heck yes it was.

    Ok, focus. Back on topic.

    Caecilius was seated, eyebrows climbing up into his hair, eyes twinkling with amusement and swirling with Mist, marking his element. His poor apprentice wasn’t cut out for this sort of life, making strangled noises in the background.

    Three other men were seated around the table. The dude mistaking me for a servant I was mentally dubbing ‘Wine Slob’, because he was asking for wine and looked like a total slob. His back was to me – he hadn’t even looked. Probably guessed I was a servant by my footsteps – it wasn’t like I was quiet, and it wasn’t like I was making big, heavy plodding footsteps like a giant would. Couldn’t see his face, but dude was pudgy, grease stains on the shoulder of his tunic where he was clearly wiping his fingers off.

    ‘Relaxed’ was what I dubbed the dude who was sitting – no, lounging– in the most carefree manner. He didn’t even glance over or blink at our little altercation.

    ‘Blue’ was the last dude, on account of having a love affair with the color. His tunic was cyan, with dark blue threads woven, making patterns in his tunic.

    Normal so far.

    A blue bracelet. Blue hair. Blue sandals. I could practically hear a song being sung in my head.

    Brown eyes though. Unlucky him. Would’ve been perfect with his theme. They were incredibly shiny, and if I had to bet, I’d bet on him having a Mirror element. Had the same eyes as Mirror from Ranger Academy.

    I shouldn’t have named him Mirror. Ah well.

    He was focused on the altercation, slowly putting down his cup.

    Wine Slob started to turn around, stormy look on his face.

    “Who do-“ He started to say, only for Flavinius to step in, trying to keep the peace.

    “Peace all. Let’s not fight in my home. Let me introduce Sentinel Dawn, the newest Sentinel, focused purely on healing. Dawn, this is…” He proceeded to rattle off everyone’s name. They went in one ear, and out the other.

    However, Flavinius had been nothing but kind, courteous, pleasant, and helpful. I could keep the peace for him – as long as Wine Slob didn’t poke the bear again.

    Wine Slob was a Decay healer, focused on removing disease, and other problems. Blue was indeed a Mirror healer, and from the sound of it, had a class like the [Picture of Health] class I’d been offered a long time ago. Relaxed was Steam, which worked a lot like Caecilius, except he had a warming effect with all his skills.

    Honestly, not judging Caecilius, but Steam seemed better than Mist in a straight up one to one comparison for healing. Then again, Caecilius had almost 100 levels on the dude, so element clearly wasn’t everything. Whatever.

    There were a number of apprentices off to the side, who had been chatting with each other, but fell silent at our little altercation. Most were older than me, which was doing me no favors. Whatever.

    “… In conclusion, Sentinel Dawn is here to knock out the Coughing Illness before it becomes anything more serious.” Flavinius said, finishing up the introduction, and outlining the problem.

    Yeah. Helpers. I needed them. Like Sky needed the Pegasus,or Ocean needed his boat, they were a vital tool I didn’t think I could manage without.

    “Thank you.” I said, saying something before Wine Slob could get a word out. “While it’s not a problem now, it has the potential to become a problem later. An ounce of prevention’s worth a pound of cure and all that.”

    The blank looks said that my idiom had completely failed to hit the mark. Ah well. The concept was there.

    “Anyways. As Flavinius said, I’m here to straight up knock the plague out before it can become a larger problem. I’m working with the governor, but I’d also like your help.”

    “What’s in it for us?” Blue asked, in a reasonable tone. Not aggressive, not challenging, just curious.

    I blinked at him.

    “Um…” I said, at a loss for words. Like, wasn’t it obvious?

    “Experience? No more plague? A clean city?” I said.

    “Pay girl. He’s asking about pay.” Wine Slob said, rubbing his fingers together. “A sickness like this is good money for us. As long as it’s under control, why should we be concerned with eliminating it? Are you sure you’re any good at this healing business, and shouldn’t just leave it to men who know what they’re doing?”

    There was general nodding around the table – even Flavinius was reluctantly nodding. Caecilius had a bit of a frown.

    You know what? Screw this dude.

    “Without pay, you won’t help?” I asked, looking around. Bunch of reluctant nods.

    Bloody hell. This is what happened when the government didn’t believe in any sort of government programs. Heck, I could name exactly four – technically five things the Senate funded. Town walls, roads, the Army, including Rangers and Sentinels, tax collectors, and themselves. Of course, governors also raised taxes, but that was mostly to pay for the local guard, and enforce whatever rules they saw fit in their town. Everything else was left to a laissez faireapproach.

    Hence, fire brigades refusing to extinguish fires, unless the property was sold to them first.

    Hence, cripples who couldn’t afford healing being left to die.

    Hence, orphans. With no orphanages.

    Hence, healers unwilling to stamp out a plague in its infancy. Bad for business. Why not just let it run its course for some time, milk it for all it’s worth? If it gets too bad, well, business booms more.

    Remus, and Pallos at large, was still relatively new, as far as worlds and civilizations went. The concept of “band resources together because it’s easier for us to all do things as a group instead of individually” had clearly made its way through – it was the fundamental basis of government – but what should be done as a group was still, shall we say, a hair shaky. Like healthcare. There’d be fewer sick people if the town just taxed everyone, then paid the healers to heal everyone, no questions asked. Globally better for everyone. The healers still get paid, people still get healed, but a bunch of friction vanished. If people wanted stuff above and beyond simple healing – say, someone old wanting constant healing to feel their best – they could still pay for it.

    But nooooo. The government was hands-off. Let people figure it out themselves. Which led to this mess.

    Ok, to be fair – I was being paid by the government. If I was totally on my own, not Sentinel Dawn but just Elaine, [Wandering Healer], I might have a very different take on things. I might not be trying to heal everyone for free – I’d want to get enough money to, you know, eat and such, and pay for travel. No way would I travel on the roads alone, without an escort.

    Nobody was exactly wrong here. The Senate should really figure out this properly.

    Well – I thought back to my Legal lessons. It was a town by town issue, so the local Governor should be the one figuring it out.

    Not my challenge, not today. Getting a proper medical system arranged was a challenge for another time and place, and ideally, someone who reveled in that sort of diplomatic wheeling and dealing. Just needed to find the right person, get the idea in their head…

    I mentally shook myself. Focus.

    At the same time, they weren’t exactly hurting for money. Everyone was rich, not that I blamed them for making a living, and I’d inadvertently increased their workload by accidentally removing one of the other healers in towns.

    I drummed my fingers on my arm.

    “Fine. What would you each want for a single evening of healing as many people as possible? I’m not asking for you to cure any ailment, simply targeting the affliction in question.”

    “Eh. Don’t we just need to cure people who look sick?” Relaxed asked, contributing to the conversation for the first time.

    “No, but yes.” I said, after a moment’s thought. “It’s possible to have the sickness and not show it, but still spread it to others. In that sense, you need to heal everyone. At the same time, Caecilius and I are able to mass heal people.”

    I thought about it for a moment, doing some lightning calculations in my head. The town was small. Not everyone was sick – or rather, the people who were more sick required amounts of mana that were significant, the rest were so small as to be ignored.

    “Honestly. End of the day I can do this entire thing on my own.” I said. “I’m asking for your help both as a courtesy to you, and to make my life a bit easier. With that being said, let’s discuss pay for a night’s work…”

    With that, I sat down, grabbed that mango that had been sitting on the table, temping me with its luscious goodness, and started peeling – and negotiating – in earnest.

    Darn mango was practically all pit.

    ==

    After a few painful hours of negotiating – didn’t they all have a clinic to run that they needed to get back to – we’d hammered out a deal.

    Rather, I’d hammered out a deal with Blue, Flavinius, and Caecilius. Wine Slob wanted too much – I wasn’t willing to meet his price – while Relaxed didn’t seem to care enough. “Too much work” in his words.

    I also suspected I’d been fleeced horribly in the deal, but didn’t know enough to say otherwise.

    I left the meeting, angry and frustrated. Wine Slob had taken every chance to belittle me, although his crestfallen look when I’d basically said ‘screw it, I’m not going to bother dealing with you’ let me know that he was a hair disappointed that he wouldn’t get paid for the mass heal event. Thought he could bend me to his will, that just because I was a woman I’d cater to his whims. Ha! Not likely.

    Caecilius had been the most reasonable, followed closely by Flavinius. They both extorted a bunch of money out of me, but hey, that was life.

    Blue drove a much harder bargain, arguing on the basis of being able to bulk-heal. Caecilius taking a single, bulk payment helped negate a bunch of that, and both Blue and Caecilius were getting a single payment.

    Flavinius had argued well on being paid per-person. In short, if he managed to heal around 400 people, he’d make a heck of a lot more than the others. Which really wasn’t fair, since they would all be healing more people on average than he was – but on the flip, Flavinius could really only heal people that were visibly ill.

    This whole thing was a gods-damned mess. I was doing this solo next time.

    Or maybe…

    “Caecilius! Hey Caecilius!” I said, catching up to the elderly man as we left Flavinius’s place, all the polite formalities having been sorted out.

    “Sentinel Dawn.” Caecilius said, perfectly polite, even half-bowing. “I thought our business was mostly concluded in the prior meeting?”

    “Oh for today’s stuff, sure! However, I wanted to have a chat with you about a different, long-term arrangement.”

    Caecilius looked at the sky, at the sun starting to head towards the horizon. He sighed, a deep, weary noise that spoke of ‘darnit, the day’s totally shot isn’t it?’

    “Of course Sentinel Dawn.” He said, hands folded in front of him. Blah.

    “Short, short version, for you to think about.” I was shit at reading body language, but I was getting a ‘tired of all this damn politicking’ vibe off of him. Not that I blamed him. I felt the same way.

    Please just give me a congo line of people to heal, or a bunch of people in one spot with the moons out. The frontlines were blessedly uncomplicated in that respect.

    Maybe I could ask to hang out there now and then?

    But then all the Ranger Trainees would be missing the best healing education possible…

    Then again, they’d lived so far without me.

    Focus. Here and now.

    “I foresee that we’ll end up working a solid amount together. Whenever I can be spared, and the plague’s big enough, I’ll also be sent to handle it. No idea how it works on my end, but I know I can have a few people as helpers. I could probably try to wrangle something with you, get a number of your expenses paid, a few privileges, to just… keep doing what you’re doing, and give me a helping hand when I need to handle a plague. No need to give me an answer now, just think about it.”

    Caecilius blinked. His apprentice was trying to catch flies.

    “That is an exceedingly generous offer, Sentinel Dawn.” He said after a moment, giving me a quarter bow. “I will have to think on it.”

    “Yeah, no worries. Not even sure if it’s fully possible, but it should be. You can give an answer at Ranger HQ at any time! Don’t even need to catch me here. You are based out of the capital right?”

    He slowly nodded at me.

    “Have a good day.”

    I recognized a ‘I am so ready to get out of here’ when I heard it. Heck, I was of the same frame of mine.

    “Thanks! You too!”

    He walked away.

    Ok… back to the governor I guess?

    Dear gods. Endless meetings. Shoot me now. I needed a helper.

    I paused a moment, thinking.

    I needed a helper… or to get a level so high I could just flat-out purge a town on my own in a single go.

    Hmmmmmmmm.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 49600/49600]

    [Mana Regen: 40336 (+3086.16)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 18]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed:   480]

    [Mana: 4960]

    [Mana Regeneration: 4676 (+1318.632)]

    [Magic Power: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Magic Control: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 242]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 242]

    [Warmth of the Sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 210]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 236]

    [Phases of the Moon: 242]

    [Moonlight: 242]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness   of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath   of Elaine to Lyra: 205]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 196]

    [Persistent Casting: 35]

    [Learning: 242]


    “Caecilius!” I said, happily opening my arms.

    “Elaine?” He said, somewhat surprised, blinking as he looked at me.

    His apprentice just made an annoyed noise. Sheesh. Dude never liked me.

    “In the flesh!” I said, twirling around, showing off somewhat.

    He blinked a few more times, processing.

    “Congratulations on your promotion to Sentinel.” He said. “What title did you get?”

    Mmmm. He’d been around the block a few times, and probably had as much experience as an entire Ranger team put together. He’d probably seen his fair share of strange and unusual things, and me being a Sentinel might break his top 100, if I was lucky.

    “Thank you! Dawn.” I said, answering his question.

    A strangled noise came out of the apprentice, eyes bulging in jealousy. His face was turning all sorts of interesting colors.

    Heh. I was probably 10 years younger than him, and had like 60 levels on him.

    “Would I be correct in thinking that you are indeed the author of the Medical Manuscript?” Caecilius asked, pulling a scroll out of his bag.

    “Yup!” I said, recognizing that he’d pulled out scroll 1 of it. “Markus put me up to it after Perinthus, and I spent almost a year writing it. Managed to get it distributed right before Academy.”

    Caecilius blinked, doing some mental math.

    “They made you a Sentinel right out of Academy?” He asked, the first note of surprise in his voice.

    Yesss. Broke his top 20 surprising things in all likelihood.

    “Kinda. I did it ass-backwards. Ranger first, Academy second. Sentinel third.”

    “That’s quite the story. I’d love to hear more of it.” Caecilius said.

    Man, his apprentice was just not coping at all. It was pretty funny, not going to lie.

    “About that – I’m trying to arrange a short meeting between all of the town’s healers tomorrow, for lunch. Markus put me on to you possibly being in town, and I wanted to invite you to it. Share info about the plague, discuss a possible plan of attack.”

    Caecilius gave me a little knowing smile.

    “Using the Perinthus methods?”

    “Shamelessly.” I said.

    “We’ll be there.” He said.

    His apprentice made a strangled, frustrated noise, and left the room.

    “Great!” I said.

    I gave him the directions, and the time, and set out myself.

    Ok, healers secured. Guards – kinda secured. Depended on the meeting this evening.

    Man, who thought that “healing a town” would devolve into “run around arranging meetings all day.” This was, quite frankly, not what I was for, and not my skill set.

    Hang on. Magic was able to get a support crew of Gemstone artisans helping him out. Toxic clearly had people sourcing poisonous stuff. Could I get a high-level [Administrator]to help me out? Someone who could sniff out the right people, arrange meetings and connections, get the right people in the right room?

    Wasn’t a bodyguard. Helped shore up a weakness. I was going to be in more mass casualty events, where massive organizational skills were critical. My skills were OK, and people were being generally cooperative and helpful. It was a miracle really that things were going so smoothly, that people were looking at the badge and not me.

    It wouldn’t always go this smoothly, nor would I always have the time to arrange meetings and get people together in a slow, smooth manner, as opposed to diving head first into healing and stabilizing as many people as Elaine-ly possible. Someone to do that for me – or a small team – seemed to be just what I needed, to deal with the small details so I could actually do my job.

    Right. I was basically free until the evening. Time to get at it, see how many people I could heal. The more I did now, the fewer I’d need to do later.

    A few hours of ambling through the streets later, and I had a much greater appreciation for Caecilius’s method, along with the people that helped me get a stall in the marketplace for free healing. I’d tried, but nobody wanted to bite. I either looked intimidating, or like a bad deal – people would be toofocused on me, if that made sense.

    Another point for a helper – help me get a solid spot to heal from. I considered the temple, but that’d just throw a wrecking ball through what Caecilius was doing. That, and if nothing else, I was out and about and visible while doing this. The [Pretty] healing Sentinel offering free healing. It’d make my attempts to do a mass healer later maybe easier, as I was getting to know people.

    6000 people was a small town. If everyone knew I was in town by the end of tomorrow, I’d believe it.

    Evening started to fall, and I made my way back to the guard’s barracks. Meeting time with the guard captain.

    I introduced myself to the guards, who were clearly expecting me. I was swiftly escorted to the captain’s office.

    There was a man with the captain. Sitting down, he was at least a head shorter than the captain, which made him taller than me still. He had longer hair, tied back into a neat bundle at the back of the head. He was wearing a simple tunic, the simplicity betrayed by the quality of the cloth and the rich blue dye used to color it.

    While he didn’t look pissed, he had a distinct “unhappy” air about him.

    The captain stood up, while the man stayed seated.

    “Governor Gaius. I’d like to introduce you to Sentinel Dawn.” The captain said formally.

    Oh shit.I knew I was forgetting to talk with someone. The governor. Yup. That might be an important person to have a chat with directly, instead of through the captain.

    Man, he’d even hinted at it to me.

    Whoops. No wonder he looked annoyed. I’d dropped into his town, and started running around doing all sorts of things without once talking with him. He probably should’ve been my first contact. I was too used to being a Ranger, to letting Julius handle that sort of thing, and in Perinthus the governor was notably MIA.

    I saluted him, closed fist over my chest, bowing slightly.

    “Governor. Dawn here. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for not coming to meet with you earlier, I ended up otherwise occupied.”

    Right. A ‘mea culpa’, a show of deference, a polite half-excuse that we could all use to gracefully exit – if he wanted to.

    Dear gods, I hated politics and socializing. I needed helpers. As soon as possible. Just get me a conga line of people that needed healing.

    I looked up, to see the governor looking much happier. Me deferring to him, apologizing to him, clearly went a long want.

    “Dawn. A pleasure to meet you.” He said, with a surprisingly high-pitched voice. “What brings you here?”

    I gave the short version of the plague, along with reassurances that of coursehe probably already knew all this.

    “What do you hope to do?” He asked.

    “A mass-heal event.” I promptly replied. “My skills, knowledge, and experience are letting me know that this is purely a human to human transmission disease, which means that if we cure everyone, the plague’s done. Over. Gone. I go home, everyone continues on happy.”

    “Human to human?” The governor asked.

    Whoops. Common medical knowledge not being so common strikes again!

    “Diseases can transmit in a variety of different ways. Person to person, animal to person, water to person, contaminated food, bad air, insects, parasites, and more. Some diseases are purely internal, things like cancer, diabetes, and more. This current one is purely person to person, meaning we don’t need to exterminate all the rats or find a contaminated well or anything.” I continued to ramble on about diseases – just a short, quick overview – before looking around, realizing I’d lost my audience.

    I coughed awkwardly. Was it my fault that I found talking about disease easier than managing meetings and politics and organization?

    The governor and the captain looked at each other.

    “Yup. Most certainly a Sentinel.” The governor said. The captain nodded in weary agreement.

    Hey! What did he mean by that!?

    “Help me out. Why is this a problem now? I’m aware that we have a minor disease going around, but how is this any different from any other minor disease that we get?” The governor asked.

    I winced. Dude was smart, and was going to roast me hard.

    Screw it. Honesty was the best policy, and it’d worked for me so far.

    “Honestly… it’s not. You may have guessed, but I’m relatively new at being Sentinel. This is a shakedown run, so to speak, me getting my legs. As opposed to most Sentinels which just go off and murder some moderately high level monster, I have to deal with a bunch of people.

    Something in my tone must’ve betrayed me, as both the captain and governor started laughing at me.

    “Wait, wait, don’t tell me,” The governor said, between fits of laughter. “brilliant at healing. Terrible with people.”

    I felt my lips pursing together. They looked up at me, and started laughing even harder.

    “Alright, alright.” The governor said, calming down. “I think I’ve got the picture here. We’ve got a bit of a problem – I will acknowledge that – and I do appreciate you coming in to smash the problem in its early stages. Or late stage. Can never tell with these things.”

    He had a point there.

    “Tell you what. I’ll help you organize this, but put in a good word, or fifty, into your report.”

    Oh bless him, I’d hire a bard to sing his praises from here to Aquiliea if he was able to handle most of this. Granted, him organizing it also meant he could claim most of the spotlight – and credit, and good will – for the save, but at this point I didn’t care. I’d been dealing with people too much. The relief must’ve shown on my face, as he got a sharp grin.

    I should probably do a deep session of weighing the pros and the cons against each other, but I was tired. I wasn’t any good at wrangling people together. He had the recognition, and the authority, and I was happy to hand it off/delegate to him.

    “Sure!” I said, thrilled that it was no longer my problem. “I’m working on organizing the other healers in town – I’m meeting with them tomorrow – but in terms of mass, bulk-healing, I work best under moonlight. New Moon was a few days ago, so any time shortly after sunset works best for me to heal dozens of people in one go. Additionally, Caecilius is in town – a [Plague Healer] – and he’s also got bulk healing.”

    The governor gave me a sharp nod.

    “I’m familiar with Caecilius, and him being in town does give merit to the idea of knocking the disease out now. Normally, I’d use a party outside the walls as an excuse, but the solstice just finished, and everyone’s still partied out. However…” He said, drumming his fingers against the chair arms.

    Man, he’d stayed seated the entire time I was standing. That had to be some sort of power play or something, but again, I just didn’t care enough at this point. I just wanted this to be done and over, a line of people in front of me to heal.

    We hammered out a few more little points, and agreed to meet again tomorrow – at the governor’s place.

    Perfect. Now I just needed to meet with the healers!

    Endless. Damn. Meetings. Next time I was going to the party, at least the pain and agony would only be an hour or two, instead of this protracted, drawn-out affair.

    Seriously, just shoot me now.

    “On a last note, I’d like to congratulate Dawn on her apprehension of the Purple Flower grower.” The captain said.

    “Oh?” The governor asked.

    “Yeah, she single-handedly took down the entire thing.”

    “ehhh… funny story that…” I said.

    “Do tell.” Gaius said, leaning forward.

    “Well… I just walked into his shop.”

    An awkward silence stretched between us.

    “That’s it?”

    “Yeah, that was basically it.”

    The governor facepalmed, while the captain – clearly already knowing the story – laughed himself sick.

    I couldn’t help it. The mirth was contagious. I cracked a smile.

    …..

    “Welcome Sentinel Dawn!” Flavinius said, opening his front door for me personally, at my lunch appointment the next day.

    His digs were nice. A big, fancy villa, as nice as anything else this town had. Heck, it even rivaled the governor’s place! Again, it was brought into sharp focus for me how nice healers had it, how wealthy they could become with little to no risk, or danger.

    As we walked through the villa, Flavinius playing the perfect host, pointing out artwork and statues and the like, as slaves bustled through, I mentally revised my estimate. My Sentinel quarters were nice, but this was indeed a tier of luxury higher, if only for the extra room for artwork and frescos, and having a large support staff able to wait on you hand and foot.

    Ah well. My bed was made – well, not made, I’d gotten up too fast – and I was happy to lie in it.

    We made it to the room, and one of the healers instantly got on my nerves.

    “Oh, hey, serving girl, get me another jug please.” He said, comment directed to me.

    Ok, be cool, be calm, don’t-

    “Fuck off.” I said, barely suppressing throwing him

    Welp, so much for that. And good initial impressions.

    This was going to go swimmingly.


    Hey all! Getting this question a bunch, figured I'd put out a quick reminder:


    I caught a bug in my excel spreadsheet on chapter 124 which was giving Elaine a lot more stats. I simply fixed it, which dropped a number of her stats. Hence the lower stats from 124 onwards.

    Cheers!


    I woke up in the guard barracks, them being the best place for me to sleep. Bless the added padding Sentinel armor got. While it wasn’t terribly comfortable, it was at least bearable. And the Hell Months had gotten me well-suited to sleeping in, well, anything and anywhere really.

    I spent some time chatting with some of the guards over breakfast. I liked guards, and if we were going to be working closely, I wanted them liking me and putting forth a good effort, not grumbling about the Sentinel coming in and upending everything.

    More leadership stuff. I was happier doing this.

    We finished up, and I left to wander the streets.

    As a rough ballpark, a healthy town without major problems had roughly one full-time healer for every thousand people, and, for lack of a better term, a ‘partial’ healer for every six hundred or so people. Verta and my mom would both have qualified as a ‘partial’ healer, someone who wasn’t healing full time, just someone with it as one of their classes, who did some healing now and then. Oh, and apprentices. They counted as well. Before I’d gotten [Detailed Restoration] and ran away from home, I’d qualified as one as well.

    Anyways. With Caecilius and his likely apprentice, the 5-7 full time healers, and the 9-11 ‘partials’, I was looking at 16-21 healers in total for this operation.

    Max.

    Some might be sick. Some just might want to sit it out. Some of the partials might not be allowed to participate. Bleh.

    I started to walk through the streets, drawing all sorts of looks. It was clear I wasn’t a guard, and Rangers and the like didn’t usually walk around armored. Some pointing and muttering occurred when people spotted my Sentinel badge, the badge being rare enough, and Deva far away enough from the capital, that it wasn’t exactly a common or well-known sight, in spite of how well-known Sentinels were.

    I was looking for some of the other healers, to chat with them. See what they knew, see if they were up for a mass heal event.

    I hadn’t appreciated just how much organization had gone into Perinthus, and all of the healers working together. Trying to one-woman my way through all of this, to solving the problem? Yikes. Harder than I’d thought.

    I saw a sign, a herb leaf, indicating that a healer’s clinic was here. I entered, only to find myself in what was basically an apothecary.

    Either I’d read the sign wrong, or this was a rare wood-healer, one who brewed tinctures and tonics, as opposed to simply throwing mana and skills at the problem. They were handy when you weren’t in town, and only made irregular trips, or suspected you’d need something on the road, or just wanted a backup of some sort.

    Either way, I was of the opinion that yes, Wood healers were ‘real’ healers.

    “Hello, can I help you?” A man called from the back, stepping out into the main store area.

    “Oh no.” He said, seeing me, turning tail, and sprinting to the back of the store, knocking down a shelf of potions along the way.

    I raised my eyebrows. What was that all about?

    ….

    I decided to poke around the store a bit. – I practically felt obligated to, and I was allowed to. Potions, neatly labeled. Herbs, hanging from the ceiling. Well, anything that’s making the dude abandon ship so fast wasn’t going to be out in the open. Time to poke around in the back?

    I pushed my way through the door leading to what was probably his living quarters, feeling like I was intruding. Just a quick little peek around… is there anything super-duper obvious that I’d need to make a fuss about?

    Bed, clothes, trapdoor, table, kitchen, recliner – wait, trapdoor?

    Damnit. Please no underground slave ring, please no underground slave ring.

    I went down the open trapdoor – seriously, what was the point if you were just going to leave it open – finding myself in what could only be a skill-empowered underground grow operation.

    Flowers. Dozens of purple flowers all over the place, in various stages of growth. Perfectly normal for an alchemist/Wood healer/apothecary to be growing their own herbs…

    Except these weren’t herbs. These weren’t purple flowers.

    These were the Purple Flowers, the dangerous, addictive drug that stained teeth purple. I’d never seen them in person before – something about not having all that great an interest in trying out drugs – but I’d gotten descriptions of them, and these fit perfectly.

    Ah shit. I knew there’d been a bunch more people than normal running around with slightly stained teeth. Welp. This was going to be a mess.

    Couldn’t I just heal a plague, like a normal healer? Instead, I was going to be down a healer for the mass heal event, and it wasn’t like Deva was swimming in them.

    Looking around – the grow operation was, from the small theoretical knowledge I had on the topic, way more than a town this size needed.

    Man. All the dude needed to do was play cool, and I’d have never noticed. But noooo. Assumed Sentinels were all-knowing, all-powerful, and his ego assumed I’d been sent after him.

    I went pale as I realized I had a problem.

    Drugs on this scale were a lot of money. And I was deep inside the dude’s lair. He was either bailing, or getting reinforcements, and getting trapped in here against a bunch of angry, potentially drug-addicted Classers would end poorlyfor me. Being a Sentinel, I could try to intimidate my way out of it, but yeah. I wasn’t going to stick around.

    Dammit. Where was a local guard patrol? I was handing this off to them. Way above – hang on, that was all wrong now – way below my paygrade. Plus, a team of guards was better suited for handling this than I was.

    I groaned, realizing another consequence.

    I’d have to ask to directions to another healer now. I just couldn’t catch a break, could I?

    ……..

    Guard informed, I was outside the door of another healer. Four other healers, this one included, called Deva home.

    “Hello?” I said, stepping inside.

    “Heya! Um.” The [Receptionist] said, his standard greeting completely thrown off by my attire. “Is something the matter?”

    “Well, yes, but not urgently so. Hoping to chat with the healer when he’s next free?”

    The man nodded furiously, before vanishing into the back. I sighed.

    It was better than being outright dismissed, ignored, or doing a massive accidental drug bust I guess?

    The healer came out, demeanor suggesting ex-military. Made me think of the healers on the frontlines – was he retired from that?

    A quick peek at his level with [Identify] suggested that was the case, as his level was much higher than I’d guess normally – around 260 or so.

    “Sentinel.” He said, throwing off a crisp salute. Definitely ex-military.

    “Healer.” I said, with the same respectful tone, throwing back a perfect salute of my own.

    “Come, let’s talk about whatever your issue is.”

    “I hope I’m not disturbing you too badly.” I said. I really did hope that.

    “For a Sentinel, anything.” He said. He only had eyes for the badge, wasn’t seeing me behind them. That, or the badge was overriding. I wasn’t going to argue.

    “I’m Dawn. Nice to meet you.” I said, trying to set the tone of the conversation, extending my hand for a shake.

    “Flavinius. Coral healer. Blood specialist.” He said, taking my hand, the formal tension somewhat eased.

    “I specialize in healing.” I said, somewhat stating the obvious. “Rumors reached us about a minor plague here, and quite frankly, I just got promoted last Convocation. We figured this would be a solid first mission for me, let me cut my teeth on operating as a Sentinel, instead of as a Ranger.”

    Honesty. Candor. I did my best not to lie, but I figured being completely open with Flavinius would get me far.

    He nodded at me.

    “Not that deadly. Somewhat persistent. Has the potential to become larger. Yeah, I can see this being a solid initial mission. What do you need from me?”

    I explained my plan of a straightforward mass-heal event. It did seem to be the standard, initial response to a plague, when sources and reservoirs weren’t well known.

    Flavinius nodded.

    “Seems wise to handle this ahead of time. Which other healers have you talked with, and what’s the next step?”

    Bless him. Bless ex-army medics. No arguing, no questioning, just agreement.

    I scratched my head awkwardly.

    “Well, I tried to talk with some Wood healer, but he just screamed and ran. Turned out to be growing a huge amount of Purple Flower.”

    “Really? He was the cause of the problem?”

    “Well, unless he was renting out his basement to his neighbor and didn’t want to be implicated.” I said with a straight face.

    Flavinius laughed.

    “Who else?”

    “Nobody so far. I know I’m also looking for a [Plague Healer] Caecilius, rumored to be in town. Incredibly powerful, specialized in this sort of work.”

    “Well, I know them all. Why don’t I arrange for all of us to have a meal together this evening?” Flavinius suggested.

    I opened my mouth, almost agreeing, before remembering – I was booked for the captain of the guard this evening.

    “I’ve got an appointment with the captain of the guard. Tomorrow, lunch?” I asked.

    “Perfect.” He said.

    Bless him. I whole-heartedly endorsed the idea, and Flavinius even went so far as to suggest hosting it himself.

    At this point, I made it my mission to locate Caecilius. However, my geography knowledge was muttering at me, saying that something wasn’t quite right… I needed a quick talk with Ocean.

    ……

    “Yo.” I said, plonking down next to Ocean, who was sitting with his new fishing friends. “Quick question for you.”

    “Oh?” Ocean said, as the other fishermen were giving me mixed looks. No – giving Ocean mixed looks. “Who’s this and why’s the blasted Sentinel treating him so casually?” Was what the looks said.

    “Just how far from the capital are we, and how long is the trip normally?”

    “Ten days.”

    That might be why Caecilius wasn’t super obvious. If he’d left when Markus thought, he’d have just gotten here.

    Wait.

    Holy shit Ocean was fast. No wonder he was the secondary rapid deployment.

    Still. He should be around somewhere, although maybe he was still getting settled in. I could ask Ocean for help – but I’d gotten most of the help I wanted from him, and something like this was mundane, low-level. I felt the need to prove myself, and it wasn’t like finding Caecilius would make or break things.

    “Cheers thanks!”

    Ocean waved, and re-cast his line, the hook and bait going an improbably far distance. I narrowed my eyes. Was there even that much line…?

    Skills. Who knows, maybe that was part of his [Love of the Sea].

    Right. If I was Caecilius, where would I be? I doubt he’d be wandering the streets like I was. He didn’t have any sort of obvious stall in the marketplace, like I tended towards.

    Where did I find him last time? The temple.

    Seemed to be a good place to go looking for him. Every town had a temple, and while they didn’t specialize in healing, they could, occasionally, do some minor healing, and people often went to the temple for… things… like…

    Yeah my religion wasn’t particularly good. Apart from occasionally showing up to pray for Lyra, and being amused to watch my mana bounce around as I sent a prayer off, I didn’t really do much with it. The existence of gods and the like should’ve maybe had me take a more active, direct interest, but there’d always been something else to do. The priests spoke of miracles and divine revelation, but it was impossible for me to tell if they were real miracles, real divine revelations, or more Oracle of Delphi-style ‘prophecies’ and the like. Miracles directly from the divine, or ‘miracles’ that were just smoke and mirrors, and the clever application of skills?

    Magic made it really hard to tell if a miracle was real, or just some skill.

    Anyways. I could see a wandering healer setting up in the temple, instead of a market square, and I made my way over to see if he was there – or had stopped by there – healing the occasional person as I made my way through the streets.

    The temple wasn’t nearly as big as other temples I’d seen, but Deva wasn’t particularly large. I made my way inside, to speak with the [Acolyte] inside.

    “Welcome. What can the temple do for you today?” He asked. Dude looked old. Not old-old, but late 50’s, early 60’s easy. Curious. Did he never want to be a priest, or was there some reason he never went up the ladder? Or was there something else going on?

    Ah well.

    “Heya! I’m looking for Caecilius, a [Plague Healer]. Think he might’ve stopped by here?”

    “First room on the left.” He said. “He asks for payment up front.”

    Well then. That was remarkably easy!

    “Thanks!” I said, making my way over.

    I got to the door in question, and knocked.

    “Come in.” A voice I recognized said.

    I entered, to finally find Caecilius and his apprentice! Hurray!

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 49600/49600]

    [Mana Regen: 40336 (+3086.16)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 18]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 4960]

    [Mana Regeneration: 4676 (+1318.632)]

    [Magic Power: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Magic Control: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 242]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 242]

    [Warmth of the Sun: 189]

    [Medicine: 210]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 236]

    [Phases of the Moon: 242]

    [Moonlight: 242]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance   Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 205]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 196]

    [Persistent Casting: 35]

    [Learning: 242]


    I blinked, taking the mug from Ocean, downing it. It woke me up, made me realize just how hungry and thirsty I was. Without saying anything, Ocean refilled my mug, handing me more field rations, which I promptly devoured.

    “How long?” I asked, between mouthfuls.

    “Three days. I was starting to get concerned.” Ocean said.

    Three days!? No wonder he was getting concerned!

    I chowed down ravenously, then started to break into my backpack. Ocean grabbed my arm, stopping me.

    “We’re at a town. Better buy stuff here, and save your rations for on the road.”

    Mmmm. Good point.

    “What happens now?” I asked, refocusing on my mission.

    “Well, a good majority of the time, there’s the Ranger team that called you hanging around to give you a debrief. Usually trying to contain whatever mess is going on. On occasion, they’ve left to continue their round, and the info’s been left with the local guard, or the next team’s around to give you the run down – enough time could pass between the message and you getting here that the next team’s arrived.”

    “The remaining usual case is an information package, on all the details of a problem. Usually a fast-moving problem, or a slippery classer. At which point it’s a hunt to find the problem – and almost every time Hunting is sent on those.”

    “This time, you’re practically chasing rumors though, which is going to make it hard.”

    “Or easy, depending on the prevalence.” Ocean shrugged.

    “Anyways, we’re here. You’re the boss. You decide what to do.”

    Well then. Investigations and Leadership classes were suddenly coming in handy, and the History, Geography, and Politics lessons were useful in giving me context to do everything in. Good foresight.

    Ok, let’s think about this, do some planning. A plague was something massive. I could try to one-woman army my way through it – which was the whole idea of a Sentinel – but so many people were touched and impacted that there was no way I could organize a response on my own.

    I was the daughter of a guard, grew up around them, and had nothing but respect and admiration for them. They were also the perfect people to work with on this, having the personnel and the network to make anything I needed happen.

    A significant part of authority and leadership was being recognized as the authority, as the leader. The governor was the governor because everyone decided he was. If I walked in and started making demands, good chance I’d be ignored. If I walked in on my own, there was a good chance I’d be questioned if I really was a Sentinel, or making stuff up. Same deal as when I was a Ranger.

    Being the first woman Sentinel was still ringing in my mind, and odds were good Deva had never heard of me, not with the speed Ocean traveled, not with the non-critical aspect of it.

    One of the best ways to be recognized as an authority figure – have another authority figure, a well-known one, introduce you.

    My eyes turned to Ocean.

    “Right. Here’s the plan. I’m going to walk around a bit, get a general feel of the place. See if there’s a super obvious plague or anything, grab lunch, then I’ll swing back, grab you, and we’re going to talk with the captain of the guard together.”

    “Oh?” Ocean said, leaning back. “This is your mission, not mine.”

    It seemed like all the Sentinels liked testing and challenging each other a bit. More to see what the thinking and logic was than anything else. I’d seen Night do it to Toxic.

    “Sure. All I’m asking is for you to introduce me. With my age, gender, and height, it’s likely I’d be disbelieved when I mention I’m a Sentinel, which undermines all of us. Gods know it happened enough when I was a Ranger, and that was traveling with a full team. Having a well-respected, well-established Sentinel introduce me in the first place though will go a long way towards mitigating that.”

    Ocean nodded.

    “Right. Well-reasoned. I’ve already talked with the [Harbor Master], and you’re all clear to enter town.”

    “Thanks!” I appreciated that.

    I left Ocean’s boat, and started to wander around town. There were a number of people with faintly purple teeth. Wonder if they had a problem with drugs here. My ‘wandering around town’ was really more me just hitting up every food vendor I could between healing people on the street.

    I’d frankly forgotten about that. The severity of a few people hacking their way down the street obligated me to stop, and ask if they’d like to get healed.

    Most said yes. A few looked at me distrustfully and declined, either biased against a woman, refusing to acknowledge they were sick, or simply believing there had to be some catch to the ‘free healing’. Couldn’t blame them, enough conmen ran around. The disease wasn’t at the stage where I was going to force an override on their decision – not yet.

    There was certainly a minor problem going on, but business was, by and large, as normal. I suppose any plague where news left the town about it – Deva was tiny, relatively speaking, maybe 6000 people – would be large enough to see.

    I got a solid look at the disease to boot. After the 12th patient or so, I was pretty sure I had a nearly complete picture, barring rare symptoms. Didn’t matter. Not for curing a disease. Markus’s rumors had been fairly accurate. Lots of coughing, some bloody flecks in the worst cases. Well, the worst cases that were still out and about.

    No carts of dead people. Nobody yelling ‘bring out your dead’. No mass pyres of bodies.

    A low-level plague, perfect for me to cut my teeth on. By now I had a solid grasp of what the disease was, how it worked, and how to cure it. The added [Medicine]and [Oath] levels, along with flat-out experience, did wonders.

    No major reservoirs, purely human to human transmission. No strange magical twists. Just simple pneumonic plague. Easy enough to cure.

    I made my way back to the docks, where Ocean was happily sitting, legs dangling in the sea, having somehow obtained – or taken out from his own stash – a fishing rod, happily trying his hand at dinner, casually chatting with some of the other fishermen. I dare say, he was trying to be somewhat normal.

    I sympathized. Although it’d only last until someone [Identify]’d him really.

    I tapped him on the shoulder, carefully not calling him Ocean. Most people would probably think it was just a weird name, but, well, I had no idea how famous Ocean was amongst sea-faring people, just like most people not involved with medicine didn’t know how famous I was.

    Heck, I had no idea how famous I was. Markus and his apprentices seemed to think I was a hot shot, with my Medical Manuscript, but I had no idea if that extended at all, or was purely a local phenomenon.

    “Heya. Got a few minutes for me to borrow you?”

    One of the fishermen started to say something crude, but Ocean cut him off.

    “Sure, let’s go.”

    Finding the captain of the guard was trivial. We went up to a patrol, and asked them nicely. They were happy to point us to where we wanted to go. Something about me being in full army-issued combat gear helped grease the wheels.

    We found the Guard’s Barracks easily enough, and getting in was as simple as walking in. Our first real obstacle was outside of the captain’s office, where a pair of guards were hanging out. Made sense – didn’t want just anyone to be able to waltz into his office.

    “Name and purpose of visit?” One of the guards asked, in standard guard leathers and baton. Tone wasn’t bored. Wasn’t excited. Purely professional.

    We glanced at each other, and I tilted my head ever so slightly towards Ocean.

    “Sentinel Ocean. Sentinel Dawn. Here to speak with the captain.” Ocean said, in his best ‘professional’ tone. He took out his badge, and showed it. I followed suit.

    Bless the guards. They looked at each other, and one said “Please wait a moment” while the other one vanished into the captain’s room. He came out a moment later.

    “Go on in.”

    We entered to see the captain sitting behind his desk, a dozen scrolls scattered all over. Paperwork bamboowork. Couldn’t escape it even on Pallos.

    “Welcome. Can’t ever say I’m happy to see a Sentinel, let alone two. What’s going on?” The captain said, straight to business.

    We showed him our badges quickly, then put them away. Ocean shrugged, and in a friendly, casual tone started talking.

    “I’m Ocean. I’m just rapidly deploying Dawn here, and given the scale and nature of the problem, we felt that introductions were in order. Dawn’s had some, ah, historical problems with people not believing her existence.”

    The captain looked me over, up and down.

    “Yeah, I can believe that. No offense, but I wouldn’t believe you’re a Sentinel. Never heard of you, and you don’t look like one.”

    I gave a half-twitch of my mouth, half-bemused one-sided smile. The ball was now in my court.

    “Yeah. I get that a bunch. I’m Dawn, nice to meet you. Grew up around guards, big fan.” I said, offering my hand to shake. Making connections. Establishing common ground.

    Socializing.Bleck.

    The captain, bless him, took my hand and shook it.

    “Pleasure to meet you. Now. What problem’s caused you to come all this way? Is there some Classer I don’t know about who’s going to ruin my week? Some rampaging dinosaur about to destroy my walls?”

    I schooled myself to not look at Ocean for support. This was my ball, this was my court. I was in charge here.

    “Pretty simple. I’m all about healing. Heard rumors of a low level plague – well, not that low level, not if I’m hearing about it – and we figured I’d jump in and stamp it out while it was in the early stages, before it got nasty.”

    The captain frowned.

    “We don’t have a plague.” He said, steel in his voice.

    “You absolutely do. It’s not what you usually think of when you think of a plague, but give it another week, another month, and you’ll have a full-blown problem on your hands. I’m here to kill it now, before it becomes a serious problem.”

    The captain frowned, drumming his fingers on his desk.

    “What would you need from us?”

    “Mostly depends on the full severity. I haven’t gotten a chance to do a full dive. However, a full town purge should work in short order. Caecilius, a [Plague Healer] over level 300 is rumored to be in town. Was thinking of recruiting him, recruiting some local healers, and in more or less a single night, getting everyone through the gates, healed up, and that’s it. We’re done. The guard would be invaluable for helping organize the event, and keeping the peace. I’m a single woman. I can’t direct thousands of people to do the same thing at the same time on my own, especially not as a stranger. The guard can. I can organize the healers – if I know who they are. Again, something the guard’s intimately familiar with.”

    He still looked unhappy.

    “Look, I just need some solid cooperation for a few days, then I’m out of your hair.” Find a way to align incentives, make it so we’re all on the same page. “I’m trying to stop this from becoming something much worse, something that takes weeks or months to resolve. I get that it doesn’t look like much now. Heck, it could even burn itself out. Why risk it?”

    Lastly, sweeten the pot.

    “I’ll also be hanging around for some time after, offering free healing. I don’t know if you’ve got a powerful Light healer, but I’m naturally able to fix just about any problem.”

    I paused a moment, thinking about it.

    “Guards and retired guards would naturally get priority.”

    “Fine. Let me speak to the governor about it. He’d need to sign off on this.” The captain said. It was clear we were being dismissed.

    “Does lunch tomorrow sound like a good time to meet up again and chat?” If I left it to him, I’d never talk with him again, just another person in the long line of VIPs wanting his time. I needed to take the initiative.

    “Make it dinner. Will probably meet with the governor at lunch.” He said, taking out another scroll, starting to read it.

    Fine, fine. Hint taken.

    Ocean and I left without saluting. In the field, as Sentinels, people saluted us first, then we saluted them back. It indicated rank, indicated that they considered us higher up the food chain. To salute first would indicate that we thought the captain was higher ranking than we were, and that we’d listen to his orders.

    Not how we worked.

    Still. Politics. Bleck. Just arrange everyone in front of me, a small mountain of Arcanite, and the moons at my back, and this would be done in an hour.

    We made it outside, and started to meander back towards the docks, occasionally getting hijacked by someone sick.

    “Not bad.” Ocean said. “Not bad at all.”

    I beamed at the compliment. I’d gotten chances to practice leadership at Academy, but it was in an academic sense, Lava challenging me being the only real leadership hurdle I’d experienced. Now I was out in the real world, putting into practice what I’d learned for the first time.

    “Well, tomorrow’s another day.” I said. “Gotta see if I can find Caecilius, and see if I can start organizing other healers. Need to get this done one way or another.”

    Ocean nodded at me.

    “By the way, my help here is done. It’s all on you now. Good luck!”

    Ah dammit. Fine. I’d manage.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 49600/49600]

    [Mana Regen: 40336 (+3086.16)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 18]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 4960]

    [Mana Regeneration: 4676 (+1318.632)]

    [Magic Power: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Magic Control: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 242]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 242]

    [Warmth of the Sun: 189]

    [Medicine: 210]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 236]

    [Phases of the Moon: 242]

    [Moonlight: 242]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria:   161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 205]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 196]

    [Persistent Casting: 35]

    [Learning: 242]


    I'd like to do something more for the Patreon $10 tier right now. Currently, there's no benefit or difference between the $5 and the $10 tier ($15 gets cameos)

    Like, I initially thought side-stories would be great, but I've paused on them for the moment to not burn out. Also, people keep voting to expand side stories to everyone, so at the end of the day it's kinda a wash - it doesn't give all that much.


    I'm somewhat tempted to make the $10 tier 15 chapters ahead, although that'd be a lot of work.


    I like letting everyone see all artwork.


    My ideas are fairly limited. Anyone have suggestions for what I can do to reward the $10 tier?

    (Naturally anything the $10 gets all the tiers above also get)


    I woke up in the morning to a lovely notification.

    [*ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Persistent Casting]!]

    Persistent Casting: Alright, alright, fine, you can keep active skills running in the background, even when you’re not focusing on them. Mana drain per active skill persistently cast. Decreased mana drain per level per skill. Max two skills cast at once.

    Well, this looked like both a useful skill, and one that would be obnoxious to grind up. Nothing for it, I guess.

    Had to spend a moment processing how it worked though – the wording was confusing. I got it after a moment.

    It cost me mana, above and beyond the skill, to have a skill under [Persistent Casting]. However, as I leveled the skill up, it took less mana.

    I also bet the skill would evolve, and let me [Persistent Casting] more skills at once as it got higher leveled. Just made sense to me.

    I threw up a [Veil] around me, then focused on letting [Persistent Casting] ‘take over’ managing it, feeling the mental load just vanish.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Persistent Casting] has reached level 2!]

    To do: Test if I could feel it shattering.

    To do: Test if I’d wake up from it breaking. No sense if having a defense if it didn’t alert me.

    Mmmm. Which reminded me.

    To do: Test if [Bullet Time] would activate from a deadly attack from outside [Veil].

    Then again, with the strong privacy aspects, would I even detect it? Ugh. Be bad to only know about a bad attack once it was through [Veil].

    The natural result – [Veil] should be as large as possible if it was the case that [Bullet Time] didn’t activate.

    Stuff to test another day.

    I healed myself with [Phases of the Moon], idly noticing a few points vanishing, before coming back. Natural decay, some minor illness, or what? I then got a full-body [Phases of the Moon] ready and primed, constantly going off.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Persistent Casting] has reached level 3!]

    I wasn’t even going to dare to think I was invincible – but any blow I took would get healed as soon as I took it, as long as I had mana. I hadn’t really thought about it when Night was suggesting it, but as I got it ready and set, it started to dawn on me that it could be used that way.

    On the flipside, someone sticking a knife in me and keeping it in me mightdrain my mana at an atrocious rate. Like, with my [Oath]-boosted power, it could almost zero me out in seconds. Trade-offs.

    I finished washing up and getting ready – damnit, I was already getting soft, I was going to miss my morning bath. It was still early, so I decided to triple-check all my equipment. Backpack, ready. I’d taken everything out of it, checked each piece of equipment and gear over, checking for defects, seeing how it was all put together, figuring out, most critically, what wasn’tthere, then re-packing it all.

    I also had a solid grasp of how many coins I was bringing along, on top of my normal ‘fun spending money’ mango budget in my personal coin pouch.

    Armor – oiled and ready, every gem shining with a properly imbued skill. I would’ve liked some time to practice using the utility gems, but there was the combination of not having enough time, and each use being obnoxious to recharge. One use, then it was off to a long, winding adventure with the gemstones dude to get a new one slotted into my armor. You’d think they’d have a number of practice gems around or something. Ah well.

    The shield one was the only one I suspected I might need to grab in an emergency, but I’d try to remember the rest.

    I had a bad feeling that I’d forget about them at some critical point when they could bail me out. Maybe I should make a habit of reviewing them every day, so I’d remember them when they came up.

    Weapons – interestingly enough, no spear. I was operating solo, in a mostly non-combat manner. By the same token, my shield was a much smaller thing that I was used to, no longer one of the massive tower shields that we used to interlock with each other. Another concession to me wanting to move fast, avoid combat, and if I was in combat these days – flying was a much better defense than blocking stuff.

    My ability and time to fly was directly related to my weight. I’d taken the effort to sit down and calculate it out. My mana regeneration was, in sunlight – the only time I could fly was when [Sun-kissed] was helping me out – roughly 12 mana/second regenerated.

    With no equipment on, I spent roughly 21 mana/second flying, spending 9 mana/second in total. Fully geared up, I was at 34 mana/second, burning 22 mana/second total – more than twice the burn rate. With my current mana pool, I could go well over an hour with no gear, and a measly half an hour geared up.

    Roughly. Good timekeeping was hardhere. Sure, there were sundials, but they weren’t the best. Also, when I flew geared up, it was unlikely I was just flying, and not fighting for my life. Which turned my fly time from half an hour to practically nothing. Depending on my mana consumption on the rest of my skills.

    And this was before I pushed [Talaria]to make me go faster, instead of just hovering there or casually walking.

    Blah. Mathing it all out somehow took some of the magic out of it. Moving on.

    Potions were all set, in an easy to access satchel on my belt. The Arcanite was similarly attached to my belt, and I’d taken the time to attune it all to me, letting me grab more mana with a breath. Same with the armor.

    Which also screwed with the flying math. Whatever.

    I left my suite, fully geared up, and waited for Night.

    Who showed up in short order, Ocean popping in a few minutes later, in a simple tunic.

    “Dawn. Ocean. Excellent.” Night started. “No new emergency or call has come in. Ocean, would you be so kind as to ferry Dawn to Deva so she may begin her first mission?”

    Ocean saluted.

    “Of course.”

    Not that there was any question of him saying no. But Night seemed to like his routine, of the formal back and forth. Probably helped keep everything organized.

    “Right. We are all set here.” Night said, standing up.

    “Hey Dawn. Need anything else, or are you ready to go?”

    I blinked at him.

    “Um. I’m ready. What about you?”

    Ocean laughed at me.

    “I’m not the one going on a mission! Plus, we’re taking my boat. Most of my gear’s stashed in it.”

    “Alrighty then. Let’s go I guess?” I said, still taken somewhat aback by the abruptness of it all.

    Well, more so that Ocean being completely gearless had thrown me for a loop. Anyways. I was processing and getting back with the program.

    “Yeah!” Ocean said, with all the excitement of a schoolboy who’s been given permission to raid the candy store.

    Unsupervised.

    A hop, skip, and a jump through town, me hurrying to keep up with Ocean, who’d basically thrown away all his dignity to move quickly, and we were at the docks.

    “Couldn’t you have moved a bit slower!?” I said, once we were walking over the wooden planks to a location only Ocean knew. “Everyone was looking at me like there was some emergency! Which a fully geared Sentinel running through town really looks like!

    Ocean scratched his head awkwardly.

    “Oops?”

    “Oops! You’ve been doing this longer than I’ve been alive! What do you mean, oops?”

    Ocean shrugged, a wild grin on his face.

    “I just couldn’t wait to get here. Come on, hop in!”

    Ocean gestured to a respectable, mid-sized sailboat. It wasn’t fancy, there were no luxurious ornaments or carvings on it, but as I looked around – cursing my lack of sailing lessons to not have the proper knowledge of this – everything was perfect. There wasn’t a single splinter out of place, the ropes had a solid, well-used, well-maintained look, grooves were cut in the wood where the ropes met plank. It was a thing of beauty, crafted perfectly, well-loved and maintained for decades.

    I hopped on, wobbling a bit as the whole boat moved with me. Yup. I needed a [Sea Legs] skill.

    [*ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Sea Legs]!]

    Oh System, while you’re granting wishes, can I get a few extra skill slots?

    Nothing. Rats. [Sea Legs] would have to rot.

    “Hey Ocean, what’s this made out of?” I said, stroking the unfamiliar wood. I was no great carpenter, heck I barely knew my oak from my pine from whatever-the-hell the Kadan Jungle grew – but the wood seemed strange.

    “Ironwood!” Ocean cheerfully told me. “Ridiculously rare. It doesn’t grow here. Once every few years a trunk will float down one of the rivers from outside of human lands, and, well, the stuff’s more than a bit expensive. Has properties normal wood doesn’t, like really slow self-repair if you pour mana into it.”

    I looked around the medium-sized sailboat, made out of practically one of a kind magical wood. My knees felt weak. I sat down.

    With a faint voice, I asked.

    “How much did this cost?”

    Ocean laughed.

    “You could probably buy a whole block of houses in the fancy district of the capital instead of this boat.”

    I whistled, as we started to pick up speed.

    Ocean was happy. Grinning, smiling, laughing, closing his eyes, letting the wind wash over him. We spent time in silence, Ocean navigating with his eyes closed somehow through all the other ships trying to dock. We made it out to the open sea, and picked up speed – way more than I thought was possible with the wind and the waves they way they were.

    After some time, Ocean started to speak.

    “When I unlocked, I got [Heart of the Sea] and [Love of the Ocean]. I instantly took them. The skills have stayed with me ever since. There’s nothing I love more than the waves, the sea, the ocean breeze. Doing this? This is the life.”

    I made a positive noise, not quite sure what to say to Ocean.

    “Anyways, this is your first outing. Congrats! Deva’s a lovely place. I think I’m going to hang out there a bit, do some sailing, talk with the local fishermen. Maybe enter a largest fish contest or two. Good way to extend my vacation without Night knowing about it. Shhh! Don’t tell him!” Ocean said, winking at me.

    Unsaid – he’d be around if I needed backup, training wheels on my first excursion. Hopefully I wouldn’t need them.

    We spent some more time sailing, before I got an idea, warm sun on my face.

    “I want to see how [Talaria]works when I’m already going fast.” I said.

    “Sure, knock yourself out.”

    I took a short running hop, and I was up, up, and away with [Talaria]. Ocean’s boat started to slowly pull ahead, but I’d managed to confirm that my speed persisted, for the lack of a better word. I could go far if I could get enough of an initial boost.

    I landed back down on the boat, Ocean having slowed down a hair to let me catch up.

    “Tell me about Radiance.” Ocean said. I looked at him funny. Shouldn’t he know already?

    Ocean saw my look.

    “I’m great at dealing with Radiance mages. Water screws their attacks something fierce, and I always have a ton. I’m curious what it’s like from your perspective.”

    Well, why not bounce info and questions off of the super experienced, at best the 2nd, at worst the 4th, most powerful Sentinel.

    “Radiance is fun! Burning light, immediately hits the target, narrow and focused. As my power goes up, I obviously get more damage, but the smallest beam I can use gets bigger. As my control goes up, I can re-shrink the beam back down. Hence, a balanced mix between the two are optimal.”

    Ocean snapped his fingers at me.

    “Explains that one dude, oh, 15 years ago. Dude kept using really fat beams of radiance – larger than I was. I went completely overboard on the defense, but it didn’t hurt nearly as badly as I thought it would.”

    I looked at him. I had some doubts that this was brand-new info to him, but hey. He wanted to chat, and I wasn’t a sailor-type. Heck, being as far from shore as we were was making me all sorts of nervous.

    I didn’t see myself taking up life on a ship anytime soon.

    Oooh wait, while he was here, I could do some testing.

    “Hey Ocean, I got a new skill. Want to test a few things with it. Mind giving me a hand?”

    “Sure, why not? What do you need?”

    I explained to him my thoughts on [Persistent Casting] and [Bullet Time] that I had earlier. Ocean looked thoughtful.

    “Sure, I can do that. Lift your vest up, show me your stomach, flip a coin and put your [Veil] up.”

    “Flip a coin?”

    “So you can tell when your skill activates.”

    Made sense. I awkwardly shifted around, revealing my vulnerable stomach to Ocean. I flipped a coin high, throwing up [Veil] around me, looking at my stat screen.

    Hmmm. [Sun-Kissed] didn’t work under [Veil]. Wasn’t testing it, but hey. I’d take what I could get. I passed [Veil] off to [Persistent Casting].

    Next thing I knew, I felt [Veil]shattering, and the world around me slowed, as Ocean’s knife was heading for my stomach, a vicious side-slash that’d open me up from left to right.

    I tried to lean back, watching the knife moving at almost-normal speeds, while my body was slow and sluggish, like in water. I tried a second [Veil]. I tried to melt the knife with a Radiance beam.

    Fuck me I’d forgotten how much I hated getting hurt while under [Bullet Time]. Sure, it was distant because of [Center of the Galaxy], but apart from that, I could feel my stomach splitting open, skin and muscles parted, sharp steel rearranging my guts. Even stranger was my persistent [Phases of the Moon] immediately fixing the damage behind the knife.

    Blessedly, the knife finally exited the other side, and time resumed as normal. A gasp I’d been working on finally finished.

    “Fuck!” I yelled.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 236]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Persistent Casting] has reached level 4->11!]

    “No good?” Ocean said with a frown, looking at his way-too-clean knife. “Amazing healing by the way. I was convinced I’d get some fish chum out of you with that, but barely a speck of blood. I’ll say it now. I apologize. I didn’t think your healing was good enough, that a Sentinel couldn’t qualify on just that, but I wasn’t going to argue with the powers that be, and you did technically qualify.”

    He paused.

    “I am completely convinced otherwise now. That was the single most stunning display of combat healing I’ve ever seen or heard of. You’re basically unkillable… while you have mana.”

    I thought I was immune to compliments and flattery. Noooooope.

    I couldn’t stop a mad smile crossing my face. “Thanks! Gotta work on it though – that was a bad heal.”

    I thought about it. I’d given the persistent cast an image of “heal”. I groaned, putting my head in my hands.

    “What’s up?”

    “I am going to need to make a stupidly complex image for my passive heal.”

    I thought about it. A stupidly complex image.

    “Got some rations? Figure I should grab lunch before starting. I might be a really bad traveling companion while I get this worked out.”

    “No worries! Fun trick.” Ocean said, getting out a pair of clay mugs.

    Ocean waved his hand, a spurt of water from the sea filling both mugs.

    “Here. Pure, perfect water, courtesy of a skill.”

    I took a sip of the glorious, perfect water.

    “Wow. That’s some skill.”

    “Thanks! Never need to worry about water.”

    We ate, Ocean happily chatting about the sea, the creatures, telling me about knots and sails and tacking and wow this was a lot of info going in one ear and out the other.

    I suspect missing the Sailing class hadn’t gone unnoticed by Ocean, and he had clear passion for the subject, wanting to share his love of the sea with me. I didn’t think I’d get [Love of the Ocean] anytime soon though.

    “Thanks Ocean!” I said, having polished lunch off in record time. “This might take quite some time – don’t get worried if I’m under for quite a few hours.”

    Ocean waved his hand.

    “I get it. Shoo. Make it perfect. Staying alive might depend on that one day.”

    I threw up [Veil], passing it off to [Persistent Casting]. I wanted zero distractions on this.

    Right, full-body, perfect heal. This was going to take some time. Let’s start with the heart. How was the heart put together? How did it connect to the vascular system? How did that hook up to the lungs? Muscles? Stomach?

    How did lungs work? Bringing air in, connecting to the vascular system, bringing air to the muscles, which had nerves making them twitch, all attached to the skeletal system, giving everything support and structure – and also making new blood cells, connecting it back to the vascular system. The nerves also ran through the body, firing impulses, letting the brain control fingers, toes, arms, legs – everything. Running along the spine, bringing me back to bones, protecting the kidneys, liver, stomach, guts, lungs – back to the heart.

    Eyes. Immune system. Mouth. Tongue. Nose. Nostrils. Hair. Nails.

    Every single bit of human anatomy I knew.

    Creating that image took me hours, a full, detailed mental picture of the complete human body.

    Then I was off to diseases. Viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites, cancers, and everything else I could think of. I couldn’t get them all, but I tried to catalogue as many as possible, and the cure, the solution – mostly just phasing them out of existence, in the same way the moon waned to nothing.

    I moved onto other injuries, other problems. My earliest [Detailed Restoration] healings, restoring arms, fixing eyes. Reforming skin.

    How bones needed to be shifted back into position, realigned properly to heal. Bone fragments either put back in their place, or removed. The tiny ligaments and bones in the wrist. The beating of the heart. Function of the brain. Kidneys filtering blood, liver producing enzymes to digest food.

    Hundreds, thousands of ways of being hurt. Almost every single one was drawn on from experience, from plague victims in Perinthus, to soldiers manning the walls against Formorians. The lady coming up to me at one of my stalls, fixing the urchin kid’s sister.

    Injuries I’d never seen, and their unusual method of handling. Like crush injuries. Couldn’t restore the leg, that’d just do bad things to me. Instead, amputation was correct, cutting off the blood flow to the area, moving away, then restoring. A delay on the healing, to properly save myself.

    Bonus – it’d mean my [Persistent Casting] wouldn’t futilely try to heal me and drain all my mana in a useless mission. Huh. Never thought of that before. This new skill had so many implications that I hadn’t thought of.

    Was totally worth the skill slot. Was totally worth listening to Night.

    I finally finished, putting in a few extra broad-spectrum tweaks to my image, some catch-alls, before opening my eyes.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 242! +10 Free Stats, +15 Mana, +15 Mana Regen, +15 Magic power, +15 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 242]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 205->210]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 242]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Moonlight] has reached level 242]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Persistent Casting] has reached level 12->35]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 242]

    I dropped [Veil], only to realized I’d been under a lot longer than I thought, and we were tied to the docks at what I assumed was Deva.

    “Welcome back.” Ocean said drily, handing me a mug.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 49600/49600]

    [Mana Regen: 40336 (+3086.16)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 18]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 4960]

    [Mana Regeneration: 4676 (+1318.632)]

    [Magic Power: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Magic Control: 4325 (+44331.25)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 242]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 242]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 210]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 236]

    [Phases of the Moon: 242]

    [Moonlight: 242]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 205]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 196]

    [Persistent Casting: 35]

    [Learning: 242]


    I woke up, and practically sprang out of bed. Not because of a plague, not because of doing something as a Sentinel for the first time, not because of the adventure.

    Because it’d get me out of a fancy social thing.

    Socializing. Putting on a fake smile and dealing with people all day. Well, if it was people I knew and liked, that’d be one thing. A bunch of random strangers, most of who were probably dicks? Meh. Pass.

    I mentally got my arguments together, and was seated in the living room as Night showed up.

    “Dawn. Excellent punctuality.” Night said, sitting down. I had the sense that he’d always do the same thing every time, like he’d perfected a routine centuries ago.

    “Julius is getting instruction later, and I hope for you to formally meet with Command once he’s settled in. That’s all I have.” Night said.

    He’d been around the block a few thousand times, and could see I was brimming with the urge to talk.

    “Do you have something Dawn?” He asked, politely and formally.

    “Yes! So I went to visit my friend Markus – the Pyronox dude from Perinthus, bunch of apprentices, decent-ish dude but a bit of a prick at times – anyways, I wanted to see if he knew where Caecilius was, the [Plague Healer], anyways, long story short, apparently there’s a little tiny plague in Deva, and I was thinking that it’d just be absolutely perfect for me getting my feet wet as a Sentinel to go over and see what I can do, like a trial run, shake down all my stuff before something really bad comes up and my clinic isn’t even fully ready to go yet and...” I trailed off, having nothing more to say.

    Night just raised an eyebrow at me.

    “Sure this is not some ploy to get out of social engagements?”

    With a completely straight face – I don’t know how I managed that – “It totally is. But the cause, and purpose, and arguments behind it are genuine.”

    Night just laughed at me. Man, he had to be really easily amused to still laugh at dumb stuff like that. Gotta find amusement where you can, I guess.

    “Your points are persuasive. I am also not in the habit of dictating what you can and can not do. I agree an initial run to get used to your gear and equipment could be good.”

    He spent some time thinking.

    “When the second Ranger team leaves Deva, I expect you to leave one way or another. We can not have a Sentinel tied down in a single location for that long, potentially away from more catastrophic events that may come up.”

    I saluted, indicating my understanding.

    “Good. Yes, this will be an excellent chance for you to shake down your knowledge and understanding, and given that a Ranger team is headed your way – a week or so from now, and they must take the standard method of travel, instead of the more rapid method that Ocean is likely to employ – you shall have some form of backup should things start to go poorly.”

    Well, that was a real ringing endorsement.

    “Now. You should prepare your gear, visit the quartermaster for supplies, and make any other arrangements you see fit before you leave. Perhaps a message to your friends, or leave a message here. We have a [Clerk] who helps manage that. I shall find Ocean – he will enjoy the excuse for a trip.”

    “Additionally, this has let me finalize the thoughts I had on your last general skill. Social skills are not your thing, correct?”

    I nodded.

    “I’ve never even been offered one.”

    “Most unusual, but not unheard of. Well then. I believe you should attempt to gain the skill [Persistent Casting]. It allows you to use skills while you sleep, as the name suggests. Being able to sleep under your [Veil of the Aurora] could offer you some additional shelter and protection when traveling. Additionally, you can keep your auras running, and, maybe – I am unsure on this point – keep your healing going, to immediately begin to repair damage if you should be attacked in a manner that immediately breaks your [Veil] while you slumber.”

    “How do I get the skill?”

    “Simply try to keep a skill running as you go to sleep. If this is troublesome, you can also try a sleeping potion, which makes the sleep portion simple.”

    Dangerous things, sleeping potions. It was easy to get addicted to them – not, like, craving them, but the human body just stopped producing the whatever-it-is that helps people sleep, making one more and more reliant on them. I’d consider it.

    Not having this defense could be even more dangerous.

    And it wasn’t like it was just having a shield up. No, it was having a shield up, and a number of anti-detection things going on as well, like – nobody could see it was me curled up sleeping, nothing could smell me, skills couldn’t be cast on me directly, and more! I had full faith in my wilderness survival, but this would just help more.

    I’d seen a few other trainees with similar skills, and I was pretty sure Markus had the skill – that’s how he kept the Pyronox gates up permanently.

    Right! New skill!

    While I’d gotten almost no chances to think about it, I did still harbor some vague dream of having an animal companion of some sort, and I knew that’d take a general skill slot when it happened. Hmmmm. Was it worth working on a skill for it ahead of time?

    Eh. Gotta stay alive first. I’d take [Persistent Casting], and evaluate my options if I ever ended up with a potential animal companion.

    Not a plant though. Not after seeing the poor Trainee with the wheelbarrowed plant.

    Not a mineral either. Did those even exist?!

    Still, I was a Sentinel now, and part of that was insane resources at my disposal. I should find Hunting, and have a long, long discussion with him about it. He’d know all the tips and tricks, he’d be able to guide me and give me good advice. I could use a guardian, now that I was mainly operating solo, and a companion seemed to be just the ticket.

    Thoughts for another day.

    What did I need for this trip?

    Well, my standard bag of tricks, which was now a massive standard bag of tricks.

    I’d have to see what the Quartermaster provided me. I assumed a travel kit of some sort, a bedroll, although a tent was questionable, given that I should have skills to help with that.

    Yeah, ok, first stop was the Quartermaster, and I’d go from there.

    After a trip through HQ – I was starting to get the hang of the layout of the place, not just the easy stuff – I was at the Quartermaster’s place.

    “What do you need?” One of his helpers asked me.

    “Going on a mission! Need supplies.”

    I got a flat look from him. Yikes, being a Sentinel carried absolutely no weight here did it?

    “What type?”

    “Well, I’m not quite sure. Traveling to a town, handling a problem there, heading back.”

    “Right, a civilization pack. Although – is the town going to be mostly standing when you get there?”

    Mmm. Yes, that would be a standard question for Sentinels wouldn’t it?

    “Should be. Relatively minor problem.”

    Muttering “I’ve heard that one before.” the helper vanished into the back room.

    “Shit. I jinxed it didn’t I?”

    Wood, wood, I needed to knock on some wood…

    Twenty minutes later or so, he showed back up with a pack.

    “You’ve got some standard traveling supplies – bedroll, pillow, tinder, axe…” He went on for some time, detailing every single piece of equipment I was being given.

    “Now, we went light on the supplies…” He said. Light. Ha! More supplies than we were given most of the time as Trainees. I suppose that was kinda the point though – we needed to know how to survive on the bare basics. I was being given a lot more than the bare basics, but only what could fit in a large backpack.

    Wait. Shit. My plan.

    “…but mostly we’ve made sure that you have a sizeable stash of coins, to be able to buy what you need. You can naturally requisition stuff in an emergency, but please don’t.”

    I looked at the “standard backpack”, sized for someone at least a foot taller than me. I thought about my half-baked plan of using a metric ton of Arcanite to solve the problem.

    Welp. That wasn’t going to happen.

    “Any chances that I could get a pouch of Arcanite?” I asked. I might as well get some extra, and saddle myself like a beast of burden.

    I really needed an animal companion, if only to pull a Hunting and strap a million bags and saddles to it.

    Dude pursed his lips at me.

    “Let me see what I can do.”

    “Or three pouches!” I called after him.

    Welp. Let’s see where this went.

    He came back with two large pouches.

    “Fully charged. They’re counted. Bring them back.” He said.

    “What do I look like, Acquisition?” I shot back.

    “I dunno. For all I know, you are Acquisition, on your latest prank. Framing the new Sentinel would be exactly your thing…” He said, looking at me suspiciously.

    “Oh. Good to know.” I faintly said.

    Maybe I should leave something shiny in my room, something I didn’t care about, well-hidden with a note saying “you found it! Now leave the rest of my stuff alone!”

    Right. I was fairly well equipped, and unlike my first, disastrous camping trip, I was trained and ready for this. I could do this.

    Plus, I had a speedy ticket there. It was only on the way back where I might need to do more than just hang on.

    I’d plan for getting back later, another day. For now, I needed to focus on getting all my stuff done.

    I asked around and got directions to our own little courier outfit. Between the Rangers hanging out, Command needing to talk with everyone, all the logistics people, and of course, the Sentinels, we had our own little runner’s outpost, where we could write and drop off messages. Convenient! It was slower than other places – from what I’d gathered, we had two couriers. One was practically a half-Sentinel, one of the best of the best, designated as support instead of a Sentinel – in other words, the [Courier]equivalent of what I’d almost become. He got most of the support that Sentinels got, along with equivalent pay, and most of the benefits. Just not the clout or visibility.

    His entire job was to be on-deck constantly, able to sprint priority messages from A to B.

    Then there was a second [Courier], or two – it was never clear – who handled the more mundane messages. Came in, grabbed the latest mail, vanished to deliver it. Rinse and repeat. It’d take some time to get stuff delivered as a result – there was usually a queue ahead of your letter, but it was cheap! Free, even.

    I wrote a series of letters out, quickly detailing what was going on and where I was going.

    Artemis,

    Heya! Missed you when I tried to find you.

    Heading off to Deva. Small plague, no big deal. Swing by some time when I’m back!

    Pass my second letter off to mom and dad for me?

    Cheers,

    Elaine.

    Mom! Dad!

    Haven’t been able to find you. Miss you. Hope we could hang out more.

    Although I hear you’re moving to the capital! Hurray! We can spend a ton of time together!

    Long story short, Night’s offered to give you a very nice house. Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything too weird to get it.

    Love

    Elaine

    Albina

    Heya!

    Something’s come up, and I gotta run. Sorry, I have to cancel our appointment. I’ll send a letter once I’m back.

    Cheers!

    Elaine – Dawn

    Markus,

    Heading off to Deva, going to give Caecilius a hand.

    Would love to chat more with you – and other healers! When I get back.

    Any chance you could help arrange something?

    Cheers,

    Elaine

    I think those were all the letters I needed. I looked at the pile.

    Fuck me, I only had four people in the world I wanted to send letters to? Two of them were more business than pleasure?

    My mind flashed to Lyra. Goddesses, I still missed her. Time was supposed to heal all wounds. Well, it wasn’t fresh and raw, but it still hurt.

    I checked over my stuff again. Yeah, I was all set. Bless the Quartermaster and how thorough he was. I checked my armor. It was perfect, fitting to me like a glove. Good thing, I’d probably be living in it again. I wasn’t going to trust a medium-sized villa’s worth of armor to the average bathhouse’s security and general trust.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Sentinel’s Superiority] has reached level 196!]

    Potions were set. Gemstones were all charged. Arcanite was glowing from all my stones.

    Eh. It was getting late, I didn’t have much else to do. I was going to stop by That Room, and pay remembrance to Origen, then swing by the temple and send some prayers. One to Etalix. One to Lyra. Some to the goddesses of the moon. Maybe one to Papilion, if I was feeling generous.

    Maybe I’d get a miracle one day.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 49440/49440]

    [Mana Regen: 40176 (+3075.6)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 7]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 4944]

    [Mana Regeneration: 4660 (+1314.12)]

    [Magic Power: 4312 (+44198)]

    [Magic Control: 4312 (+44198)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 241]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 241]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 204]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 235]

    [Phases of the Moon: 241]

    [Moonlight: 241]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 205]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 196]

    [: ]

    [Learning: 241]


    The classic problem occurred – I had no idea where Markus was. However, he had to be something of a feature, and the courier station was always ridiculously well-marked. Most towns had three to five, on the sheer basis of inter-town communication being made easier that way – nobody would walk halfway across town to get a message delivered when they could simply walk to the destination to do so.

    The capital had a bunch more, by sheer virtue of how large it was. I wandered around, enjoying the sights – I was in no rush – until I saw a sign indicating a courier station. I poked my head in, waiting in a short line until it was my turn at the counter.

    “Hi! Delivering a letter? Dictation, or do you have it ready?” The man behind the booth asked with brisk efficiency.

    “Hoping for directions actually! Looking for Healer Markus and his clinic.”

    “One moment.” The man said, standing up and walking back. I heard some muttering and the clattering of scrolls – probably trying to look up where he was.

    Fortunately, there was more than one counter, and I wasn’t holding the line up.

    “Right – which Healer Markus?” The [Clerk]asked me after some time.

    I blinked. Wow. There was more than one?

    “Markus the Pyronox?” I said, with a question. “Has a bunch of apprentices? Well, he did last I knew him.”

    “Yeah, got it.” The [Clerk]said. “You’ll want to go down fisherman’s street, then make a turn at cobblers…”

    He proceeded to give me the directions, and I left him a small tip. Least I could do for taking up his time, and they all needed to eat as well. Nice of them to not charge for information, even though it took time.

    Then again, he was probably paid by the couriers directly, regardless of how much they made. Oh well.

    I made my way through the city, only for [Bullet Time] to activate on a particularly crowded stretch.

    I looked down – in slow motion, [Bullet Time] didn’t help speed me up, just gave me more time to think – and saw a short, tiny thumb-knife heading for my pouch strings.

    I was in love with [Bullet Time]. I had time to think! Although I could see the knife still moving at a steady pace towards my pouch. Clearly the world kept moving around me, and if someone was fast enough, [Bullet Time] wouldn’t save me. Like against Night.

    Hmmmmm. I looked over, to see a short, fierce-looking girl at the other end of the knife, face screwed up in concentration.

    Blasted high-level [Healer] tag making me look tasty.

    [Veil] it is! I threw a careful one up, just around my pouch, right at the tip of the knife. I started to move my hand, and time resumed as normal.

    She was faster than I was – no great accomplishment – but the combination of the surprise [Veil] stopping and deflecting her attempt, moving her hand in strange ways, along with my pre-emptive movement, allowed me to slap her hand shortly after my perception turned to normal.

    She looked startled, but to the [Thief]’s credit, just vanished into the crowd.

    Blah.

    Strange though. [Bullet Time]had nothing about thieves trying to steal my stuff.

    Then again, my Sentinel badge was in my pouch, and Night would murder me if it got stolen.

    Bonus though! It only activated when there was trouble – not when anyone eyed me up.

    Ah well. We were all trying to live, and while I wasn’t a charity, nor was I going to let my stuff get stolen, it wasn’t like I was so mad as to try and chase her down. I’d gotten a long, hard look at what life was like near rock-bottom when I tried to run away, and I wasn’t about to forget it, not even in my new, privileged position.

    Such was life.

    I found my way to Markus’s clinic, still mulling over life and society and the like.

    I entered, to see what I thought was more or less a standard clinic layout for Pallos, with what was clearly Markus’s personal touch of Pyronox flames in little holders, dark light flickering over the place.

    I looked around. This place looked more like a villain’s lair than a medical clinic, but hey, there was no accounting for taste. The number of people hanging out in the lobby attested to the fact that Markus was doing well, and the flames probably indicated that Markus was indeed around.

    “Hello, can we help you?” The man at the counter asked.

    “Hey! I’m hoping I can chat with Markus at some point.”

    The dude frowned. Oh boy. What now?

    “Generally, we ask that patients see an apprentice first, with Markus providing the final touch. Can I ask what your problem is, or would you prefer to discuss it with an apprentice privately?”

    That… was surprisingly reasonable. Everyone probably came in, wanting the head honcho himself to look after them, which would overload Markus and screw the apprentices out of experience.

    “Oh, I’m just here for a social call.” I said. “I helped Markus in Perinthus, and wanted to swing by.”

    “Well…” He started to say, but got interrupted.

    “Elaine!” Herodotos exclaimed, having just entered to grab his newest patient. “Elaine, is that you?”

    “Yup! In the flesh!” I said, drawing myself up to my full, short height.

    “Hang on, lemme grab Markus real fast!” Herodotos said, vanishing into the back.

    “Wait! Your patient!” The poor dude at the counter called out after him.

    I shrugged at him.

    “Sorry! Didn’t mean to make it hard.”

    Markus popped in a moment later.

    “Ranger Elaine! It is you! Come, come, let’s talk!”

    He hesitated a moment, looking at the lobby, most of the patients starting at him.

    “Mind a quick healing session so we can talk?”

    I grinned at him.

    “Not at all. Race to see who can heal more people?”

    Markus said nothing, a massive burst of Pyronox coming out from him, engulfing everyone in the room.

    “Sure. I win.”

    I blinked. Ok, wow. Yeah. I suppose that was an option if you wanted to close down for the day.

    “Mind if I do a restoration at the door?” I said, as the people in the lobby blinked, processing what had happened. Man, they’d get mad next time they showed up and needed to wait.

    “Not at all! People don’t usually come to me with a problem like that.”

    Softer, to me. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t charge.”

    Why would – ah. It’d look a lot like I was poaching his work if I charged, and it’d be frankly rude.

    “Not at all!”

    I got to the door – a few people had left already – and quickly topped up everyone as they headed out. On all but one person, I used so little mana I didn’t even notice it. One person required a hefty dose, and looked revitalized.

    We got back to what I could only describe as the villain’s lair, the final boss’s location. A large, long room, steadily ramping up and in, towards a massive chair-throne-monstrosity, red drapes intermixed with pillars of Pyronox, reaching from floor to ceiling.

    I eyed it doubtfully, half-expecting music to start playing.

    “Love what you’ve done with the place.” I said, as neutrally as I could.

    “Isn’t it great!” Markus said, pleased to show off. “It took me ages to get it all right, but now! Nobody will forget Markus’s Miracles!”

    Unforgettable was one word for it, yeah.

    A lightbulb went off.

    Moonlight. Being hit by the moon.

    However, if I had a bunch of mirrors or good gemstones or something, I could make moonlight bounce around wildly in a room, hitting everyone present. I could then perform mass heals, because everyone was being hit by moonlight.

    I mentally filed the idea away for another day. It’d be good to remember if I was ever building a more permanent clinic, or getting a spot not in the market. Should probably start thinking about a permanent clinic, thinking about it. Why not?

    Markus gathered his apprentices together – a lot more than he had in Perinthus, maybe he’d gotten more or not brought them all the first time - and sat on his throne, the king surveying his domain, black and red together.

    I had to admit, it left an impression.

    “Everyone, this is Ranger Elaine, the author of the Medical Manuscripts that I’ve had you all read. Her knowledge of medicine, I must admit, is unparalleled. Also the – literally – unsung hero of Perinthus, managing to solve the root cause of the plagues there. She’s swung by to chat a bit – hopefully about medicine! If you have any questions, this is a good time to ask her.”

    I swelled up at his compliments.

    “Thanks! Happy to, one small correction though. I’m no longer Ranger Elaine.”

    “Oh, sorry to hear that.” Markus said, seeming genuine. “If you’re looking for a place to work, I’m sure we can work something out.”

    “It’s Sentinel Dawn now.” I said, crazy grin cracking my face. Man, this was never going to get old.

    You could’ve heard a pin drop – even the Pyronox flames just stopped for a moment as Markus processed what I’d just said.

    “I’d heard some rumors, but – wow, congratulations, just wow!” Markus said.

    “What’s your element?” One of the apprentices said, unable to restrain himself anymore.

    “Celestial!” I said, happy to tell him.

    “Did you also take the [Oath]?”

    “I made it!”

    “What are your stats like?” A third apprentice asked.

    “That’s rude, don’t ask her that.” Markus reprimanded him.

    I shrugged.

    “I don’t mind. Just don’t ask me if I’m single or for a date or anything like that. That’s rude. I have over 50,000 in magic power and control when I’m healing.”

    Dead silence again. Markus cradled his face in his hands.

    “Please don’t steal my apprentices from me.”

    I laughed at him, patting him on the back. “No intention of doing so!”

    “I have a question from your Medical Manuscript. In scroll 5…” One of the apprentices had a detailed question, which I did my best to answer.

    And another.

    And another.

    And – I was interrupted by one of the apprentices jumping up.

    “By the gods! I just leveled!”

    I shot him finger guns. Not that anyone knew what those were.

    Markus still had like 30 levels on me, but my knowledge was different.

    “Yeeeaaaahhhh! Good job! Next question! Let’s see who levels next!”

    Three more levels. After hours of Q&A, I eventually stretched.

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 205!]

    “I gotta get going. Markus, do you know where Caecilius is? Or Ponticus? Or anyone else from Perinthus? I seem to remember Caecilius having an apprentice, and I figure I should bother him, along with some of the other people from Perinthus.”

    Markus had a slightly awkward look on his face.

    “He’s in Deva right now. Left a week ago. Something about a small coughing plague, nothing serious.”

    “Oh? Why aren’t you there?” I asked.

    “Bad business. It sounds like it’s really mild – barely qualifies as a plague. Perinthus almost wrecked me, and Deva’s tiny, as towns go – only like 5,000, maybe 10,000 people. Caecilius can probably clear it up in a week or two, as long as it’s not some disaster like Perinthus was. No sense in all that travel time and expense for basically no pay. Nah, I’m staying here for now.”

    I lasered in on what he said. Deva. Small town.

    Travel time.

    This sounded perfect.

    Perfect for getting out of that damn social event a week from now.

    “Thanks Markus!” I said, waving to him as I bounded out. “See you in a few weeks!”

    “Wa-“ Markus started to say, but I wasn’t listening. I was off like a shot.

    Dusk was falling as I hustled back to Ranger HQ, grabbing dinner on the way from a vendor.

    I should probably get my pay to my suite. Get a little vault there or something.

    I was basically done for the day – I shot off too quickly in hindsight, wanting to find Night and ask him about Deva, but ah well, he was off, doing mysterious vampire-Sentinel stuff.

    I got changed into nightclothes – I had blasted nightclothes now, I didn’t have to sleep in the same outfit – and laid down to rest, doing nothing but stare at the ceiling.

    Deva.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50570/50570]

    [Mana Regen: 44696 (+3373.92)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 20]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5057]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5112 (+1441.584)]

    [Magic Power: 4650 (+47662.5)]

    [Magic Control: 4654 (+47703.5)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial:   Lv 241]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 241]

    [Warmth   of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 204]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 235]

    [Phases of the Moon: 241]

    [Moonlight: 241]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 205]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 195]

    [: ]

    [Learning: 241]


    I woke up the next morning, somewhat refreshed and feeling alive and well again. I got ready – I was going to get so spoiled with my own bath.

    Night and Jaclyn were waiting for me when I exited my rooms, Jaclyn looking contrite.

    “Sorry for trying to eat you.” Jaclyn said, and I raised my eyebrows at that. Seriously? That was the worst ‘I’m apologizing because I’m being made to and not because I actually feel bad’ I’d ever heard.

    “Apology accepted.” I said, somewhat curtly, not really feeling it. If she’d been sincere, yeah I’d be happier.

    Ah well, I’d take what I could get. Night might be in trouble though, if his vampires were starting to get other ideas, even with his presence nearby.

    “Are your shoulders ok? Do you need them fixed up?” I asked, this time with some real concern. She wasn’t moving her arms much, if at all, and her shoulders looked much bulkier than usual under her tunic.

    I’d gotten some real good looks at her shoulders after all.

    I could see the struggle on her face, Night being impassive, before she admitted. “No, I could use some help.”

    Poker face. Gotta keep a poker face. Oh, how it must sting to ask me for help, after having tried and failed to take a nibble out of me, getting blasted by me, and now needing me to fix her up.

    I said nothing, just took a few steps closer and healed her.

    Even though I knew what the problem was – shoulder-holes, caused by Radiance beams from the prettiest mage in existence – it was a massive mana-sink. I think it was because my class was primarily aimed at healing humans, and while Jaclyn was close enough that I could fully, properly heal her, I was clearly eating a hefty penalty.

    Although, novelty was rewarded! New experiences! New creatures! New injury types, forgiveness, and the quite frankly higher-than-expected difficulty resulted in rewards!

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Constellation of the Healer] has leveled up to level 241! +10 Free Stats, +15 Mana, +15 Mana Regen, +15 Magic power, +15 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Celestial Affinity] has reached level 241]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Medicine] has reached level 203->204]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Phases of the Moon] has reached level 241]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Moonlight] has reached level 241]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] has reached level 202->204!]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 241!]

    Yay [Moonlight]! It had a boatload of excess experience, and I was being rewarded.

    Hmmmm… maybe I could convince another vampire to try and take a bite out of me…

    I shook my head at that. Same thinking as when Artemis suggested throwing me into another fire. Sheesh. What was I coming to?

    Jaclyn was politely but firmly kicked out, so we could have our quick meeting. “Nope, everything’s good” was the long version of the meeting, and we left to go our separate ways.

    I didn’t want to think about it, but it occurred to me – if Night reallywanted to punish Jaclyn, he’d do it after I fixed her major injuries. Yeah, let’s not think too hard on that.

    Who needed armor in the safe city? A simple tunic, like the ones I’d worn most of the time I was on vacation as a Ranger, was the name of the game. Did need to get used to my new stuff at some point.

    Clinic wasn’t ready yet, and I’d gotten most of my gear set. I could practice with it… or I could go bug Artemis at her school, say bye to mom and dad as they were going to leave back to Aquiliea – needed to pick up their stuff before they could move – and, hmmm… what else to do…

    Oh, I could bug Markus or something. Could be fun. See if I could get a trusty mango-merchant to buddy up with, strike a deal with Albina.

    Right. This was a full to-do list.

    I left my quarters, and not knowing where mom and dad were, but knowing where Artemis’s school was, I wandered down that way.

    She lived just a hair out of town, and not having much better to do, I just stuck to the streets, just moving along with the crowd, enjoying being anonymous.

    Enjoying only seeing people’s backs less. Ah well. I was in no rush.

    I hit my first snag at the gate to the great outdoors, a problem I hadn’t even hit in Aquiliea.

    “Purpose of leaving?” The guard asked me, in the same bored monotone from having asked the question dozens of times every hour, every day, for years.

    “Visiting a friend!” I said cheerfully.

    The guard looked me up and down doubtfully.

    “Where’s your husband?” He asked.

    Oh goddesses I was going to have to go through this again.

    Worst part was, I generally liked guards. Argh!

    “Not married.” I said curtly.

    “Well, what about your father?”

    “Trying to find him. Hence going to see my friend, she might know where he is.”

    “Well, why didn’t you just ask the guard instead?”

    “Because I want to see my friend? Nothing against that is there?”

    “No, but it’s not safe out there for a girl.”

    The worst part was calling me a girl. Sure, I was young, but 18 was an adult by any standard – doubly so in Remus, where I’d be considered a woman for years by now. I was starting to see tinges of red.

    “Do I look low level enough to be in danger?”

    “You look like a healer. So automatically, yes.”

    I gritted my teeth in frustration. Pull rank or walk over, pull rank or walk over…

    Let’s try diplomacy one last time.

    “Do you have a real, good reason to not let me out?”

    “My own judgement is enough, preserving your safety.

    Fuck this guy. I’ma just walk over.

    “Fine.” I said, taking a few steps back, making sure I was properly in sunlight. I activated [Talaria], and started to run up, up, over and out, ignoring the cries of the guards and the other people trying to leave.

    Ok, not totally ignoring them. I flipped the guard off on my way out, ignoring his cries of protest. Bless men’s tunics.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Talaria] has reached level 161]

    I landed on the other side of the wall without too many problems. The sun was high enough that the shadows weren’t too long. I really needed to upgrade [Talaria] and get rid of the “running on sunbeams” part, it was going to get me killed one day.

    There was a minor commotion as I landed – fliers were rare, given that there’d only been six of us at Ranger Academy, and Ranger Trainees were among the best of the best – but I quickly acted naturally and just started walking, blending in with the crowd.

    I wanted to grit my teeth in frustration. There was an entire fucking shanty town outside the walls! It was clearly safe! What sort of idiot fucking guard wanted to stop me from leaving!? What type of shit attitude was that!?

    Oooh, I was tempted to have a talk with the guard captain on the way back.

    I made my way to Artemis’s school, only to find the worst thing possible.

    A sign.

    “Closed for the Solstice. Come back soon!”

    Was the entire world on vacation!?

    Actually, thinking about it – probably yes. While Artemis could run the school constantly, she had a bunch of wealthy kids in it, who probably wanted to spend the festivities around the Solstice with their parents. Mom and dad were in town, and Artemis was probably spending time with them. It hadn’t been exactly clear where I was, and just like that, we did our best ‘two ships in the night’ impression.

    I grabbed a large fallen branch, and with some clever use of [Radiance Conjuration] and [Radiance Manipulation], I burned a message into the now-much-flatter branch.

    Artemis,

    Elaine.

    Living at Ranger HQ.

    Swing by sometime!

    And I was outta room. Oh well, she’d get the message. I could come back another day.

    I made my way back into town, back through the same gates. Getting in was, ironically, easier than getting out.

    “Purpose of visit?” Guard asked, same bored tone.

    “Returning home?” I asked, not quite sure how to answer that.

    “Welcome home.” The guard said, waving me in.

    See? Wasn’t that easy!?

    “Hey, yeah, that’s her!” I heard the guard from earlier yell, pointing at me.

    I found myself at the wrong end of the attention of a bunch of angry-looking guards, including one who I assumed was the captain.

    “She blew right through the gates when I denied her exit!”

    “For no good reason.” I protested, defending myself.

    “Miss, that’s still not a good reason. I’m going to ask that you come with me.” The captain said, fingers drumming on the baton.

    Ooooh, I could pull this card for the first time. It was going to feel so good. I could see why people liked doing it.

    “I’m sure you’ve heard this every day.” I said, slowly – didn’t want them getting any wrong ideas – reaching for my pouch. “But do you know who I – not my parents, not my husband, not a relative, who I am? I’m thinking no.”

    The captain looked thoughtful, my tone of pride and note of joy giving myself away. He wasn’t the captain for nothing.

    Idiot guard was sneering though, but the rest of the guards were reserved, looking to their captain for guidance.

    “Ha! We don’t care who you are, we-“

    “Shut up.” The guard captain said, cutting him off. “Miss, I better like what I’m going to hear.”

    I couldn’t resist the smile that split my face in half from ear to ear, as I finished pulling my Sentinel badge out of my bag.

    “Sentinel Dawn, at your service.” I said, showing the badge in all its splendor.

    Instant salutes, from everyone but Idiot Guard, who just looked like a fish out of water.

    “Sir! Err, ma’am? Apologies. Go ahead. I’ll deal with him. Have a nice day.”

    I kept my mad grin on as I left, resisting the urge to pump my fist. Wasn’t a move I wanted to pull that often, but when the situation called for it? Yes please.

    And now, I was back in the crowd, not too many people having noticed what just happened. Whoosh! Secret Agent Elaine!

    Ok, fine, anyone who really wanted to could track me.

    Where to next? Albina, probably.

    I navigated my way through the winding maze of the city, grabbing lunch along the way. Found her – well, technically, probably her and the other [Beautician]’s husbands store, but for practical purposes, her store, and entered.

    “Welcome! How can we help you?” The lady at the counter asked, then did a double take.

    “Wait, are you Dawn?”

    I scratched my head awkwardly.

    “Yeah, but I’m here for me, not on business. No rush.”

    Annnndddd that went in one ear and RIGHT out the other. Alternatively, she stopped listening at ‘yeah’. Either way, she went tearing off to the back.

    I rolled my eyes – I was going to do a lot of that – and took a seat. There wasn’t anyone else waiting, and given the time of day and the lack of any big events, I wasn’t surprised.

    Albina came hurrying out a moment later, and curtseyed to me.

    “Dawn! What can I do for you?”

    I laughed – in hindsight a poor move.

    “Relax, relax! I’m still Elaine! Here as Elaine. Chill, I’m still human.”

    A look flickered in her eye, and she straightened up.

    “Well, come on back! You gotta tell me how the date went!”

    My face involuntarily twisted.

    “Ah, not well?” She said, reading the obvious body language.

    “Sadly not.”

    “Well, come on! Tell me all about it. Come, come!” She said, grabbing and steering me to the back.

    “You sure? I’m not taking you away from anything?”

    “Nothing important! Boring inventory. Sit! Do you want a do-up? It’s on the house, least I can do after you got me so many levels last time!”

    Well, kinda what I wanted.

    “Sure! Hoping to work on my own [Pretty]! Wanted to speak with you about that by the way…” I said.

    We had a lovely conversation, where I told her an abridged, heavily redacted version of the date – I wasn’t about to let slip vampires, not when I was being trusted with secrets, not when it seemed like they were mostly under control.

    Albina was wonderful, making all the right noises at the right times, offering a sympathetic ear. I mentioned my plan of visiting regularly, and she immediately offered me not only a discount, but to make her way up to HQ.

    “After all, being the personal stylist for a Sentinel? Oooh, you’ll make me famous.”

    “Ha! Come over more often then, with that discount. It’s not like I need to pocket the extra or anything!”

    “Sure!”

    She got silent a moment, then asked a question that made happiness, tinged with a hair of sadness, in my heart.

    “Are lead and mercury really poisonous?”

    I gave a deep sigh.

    “Yes. They’re not fast. They’re slow. Very slow. And they don’t directly kill – just cause madness.”

    A long silence behind me, then some forced cheer.

    “Well! You’re Dawn. Guess I’ll have to change my stock around. The alternatives are more expensive, and don’t look as good, but if it’s better…”

    I patted her arm – only place I could easily reach from the angle I was sitting at.

    “It’s for the best. Hey! Maybe you’ll start a fashion trend!”

    She laughed at that, her normal cheer restored.

    “I can only hope!”

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 135]

    “A level! Huzzah!” I called out.

    “Woohoo!” Albina said, celebrating with me. “Good timing, I just finished up.”

    “Maybe that’s what triggered it?”

    “Usually is.” She said. Well, she was the expert, I wasn’t going to argue with her in her chosen field of expertise.

    “Thank you! See you in three days at HQ, around lunch?”

    “Yup!”

    “Great! I’ll send a runner if something comes up.”

    “Cheers! Chin up! You’ll find someone!”

    I gave her a thumbs-up on my way out the door.

    Hmmmm. Let’s find Markus now.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50570/50570]

    [Mana Regen: 44696 (+3373.92)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 20]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5057]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5112 (+1441.584)]

    [Magic Power: 4650 (+47430)]

    [Magic Control: 4654 (+47470.8)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 241]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 241]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 204]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 235]

    [Phases of the Moon: 241]

    [Moonlight: 241]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 161]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 135]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 204]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 195]

    [: ]

    [Learning: 241]


    I blinked. That was… a surprisingly low-level question, for all the build-up involved.

    “Um. Sure. Why not?” I said. “I’d be obligated to do it anyways.”

    Some tension left Night, tension I hadn’t even seen build up.

    “Good. I was concerned that the well might be poisoned, and a conflict or problem between us might occur. It is also difficult to find a healer who does not discover our secret, which continues to be an awkward point. At this point, are you satisfied with our conversation? Do you still have concerns for your safety or well-being?”

    “I mean, let your other vampires know that I’m off-limits, make sure there’s no retaliation, and sure, I have no problem with it. I’ll heal anything and anyone that’s not trying to kill me or a patient of mine.” I said, chin held high.

    “Excellent. Onto other matters.” Night said, and the tone shifted again. No longer was he Night, an ancient vampire teaching history to Elaine, he was now Night, leader of the Sentinels, instructing Dawn how things were done.

    “Hang on, quick question.” I said. “I’m wondering if you know anything about the moons?”

    He blinked at me.

    “The moons? Why would I know anything about them?”

    “Well, they seem somewhat unnaturalto me. Earth had nothing like them, and I figure you might know something.”

    Night shrugged.

    “The gods not only experimented with life, but the stars, moons, and even the suns. Blue, red, orange, white, one, two, four – the gods tried all manner of suns, moons, stars and constellations. After everything shook out and settled down, after, oh, the first thousand years or so, the sky appeared as it does now.”

    That wasn’t really an answer. Ah well.

    Night carried on, business as usual.

    “A set of gemstones has been prepared for your use.” He said, handing me my vambraces, the inside part which touched my skin now twinkling with dozens of gemstones, Arcanite mixed with Moonstone, Sunstones scattered throughout with a dozen of other tiny gems mixed in.

    “Arcanite needs no introduction. You can store your Celestial skills in the moonstones – I personally recommend your [Phases of the Moon] primarily, with a [Veil of the Aurora] or two mixed in, for emergency shielding. The rest of your skills likely have no use stored.”

    “For your Radiance skills, while technically possible to store Conjuration, it is a poor move. Radiance, like Light, Brilliance, and others, simply moves too quickly. You’d waste the entire skill. With that being said, I recommend storing [Nova] in it, with perhaps an emergency [Talaria] or two to catch yourself falling if you should make a mistake while flying.”

    I looked over my skills. Yeah, I agreed with Night on all of that.

    Something about having nearly 5000 years of experience on me does good things for analysis. No wonder his advice was always spot-on. Thousands of years of experience, and a single trainee to advize.

    Could also be that he was too damn busy to do more than one trainee.

    “Now, we have what I call the standard set of gemstones we issue all Sentinels. They are expensive, and single-use, which is a large part of why Ranger squads don’t have them. Rangers also cover each other, while we operate solo.”

    “You have a [Light], [Gust], [Remove Tracks], [Water Conjuration], [Shocking Paralysis], [Watery Manacles], [Brilliant Barrier], [Mana Void], [Tracks-be-gone], [The Stars Reveal], [Tripwire Alarm], [Summon Knife], [Revealing Radiance], [Cast Scream], [Invisibility with eyeholes], [Muffle], [Amplify Voice], [Wall Buster], [Curse Breaker], and a [Feather Fall]

    “Most are self-explanatory. [Shocking Paralysis] is a rare physical-disabling skill that prevents any movement, although be warned, skills can still be used. [Mana Void] drains and prevents mana from regenerating. One of Hunting’s skills. If you need to take a Classer prisoner, those two skills are what you use.”

    “I see the chances for you to use these skills to be minimal. However, most Sentinels need them, and I saw no reason to limit your options.”

    [Watery Manacles] summons handcuffs if you need to take someone low-level, with non-threatening skills prisoner. Again unlikely, but potentially useful. Mainly present so the powerful skills don’t need to be used against someone low-level. Ocean’s work.”

    [Brilliant Barrier] will encase you in a shield much more powerful than your [Veil], one that you can both move with and see through. Thank Sealing for this one.”

    “[Tracks-be-gone] is a powerful, powerful anti-tracking skill. As you move through the woods, low-level damage you cause to your surroundings will be reverted as you continue forward, erasing all traces of your passage. It won’t work on, say, a large branch being broken, but most things smaller than that it’ll work on. Critically, it also works on smell.”

    [The Stars Reveal] is to see in the dark without giving away your position with [Light]. It’s harder to recharge than [Light] is, but when stealth is paramount, it is useful.”

    [Tripwire Alarm] is one of those skills that every few decades we try to add to the kit, it fails, we remove it, and carry on. I keep my peace on these experiments, hoping that it’ll work this time – I can be wrong – but so far, it hasn’t been promising. It creates a loud noise if someone crosses into your campsite – for a single night, for a single site. Not the best.”

    “[Revealing Sunlight] is an anti-illusion spell. Illusions require very little in terms of power and mana, just requiring good control. Low-level illusionists can cause devastating damage as a result. The hard part is knowing an illusionist is at work, but this will strip all illusions within a large range around you.”

    [Invisibility with eyeholes] – When cloaked with true invisibility, you can see exactly as much as people can see of you – namely, exactly nothing. This one’s from Magic, cloaking yourself in a way nobody can see, except through a tiny slit. You can duck down and be truly invisible, or stand up and peek through it. Incredibly potent. Works best with [Muffle]- also Magic’s – to not be heard either.”

    There was a pause, and I opened my mouth to ask the obvious question.

    “You can still be smelled.”

    “[Wall Buster], like the name suggests, destroys a wall. Do not use it on a city wall unless in the most dire of emergencies. Or if Bulwark is around to fix the problem.”

    [Feather Fall] is Sky’s ability to reduce your weight, a second way to save you if your [Talaria]should fail. Say… if a cloud moved over the sun while you were high up.”

    “Normally, there are a number of healing and anti-poison skills included. We felt that simply providing you with more moonstones would solve that issue. Related, the head of Gemstones would like to borrow you to craft a large number of gems with your [Phases of the Moon]. Naturally, at your convenience. Preferably a few days from now – all of our spare moonstone went into your equipment, and he is currently attempting to acquire more. Discreetly.”

    “Questions?”

    I shook my head.

    “Good. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your new equipment, attune yourself to the new gemstones and Arcanite. Your other equipment has all been upgraded, purely with additional Arcanite.”

    “We are working to secure you a stall in the 3rd-largest marketplace in the capital, having taken your suggestion seriously. You are free to set whatever price you want – or no price at all – but the quartermaster insisted I ask if you could throw a few coins that you inevitably make towards helping us on the rental of the stall.”

    I expected Night to have some sort of distasteful look at the prospect of needing to manage money, but nothing. Thinking about it, he probably did care, as it was another aspect of being a Sentinel. Couldn’t pretend money was like water when it wasn’t, and doing so was a bad idea. Solid, practical considerations, mixed with making sure we had every tool we needed.

    “On a different note. In a week or so Ranger Academy will begin with a fresh set of recruits. You are invited to assist with the Hell Months – indeed, I think it could be beneficial to you to see how it happens. For Academy purposes, I believe putting you in charge of all healing-related education would be appropriate. After all, you have literally written the defining work on the topic.”

    I saluted, bowing my head forward slightly, trying and failing to hide a grin, which turned into a slow smile instead.

    “On the subject of Academy, I ask that you attend some of the planning sessions, as we attempt to solve this year’s puzzle of which classes go when, and who goes where. As for mentorship, there are no healers this year, however, there is a single bardic Trainee. If he should pass the initial selection criteria, I am of a mind to pair him up with you, so that you may better expand his repertoire of songs and tales.”

    Night shrugged.

    “Seems to be the best fit.”

    “One last note. Roughly a week from now, there is the first social gathering we hope you shall attend.”

    I pulled a face at that. Blah. Socializing.

    “Right, any questions?”

    I thought for a moment, feeling a sly smile creep onto my face.

    “With the socializing plan, I’m going to need some help working on my [Pretty] skill. I have a plan in mind, it’ll cost somewhat. How do I best go about that?” I asked, thinking of Albina.

    “Speak with the Quartermaster. Negotiate what is reasonable with him.”

    I mentally pumped my fist. YES!

    “Best way to find my way to various places in HQ? Like the gemstones dude or the Quartermaster?” I asked, planning out my line of attack.

    “Just ask anyone who works here. They can direct you.”

    “It doesn’t screw with our look?”

    “All new Sentinels tend to ask around, given how little time is spent at Headquarters not in That Room, their quarters, or one of the living spaces. It’s practically tradition for new Sentinels to get lost and need to ask how to get to the more obscure places. Helps humble them a bit, helps remind everyone here that yes, we’re only human,” Night had a little chuckle at that. “and yes, they can talk with us.”

    “I tried at one point to keep us mysterious and above everyone, but that ended in disaster. Mistakes and problems weren’t pointed out, people being too scared to tell us, or thinking we already knew it all and were invincible.”

    Night yawned, a huge, gaping yawn. I checked inside his mouth real fast. Couldn’t see any fangs. Did they only come out for feeding?

    “Right, I’m off.” He said, getting up and vanishing down the hallway to his quarters.

    Welp, nothing for it. I was a Sentinel now, and apparently that meant a boatload of free time. It being a vacation for everyone was helping, and I suspected it’d mean I’d end up with a bit more work later on… but not that much more work.

    I paid the price, by being one of humanity’s best, by always being on-call for a disaster. But I could see the point of whoever it was 400 years ago that said Sentinels should teach, and I could see the point in us having little tasks here and there, like Ocean with politics and Brawling with the arena. Our days were really empty otherwise. The better to improve ourselves… or kick back and enjoy.

    Weird. So weird. I’d had unstructured days off here and there, but now almost my entire day – heck, my entire life – was looking unstructured. Guess it was up to me to do something with that, fill my days with something.

    Healing seemed like a solid way of doing it, a vocation I could – and did – build my life around. There had been a good reason way back when that I’d picked [Apprentice Control Healer], and the ability to lead a fulfilling life was part of it, the call I felt to help and to heal.

    Just, with a standard clinic, like every other healer had.

    Every other male healer.

    And I’d have my clinic free and clear, all to myself.

    Only took four years of difficulty and danger to accomplish, along with a massive knowledge base from reincarnation. No biggie. Anyone could’ve done it.

    Technically, I didn’t have it free and clear. The Rangers owned it, but…

    Man, this was not a productive line of thought. On to other things. Like breakfast!

    Lunch rather. The conversation with Night had been long.

    Quartermaster, Gemstone dude, then some solid sleep. I didn’t need as much, vitality helping out, but it wasn’t like I was one of those 3000+ vitality monsters. I still needed – wanted – sleep, and after the absolute monster emotional rollercoaster I’d been on since I last slept, I was looking forward to some good Z’s.

    I found the Quartermaster after a bit of sleep-deprived wandering – there was no anonymity for me here, not in the heart of Ranger territory. Almost everyone had been at the Convocation, almost everyone had seen me become Dawn. It wasn’t like there were that many women running around HQ in the first place.

    The Quartermaster was tall and slender, and gave off a brisk, efficient, penny-pinching air. I got the sense that he’d complain about damaged armor, saying that you could’ve sacrificed a leg to save the greaves or some nonsense like that. Not that I could blame him on the penny-pinching part. Everyone probably wanted all the resources in the world, and it was his job to turn the limited Senate funds into enough armor, weapons, goods, and most importantly, pay, for the entire organization.

    Surprised I was talking with him, and not one of his endless minions. Who all required pay, and looked like they were driven harder than slaves working in a field.

    Which, from my very brief conversation with the Quartermaster, might be the case. Money didn’t grow on trees and all that.

    After a short negotiation, which consisted of me telling the Quartermaster what I wanted and him immediately lowballing me on what I could have – and me accepting said lowball, not wanting to piss him off this early into our relationship.

    Maybe he’d warm up to me as I started feeding him coins? Actually, if I managed to make enough healing, and pay enough back into the pot, I could end up his golden goose… and golden geese got fattened up.

    Granted, I’d make and have more just keeping it all to myself, but I was feeling not only a sense of responsibility, but of gratitude, towards the Rangers and all they’d done for me. It was the least I could do to give back somewhat.

    After my mango budget was taken care of.

    And a little shopping budget.

    And a “fun with mom/dad/Artemis/other” budget.

    And… yeah I’m not sure how much would end up back in the Quartermaster’s pocket.

    Oooh, but I needed to make friends with a good mango merchant. Maybe a standing, recurring order of some sort… yes… yes…

    I was sleep deprived and rambling. Gemstone dude.

    Gemstone dude practically glittered, and I meant that both metaphorically and literally. He had sparkly dust all over him, remnants of little bits of gems getting crushed and just sticking to him, and a greedy sparkle in his eye.

    I immediately saw why Quartermaster was so penny-pinching. Gemstone dude would suck him – all of us – dry in a heartbeat given the chance.

    I charged the few Moonstones he had left with as much [Phases of the Moon] as I could. It was weird filling them up. I focused on “heal”, and the gemstones acted like a person that needed to be healed, mana draining out of me and into the stones. I could then sense when it was ‘healed’, aka the gemstone had taken as much mana as it could handle. They’d have terrible efficiency when used, but then again, they weren’t being used for casual things, they were being used for ‘oh god I lost an arm//got poisoned by a snake in the middle of the wilderness’, where anything was better than nothing, where even if [Phases] wasn’t enough to fix everything, it should be enough to stabilize the problem long enough for the Sentinel to get better help.

    There was no cafeteria or anything inside of HQ, but there were a half-dozen food vendors who set up shop nearby, the large number of hungry people from HQ enough to support them, never mind the other businesses and government buildings in the area.

    I grabbed food from the closest vendor, probably overpaying, downed it without a thought, somehow found my bed, and crashed. The System helpfully reminded me that I was a Sentinel, and had done a bunch of new Sentinel-ish stuff.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Sentinel's Superiority] has reached level 191 -> 195]

    Tomorrow would be the start of the rest of my life.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50400/50400]

    [Mana Regen: 44496 (+3360.72)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 8]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092 (+1435.944)]

    [Magic Power: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Magic Control: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 240]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 240]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 202]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 235]

    [Phases of the Moon: 240]

    [Moonlight: 240]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 160]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 134]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 201]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 195]

    [: ]

    [Learning: 240]


    Hey all!
    I'm taking a short break so I don't burn out horribly, like I've been saying. I'll see you all on Monday!


    “Dawn? May I come in?” Night asked, politely knocking on my door.

    I fell back, scrambling to get away from the door, away from the thing on the other side, an inscription providing light for the room throwing crazy shadows over my face.

    “No! You can’t enter!” I yelled out, trying to remember my vampire lore.

    “That’s how it works right? I don’t give you permission and you can’t come in right?” I asked, only before realizing the monumental stupidity of asking my enemy for advice on his weaknesses.

    I heard a deep sigh from the other side of the door.

    “I am not entering because the place is yours, and I value your privacy. I would not intrude upon you, especially when you are distressed. Would you at least be willing to discuss the latest events with me, so I may understand what has transpired?”

    “I’d feel a lot better with more people around!” I said, suddenly feeling like a hostage negotiator. Except I was also the hostage.

    Ok, think. There was one door to the area. If Night went through the door, I’d be able to get Radiance beams on him, no trouble.

    Except he was so high level compared to me that he could probably just shrug it off, even if I went for the eyes.

    The realization was almost freeing.

    I was a dead woman if Night wanted me to be a dead woman. My only chance at survival, at freedom, was to make Night happy.

    System, oh System, hear my prayer. Give me a skill to make Night happy with me, give me a skill to help me survive this!

    [*ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Tasty Blood]!]

    You have got to me kidding me.

    I rejected the skill. I was hoping for something more social, like [Silver Tongue] or something.

    [*ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Tastes like Chicken]!]

    No way.

    [*ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Mid-Night Snack]!]

    This clearly wasn’t helping. Back to hostage negotiations.

    “How do I know you won’t just eat or kill me at the end?” I said, starting to think a bit more.

    More silence from the other side of the door. Night’s habit of long pauses between speaking was going to be the death of me.

    “I am Night first. I am the leader of the Sentinels second. Protector of humanity third. Guardian of Remus fourth. Patriarch of a vampire lineage fifth. You are Dawn. You are a Sentinel, one of mine. I place you, and your well-being, above one of my idiot descendants.”

    What.

    “What?” I said, confusion clear in my voice.

    More exasperated sighing.

    “Could I please come in, or could you please come out, and we can discuss this face-to-face? It is difficult speaking to a door.”

    Fine. Operation ‘Make Night Happy In A Way That Doesn’t Get My Blood Sucked’ is a go.

    I opened the door to find Night a respectful distance away, clearly trying to not spook me. He looked me up and down, and discreetly coughed.

    “Ahem. Would you like a few minutes to straighten yourself up?”

    Mmmm. He had a point. I was a hot mess.

    I ducked back into my room, splashed water on my face – my suite had everything, luxurious bed, a living room, a fully stocked bathroom with a small bath and everything, basically a penthouse suite on Pallos, magical inscriptions providing all the luxuries.

    I probably would’ve had this life, or a similar one, married to Kerberos. No wonder my parents had thought it was good for me. He was dead now, and I had it anyways, on my own merits. Much better.

    I finished washing up, changing into a new, simple tunic. I put my dress away somewhat carefully, unsure if I’d ever wear it again. Good memories and bad linked to it.

    I left the room, and found Night in the central living room, having claimed a large, plush chair for himself. I took a recliner on the other side.

    “First, while you are clearly upset, I would like to check – you are physically ok, correct?” He asked.

    I shot him a withering look.

    “I’m a stupidly powerful healer. Duh I’m ok physically.”

    “If I may pry, what has occurred to make you so upset?”

    I glared at him, then realized he had no way of knowing.

    “Vampire. Tried to take a bite.” I sourly said, expecting some sort of retribution.

    He hissed, and I realized why it had sent such deep fear into me the first time I’d heard it, when he was mad. He was an apex predator, and I was his prey.

    “Which one of my idiot progeny tried to take a bite out of one of my Sentinels?” He hissed in anger. “Edward? Vlad? Lincoln?”

    I blinked. I hadn’t realized there were so many – but then again it made sense.

    “Jaclyn.” I said.

    Night blinked. Then blinked again.

    A long silence stretched between us, much longer than usual. Shit. Was she a favorite of Night’s or something?

    The silence continued to stretch on. Had I somehow broken Night?

    “Right. Ahem. Regardless of how you feel, yes, Jaclyn.” He said, normally smooth words slightly stuttering.

    Wait. Did I just throw Night off by having gone on a date with a woman?

    “First off, did you get bitten?” He asked.

    I shook my head.

    “Good. It’s not the worst thing to have happen, but it makes things less complicated. Now that we’ve established you’re ok, will I need to be burying a body – or did you not leave a body?”

    “Crippled her shoulders.” I said. “Blew through both of them, disabling her arms. She ran off after that.”

    More damned silence. I was never going to play cards with Night, not with that poker face.

    “Thank you.” Night said. “While you would’ve been justified in removing her after her affront to you, I must confess I never enjoy hearing about the loss of one of mine – Sentinel or otherwise.”

    “Normally, I dislike your approach, and I was the one who instilled the lesson in Artemis – do not leave threats behind. Granted, she’s taken that lesson further than I believe is reasonable, though not out of bounds, but she is a discussion for another day. However, today, I am thankful for your restraint.”

    “Does everyone else know about you?” I asked. He seemed awfully unconcerned that I knew.

    “Yes. It’s one of the things you and Commander Julius were to be educated on in a few days, along with a number of other critical pieces of information. Normally, the terrors of the skies are also part of your education, but you came to us knowing it already.”

    I didn’t know what to say to that, and it felt like tumbleweeds were rolling through the room.

    “I have decided. You deserve a history lesson, a full one. You may tell the others, but I’d prefer you didn’t. Call it my own desire for privacy.” Night said.

    I nodded, eager to hear more, my curiosity and desire for stories getting the better of me.

    “What year is it?” Night asked, out of the blue.

    I had to think about it for a moment. It wasn’t something we used every day.

    “4798.” I replied.

    “Yes. And what does that number represent?” Night asked.

    More thinking, back to System Day at the temple way back when.

    “Years since creation?” I ventured a guess.

    “It’s pretty close. Off by a few decades.” Night said. “But it’s close enough. More accurately, it’s how many years since Herculix was born.”

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 213!]

    Wait. Vampire. Spoke of ancient events.

    “You-“ I said, not daring to finish the sentence, not daring to believe.

    “Yes. I was not born.” Night said. “I was created, at the dawn of time, when the big five gods and goddesses saw fit to create Pallos, and populate the planet with all manner of creatures.”

    “It was the worst moment of my life. One moment I didn’t exist. The next moment, I was. A full adult, head crammed full of useless knowledge. A full language. Without the information of what language was, or how to use it. I didn’t even know how to stand! I had no history, no practical knowledge, no memories. A bundle of poorly thought-out instincts. I fell to the ground, twitching, as I tried to process what had happened, what was going on. Beams of light were coming down from the heavens as I did this, as the gods kept their cruel experiment going, creating all manner of creatures, of horrors.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 214!]

    “The gods were new to creation. Pallos and its natives were their first attempt. Or rather, if it wasn’t their first attempt, I shudder to imagine what their first did look like, what ungodly horrors were created and unleashed to justify a purge, a mulligan on creation. Regardless. I was blessed, lucky to not die in those first few days as so many tens of thousands did, killed by their own body, killed by the gods forgetting something as fundamental as a mouth, misshapen, bloody things that only existed for a few brief moments of agony then died.”

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 215!]

    Ok, you know what System? Shh. I’m listening to the ancient vampire talk about creation. Let me know what the gains are at the end.

    “Some were plain unlucky. I saw a creature created next to me, only for a larger one to be created directly on top of him, instantly crushing him to death. One body I came across was clearly just the gods having figured out eyes, then trying every single type of eye onto a single being, simply to experiment. Nothing but flesh and eyes, dead mere moments after having been created, all for the gods to learn more, to seewhat would happen, how different types of eyes worked.”

    “The world was hard and rocky, lava spurting out from the ground. The gods figured out that we needed soil, and the great soiling occurred, burying every creature in feet upon feet of the stuff.”

    “Most small creatures were created or re-created after the event. Myself, I had to dig out of it. For all I knew at the time, being buried alive was a frequent occurrence. I spent weeks making sure I was always high up, such that when a repeat of the event occurred, I wouldn’t be buried again. More fragile plants were created then, damning those who had been able to survive in the lava fields to being buried.”

    “But the gods were improving, steadily creating better and better races as a whole, as a rule. I’d like to think Vampires were one of the later races, as we were blessed with an immortal lifespan, fantastic physical prowess, and strong racial traits from the System.”

    “Sadly, we vampires have some of the worst leveling I’ve ever heard of. I’m nearly 5000 years old, and still have yet to break level 500. Part of it is my role as a guardian, a defender, but more significantly was the fact that we are simply a failure from the gods.”

    “My belief is the gods found a template that somewhat worked, and decided to continuously improve upon it. That is why so many creatures and monsters are human-like. Or, as the gods would put it, that is why so many creatures and monsters are elf-like.”

    “For the elves were the god’s last and greatest humanoid creation, their peak, the pinnacle. Blessed with endless lives, rapid System growth, as much knowledge as they could give them at the start. The gods also cheated. Every other species was spread all over the planet, scattered to every corner, to see who and what would survive, and what would perish.”

    “Not the elves. No, they were all created in a single area that the gods cleared ahead of time, given advantages no other species were.”

    “Thanatos, the God of Death, made his greatest creation around this time. Black Crow//White Dove. An endlessly flipping coin. Two as one, you will be visited by only one, but both are always present.”

    “White Dove takes those who go willingly, while Black Crow drags the unwilling away.”

    “White Dove saw that many, many races, species, and yes, even some individuals she would never meet, for age does not touch them. She cursed them then, cursed them all.”

    “I do not know what each race got. I know that we vampires lose access to our System-granted skills and stats when under sunlight.”

    “Hang on – is that why you don’t go into sunlight? Not your [Oath] or whatever?” I asked, feeling lied to.

    Night grinned at me, like Prometheus after he stole fire.

    “No – I figured, while I’m already bound to not show up in the sun, why not take a restriction skill, formalize it, and gain power from it? The curse isn’t from the System after all, I am permitted to double-dip.”

    I blinked. He was just cheating!

    “The curse felled most of my fellow vampires, becoming prey during the daylight hours when most beasts roamed. Most of my brethren have taken a similar restriction skill, although a fire mage one was so dumb as to declare he’d burst into flame should sunlight ever touch him.”

    “The idiot burst into flames three decades later when the gods decided to experiment with a second sun.”

    Night shook his head at the memory.

    “It was humanity, who offered us a place at their fire. Humanity, who was willing to guard us during the day, as we guarded them during the night. Humanity, who protected us, as we were cursed to level so slowly, our early years being some of the hardest of them all. Humanity, who tolerated us at level 20, 25 when they were already leaping forward, some of the earliest, strongest pushing 300, 400 as the cruel world created amazing opportunities. Humanity, who saved what I believe were the last three vampires, the progenitors.”

    “I am one of them. And I am eternally grateful.”

    We paused a moment for me to digest.

    Wow. Just.

    Wow.

    Night wasn’t just old, he was old.

    I was still trying to process the rest as he continued.

    “They allowed us to occasionally feed from them, to take what we needed from them. They sheltered and protected us, and we helped them in kind, expanding their tribe’s territory and influence, meeting other tribes in turn, banding together for survival. Petty disputes mean nothing before the beasts and monsters out there.”

    “Once the gods finished elves, they turned their hand towards other creatures, winged beasts of the sky, leviathans of the deep. I believe that they felt they perfected the humanoid form, so they reached still higher, for a greater form.”

    “Thousands upon thousands of beams of light over the oceans and seas, populating the depths with creatures still unknown. I will not set foot over the ocean.”

    “For that matter, there is some great monster in the Nostrum sea – a massive plant, stretching across the entire depths. Anything too far from shore gets grabbed and pulled down by thorny vines. I have been working on a solution for a few centuries, but have nothing so far. That’s one of the secrets, the creature in the depths, the reason we are shore-faring, and do not directly cross the Nostrum Sea.”

    “Blessedly, it prevents anything large from forming in the Nostrum, keeping the threats minimal, compared to the size things could grow to unchecked. The only price is being unable to directly cross. The price, so far, has been worth it. Hence not spending too much time on the issue, compared to the Formorians.”

    “Back to the skies.”

    “Rocs. Golden Crows. Quetzal. Thunderbirds. Griffins. Phoenixes. Tapajaras. Wyverns. And so many more. Each one greater, fiercer than the last.”

    “A flying island showed up, but as to what’s going on with that, I haven’t the faintest idea.” Night shrugged.

    “Then, their final creation. Only a few dozen beams of light lit the sky that night, but the terrors of the sky, the overlords of creation were created.”

    Dragons.

    “Their reign of terror was immediate and brutal. Our only saving grace was, at first, they were just as content to murder and main each other as the rest of creation.”

    “After some time, they ceased fighting each other, and turned to the rest of us.”

    “One in particular saw fit to attack the lands where humanity was struggling to eke out an existence. For what purpose, I have never found out. Perhaps it simply enjoyed sowing mayhem and chaos, reveling in destruction, at watching all of creation flee before it, groveling before its might.”

    “There was nothing we could do but pray and supplicate ourselves before the overlord, who didn’t care for us in the slightest. No, if anything, us calling to it and offering sacrifices seemed to offend it, speaking its name seemed to enrage it. It is why the name, and the knowledge, is taboo, although informing new team leaders once every two years or more doesn’t seem to be enough to provoke its wrath, and let us clamp down on any idiots who find ancient records and get ideas.”

    “We could be wrong about it hearing us when we speak its name. I am unwilling to risk it or test it.”

    Night paused, collecting his thoughts.

    “What I am about to tell you is speculation from me, only some of which I have seen.”

    “I believe, as they continued to oppress all of creation, a number of beasts, monsters, and beings from around the planet decided to fight back. I only know of one, but as Etalix engaged with the annihilator, none of his kind came to assist. Etalix summoned storms, throwing massive bolts of lightning at the destructor. Great blasts of ice and acid came from the ocean, spatial tears ripping the very fabric of the world, skills of a level I can’t begin to dream of assisted him.”

    “The fight was, at best, a draw. At worst, a loss for Etalix, but either way, they were no longer an omni-present feature in the sky.”

    Night reverentially bowed his head.

    “I do not believe he was fighting for us. Nevertheless, he is our Guardian, the reason we still exist today. That fight is the reason we venerate him, place a statue of him before every temple.”

    “At this time, yet another band of humans left, to follow and praise Etalix. Among their number, just another face in the crowd, was Herculix. I do not know what transpired, only that many decades later, there was great rejoicing from all humans, as he accomplished some great feat that even the System recognized, permanently making him a part of humanity’s record.”

    Wow. That’s why we worshipped Etalix.

    Yup, I was going to offer more than a few prayers to him, giving thanks, even though prayers to him didn’t drain mana the same way praying to the gods drained mana.

    “Anyways. The great battle carved out two more sections of the Nostrum, nearly connecting it to the Ocean in some places, a permanent scar of the battle. It wasn’t even an aim of the winged being to do so, they were simply missed shots. That is the scale of the power of those beings, rearranging the surface we live on with little more than an idle thought. The landscape was scarred in many other ways.”

    “Time passed, humanity recovered, and began to expand. Many times, humanity has decided to do something dumb. Often, I’ve been tempted to intervene, to correct them and set them on the right path.”

    “I have refrained. I have seen too many warlords, too many powerful humans who thought they knew better, crushing the rest under their heel. At times, choices I believe were wrong turned out to be right. It forced me to face the truth – I am a warrior, not a leader. I would end up being nothing more than a petty warlord, and I have seen the fate of every petty warlord.”

    “As such, I took the role of guardian. After Gideon founded the Sentinels and Rangers, I took my place with them, and have stayed here since then, providing a guiding hand, remembrance of fatal mistakes so they are not made again – at least, not made without several words of caution in the ears of those who would make them.”

    “Eventually, the edge of humanity’s expansion reached the edge of the Formorian expansion, and we began to skirmish, then battle, then war. One day, like an Inscription activated, they went from a stream to an inexhaustible tide, seemingly throwing every body they have at us.”

    “We have tried all sorts of manner to slay them, but they are unending, unceasing. Many times, people have gotten the brilliant idea to cast some large-scale skill. Usually, it works the first time, so they attempt it a second time, a third. Inevitably, one of the skills hits our lines, breaks our walls, and they flood in. I stop potentially species-ending stupidity like that, along with any Classer too powerful for another Sentinel – or occasionally a Sentinel himself who’s gone rogue.” Night said.

    “But that gets off track. Know this. I have an unending, undying debt of gratitude towards humanity, and consider myself one of their guardians – as well as you. If a conflict should emerge between my kind and humanity, between vampires and Sentinels, I shall alwaysbe on the side of Sentinels.”

    He stopped, the massive flood of words over. I was still soaking in them, trying to remember and process everything he said.

    No wonder he took so long before saying anything. Anything he heard, anything he did, had to be catalogued, processed, checked against nearly five millennia of knowledge and experience.

    And bless his habit. It let me do a boatload of processing.

    I’d never thought that creation was, well, creation.I’d been told it, but it never really processed, never really hit. I’d never thought what it’d be like to be one of the beings created, suddenly placed upon the planet with no frame of reference.

    And creating! Gods weren’t perfect, and their early creations were clearly subpar. Given what I’d seen, given what I knew, I strongly suspected after some time they decided to just plagiarize successful models from Earth, and possibly from other locations.

    Made sense why so many things were humanoid though, just the gods saying “well this seems to work, let’s keep trying!”

    But that casual cruelty, of creating and forgetting, of throwing a bunch of beings into the pit and seeing how it shook out for their own amusement jived exactly with what I’d felt from Papilion, who’d happily stripped my memories and threw me into the world.

    I must’ve spent an hour or more processing, thinking, going through everything Night said. He waited. He was patient.

    He literally had all the time in the world. No wonder he was so unconcerned with the passage of time.

    “Thank you.” I finally said, having wrapped my head around most of it.

    “Now that you have a light background of me and mine, we can hopefully address last night’s unpleasantness.” Night said. “Generally speaking, we can feed on blood in one of a few different ways.”

    ‘Light background’ my ass.

    “The first and most common are slaves, who get their debt paid off exceedingly quickly in exchange for not asking too many questions as to what’s going on.”

    “The second are animals, foul, not particularly tasty, the experience is so tiny even against our vast needs as to be ignored, but we can survive consuming them.”

    “The third, sadly, are people like you. People who appear weak physically, but have a high level. Strong vitality makes feeding harder, while higher levels are, somehow, tastier.”

    “I strongly discourage this practice, and Jaclyn will be experiencing my extreme displeasure later on for trying.”

    I did not want to think of what creative tortures a nearly 5,000 year old vampire could come up with.

    “When a vampire feeds, they can do it in one of a few different ways.”

    “The first is to inject a substance that causes – or maintains – sleep. This is how we feed on our slaves without them knowing, being able to return them back to civilization proper once we are through with them without them spreading the word about us.”

    “The second is to attempt to turn the person we are feeding upon, and this is how more of us are created. I carefully limit who can turn, and when we turn more to our kind, and I make sure the person is always, always willing. More than a few Vampires have seen fit to challenge me on this. They do not survive the challenge.”

    Yeah, pissing off the 5,000 year old vampire who survived creation is a good one way ticket to the afterlife.

    “If we expand too much, too far, it is inevitable that humanity will see fit to exterminate us, for you do not have the same memory that we do, you do not remember us guarding the fire at night, all those millennia ago, nor do you remember my – our – years of service defending Remus against all threats.”

    Night shrugged.

    “Before I ask my next question, a few more points.”

    “First off, Jaclyn will be made to apologize to you, in-person.” He thought a moment. “If she hasn’t been tended to by a healer by then, I’d be eternally grateful if you fixed her up.”

    I rolled my eyes. I’d have to once she was in front of me anyways.

    “Sure, can do.”

    “Second off, I’ve heard that your parents plan on moving to the capital, to be closer to you. As recompense, I’d like to offer them a house in the central district.”

    I blinked. Wow. That was- wow, that was a lot of money to throw around.

    I suppose when you were around when the city was founded, you had a lot of assets from centuries of accumulation.

    “Um. You’d have to ask them. Um. I think they’d love that though!” I said.

    Night nodded.

    “Very good. And now, to my question.”

    I saw him hesitate, then maybe, possibly, change his mind with lightning speed.

    “Would you be willing to heal my brethren when the need arises?”

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Learning] has reached level 240!]

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50400/50400]

    [Mana Regen: 44496 (+3360.72)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 8]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092 (+1435.944)]

    [Magic Power: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Magic Control: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 240]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 240]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 202]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 235]

    [Phases of the Moon: 240]

    [Moonlight: 240]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 160]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 134]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 201]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 190]

    [: ]

    [Learning: 240]


    Book 3 cover artwork! Yay!

    Only thing I'm unsure of is how much I like the "Sunburst" around the circle.
    Technically, I did ask for it, but I didn't think my bad MS paint "straight spikes" would be taken so literally. 


    Do I accept the artwork the way it is? Does it look good like that? Or do I just make it a circle?

    I really don't know, so I'm asking all of you!



    I made my way to the temple first, wanting to get my stuff back. I kept my Sentinel badge in my bag, suddenly feeling covert. Master of Disguise Elaine here!

    I had basically no trouble getting into my vault. To my surprise, there was a small mountain of coins.

    I kept a poker face while the attendant was fussing around, guessing that I’d been getting paid while at Academy. That, or it was a promotion bonus.

    Or Sentinels were paid stupid well and this was one day’s pay.

    Either way, asking ‘why do I suddenly have so much money’ to the bank attendant wouldn’t get me any answers, and possibly asked ‘why do you not know why you have money? You sure this is your family’s vault?’

    I poured my pouch full of coins, reclaiming my knife, pendant, dress, and bracelet. I had solid living quarters now, and I could keep stuff there.

    A hop, skip, and jump later, I was at The Blue Harpoon, having dropped off some stuff and spare coins at my new home.

    Julius, Kallisto, Maximus, and Artemis were all there, already seated at an outdoor table.

    “To the woman of the hour!” Julius toasted me as I sat down.

    I beamed back at him.

    “To the man of the hour! Commander Julius!” I said, a wide grin on my face. I was still on the high of being promoted – me, a Sentinel – but I wasn’t about to forget who’d pinned the badge on my shirt.

    “To Kallisto’s new wife!” Maximus toasted.

    “And his kid!” Artemis.

    “To your new school!” Kallisto said.

    We all had something to celebrate, and the food came out soon after – I bet Artemis had been the one to order the same thing I’d gotten last time we were here.

    We tucked in, sharing stories of our latest adventures.

    Julius had promptly hired a healer to join their team, taking a bet on an apprentice who was close to graduating, promising him solid, but not amazing pay, but the chance to get experience and a reputation. He’d saved them a dozen times over, and Julius was feeling pleased with himself, having managed to find the right combination of price and experience.

    The fact that it took so long for the first Ranger on his team to die meant they were never at risk of ‘cascading’, aka when the first Ranger dies, it’s easier for the second one to die, and so on.

    Healer was now happy, had a wide variety of experience, money, and a reputation to try and start his own clinic. Granted, all that had come with a not insignificant risk of ‘dying horribly’, but the gamble paid off.

    Kallisto only had eyes – and therefore memory – for his wife and new kid, and we heard endless stories about them, him gushing profusely over them in a way we’d never heard him before. It was sweet really.

    Maximus had a most interesting round, with dozens of one-of-a-kind situations.

    You know. Typical Ranger stuff.

    “…anyways, we finally figured out what was happening. Two Classers, not one. They’d charge a gemstone, and stick it in a loaf of bread or something. Then the animal speaker would convince an animal – usually a bird – to bring it somewhere and would be allowed to ‘eat’ it as a result, promising unbelievable rewards for success and fantastical punishments for failure. Animals are dumb, they kept believing her. Bird would peck at the bread, crack the gemstone, and it would cause a massive explosion. Of course, the Classers were somewhere completely different – and visible – as a result. Always had an alibi.”

    Maximus shook his head.

    “It was unbelievable. Took us three weeks to properly hunt them down.”

    There was a slow, but steady stream of people that passed our table, people just out for a walk, or going from A to B.

    It was at that point that an absolute vision of a woman passed by our table. Long, straight, black hair, clear, pale white skin, bright red lipstick. She was wearing an elegant, simple red woman’s tunic, no ring on her left hand, and looked to be around my age. She moved with grace and beauty, and like everyone in Pallos, looked more than moderately fit.

    She was so beautiful. She was so cool. She was so -

    “Elaine. You alright?” Artemis asked, snapping my attention back to the here and now.

    “Huh? What yeah I’m fine.” I said, a flush going over my face.

    Kallisto was grinning at me like a maniac.

    “I’d know that look anywhere! Elaine! Why did you never tell me you were interested in women? The adventures we could’ve had!”

    I shot him a withering look.

    “One. I was too busy trying to catch up and learn how to be a Ranger. Two, I was way too young!”

    I muttered under my breath, but from the look on Kallisto’s face I knew he’d heard me anyways.

    “Three, I’m interested in both, not just women…”

    Everyone at the table had a wide grin on their face. Oh gods no. The teasing would be merciless.

    “Well, go on, ask her out!” Kallisto said merrily.

    I blushed, shaking my head.

    “No way. A guy would be easy. I’d just walk right up, smile, and ask. A girl though? She’s so cool. So beautiful. I have no idea if she’d even be interested.” I said, shifting uncomfortably.

    Artemis started laughing her ass off, while Maximus started to choke, pounding his chest.

    “You ok?” I asked, and he nodded.

    Julius coughed.

    “Kallisto, given your talents, and recent marriage, you have a mission.” He said, pointing a fork at him.

    “Get Elaine a date with her.” He said, pointing to the lady.

    “But-“ I tried to protest.

    “No buts! This is coming from your Commander. Our Elaine’s all grown up! She was a great wingman for you Kallisto, least you can do is return the favor!” He said, the second part directed at Kallisto.

    Artemis threw a nut at him. Good ammo that.

    I threw a nut at Julius.

    Kallisto jerked his head in the direction the lady had gone down the street.

    “Come on. We’ve got our marching orders. Let’s go!” He said, grabbing my hand and pulling me along.

    Damn Kallisto and his beefy physical stats! Damn my lack of physical stats! That’s why he was able to pull me around!

    I sighed to myself as we went through the streets. I was lying to myself and I knew it. I wanted to meet up with her. I wasn’t resisting at all, heck, I was moving my feet as quickly as I could.

    She was visible, the woman in the red dress, and we caught up to her.

    I stopped moving my feet, fidgeting behind Kallisto, heart beating like a drum. Holy shit. Oh my gods. We were doing this.

    I sent a quick prayer to the moon goddesses for help. They seemed like the right ones to ask.

    Why did none of my Ranger Academy lessons cover romance!? Why didn’t Night teach me how to approach a woman, instead of how to properly cut down a tree!?

    I blinked, and suddenly-

    “Jaclyn.” She practically purred, offering her hand. She had such incredibly piercing grey eyes!

    “Elaine.” I said shyly, taking and shaking it.

    She eyed me up and down, and I suddenly felt self-conscious. Why hadn’t I worked on getting [Pretty]higher!?

    “Why don’t we meet tomorrow evening, and get to know each other a little better, mmm?” She asked, nervously licking her lips with a slim, delicate motion.

    I nodded, like a bobblehead shaken too hard.

    “Out-outside The Blue Harpoon?” I asked, desperately casting my mind around for a place that wasn’t Ranger Headquarters.

    She thought for a moment, then leaned over and whispered in my ear.

    “Sure.”

    And that one word sent a tingling thrill through my entire body.

    She turned and walked away, and Kallisto and I headed back. I gave him a HUGE HUG. The BIGGEST ONE EVER.

    How the hell had he pulled that off!? Twenty seconds of me not paying attention, being too worried and overthinking everything, of missing whatever dozen words or so Kallisto had said, and she was asking me out! I needed to respec into a pure charisma build or something.

    “You’re the BEST Kalliso!” I said, trying – and failing – to keep my giddy happiness out of my voice, crashing down from the stress and adrenaline high I’d just been on. Asking someone out for the first time – or rather, as it turned out, somehow being asked out – was quite the thrill, an experience unlike any I’d had before.

    I was very conveniently forgetting all the men who’d asked me out before. I’d just been entirely uninterested in them, mostly due to the situation and whatever age gap there was. And they weren’t that interesting, frankly.

    I felt like skipping and humming on the way back, and screw it! Today had been perfect! I hummed and skipped and twirled my way back, to where the remaining three were at the table.

    Artemis gave me a silly grin.

    “Went well did it?”

    “Yup!” I said, mindlessly eating the mango-coated food, barely noticing that it was mango. “I have a date! Tomorrow evening!” I said, all excited.

    “Think she’d like a mango? I should get her a mango. Everyone loves mangos.”

    I continued blathering on, to the amused looks I was being shot from everyone else. I didn’t notice the teasing at all.

    I had some idea of how Kallisto felt.

    =

    I woke up the next morning at what would be 4th gong, out of sheer habit. I had a few days off, at least until the great big ‘here’s more behind the curtain stuff’ meeting. Once the Hell Months started, I’d participate in that somewhat, and once Academy got going, then I’d have real work.

    Bless that little break they gave everyone, even if the vacation time was abysmal. Two, three weeks every two years? We needed a union. I’d have to talk with Ocean about it. Sounded like his domain.

    Not really knowing what to do with myself, I found breakfast – free for Sentinels inside our HQ – and around 7thgong I was in the living room, watching as everyone filed in one at a time.

    Well, everyone not on assignment.

    Naturally, Night led the meeting.

    “Welcome Dawn. I can not tell you how pleased I am with your progress, and that you have made it here, joining the rest of us.” He said, in his usual slow fashion.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Sentinel’s Superiority] has reached level 191!]

    Woohoo! Doing Sentinel-things got Sentinel levels! I doubted I’d get many more for attending meetings, but hey. Novel stuff seemed to give a lot of bonus experience. Or repeating stuff had diminishing returns. One of those anyways.

    I sat up straight. Being the center of attention of all the Sentinels? Child’s play. It’d happened a hundred times – well, closer to six hundred times – over the last two years.

    A date though? [Recollection of a Distant Life] was very helpfully reminding me that I’d never gone on a date in my last life, and this was my first one.

    Ever.

    Barring having been on a date right before I died and the memory was stripped, I mused to myself.

    I mentally shook my head, bringing myself back to the meeting. Yikes I was jaded, if I could just lose focus like that in front of all the Sentinels.

    “We will be outfitting you with a standard set of gems, along with acquiring you a set of your own. Moonstone and Sunstone are the Celestial and Radiance gems, and are fortunately quite cheap. On that note, your [Phases of the Moon] is going to be added to our standard bag of tricks. While we have several gemstones that in combination can produce the same effect, we don’t have a Classer in our organization that can reliably produce a related skill, in a gemstone so cheap.”

    There were more than a few happy noises at that announcement, mostly coming from the “Tier two” Sentinels, the more combat-happy ones. Extra-loud from Magic, who relied hard on gemstones.

    “Potions, armor, Arcanite, and inscriptions will also be provided. Now, I will confess, you are the first dedicated healing Sentinel we’ve ever had. We’ve had a few regenerators in our time, but not healing on the scale like you can do. Think about it. Is there anything that would make your life easier, boost your skills further?” Night asked.

    “The ability to make the moons come out whenever I wanted?” I asked, somewhat flippantly, after a moment of thought.

    Magic started laughing, while Sky facepalmed.

    “That is sadly beyond our capabilities for now.” Night said with a straight face. “Do let us know if anything else occurs to you as an idea.”

    “I mean, a boatload of Arcanite, but I assume that’s a given?” I said.

    “We do outfit most mages with a large amount of Arcanite, yes. I suspect you might even end up desiring it as much as Destruction does. I caution you not to grow reliant on it, for it is the doom of many mages when they wake up one day, and it’s gone.”

    Night gave me a significant look, and with a nervous gulp I remembered my duel against Kerberos, where I’d nearly made the same mistake of thinking I had unlimited mana when I no longer did.

    “With that being said. I declare a week of vacation for everyone except Dawn. You are entirely free to do as you wish.” Night pronounced, and there was a great shuddering, a destroyed chair, as the room evacuated, all the Sentinels pushing their superhuman stats to the max to enjoy every last second of time.

    I blinked. Night couldn’t have cleared the room faster if he tried. A disaster of epic magnitude would’ve had a slower exit.

    “With my apologies Dawn. You need to learn the basics and fundamentals of how we operate, as well as getting properly outfitted. Fundamentally, I believe you will end up on slightly fewer missions than the average Sentinel, although you might handle higher body counts – or be doing your best to reduce them at the very least.” Night said.

    I saluted, hand over chest.

    “Now come. Over here is where we keep basic potions stocked – although you might want a few additional ones…” Night said, giving me a more in-depth tour of what I was mentally calling ‘the Sentinel Armory’, a series of rooms located inside the suite where all manner of gems, weapons, armor, potions, inscriptions, and more were located.

    “Quick question.” I asked, as Night was showing me the frankly staggering array of weapons we had, none of which I could use well. I was a short sword and spear woman. Maximus would’ve been in heaven though.

    “Clearly more people than just us have access to these rooms, right?” I said.

    “Yes, but only four. The head of Potions, Gemstones, Inscriptions, and Armory are granted access. Anything else they can simply communicate the problem to the relevant authority, and get the proper response from them. I do not know if Ocean mentioned it, but you were nearly made the head of Healing, a new branch. A combination of the organization needed to make that happen, your combat prowess, your usefulness in the field vs your relatively limited use at HQ, and the, quite frankly, terrible organizational skills you demonstrated at Academy made us choose a more, ah, standard path for you.”

    I hadn’t thought my organizational skills had been that bad, but then again, Night was talking about heading up a major department in the Rangers. Which my organizational skills were notup to at all.

    Before I knew it, it was lunch, and Night was yawning.

    “Right, see you tomorrow morning, more of the same.” He said. “I’m off to bed.”

    I saluted – him being the boss made it more than appropriate – and suddenly, I was free, with a whole day in front of me to worry over my date later tonight!!!

    Ok, breathe in, breathe out. I was the bloody Dawn Sentinel. No date could stop me!

    Although, what if those voices had been right? What if she found out that I was a Sentinel, and it scared her off? Knew that I’d killed, and didn’t want someone with blood on their hands?

    My stomach was doing flip-flops, the butterflies inside throwing a rave.

    Ok, think. Plan. Execute. This was like getting ready to slay a monster, or diagnosing a patient before healing them. This was the same as any other problem, and I’d been trained how to handle problems.

    The Problem: I wanted Jaclyn to like me, and I wanted our date to go well.

    What could I control: Myself. My equipment. My planning.

    Right then.

    I was totally going to wear my dress, the one that I could imbue elements into. It was fancy, fun, and simply perfect.

    Bracelet and pendant were in. Knife?

    Knife was in. It was pretty standard, and it’d be given to me when I was a kid. I wasn’t about to reject it.

    Right. That’s what I currently had. What else could I use?

    Cosmetics. I had absolutely none.

    Something for my hair. Again with the “not having anything.”

    My hair was pixie-short again, the Frontlines having been terrible for hair. However, I’d slowly been letting it grow out, and now that I was a Sentinel, I could consider going for long hair. I liked my hair long.

    Other resources: A huge pile of coins.

    Today’s mission: Go out into town, buy cosmetics, get something for my hair, possibly get a little gift of some sort.

    Potential obstacles: Thieves, like the one that had stymied my attempt to get tons of scrolls.

    Additional goals: Maybe new sandals? My current ones were, putting it nicely, very practical and had many miles on them. I could get something new and shiny.

    If I had time.

    Right! Order of operations time!

    I should bring my dress with me. One of the [Beauticians] must have a way to change.

    I should scout out the location and the surrounding area, and work from there.

    I nodded to myself. Right. I had a plan. Let’s execute it.

    I grabbed one of the larger pouches – more like a courier’s bag – and carefully folded my dress into it. I left HQ, and started off by scouting the scene of the future battle date. Knowing the terrain was important. Geography impacted history, history impacted politics, and-

    I shook my head. Nope. Those lessons were going to be completely useless here. Focus.

    I made my way through down, back to the restaurant. Along the way, all the people eyeing me up yesterday and today finally paid off.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 199!]

    A good omen! Everything was coming up Elaine!

    Right, The Blue Harpoon was with a bunch of other restaurants, and there were merchants nearby, selling food. It was in a nicer-but-not-the-nicest district, and there were a number of high-end stores in the area. They weren’t the best in the capital, but they were pretty good.

    A quick mental calculus of added cost vs added improvement to appearance, vs extra travel time to potentially reduce or remove said added appearance, was done, and I settled on nearby stores.

    I swung by the food vendors, and picked up a dozen mangos, coins changing hands. I tried to have a nice afternoon snack of only six mangos, enjoying the sun on my face as I ate on a bench in a little park.

    Darn butterflies were going to ruin everything.

    I kept the remaining six for later, excited to share the sweet nectar of mango with Jaclyn.

    I moved the name over my tongue.

    Jaclyn.

    My first date!

    I kicked my feet happily at the thought.

    I stopped my imagination from going on a runaway train of “what-ifs” and “laters”.

    Right. I still had hours to go, but I was going to start getting ready now.

    I washed my face off, then went to the [Cobbler] to get myself a new, fancy pair of sandals. After much browsing and hemming and hawing over it, I got a simple, sturdy, comfortable pair, that didn’t look like it had hundreds of miles of wear on them, that made me look and feel [Pretty].

    The baths were next, a solid, full-body scouring, rubbing my body clean to within an inch of its life. I was going to practically sparkle.

    Alright, the [Beautician] was next. I found a store, and went in.

    “Hi! How can we help you?” The woman behind the counter cheerfully asked me.

    “Wellllll…” I said, drawing it out. “I have a date tonight!” I exclaimed, letting the happiness leak out. Might have been a bit of a Radiance glow as well.

    “Oh my goodness! How exciting!” She said, showing as much excitement as I was feeling. “And let me guess. You want some help for the big event?”

    I did my best woodpecker impression.

    “Alrighty! Well, it’ll be a rod, before the cosmetic price is factored in. Is that ok?”

    Pricey!

    “Sure. However, no lead or mercury cosmetics. Is that ok?”

    “Sure, but that limits us quite a bit. Can I ask why?”

    Whoops. I’d managed to put my foot in it. This was going to be all sorts of awkward.

    “Please don’t get mad. They’re a slow, slow poison. I’m a healer, and I can’t handle them.” I said, closing my eyes, waiting for the inevitable anger.

    She just laughed at me.

    “I don’t know where that rumor came from! Lead’s perfectly fine, we’ve used it for decades! But sure, we can skip it if you’d like.”

    Close one! I wasn’t going to argue with them. We could both quietly think the other one was a lunatic, and I wasn’t going to go on a one-woman crusade against the entire cosmetics industry, not when I wanted their help badly.

    “Last question! Do you have one or more appearance skills? And if so, which one? [Beautiful], [Sexy], [Pretty], [Attractive], [Lovely], [Gorgeous], [Exquisite], [Splendid], [Fabulous], [Fine-looking], [Jade Beauty], [Eye-Catching], [Good-looking], [Cute], [Ravishing], [Stunning], [Resplendent], [Dashing], [Mesmerizing], [Alluring], [Imposing] or any of the other ones?”

    I blinked. I hadn’t even realized how many there were… and the System was busy offering them all to me.

    Ooooh the things I could do with eight appearance skills.

    … The number of people that’d bug me with eight appearance skills. I’d stick with [Pretty].

    [Pretty]!” I said, happy it was near the top of the list.

    “Great! Our [Pretty] expert is with someone else. You can wait a bit to see her, or you can see someone else.”

    I glanced at the sun. Plenty left.

    “I’ll wait!” I said.

    I waited, and ended up with the [Pretty]expert in no time.

    [Pretty] right?” She asked.

    “Yeah!”

    “Ok cool! I’m Albina – nice to meet you! Light touches then – [Pretty] works best when just a touch is applied.”

    “I heard you have a big date tonight!” Albina said, all happy and excited for me.

    “Yeah!”

    “Come, sit, sit! New person, old person, tell me all about them.

    “Well, so, I kinda, maybe, possibly, saw them yesterday, and well, asked them out. Kinda. Well, she ended up asking me out. Um. Yeah.” I said, fumbling the entire thing horribly.

    “Ha! I remember my first date.” She said fondly, starting to bustle around me. “Why, it was a lovely autumn evening, and…”

    I sat there patiently while she did her thing, chattering away happily.

    “Oh, do you want longer hair? I assume you want it short, but…”

    “Wait, you can grow out hair!?” I exclaimed.

    “Yup! Costs extra, but it’s a skill of mine!” Albina told me, picking up strands of hair and putting it down.

    “Fuck! Why didn’t anyone tell me! I’d have gotten it grown out weeks ago!” I cried out.

    She suddenly looked sad, patting my shoulder.

    “I dunno what you did to get way over level 220, 230 at your age, but you clearly didn’t spend a lot of time in towns.”

    I felt a pang of sadness go through me at that. She was right. I’d ditched anything remotely resembling a normal life years ago, when I ran away from home.

    I closed my eyes, breathing in, breathing out, resetting myself mentally.

    “Ran away at 14. Bunch of time in the wilderness.” I said, all of it true. I don’t know why I was suddenly being cagey about being a Ranger – no, a Sentinel. Maybe I just wanted to feel somewhat normal, a typical woman for a day.

    “Why don’t we go for shoulder blade length? I can give it some subtle curls, really bring your eyes out.” She suggested.

    “Sure!”

    The [Pretty] expert did her work, and it was amazing.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 133!]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Pretty] has reached level 134!]

    “Would you believe I leveled twice.” I said, changing into my amazing dress.

    “Oooh! Yay!” She said. “My record’s three time, but never on someone so high level! I also got a level from you.”

    She paused, blinking.

    “Two levels from you.”

    I laughed.

    “My [Pretty] level isn’t all that high.”

    “Yeah, well, you’re something special. I got a main class level, which I got one recently. I’ve had three people since then, and I leveled off of you. Twice.

    I got my dress settled, practicing flowing Celestial through it, the starry sky showing on the dress, tiny little comet-illusions going off of it.

    I was feeling very [Pretty]. I had a little twirl, feeling the weight of my new hair doing strange things.

    It was one thing to slowly grow out hair. It was quite another to suddenly have a bunch.

    Eh. Albina had been so nice, and why not, it wasn’t every day I could pull this off. There was a chance I’d become famous soon, and my anonymity would vanish.

    I paid her, left her a nice tip, then at the end, paused as I was on my way out the door.

    “All your levels might have been because I’m Sentinel Dawn.” I said, winking at her, then leaving. One two, and from right outside the store, I heard her-

    Oh my god we just had a Sentinel in the store!! She was a woman!!”

    Oooh this could be fun.

    ………………………….

    The sun was setting, and I found a spot to hang out near The Blue Harpoon. Pouch was full, and well-guarded. Mangos acquired. I was darn [Pretty].

    My heart was pounding.

    My belly was doing flip-flops.

    I had an invasion of butterflies in my stomach.

    Sweaty palms, short breath, and a tight chest. I kept pulsing [Phases of the Moon] through me, and I seriously considered ‘blacklisting’ ‘first date nerves’ on [Center of the Galaxy].

    I didn’t, mostly because it was non-combat, and because if I turned off every inconvenient emotion, I wouldn’t be human anymore. No, I’d ride the emotional rollercoaster, and enjoy it, as much as I could.

    I froze, as a thought crashed over me like a thunderbolt.

    What if Jaclyn didn’t like [Pretty] girls? What if her style was more masculine?

    Bah. I was [Pretty], and she’d take me as I was.

    Oh goddesses I hope she’d take me as I was. The thought was… pleasant.

    What if she changed her mind? What if she stood me up? What if she…

    Round and round my thoughts went, self-doubt rising.

    The sun set, and the moons rose, voyeurs to my first date. I shook my fist at them, only to hear a high, clear laugh.

    “Jaclyn!” I said, jumping.

    “Not a fan?” She asked, nodding up.

    I shook my head.

    “Not at all. Here! A mango! I love em!” I said, handing her one of my precious ambrosia made fruit.

    She gave it a casual look, putting it into her bag.

    “Thank you! Want to go for a walk?” She asked.

    She wanted to walk! She didn’t want to just politely let me know she wasn’t interested!

    “Of course! Your dress is so nice!” I said, falling in step beside her. She was about a head taller than me, and it was nice.

    “Thanks!” She said.

    My high went down like three notches when she didn’t return the compliment.

    “Want to get something to eat?” I asked, figuring this was safe territory.

    She glanced at me, eyeing me up and down hungrily. She hesitated, then bent over to whisper in my ear.

    “I’d love a little snack later.”

    Did she mean…?

    My high went right back to 10/10, then proceeded to break that and end up at a solid 13/10.

    “I’m very tasty.” I said, trying to flirt back. She smiled at me as she drew back up to her full height.

    “I hope so!” She said, winking.

    I felt bold enough to grab her hand, and wow, she must have a lot of physical stats. I checked her out with [Identify].

    [Artisan]

    Like 130 or so? Was that typical for someone of her age? Did Artisans have a lot of strength? Depended what type I guess.

    Even mentally I was babbling.

    I suddenly realized – I had no idea what was normal. I’d been handling Classers, guards, high-level people in cities, but didn’t have that great of a barometer for normal.

    “How old are you?” I decided to make some idle conversation. Got a sour look in return.

    “Older than I’d like to admit!” She cheerfully told me.

    Alright, alright. Hint taken.

    This date was feeling strange. She was showing interest – a lot of interest – but only sometimes, and was being cagey about personal things. Like what she actually did. “Worked in the family business” was as vague as possible.

    A food vendor was selling strips of seasoned roasted beef, a small crackling fire dimly lighting up his stand. I was feeling a bit peckish, so I stopped and looked.

    “Could you get that one?” Jaclyn asked, pointing to an unseasoned one at the end.

    I shrugged, not really having any dog in the game. “Sure! Do you want one?”

    “Nah, I’m good.”

    A quick negotiation later, and we were continuing to walk through the streets, making small talk. Things were getting somewhat better, I polished off my snack, and soon we were near the park.

    “Walk in the park with me?” Jaclyn asked, a glint of mischief in her voice promising maybe doing a bit more than walking.

    “Yeah!” I said.

    The moons were out in full force, and they were reflected red in her eyes. Goddesses, her eyes. They were so beautiful. So charming.

    Heck, she might even have something like [Charming Eyes]. I wanted to get lost in them. I wanted to swim in them.

    We made our way through the park somewhat, getting to a little, private grassy hill. She turned, and, hesitating a moment, leaned down to kiss me.

    My heart was going to explode out of my chest with how fast it was beating, an entire drumline furiously beating.

    She was going to kiss me!!!!!!

    I tilted my head back, feeling her strong arms around me, her soft body pressing into me, strawberry lips pressing on mine.

    I gave a happy squeal, lifting one foot up behind me as I pressed back, kissing her with fervor, with joy, with happiness, a rush of emotion coursing through my body. She stepped back a moment, and I was in love. Totally, utterly in love.

    She leaned forward again, kissing me again, one hand in my air, firmly pressing my head to hers, one on my back, holding me against her. I wrapped my arms up and under her armpits, securing myself as I was slightly bent over backwards. I let out a soft moan as our lips met again, only to feel her tongue starting to invade my mouth.

    I let it, feeling it explore my mouth, wrapping around my tongue. It stayed a moment, our kiss extending further and further, then it was my turn to try to be bold. I stuck my tongue in her mouth, exploring a bit, only for-

    “Ouch!” I cried out, pulling back.

    “Muh toung.” I said, having my tongue hanging out of my mouth, tingling sensation going over it. “owww.”

    “Oh let me see that.” She said, sounding excited.

    I obediently stuck my tongue out at her, giving her flirty eyes in the process. She locked eyes with me, her red eyes still reflecting the moons, the moons behind her glowing. I wanted to flip them off… but maybe I was ok with them seeing everything.

    She sucked on my tongue for a moment, then gave me another deep kiss, one I happily reciprocated. She tugged at the shoulder of my dress, still shimmering Celestial, and I let her reveal a shoulder.

    I didn’t want to go too far tonight, but I was totally game for making out. Maybe some light petting.

    She broke the kiss off, then slowly came in again, holding me tighter than ever, aiming to kiss my neck, start trailing kissing down my body and-

    [Vigilant] went nuts.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Vigilant] has reached level 200!]

    [*Ding!* Would you like to merge [Vigilant] and [Reflexes] into [Bullet Time]?]

    I reflexively hit yes, and the world slowed around me, giving me time to think, to process. I still moved at the same speed, but I thought and could think so much faster – invaluable with Radiance and near-instant-cast spells.

    The pieces of the puzzle came together with a click.

    Pale skin.

    Only seen at night.

    Hypnotizing, captivating eyes. That one might just be me.

    Licking her lips, eyeing me like I was meat.

    Sharp things in her mouth – fangs.

    Eyes red even though the moons were behind her. Reflections didn’t work that way.

    Disliked seasoning – more specifically, the garlic.

    Not eating any other food. Mango heretic! Never dating anyone who dislikes mangos again.

    Making sure she had a nice, solid grip on me. Physical stats far beyond what her level suggested she should have, especially with the [Artisan] tag.

    And a class, offered to me a lifetime ago.

    [Apprentice Vampire Hunter].

    Jaclyn was a bloody vampire, and I’d all but gift-wrapped myself and delivered myself to her. Hells, you could argue with all the effort I put into being [Pretty] today, that I had gift-wrapped myself.

    And neatly delivered myself into a private, secluded location so she could have, in her own words, a little snack.

    I’d even called myself tasty. Yikes.

    It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t proof. I didn’t want today’s date to end, I didn’t want to believe, to have my feelings come crashing down around me.

    At the same time, I wasn’t about to become dinner.

    I threw up a small [Veil]around my neck, and time resumed its normal speed, hearing a small pair of clinks as she hit the [Veil] around my neck.

    “Jaclyn… there’s no chance you’re a vampire is there?”

    She pulled back and hissed at me, lips drawn back, revealing a pair of sharp fangs, and suddenly the gentle strength on my arms turned crushing, bones breaking under her formidable grasp.

    My heart broke at the same time my arms did, my first crush (fine second), my first romance ruthlessly destroyed, a lie the entire time. [Bullet Time] activated again, time slowing.

    Fuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkk [Bullet Time] was awful for getting injured. I was feeling every bit of my bone stress, then break and shatter, one piece after another as her grip tightened, muscles flexing as she went for more moves.

    I couldn’t bring myself to perform lethal shots, not when it wasn’t absolutely needed, not when I had so many levels on her. Not when we’d been making out literally 5 seconds ago. A thin, [Blaze]– powered beam of Radiance shot from me, drilling through her right shoulder, then her left, burning through muscle and bone and ligaments, shoulder sockets destroyed, her arms becoming useless before they could finish trying to rip my arms off.

    She screamed, a high, inhuman noise, and [Bullet Time] ended, the threat to my life gone as she ran, scattering like the wind, arms held limply at her side. She left me heaving, tears streaming down my face as I cursed, healing myself back up with [Phases]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Bullet Time] has reached level 189!]

    Why!? Why had this gone so badly!? The first time I put myself out there, and the person was an inhuman vampire who just wanted to eat me!

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 235!]

    My heart was lead, in my sandals, and I fled, crying, back to headquarters, ignoring the guards asking me if everything was ok. I made it back to my room, and holed up in my bed, blankets around me, wallowing in my sadness, despair, and self-pity.

    I really, really needed a mopey, angsty set of music right now to listen to.

    I must’ve spent a really long time crying and moping, because there was a knock on my door.

    “Dawn?” Night’s voice came from the other side of the door. “Are you alright? It is past time for our meeting, and it is not like you to be late.”

    Ug. Responsibility. I was still in my dress, tears having wrecked my makeup horribly.

    “Fine, be right out.” I said, wiping my face – I’d need to launder this dress later, or pay someone to do it for me – and opened the door.

    To Night.

    Great avoider of sunlight.

    Pale skin and red eyes.

    Who’d I’d never seen eat.

    Fuck!” I screamed, slamming the door shut. “You’re also a vampire!!”

    [Bullet Time] How else can you dodge bullets? When your life is in mortal peril, sense the attack and your perception will speed up, giving you the time to think about your actions. Increased perception increase, total length of time increased per level. -64 mana regen.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50400/50400]

    [Mana Regen: 45234   (+3360.72)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 8]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092 (+1435.944)]

    [Magic Power: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Magic Control: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial:   Lv 240]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 240]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 202]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 235]

    [Phases of the Moon: 240]

    [Moonlight: 240]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness   of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 160]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 134]

    [Bullet Time: 189]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 201]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 190]

    [: ]

    [Learning: 212]


    I held my hands up as the crowd roared approval, my mind shorting out.

    Me. A Sentinel.

    Many things suddenly made sense, but for every answer I got, I ended up with two more questions.

    Me always being in teams of nine, with me in command. It wasn’t a team of nine- it was a team of eight, plus one. A full Ranger squad, with a Sentinel in command. Practice.

    But wasn’t I too low level to be a Sentinel? Wasn’t my combat prowess not enough?

    The trip to the frontlines, being given massive resources. It was to get my level up, get my stats right.

    But why? Was Night playing ‘build-a-Sentinel’? Was it off of sheer potential, [Oath] promising that I’d get there, or was I already one of the best?

    I mentally shook my head, as my arms were raised up in front of the cheering crowd. I’d ask Night later. Or maybe Ocean now, if I could grab him for a few minutes. Ocean was responsible and helpful, he’d have answers and be willing to tell me. Unlike Sky.

    Julius said a few more things, and the crowd broke up, milling around, starting to talk with each other.

    Well, like a third of them. It felt like the remaining two-thirds started to descend upon me, and I was starting to get some serious anxiety. I didn’t like social things! I didn’t dosocial gigs!

    And I’d just been offered up as a slab of meat before hundreds of hungry wolves, all salivating and wanting a bite.

    That voice came back, impossibly close, whispering in my ear even though nobody was around.

    “You’ve got this. We’re all here, and will help screen people somewhat, so they don’t all rush you.”

    “Probably should introduce myself. Magic. Mirage-Sound. Glad to properly meet you, Dawn.”

    I put my arms down, getting ready to greet the first person. Julius beat me to it.

    “Elaine – Dawn now I suppose – congratulations. You’ve done me proud.” He said, beaming at me.

    I couldn’t help it, his grin was infectious, his happiness contagious, uplifting my spirits. Heck, he was a Leader, he very well might have a [Raise Spirits] skill or something.

    “I nominated you for Sentinel way back when, since the feat’s hard. I thought it’d take more than a decade before they agreed! And look at you! Level 240, give or take! That’s incredible.” Julius said.

    “Thanks!”

    The other Sentinels came up to me, offering their congratulations, calling me Dawn for the first time.

    I rolled the word over my tongue.

    “Dawn.”

    It was solid. I liked it. Could’ve been so much worse – Healing, for example. Recovery. I shuddered at the thought of all the bad names.

    The rest of the crowd made it to the podium, then it was sheer hell on Pallos. Heck, give me the Hell Months back. It’d be easier to handle than all this… socializing. Bleck.

    “Dawn! Congratulations on your promotion!” The first Ranger had made it up to the stage, someone I recognized as being from Team 1.

    “No chance I can get a top-up healing is there?” He asked, grinning. I happily tapped his hand, pulsing [Phases]through him. I have no idea if that took any mana or not- my regen was high enough for it to immediately recover, if anything was spent.

    “Thanks! Congratulations again! We hope we won’t need you – but if we do, we’ll be sure to call!”

    I smiled and thanked him, the second person coming up, another Ranger.

    He glanced down, and asked the worst question.

    “No chance you’re single is there?”

    I just gave him a Look, that was apparently not terribly effective.

    “Not interested.”

    Bless the old Team 4. I’d never gotten grief from them.

    Everyone – fucking everyone, even the Rangers – had a “nice, unmarried relative”, or worse, actively propositioned.

    Kallisto eventually made it to the stage with his wife.

    “Kallisto! You made it, you’re alive! And married!? What happened to the playboy I knew!?”

    His wife punched Kallisto in the arm, juggling the baby with another.

    Kallisto just laughed it off.

    “Cordelia happened! One look and I was smitten,”

    “As usual.” I said, having no mercy.

    “one thing led to another, and we were married!” Kallisto finished.

    Cordelia rolled her eyes at that.

    “He’s neglecting the part where I had to sneak into the Ranger’s wagon to start the trip together.”

    I nodded my approval at that.

    “I couldn’t believe you pinning down Kallisto any other way.”

    Kallisto half-heartedly swatted at me.

    “Anyways, this is Flora!” Kallisto said, gushing over his baby. “She’s the sweetest, best, most perfect, wonderful…”

    Kallisto went on in this vein for some time.

    “… baby there ever was!”

    I smiled, and looked at her. She looked something like a mashed potato.

    “She’s so cute!” I said, faking enthusiasm. Babies weren’t really my thing.

    “Anyways, Kallisto,” I whispered to him, leaning my head forward. “Any chance I could borrow your ring? The mob’s relentless.”

    Cordelia was clearly listening in.

    “Here, borrow mine real fast. I totally get relentless suitors.” She said.

    “Bless you. How’d you manage?” I asked, slipping the ring on.

    “Poorly. I’m the daughter of a Senator – his only daughter. Everyone wanted a piece of me. Fake ring’s good, making it known to direct everything to your dad works best, though only if he’s in on it.”

    Good, good, taking notes.

    “He probably would be, he’s here somewhere… just ended up at the back of the crowd. Thank you so much Cordelia, I’ll get this back to you at the end of this.”

    She laughed.

    “It’s more that I knew Kallisto would happily lend you his, then he might start getting ideas.” She said, glaring at him.

    “Of course not, love.” He said, clearly smitten. “You’re the only one for me.”

    How the hell had Cordelia managed to wrap Kallisto around her finger like that? Wow.

    Hang on – was that why Kallisto was Team 1 now? His wife’s dad pulled a string? The idea wasn’t impossible. Rangers did their best to avoid politics, but it didn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

    Remus society was fairly permissive, and just because you were married didn’t mean or imply monogamy. Bit of a valve on the arranged marriage thing. From the sound of it though, Cordelia had someone convinced Kallisto to go steady with her.

    A ring did help though, for a variety of reasons.

    Kallisto, Cordelia, and Flora hung out on stage, while more people came up. More of the members of the audience were coming up on stage, as a number of Rangers had already said hi, or were discussing with their team.

    This sucked. This had to count as harm, right? Mental anguish? Trauma? I could start blasting in self-defense, and jet away, right?

    With a sigh, I politely healed someone else, a surprising amount of mana vanishing. Oh. He’d really needed the help. Maybe this wasn’t the worst…

    A commotion came, and I saw Artemis flying over the crowd, skipping the line with mom and dad in tow on top of a large stone slab.

    The person she cut in front made a noise of protest, but she ignored him.

    “Elaine! We’re so proud of you!” Dad said, giving me a hug. I gave him my strongest hug back, suddenly realizing – I was much higher level than he was.

    Mom and Artemis piled in, and we spent a long moment like that, shielding me from the rest of the crowd. I took a moment to relax, some of the tension bleeding off.

    “Dad.” I mumbled into his shirt. “Dad, you’ve gotta shield me from all these suitors. Just tell them all no. Or make up that I’m engaged or something.”

    Mom laughed.

    “Sure, will do!” Dad said.

    It got better from there, and Maximus made his way over.

    “Dawn! Congratulations!” He said. “Now that you’re a hotshot, I dunno if you’d want a copy of this fascinatingstory I found…” He waved a scroll at me.

    “Gimme!” I said, grabbing it.

    “Thanks for looking out for me.” I said, tone serious.

    “Anytime. Hey, now that you’re a Sentinel, might be able to call you in on injuries.”

    I shrugged.

    “Hell if I know. I only found out today. No idea what’s going to qualify as ‘call in Dawn’ or not.”

    Maximus shrugged.

    “Yeah, it’s going to be tricky. My best bet are mass casualty events. Like, if Destruction is sent somewhere, I bet you’ll tag along to clean up his mess.”

    I had to remind myself that any problem Destruction was sent on, he’d be going regardless. I’d just reduce the body count, which was my whole raison d'etre.

    “Do you know if Arthur’s around? I assume he’s alive, his chair’s here. Unless they decided to give both me and the retiring Commander a chair – I was worried about that.” Julius asked me. I shook my head.

    “Frontlines. Up to something.” I said.

    “That’s a shame – I was hoping we could get the entire old Team 4 together for dinner, to celebrate your accomplishment, and all of us surviving.”

    “Why not?” Kallisto asked, popping back round with Cordelia. I slipped her ring back, with a mouthed “thanks”.

    “We should go out, celebrate!”

    “Ah, why not. Elaine, Maximus, Artemis?”

    “Sure.”

    “I’m in.”

    “My treat!” I said.

    “Errr… assuming I’ve been getting paid.”

    Artemis gave me a Look.

    “Seriously? You don’t know if you’ve been getting paid or not? That’s like, the first thing to do! Who works without pay?”

    Mom lightly punched my shoulder.

    “Clearly she does. Always insisted on getting paid – I taught her well – but never cared how much she got paid.”

    Ocean popped around.

    “Why don’t all of you meet at The Blue Harpoon tonight? I gotta grab Dawn for some Sentinel stuff.”

    Julius almost saluted before catching himself. He was a Commander now, one of the head honchos. Other people saluted to him, not the other way around. Clearly, he was still settling in, but by the long speech he’d given, they’d clearly prepped him ahead of time. Probably had a long interview or something.

    Would I need to interview with Command?

    Maximus and Kallisto saluted and left, and Artemis left with a cheery wave, arms hooked into mom’s and dad’s arm. Looked like they were off for a fun day in the city!

    Ocean, Brawling, and Hunting led me out of That Room, down to the basement of Ranger HQ.

    “The first thing to know is, your badge. While the Ranger’s badge shows our authority, the Sentinel’s badge actually does things. Namely, it keys you to the wards, and lets you pass certain barriers.” Ocean started off by saying, as we reached a desolate stretch of a basement corridor. There was nothing here, and so I was betting…

    “We have ‘official’ quarters up above – if you don’t want to buy a house – but our real quarters are down here. Helps avoid people being pests, and on a more serious note, avoids assassins and thieves.”

    “I mean, we recruited the biggest thief in history.” Bluebeard – Hunting – muttered grumpily. “Night was fine for all that.”

    “Night has a reputation to maintain, and having Acquisition deflects blame onto him.” Ocean retorted.

    I blinked.

    “Wait…”

    “Yes, Night’s the deadly assassin. Acquisition’s mostly a thief. Spatial. Can just teleport objects to his hand if he’s close enough.” Brawling said. “Knows enough to teach the trade, knows enough to teach new Rangers how to assassinate unsuspecting targets, but we don’t want to start training and creating good hitmen. We did that once. Ended terribly. Night had to hunt them all down personally.”

    I was a Sentinel now, and apparently, that meant the curtains were being pulled back, and I was getting a look at the inner, real workings of how things were done.

    “Lot of smoke and mirrors.” A voice said from behind me, and I nearly jumped.

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Center of the Galaxy] has reached level 234!]

    Instructor Jason was behind me, and I narrowed my eyes.

    “You’re not Jason. You’re Magic.” I said.

    “How do you know I haven’t always been Magic, simply disguising myself as a humble Instructor?” He asked.

    “I watched Sky throw Jason out of the Pegasus. No way he did that to another Sentinel.” I said. Investigation class away!

    He shimmered, turning into a plain-looking man. I didn’t believe it was his real appearance.

    “Yup, you got me.”

    “Stop distracting her. Dawn, watch this pattern.” Ocean said, tapping some random parts of the wall. With a rumble, the wall folded back, revealing a passageway.

    “Through we go!” Ocean said, and I stepped through into a luxurious passageway.

    We passed doors on either side, until we got to one a few doors down, a sun painted on the door.

    “This is your suite. It’s yours, until you die. We have a passage from here to Ranger Academy island. It’s a bit of a jog, but it beats waiting for a ship. Of course, you could just fly over.”

    “Every morning, around 7thGong or so, we meet quickly here.” Ocean said, pointing to a comfortable room that reminded me strongly of a living room, just mostly underground. “That way if something’s come up that needs one of us, some problem a Ranger’s told us about, we can find you and dispatch you.”

    “Last thing.” Ocean said, opening a red door. “Down here is one of the capital’s great secrets, and you need to know about it.”

    He spent some time fiddling at the entrance of the door.

    “Right, traps are disabled. Keep your badge on, that disables the rest of them. Let’s go.”

    We walked very carefully down the hallway, to another door, and a massive room, with a giant slab of quartz in the middle.

    The thing was massive, plunging down into the depths of the earth, over 80 meters by 20 meters on each side. Glowing lines of inscriptions lined the crystal, and spiderwebbed from it to all the walls, mystic runes speaking a language I didn’t know, but Origen would’ve.

    “We call this The Heart. As you know, skills can be stored in gemstones. Well, gemstone mages and artisans can do interesting things, and long story short, this generates a massive barrier to protect the capital if a serious problem occurs. Only a Sentinel can activate it – which now means you.” Ocean said.

    “Let’s head back.” Brawling grunted. Dude was massive, like a stereotypical bodybuilder.

    We made it back to the living room, where we settled down into the luxurious seating. I’d grabbed a chair that looked simple, but was so soft it basically ate me.

    I had to get me one of these. Or two. Couldn’t be too hard to drag one to my new suite could it?

    “I’m sure you have some questions.” Ocean said, prompting a flood from me.

    “Why me? I get that I was promoted, but I don’t feel like I meet the requirements. Especially not on the combat front, I’m only 180 in [Ranger-Mage].

    Ocean nodded.

    “Good question. Frankly, the requirements we state aren’t the real ones. The real ones are – best in your field. A grand feat, that demonstrates your usefulness to the Sentinels. An open seat. A level that’s not embarrassing – which is usually tied to the first one. The right character. The rest are just fluff.”

    “Smoke and mirrors!” Magic said, poofing outta nowhere. I rolled my eyes at him.

    “Let me guess, you do that all the time.” I said.

    Brawling started laughing his ass off.

    “She’s got you figured, and it’s only the second time you’ve done it!” He said, slapping his knee.

    Magic just looked sour. “Yeah, yeah.”

    “Hang on, you said you’re Mirage and Sound. But all the stories say you can cast any type of magic, making you the Magic Sentinel. Is it all just…?” I said, hardly daring to believe.

    Magic bowed, then straightened up with a flourish.

    “Nope! See!” He said, flipping his tunic inside out.

    Dozens – hundreds – of gems were strapped to a sash against his body.

    “I have a support staff, mostly gemstone artisans and people who I use to find and get powerful skills from Classers. Costs a pretty penny, but in the end, I can make a convincing illusion – sight and sound included – of any skill I want, and I can make it in reality. Costs an arm and a leg, but that’s the secret – I’m the front of a dozen Classers working together to create one of the more powerful second-tier Sentinels. Speaking of, I’ll probably want to get your [Phases of the Moon] skill. Great healing spell. Actually, it might become one of the standard gems we carry around, for that matter. A panacea skill?” Magic said, fanning himself.

    “Why all the…” I said, gesturing.

    “Smoke and mirrors? We operate solo. A large part of our protection is our mystique. By making it look and seem like we’re invincible, we can bluff our way out of problems.”

    Ocean started to tick off his fingers.

    “Night’s helpless in daytime. Acquisition can be killed by a stiff breeze. He’s probably even worse than you on the combat front, if we’re being honest. Sealing’s only good in single combat. Bulwark has limited offensive capabilities. Sky struggles to kill things under shelter. Destruction takes ages to channel a spell. Away from water, I’m pretty mediocre. Nature struggles in cities, or rather, where there are no plants. Toxic’s poisons don’t work half the time against big, big monsters – although you probably knew that already. Hunting’s the most well-rounded of us, but a bad stinkbomb and Katastrofi’s down for the count. Brawling has no range, and Magic is really three midgets in a toga.”

    Magic threw something at Ocean, who ignored it. It vanished upon hitting his face.

    Ocean shrugged. “That’s not to say we’re weak or anything. But we all have serious, serious weaknesses. Ranger teams are carefully crafted such that people are able to cover each other weaknesses, so there are no glaring holes. That falls apart once people start to die, but we try to have redundancies for that reason. Anyways. We work to cover and mitigate each other, and the joy of being a Sentinel is we only send people after the right problem. Sky will never be asked to take out a fortified position, just like I’m never going to be sent inland. Acquisition’s only sent to retrieve items, just like Night doesn’t fight in the day. And it’s not like any of us are slouches.”

    “Yeah, stop saying I have no range. I have plenty of range!” Brawling protested.

    “Throwing a rock with no skill doesn’t count as range!” Hunting protested.

    “It does when it works!”

    “Anyways.” Ocean said, bringing the conversation back. “There are three tiers of Sentinels.”

    “The first tier is Night and Hunting. The strongest, best-rounded Sentinels. Even then, Hunting barely made it in, and there’s some debate on it.”

    “I’m honestly flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as Night, but I don’t fit.” Hunting said modestly. “I’m a top second-tier at best. You should also be considered a tier one.”

    “Nah, I’m not that good. My ‘out of water’ weakness is too big.” Ocean said modestly.

    “Well regardless. Magic, Destruction, myself, Nature, Brawling, and Toxic make up the second tier. We’re all in on sheer combat capabilities, each of us having a different method of fighting, and monsters and Classers we’re good against.”

    “The third tier are Sentinels that are in because they’re the best at something. Bulwark is the best wall-builder and Inscriptionist in Remus. A monster takes out a town wall, and Bulwark is out there almost immediately to stabilize the situation before a goblin horde or worse can take advantage.” Ocean continued.

    “Sealing is in a weird place. The short version is, single-combat, he’s practically unbeatable. Can seal people away in barriers, and slowly stop them from casting anything. Reflects attacks, applies ranged mana drain, and 1 vs 1 only Night could stop him. At the same time, he doesn’t – or can’t easily – kill. Imprisons well though. Hence Sealing.” Ocean said.

    Hunting snorted. “Keep in mind our definition of ‘can’t easily kill’ is radically different from everyone else’s. We’re talking about top-tier Classers, people like Artemis. Someone like the average Ranger Academy graduate is killable enough to not even enter into our ‘can we kill them or not’ calculation. Experienced Rangers and up is where our line starts, and that doesn’t include ambushes.”

    “Sky’s unmatched in aerial combat, and he’s good at dropping rocks on people on the ground. At the same time, there were other Rangers with grand flying feats and were faster and stronger in the air. He was picked because of his Gravity class, being able to move a number of people around Remus faster than anyone else. Our rapid deployment – for everyone except Hunting.” Ocean continued.

    “You’re our backup when it’s a problem on the Nostrum.” Hunting pointed out. “You’re also able to move Katastrofi around, which Sky can’t.”

    Ocean tilted his head in acknowledgement, before continuing.

    “Acquisition’s a master thief. You wouldn’t believe how often something sensitive gets stolen, and he needs to bring it back. Worst part is, it’s usually some political game, where its information changing hands. Still, that gives him good practice for when we need to re-collect something important. His combat prowess is possibly worse than yours – he’s all about stealth and stealing things, not fighting. At the same time, we know there are better thieves out there, and he acts as a deterrent, as well as being a lightning rod so Night’s not blamed for assassinations.”

    “And now you. Your healing prowess is probably legitimately the strongest broad-healing, although I know a Caecilius that might give you a run for your money in a plague situation.”

    “Hey, I know him! Great dude!” I said.

    Ocean nodded. “Exactly. Right now, we have a hole in our ability to heal. Heck, we’re all about smashing and killing problems, not healing people. We leave that to civilians. But, well, you’re strong enough, and you qualify. I’m eager to see how it works out! At the same time, all of us help with the public perception of Sentinels.”

    “I hate the arena so much.” Brawling jumped in. I turned to him; mouth open in shock. “Not allowed to kill anyone. The fight’s always fixed in my favor, not that it needs to be fixed. But nooo, can’t risk me losing a fight. There’s never anything strong enough to be a real challenge. Evvvvvvverrrryone wants to talk with me, wants a piece of me, and I need to be a great fucking showman, instead of fighting people. I could end most fights in seconds, instead I need to drag them out.” If we weren’t in the living room of the Sentinel’s space, I suspect he would’ve spit.

    “I need to be the serious one.” Ocean said. “Constantly attending the Command meetings, keeping an eye and pulse on politics, making sure that things don’t start going wrong for us. Not why I signed up – believe it or not, a long time ago I started as a fisherman. Wind in my sail, a harpoon and a plan, a struggle to get dinner on my plate. One thing led to another, and…” He shrugged, as if to say ‘here I am!’

    “On that note, I think you’re both going to love and hate your role – just like the rest of us.” Ocean said. “You’re going to be the social pretty face, the healer saving everyone. People will see you, like you, and by extension, like us. [Pretty], single, and free healing? We’ll hopefully get less flinching when people see the rest of us, not to mention what you can do with a rapid response the next time we hear of a plague. We can just send you, and the 3rd never gets tied down in a single spot for a year again. We spent the last two years getting information out of you, and we know there’s more. Also, as you attend events, people will gain a positive perception of you, and by extension, us and Rangers. It’s not something that’ll pay off anytime soon, but you’ve got over a hundred years easy to sway people. A whole generation of movers and shakers will grow up knowing you, creating what they think is a good back channel – and warm fuzzy feelings towards us.”

    “I won’t give you better ways of killing.” I promptly said. We’d had the discussion a few times already, but I figured it was best to reiterate it.

    Brawling waved his hand. “Bah. We’re good enough at that.”

    “Those rebellions were miserable.” Magic said. “At least two rebellions started off of that, because they heard the 3rd wasn’t able to move. Figured they’d take their shot. We had to come down hard before more people heard about them, and we had a real problem on our hands.”

    Hunting groaned. “Don’t remind me.”

    “Also, most Sentinels you see have been Sentinels for years, if not decades. We’ve all had time and resources to help boost our levels up high. Part of our mystique being our high level. Once we’d decided that yes, you should be the newest Sentinel, Night stuck you on the frontlines to get some basic experience. It happily coincided with us deciding to execute the plan to try and get Toxic to do some serious damage on the frontlines. Same meeting, believe it or not.”

    Hunting interrupted.

    “Speaking of Toxic, you’ve seen the type of support he gets. You’ll get similar support, although one thing that can’t be done is any sort of bodyguard. Ruins the invincible image.”

    “What other questions do you have?” Ocean asked.

    “There are two other healers that are already Rangers. Why not one of them?” I asked.

    “They’re support staff, and, quite frankly, you were almost made support staff as well, instead of a full Sentinel. However, you have combat capabilities, are a real Ranger, and have an excellent character. You wouldn’t balk at being sent to a combat zone, you can mostly solo walk from A to B. And hey, worst-case, you can hijack a Ranger team or join a caravan.”

    I snapped my fingers.

    “That’s why Rangers get so damn nervous when a Sentinel shows up.”

    Brawling nodded.

    “A part of it, yeah! Hijack and redirect to a completely different town, completely throwing off their round, and murdering a year’s worth of vacation time if not more. Or requisition supplies – we’re much more free to ‘borrow’ a Ranger’s gear than try the stunt in town. That, and we know what Rangers have, and that it’s good quality. Try not to do that too much, although if you do, try flirting a bit.”

    I shot him a withering look.

    “Fat chance.”

    “It’d make them happy!”

    I tried to put some pieces of another puzzle together.

    “Hang on. The Ranger Academy villa. The connecting tunnel. It wasn’t originally an Academy was it?”

    Ocean shook his head.

    “Good catch! No, it used to be our private island. Then some idiot Sentinel 400 years ago started teaching, and we didn’t have a strong political grasp. Before we knew it, we’d been press-ganged into teaching, the villa got converted to a honeypot, and we need to spend a few hours every day teaching.” Ocean pulled a sour face. So did the rest of the Sentinels.

    “Hence why I take my ‘keep my finger on the pulse of things’ job seriously.”

    We spent more time chatting, getting to know the basics of being a Sentinel, of my new job.

    Short version: Lots of support and equipment to go along with a host of new duties and responsibilities.

    “By the way, feel free to walk around without your badge on. You wouldn’t believe how many people can’t recognize us without the badge on – comes from us flaunting it when we do have it on, so people focus on the badge, not the person.”

    “Works extra-well for me!” Bluebeard grinned.

    I stared at him, his distractive… bluebeard… a huge marker.

    “Seriously? Even with that?” I said, pointing to his beard.

    He laughed.

    “Between the badge and the dinosaur, almost nobody recognizes me without them. It’s great fun!”

    “On that note,” Ocean said. “in a few days, you and Commander Julius will be having a meeting with all of us, as we bring you up to speed on a few of the other secrets.”

    “We’re going to have a clinic next to HQ for you. Both for the public perception, and light experience while you’re in town.” Ocean said.

    I stared at him.

    “You’re serious?” I asked, with some disbelief.

    “Of course!” He said.

    “I’m going to get almost nobody, and it’ll look worse than no clinic.” I said. “The type of people who live in this area already have their own personal healer, and the people who need to be here, I bet that if the guard doesn’t disallow them from being here, they’ll be heavily discouraged. Come on. Set me up in the slums or something. Central market squares are also good.” I said.

    Ocean pursed his lips, while Magic just laughed at him.

    “We’ll see. On that note, I believe you have a meeting with your friends soon?” He asked.

    “I do! Mind if I leave?” I asked.

    “Not at all! Remember, while we’re senior, in theory, we’re all equal. You’re a Sentinel now. You can, for the most part, tell us to stick it where the sun don’t shine.” Ocean said.

    “Ha! Anywhere Dawn is the sun’s shining!” Brawling said, slapping his knee at the frankly terrible joke.

    “Just don’t tell that to Night. He’s the only tier one, the boss, the highest level by almost 100 levels, for a reason. He says jump, even Katastrofi asks how high.” Bluebeard said, a note of reverence and respect in his voice.

    I saluted – it felt wrong not to – and made my way out of the Sentinel Suite.

    Party time!


    The Summer Solstice. Graduation.

    I’d spent the remaining few weeks primarily working on [Reflexes], with some added work in [Talaria]and [Sun-kissed]. A few other skills got some levels, notably [Oath]got one and [Vigilant] liked the [Reflexes] training. I could see how the two were closely related. [Vigilant] would warn me of a problem, and [Reflexes] made it easier to do something about the problem. [Center of the Galaxy] was also surprisingly synergistic with it, removing the startle, letting me move immediately.

    Yesterday had been an easy day – there was running in the morning, and that was it. I didn’t even have my talk with Night, with the idea being that we’d get a good night’s sleep.

    I didn’t sleep a wink. I don’t think anyone else did either.

    Out of sheer habit, we assembled in the courtyard on the 4th gong, as we’d been doing for over a year and a half. It was like the Instructors knew what we’d do – or more likely, had decades of experience with other Trainees doing this – and there was a set of armor for each of us, waiting and ready, with our names pinned on it.

    My familiar set was there, and almost shaking, I put it on.

    I wasn’t the only one with a serious case of the nerves, and we moved through, helping each other get the armor on, finding out today if we’d get the Ranger Eagle to go with it, or if we weren’t selected to be a Ranger.

    The choices were varied for those of us not selected. Repeating Academy, which had all sorts of benefits – you’d get an entirely new set of lessons to take, combat and sparring lessons to help boost your level. Becoming a guard, soldier, or mercenary of some sort, ‘passed Academy but didn’t get selected’ was a solid, solid recommendation.

    Of course, becoming an adventurer was also on the menu, but I didn’t think anyone would stoop that low. We were all better than that. We had standards.

    On occasion, people who failed out would strike out on their own, open a business, or discovered a love of sailing while at Academy, and became a sailor, a captain, or, famously, one became a pirate.

    Also known as “how to get a Sentinel sent after you.”

    They did not look kindly on almost-graduates turning to a life of crime. Reflected badly on all of us.

    I suspected that the primary test was an aptitude one, a test of character, one last way for the Instructors – and Command – to cut people they found unsuited, or who’d failed their classes. For example, I was betting that Spitter would fail. He consistently failed to follow orders properly, and had never stopped spraying deadly acid into people’s faces when sparring. He was my number one problem when I was on sparring overwatch, and he always had some sort of shit excuse for it.

    I would never voice that out loud, nor would I make bets on it. It would be in poor taste, and saying “I don’t think Bob will make it” would be one of the only ways to shake, if not break, the bond between us all.

    Wolfy showed up, and we helped him get ready. I was grooming Moon, making his fur coat look positively luxurious.

    I kinda wanted one of my own. So soft!

    Once Wolfy was fully geared up and ready, and MoonMoon was positively shining, we pounced.

    “Alright Wolfy, give up the goods. What are the numbers?”

    “What makes you think I know!” He protested.

    We looked at each other.

    “That’s not a denial.” I said, taking charge.

    He grumbled to himself.

    “98 Rangers down. 112 Trainees graduating – well, including you Elaine. Unknown how many Rangers will formally or semi-formally retire, but it’s usually two to four. That includes anyone who asks to be permanently promoted to Team 0. My guess? 10 of us don’t make it.” Wolfy said, spilling the goods.

    The sun came up, bright and shining, promising a day of clear skies and beautiful weather, finding us all ready. Ocean was back, and a single ship was waiting for us. We lined up to file onboard. I was in the front – again, rank having its privilege. Some of the Trainees, like Lava, kinda resented it, but having survived almost an entire round had given me a layer of respect. The other Instructors treating me as a Ranger had gone a long way to boot, and making it to graduation should, at least, give Julius a clear.

    Almost everyone could sail – myself and a few other Trainees excluded – and while we could do it ourselves, this was our moment. We were being escorted.

    Night had asked me the other day to put my remaining free points into my Power and Control, and while I hadn’t gotten a great reason why, I wasn’t about to argue.

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 8]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092 (+1435.944)]

    [Magic Power: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Magic Control: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    Eh. Close enough. I’d keep those extra few stats.

    Over 50k Magic Power and Magic Control after [Oath] applied though! I was a monster when it came to healing.

    We filed into Ranger Headquarters, a place we hadn’t been since the last Ranger Convocation, and made our way to our assigned seats, in alphabetical order. Our names would be read out in order, and I was between Echelaos and Eteonous. Artillery Mage A and one of the soldiers who’d made it this far. Finally learned their names… just in time to never use them again. Unless we ended up in the same team.

    We were on the early side, but by no means the first.

    I saw Artemis in the stands, head bowed, facing the wall, a tear going down her face.

    My sense of joy at being here had a bucket of cold water dumped on it, dampened by the Indomitable Wall. I searched it, finding Origen’s name.

    I bowed my head in remembrance. Fuck. I’d given very few thoughts to him over the last two years, hadn’t I? Did that make me a terrible person? I said I wouldn’t forget him. Nor Lyra.

    I don’t know how long I spent like that, in remembrance, reflecting on memories I’d made with the two of them. Skipping through the park with Lyra. Origen’s beard bunching up in a smile as we all praised his cooking. Dozens of memories, of good times and bad.

    They were only dead once I forgot them. Once their name had been said for the last time.

    There was nothing else to do, but speak their name to myself, quietly, softly.

    “Lyra.”

    “Origen.”

    I opened my eyes, looking around. May all the gods and goddesses stop me from needing to expand the list.

    I’d heard Julius had made it back in one piece. I opened my eyes, looking around, seeing who was here.

    Team 6. Julius was here, in one piece. Eight people were standing in that row, but one was clearly a hanger-on of some sort. My [Identify] was high enough that I could check, and, yup – a healer. I grinned, Julius having picked up another healer to keep his team almost entirely alive.

    Team 11. Maximus was present, although there were only three other members. A near miss.

    I let out the strangest noise when I looked around and saw Team 8. Golden-haired Kallisto was there, safe and sound. That was the first half of the noise.

    And he had gotten married?!

    A beautiful ring on his left middle finger indicated his “taken” status, and a short, blonde woman was next to him, carrying a baby, with an equally elaborate ring.

    I blinked, rubbing my eyes. No, they weren’t tricking me. It didn’t surprise me that Kallisto managed to convince someone to join them on the road. No, what was surprising was that someone had convinced Kallisto to settle down with her. She must be someone special – I had to congratulate him later on, when the speech part was over, and the mingling part started.

    Still. Kallisto. Married. With a kid. I couldn’t get my head around it, CriticalFailure.exe firing every time I tried to get past it.

    Ok, ok, think. Kallisto probably had a dozen kids scattered all over. That wasn’t a surprise.

    Kallisto having a bombshell on his arm. Be more surprising the other way around.

    Kallisto with a marriage ring.

    Nope, couldn’t do it.

    Still, everyone had lived, and I felt some weight lifting off of me. The odds were good that one of them wouldn’t have lived, but no, there would be no name from the old Team 4 on the wall.

    More and more people filed in, and when the sun was high in the sky, the drums started to play.

    Bam.

    Bam.

    Bam – Ba-ba-duh-duh-dum.

    The sound of the drums came in, loud and strong, announcing the start of the convocation. Fifteen men marched in. Ranger Command, eight men with Ranger Eagles inside laurels, and what Sentinels decided to show up, Ranger Eagle inside of a sunburst.

    Hunting. Bulwark. Sealing. Destruction. Ocean. Brawling. Sky.

    Magic, Night, Acquisition, Nature, and Toxic weren’t around.

    From what I knew now, Magic was extraordinarily reclusive, and was at least a Mirage mage. Perhaps he had a healthy dose of Artemis’s paranoia, and figured one of the best ways to stay alive was for nobody to know who he was, where he was, or some variant of that.

    Night simply didn’t come out in the daytime, his restriction skill binding him. A shame he missed the event, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he came out here every night, to simply stare at the wall and remember.

    The less Acquisition was seen in public, the better. Nobody liked the assassin-thief being in the public’s eye, including Acquisition himself.

    The other Trainees had finally gotten one of his students to crack. The basket-weaving was only halfway legit – it was lessons on always having an alibi, of always being able to point and misdirect attention. Always doing two things. They were indeed being taught less savory skills, but, they were needed. I kinda hoped I wouldn’t be in a team with them.

    Heck, me being a team lead didn’t make a ton of sense, I suddenly realized. I literally couldn’t order a hit on a Classer, like Julius had ordered a hit on Hesoid. And my team wouldn’t go around my back, or if they did, it would cause all sorts of problems.

    Maybe a second in command, like Artemis was to Julius? That made a ton of sense. Going directly from Academy to squad leader made no sense. Going from Academy to a second, to be trained and seasoned? Yeah, that made a lot of sense.

    I refocused on the Sentinels, taking their position in front of one of twenty-one chairs, spinning around with military precision.

    Sky being here was a bit of a surprise from what I knew of him, he only showed up to things he wanted to, or things that were important.

    Eh. It’d be a bit unfair for me to pigeonhole him that way. For all I knew, this checked off both for him.

    Toxic was probably still on the frontlines, shooting thousands of poisoned arrows a day into the endless hordes, and Nature would show up if he was around, so he was probably on assignment somewhere. The rest of the world didn’t stop turning for the Ranger Convocation.

    Thinking about it, it was probably somewhat dangerous to have no Rangers in the field for a few weeks around the Convocation – some problems could get rooted in that timeframe.

    Oh well. The powers that be must’ve decided that it was worth it.

    Everyone was in place, and one of the Commanders stepped up to the podium.

    “Welcome, to the Ranger Convocation!” He said, a loud cheer coming from the crowd.

    Speech! Speech! Speech!

    And I was promptly put to sleep by his speech. And the next Commander’s. And the next. And – were all eight of them seriously going to be giving slightly different variations of the same speech? Cripes.

    My ears perked up, and I started paying attention again when we got to the important part.

    “… and now, it’s time to carve the names onto the Indomitable Wall.”

    The same stonemason from last time stood up from the VIP section, and walked over to the wall. He walked slowly, like stone moving, but the atmosphere was solemn, serious. Nobody would dream of interrupting his walk, of asking him to hurry along.

    The drums started to play again, a slow, solemn, melancholy beat. Each name said here, said now, was a life cut short in defense of Remus, a peak warrior killed. This would be, in many ways, their only remembrance, their only legacy. A name, stated. A phrase, uttered. A carving, in a stone wall.

    Some of us would move on. It was clear to me now, that others didn’t. Artemis clearly remembered, and remembered well. I also remembered; I wouldn’t forget. The first time I’d been here it felt like I was preserving the memory. No, that wasn’t the important one. It was returning here, returning to where the memories were preserved, to remember them once again – that was the important part.

    No wonder every Ranger would fight to the death before allowing That Room to fall. I’d stand in front of the wall and take a lightning bolt for it.

    “Team 3.” The Commander announced, Team 1 and 2 having been blessedly spared.

    Team 1 was the capital team, the best of the best. It was no surprise that none of them died, and since there was an omni-present Ranger presence, it was no surprise that nothing became a large enough threat.

    Team 2 just got flat-out lucky.

    The leader of Team 3 got onto the stage, and read off the first name.

    “Theopropides.”

    I chanted, with everyone else.

    “Brave Ranger. Your time to rest has come. May White Dove take you to a better place. Your deeds will not be forgotten. We will remember you.”

    The Indomitable Wall was tapped, a new name carved onto it for eternity.

    We repeated the process. A name. A recital. A tap.

    Wolfy’s intel had been good. 98 names. 98 recitals. 98 taps. 98 new names on The Indomitable Wall.

    Team 10 got fully wiped.

    Team 13 also got fully wiped, again.

    I was starting to wonder if there was some curse on team 13.

    Silence naturally fell, as the last name from Team 24 was called out. Remembrance, once again. Respect for the fallen.

    Not even Kallisto’s kid made a peep.

    One of the Commanders got up, and walked to the podium, the moment broken.

    “I’d like to congratulate the new Academy graduates. As you hear your name, please approach the stage.”

    “Trainee Aebutius, approach.”

    Aura – I finally knew his name! – jumped up, and marched onto the stage. A handshake, a Ranger Badge pinned to his neat armor, and he triumphantly held his hands up.

    “Congratulations to our newest Ranger!” The Commander said, and we applauded.

    The other Trainees were the most enthusiastic.

    Name after name was read out, until-

    “Trainee Echelaos, approach.”

    The man next to me got up, and marched up to the stage. My heart was going a million miles an hour. My palms, sweaty and clammy. I forced myself to breathe, to not hyperventilate.

    This was it. This was the moment. It was about to be my turn to-

    “Trainee Eteonous, approach.”

    My heart plunged into my shoes, as Lava patted my shoulders. We’d never gotten to like each other – got along like two wet cats in a bag – but even here, at this moment, at the lowest I’d ever felt, the bond between us Trainees, we who’d gone through the Hell Months together, was unshakeable.

    Hang on, I realized, blinking through tears. I’d always been called Ranger Elaine, even all through Academy. Was I just not called up because I didn’t need to be graduated to a Ranger?

    My heart hit my shoes, and bounced back up, but I was anything but stable. I’d find out soon. So soon.

    My heart managed to re-invent the yo-yo. Deeply unpleasant.

    Exactly 103 Trainees were graduated, the 9 of us who hadn’t been called up with sad, ugly looks on our faces. Spitter was present, as well as Hulk. My bet with Hulk? He was a brute, through and through, and wasn’t smart enough to properly be a Ranger. He was a fantastic fighter, but that was it. Couldn’t track, talk with people well, hell, anything outside of a basic order he struggled with. He’d make amazing money as a bodyguard.

    Still, I had no time to focus on others, I was worrying about myself.

    “Now, it is time to announce the new teams for the following round.” The Commander said, and I immediately started paying rapt attention again, to see if my name would be called out.

    No, I told myself. To see what team I’d be in. I was going to make it. I had made it. It’d just be a bit weird walking down from the stands to my new team, but hey, I’d manage it.

    “Team 1. Velius, Kallisto, Fufius…” The Commander started reading off names, and happy day, Kallisto was promoted to Team 1! Maybe he was being given some consideration for being married, a way to make married life work as a Ranger? Either way, good for him! He was now an elite of the elites!

    Names were read off, and as time went on, I started to get nervous. Maximus’s name was read off – Team 15 – but my name wasn’t said anywhere.

    Nor was Julius’s.

    Hang on, let me check something really fast –

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 132]

    [Vigilant: 198]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 201]

    [: ]

    [Reflexes: 95]

    [Learning: 212]

    Oh fuck. Oh fuck no. [Ranger’s Lore] was gone.

    But I hadn’t felt anything.

    I leaned against Hulk, almost crying to myself.

    “I don’t have it anymore. It’s not there.” I said, fighting back tears.

    “What’s not there?” Hulk asked me.

    I just shook my head. Hulk might get it, but from his complete lack of reaction, he might not even realize he hadn’t made it as a Ranger.

    The last name was read off, Team 24 being assembled without me.

    Or Julius.

    Fuck. Had I failed so badly? Had I done so poorly? What now? I could feel hot tears escaping my eyes, making trails down my face.

    What did I do with myself?

    I couldn’t bring myself to look in the crowd, to find Artemis, or my parents.

    One of the Commanders was speaking. I couldn’t bring myself to pay attention.

    Mmm. I had never thought of it. What would I do if I didn’t become a Ranger? If I failed out? Worst-case, I thought I could just repeat Academy, but maybe it was different if I was a failure? If I wasn’t properly ratified, if they were throwing me out instead?

    I snapped back to the speech when I heard Julius’s name mentioned.

    “… replacing me, please give a warm welcome to Ranger, now Commander, Julius!”

    A roar came from the crowd, a solid wall of approval, and I straightened up, clapping. Hang on, Julius was being promoted to Commander? That didn’t sound like being punished for my failure.

    “Thank you everyone. The Rangers mean the world to me. When I was a young boy…” Julius started to give a very, verylong speech, and as much as I liked Julius, long, boring speeches got me every time. I only perked my ears back up when I heard him start to end it.

    The sun had moved a noticeable distance during his speech.

    “I’d like to say a few words on stats. Getting to 10,000 in a stat is the mark of an expert, of a high-level Classer or Ranger reaching seniority. Getting to 20,000 is the mark of a specialist, someone dedicated to maximizing a stat.”

    “30,000 is the realm of a specialist with a number of boosting skills, bringing themselves to the peak.”

    “40,000 is a once in every 400 years number, many generations passing before someone gets there.”

    “And 50,000 is a joke, a number given when someone doesn’t want to give their real stats, when stories want to exaggerate to comedic proportions.”

    I was pretty sure Night pushed that number, although maybe he was evenly split enough not to. Also, Arthur would be pushing that number eventually, with his amazing classes off of the sea monster slaying. No idea on the other Sentinels.

    My propaganda sense was going off.

    “But here today, the number will be given out, not as a joke, but completely seriously. As my first act as Ranger Commander, I’d like to invite Ranger Elaine to the stage.”

    Mechanically, I started to march to the stage, putting one foot in front of the next.

    A voice, coming out of nowhere, whispered in my ear.

    “You’ve got this. One foot in front of the next. Let’s get a light Radiance glow out of you.”

    The Sentinels all stood up.

    “A Ranger. Completed one round. Although, after this we’re going to include ‘started’ the round as well.” Julius said, getting a ripple of laughter.

    “The undisputed best in her field. A grand feat. An open seat. The ability to survive on your own. Powerful combat prowess. Able to move through Remus as you see fit.”

    “Ranger Elaine has over 50,000 effective Magic Power and Control while healing. Not just one stat, but two are over the 50,000 mark. She’s the undisputed best healer in Remus, and her Medical Manuscripts have taken the healing world by storm. Everyone wants to know ‘who is Elaine’ and ‘how do we meet her’. Well, the answer is – she’s Ranger Elaine, one of us.”

    Holy shit. I was being promoted. To Sentinel.

    What the fuck. I wasn’t nearly as high level as them. And while they were promoting me, it felt like I didn’t quite meet all the requirements. Something I’d need to ask about.

    Although, was doubting and asking a way to get them to say ‘nah, nevermind, you’re right?’ Was it a test, like Arthur said he was tested?

    Bah. I’d ask anyways. I had to know.

    “Elaine single-handedly resolved not one, but two plagues in Perinthus, in a single week, where dozens of other healers and experts spent over a year trying – and failing – to cure. Her only weakness is pissing off bards, and being written out of songs as a result.”

    More laughter. I couldn’t believe my ears as I made it onto the stage.

    “We set a new record as well. Not only were there no fatalities in this year’s Ranger Academy, but not a single day was lost to recovering from training injuries, due to her presence. Not only that, but all of this is in a single class. Her second class is a powerful Radiance mage class, able to fly and throw powerful skills from above. Her journey to us was somewhat unconventional, but I am more than pleased to say, the first woman, the third youngest in history.”

    Yeah, except for all the training injuries when I hadn’t been around. They really liked to hype up the new Sentinel. Not that I minded.

    “Elaine. We hereby name you, The Dawn Sentinel.” Julius said, pinning a Ranger Eagle in Sunburst onto my chest.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger’s Lore] has evolved into [Sentinel’s Superiority]! 185]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Sentinel’s Superiority] has reached level 190!]

    I threw my hands up, and I nearly went deaf from the crowd’s roaring approval.

    Sentinel’s Superiority: The peak of humanity, you stand at the top, the best in your class, defender of humanity against the endless threats to its survival. 25% boost to all class skills. Improved fighting prowess per level. -2048 mana regeneration.

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50400/50400]

    [Mana Regen: 45234]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 8]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092 (+1435.944)]

    [Magic Power: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Magic Control: 4636 (+46591.8)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer - Celestial:   Lv 240]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 240]

    [Warmth of the sun: 198]

    [Medicine: 202]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 233]

    [Phases   of the Moon: 240]

    [Moonlight: 240]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 141]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 160]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 132]

    [Vigilant: 198]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 201]

    [Sentinel's Superiority: 190]

    [Reflexes: 95]

    [Learning: 212]


    anti spoiler text!!!

    anti spoiler text!!!

    anti spoiler text!!!

    anti spoiler text!!!

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! You’ve upgraded your second class – [Ranger-Mage] - Radiance]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger-Mage] has leveled up to level 129! +10 Free Stats, +5 Speed, +5 Vitality, +20 Mana, +20 Mana Regen, +20 Magic power, +20 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger-Mage] has leveled up to level 180! +10 Free Stats, +5 Speed, +5 Vitality, +20 Mana, +20 Mana Regen, +20 Magic power, +20 Magic Control from your Class! +1 Free Stat for being Human! +1 Strength, +1 Mana Regen from your Element!]

    Yes! Straight to level 180! I needed to sit down and do some math – the number seemed high – but I was pleased as punch over it.

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Fire Affinity] has evolved into [Radiance Affinity] - 128]

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Fire Resistance] has evolved into [Radiance Resistance] - 128]

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Fire Conjuration] has evolved into [Radiance Conjuration] - 128]

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Fire Manipulation] has evolved into [Radiance Manipulation] - 128]

    Absolutely no surprise here. I’d half-hoped that I wouldn’t need the [Radiance Resistance] skill, but then again I was channeling ridiculously hot sunbeams next to my skin. Probably all of the Fire-evolutions required the resistance skill, except maybe Mithril.

    Or I could dump it and burn my hand off every time I used a skill, or burn my face off when breathing fire.

    Hang on, I couldn’t breathe fire anymore. I could…

    I could shoot lasers (Fine, beams of radiance) from my eyes. Yessssss.

    The resistance skill could live.

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Fuel for the Fire] has evolved into [Sun-Kissed] - 128]

    Sun-Kissed: The gentle warmth of the sun shines down on you, loving you, caressing you. The sun is the source of all life, and places a gentle kiss upon you. Additional Free Mana Regeneration while in sunlight. Solar-powered! No food required! .2% Increased Mana Regeneration per skill level.

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Burn Brightly] has evolved into [Blaze] - 128]

    Blaze: The sun shines through your skills, letting them burn like the sun. Increased heat and damage to all offensive Radiance skills per level. -1024 Mana Regen.

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Rapidash] has evolved into [Radiant Steps] - 128]

    Radiant Steps: Your steps brim with light, leaving glowing footsteps in your wake. Increased movement speed per level.

    [*Ding!* Your skill [Fireball] has evolved into [Nova] - 128]

    Nova: A small, exploding sun. Increased speed, control, heat, damage, and explosion radius per level.

    [*Ding!* Would you like to move [Warmth of the Sun] from [Constellation of the Healer] to [Ranger-Mage]?]

    I blinked. That was new. Kinda made sense though – the skill could easily be from either Element. I declined to move it over, keeping the healing skill with the healing class, but I resolved to experiment with the “warmth” part of the skill – maybe I could make the aura warmer than before?

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Affinity] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Affinity] has reached level 180!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Resistance] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Resistance] has reached level 180!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Conjuration] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Conjuration] has reached level 180!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Manipulation] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiance Manipulation] has reached level 180!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Blaze] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Blaze] has reached level 180!]

    No surprise there! I’d been blasting flames at Formorians for months on end.

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Nova] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Nova] has reached level 180!]

    I’d been blasting them with [Fireball] as well. Onto the more painful ones…

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiant Steps] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Radiant Steps] has reached level 155!]

    Well, that was better than I could’ve hoped for, given how little I was using [Rapidash]on the frontlines.

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Sun-Kissed] has reached level 129!]

    [*Ding!*Congratulations! [Sun-Kissed] has reached level 140!]

    And I was back to grinding a really slow skill. [Fuel for the Fire] had taken me ages to get capped, and now I had another mostly passive skill that I had to deal with.

    I really, really hoped that [Phases of the Moon] could handle skin damage and skin cancer, otherwise I was in for a one-way ticket to trouble.

    [*Ding!* For reaching level 150, your skill [Radiant Steps] has evolved into [Talaria]!]

    Talaria: The winged sandals of Hermes, forged by Hephaestus, made out of radiant light. Wear sandals, strap them on, and step on sunbeams to take flight! 4% decreased cost per level, increased speed per level.

    “Yes!” I screamed out, sitting up, throwing my hands up!

    “Ack!” I heard a scream, and I looked around, processing.

    Right, my room. Where I was being looked after.

    “Ranger Elaine! Are you ok!?” One of the women came up to me, face creased in concern. “Is anything wrong? What happened?”

    “Huh? I’m fine.” I said, only for my stomach to betray me, sound echoing throughout the room. *Gurgle gurgle gurgle*.  A sudden wave of hunger and embarrassment came over me.

    “Totally fine.” I said, trying to keep a straight face. The lady grinned at me, pointing to a tray of food.

    “Of course, Ranger Elaine. We appreciate the week-long break. We were just concerned; I’ve never heard of someone taking so long to class up.”

    She nodded at the other slave, who promptly vanished.

    I started to eat, discovered that yes, I was ravenous, just like someone who hadn’t eaten in a week, and chowed down with vigor.

    It was weird, adjusting to eating without [Fuel for the Fire]. I’d gotten used to the skill helping me, and now it was gone. It was like I kept reaching for a crutch that wasn’t there.

    I paused a moment, slowing down so I could eat without choking. Choking was another thing that [Phases] couldn’t heal right now, although… I could just blast my throat open, remove the problem, and heal it back up again. It wasn’t harm when it was saving my life.

    Let’s not choke. How about I review my stats instead?

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50400/50400]

    [Mana Regen: 45874]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 572]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092]

    [Magic Power: 4410]

    [Magic Control: 4369]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 240]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 240]

    [Warmth of the Sun: 178]

    [Medicine: 202]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 233]

    [Phases of the Moon: 240]

    [Moonlight: 240]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 140]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 155]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 132]

    [Vigilant: 195]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 200]

    [Ranger's Lore: 190]

    [Training: 160]

    [Learning: 212]

    I still couldn’t get over [Talaria]. I could fly!

    I wanted to jump up, run outside, and immediately take flight. Just needed to eat some – hang on, I was being dumb. I threw on my sandals – I’d changed into something comfortable for classing up, which didn’t include sandals – jumped up, grabbed my tray.

    “Is everything ok?” The woman asked, looking worried.

    “Fine! I’m off!” I shouted, running out as fast as I could, trying to balance my Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner in one hand, stuffing my face with the other, looking for a courtyard. I found one, the sun was shining, and I instinctively activated [Talaria], shimmering wings made out of glowing light appearing on my sandals. I stepped up, and I was away! I was flying!

    I dropped the tray, to better enjoy myself. Who needed food?

    I was flying! I was free as a bird! I was no longer bound by earthly constraints! The wind in my hair, the sun on my skin, the air beneath my feet!

    I couldn’t help it. I let out a holler.

    “I’m flying! I’m flying! I’m fllyyyyyyyyyyyyiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnggggggg!”

    “Good stuff, isn’t it?” Sky said, dropping down on top of me.

    I jumped, and weirdly enough, just went up, not down.

    “Holy shit Sky! You scared me!”

    He grinned at me.

    “Yeah, but you don’t care now, do you? You’re flying.”

    He was totally right. I grinned back.

    “I’m flying! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” I said, racing off to I-don’t-know-where. I didn’t care, the pure joy and exhilaration from flying couldn’t be beat.

    Was this how Sky felt when he was flying? Was this why he tried to spend as much time as possible flying, ignoring other things to do?

    It was as heady as a drug; it was like liquid joy coursing through my veins. All the time I’d spent in flying lessons, trying to move up and falling to the ground, my likely sub-optimal selection of Fire as an element when I first started. The grief, the pain, the hardship I’d been through – all of it was worth it in an instant, as I was dancing through the sky, singing with the birds, feeling my tunic flutter around me.

    Bless my habit of wearing men’s tunics, so I wasn’t flashing everyone. I’d need to remember that. No flying with dresses.

    “Hey Elaine, what am I going to say?” Sky said, dropping down on top of me again.

    “Check my mana.” I said, and reflexively checked it.

    [Mana: 18404/50400]

    Blah. Around half an hour – fourty minutes? -  to lose a more than half my mana. I had some time, but I started making my way back anyways.

    “Now that you can fly properly, a quick note. Don’t test how high you can go.” Sky said. “I got promoted when Gale decided to see how high up he could go, and we never saw him again.”

    I blinked at him. Sky, being helpful?

    “Who are you, and what have you done with Sky?” I demanded.

    He just laughed at me.

    “Pass the warning on to anyone who learns to fly! Flier’s creed! Good luck!” He said, laughing and letting the breeze take him.

    I laughed, then cursed, realizing that Sky could at least teach me some basics on aerial combat. Nope. Was going to have to figure it out myself. My best guess was “Stay up high” and “drop things on people”. Like [Nova]’s.

    I came in for landing, only to get a rude surprise. I was aiming for the main courtyard, which had the large bronze gong that kept everyone on schedule there. I dipped into the shadow, and suddenly, I was no longer flying – I was falling, and falling fast.

    Months upon endless months of flying lessons helped out, as I summoned [Veil] to keep breaking my momentum, letting me land in a bruised heap on the courtyard, instead of a broken one. Good thing I’d kept some mana.

    What had happened?

    I quickly read over [Talaria], and groaned when I figured it out.

    “step on sunbeams”

    This seemed to be more than metaphorical. It seemed like I could only fly in sunlight.

    I paled as I realized – if a cloud had gone over the sun, if a flock of birds had blotted out the sky, I could’ve had a much, much longer fall, one that [Veil]wouldn’t save me from.

    Ha. At that height, it’d be a real “Tank it or shield it” test. Would probably aim for the healing, and try to heal myself fast enough as my body hit the ground. I’d need to remember that trick one day, in all likelihood, but it wasn’t one I was eager to practice.

    The rest of the day passed mostly uneventfully, as I spent time sunning myself grinding [Sun-kissed] and eating a week’s worth of food. I was what, 100lbs//45 kg soaking wet, or thereabouts. Skipping meals was bad for me.

    This skill was the greatest excuse ever to slack off. Experiments as to relative leveling speed vs skin exposed would need to be done – but not here.

    I also decided to calculate what had happened with my [Ranger-Mage] class, not that I was complaining.

    Ok, let’s pretend the Brilliance mage that was shooting every forty minutes or so was typical, and let’s also pretend we had the same length shifts, which I was never sure about. He showed up for about two minutes or so, fired off all his skills, and was gone after that.

    Let me pretend he was typical, although with Brilliance having a +2 every level to mana regeneration from the double Light, that wasn’t always the case.

    With that ratio, I was twenty times as efficient as the unknown Brilliance mage, so I was, roughly, getting twenty times the experience.

    I was there for roughly six months, at twenty times…

    Holy shit. I’d gotten the experience of the average mage being on the frontlines for ten years.

    And if the Lightning mage was anything to go off of, if he was more typical – it was closer to twenty years of experience.

    Granted, that wasn’t how it worked, and the comments about people tending to cap out around 180 on the frontlines rang in my mind, but wow. Yeah. Serious, serious experience.

    Why wasn’t this the norm? The theory about being made a team leader was making more sense – at 240/180, I was starting to have some serious, serious firepower. Not Artemis levels, not yet, especially not with her having both 256 evos – but I could pack a wallop, and I was certainly at the power level of an experienced Ranger.

    A slave let me know that my evening meeting with Night would be as usual, and when the appointed hour arrived, we met up, starting our usual slow walk around the villa.

    “Ranger Elaine. I was starting to become concerned about you. Was there some trouble with your class-up?” Night started off asking.

    I had a minor twinge of guilt at that.

    “No, but I wanted to spend time reading.” I said.

    “Oh? Elaborate?” Night said, gesturing at me to carry on.

    I took a deep breath. This was going to sound ridiculous, but if Night wanted to know, I’d tell him. Secrets were a short way to get in huge amounts of trouble, and I’d already defied Night once. I wasn’t able to start making life hard.

    “Where I come from, reading for pleasure is a popular pastime. It isn’t here. Heck, there aren’t even books here! As much as I’ve tried to tell people how they’re made, the materials are just all wrong. My classing up location is a grand library, with thousands, or tens of thousands of books. Sure, they’re all about potential classes, but they read like a novel. Classing up’s the only time I ever get to see or read them, my only chance to pursue the activity. I was making full use of the time.” I told Night.

    He looked at me with – was that pity? We walked, the ball being in Night’s court, taking as long as needed for him to process and think.

    “I had never considered such a thing.” Night said. “To be torn from one’s world, yes. To lose friends and family, a tragedy. But to also lose one’s hobbies, one’s means of enjoyment? To know they no longer exist, and are only in your soul?” He pulled a face.

    “Somehow, that is just one insult too many. But enough of that. Tell me about your class.”

    [Ranger-Mage]– Radiance!” I excitedly told him. “I also finally managed to get to fly!”

    Night started to laugh, pausing a moment to catch his breath.

    “Of course you’d take Radiance!” He said. “Let me guess, it completely fails to synergize with your Celestial class?”

    I didn’t make an uhhhhh noise. I’d been better trained than that. Lemme see…

    [Moonlight] operating when the moons were out.

    [Sun-kissed] and [Talaria] operating when the sun was out.

    Those were my only time-restricted skills.

    “Unless there’s an eclipse!” I cheerfully said.

    Night just rolled his eyes.

    “You can hope for the two classes to eventually reach some type of equilibrium, for the skills to help each other remove their restrictions. Aside from that, a solid choice. I am also pleased you decided to take [Ranger-Mage], showing a dedication towards being a Ranger.”

    I smiled at that, and the rest of the walk was spent discussing the fine details of my skills. At the end of it-

    “I will attempt for you to visit Instructor Artemis’s school to help you learn the finer details of your class. While Lightning isn’t Radiance, many of the aspects of having an extraordinarily quick element apply.”

    Oooh, field trip to Artemis’s School of Sorcery and Spellcraft! Fun!

    =================================================

    The next day, having joined a boat of Trainees off to the Colosseum for some more training, I found my way to Artemis’s school.

    It was somewhat outside of the walls, the stunt only possible due to how safe the capital was. Several low, stone buildings surrounded a large field, where skills and large displays of magic were being fired off.

    I wandered in – there wasn’t really a gate or a fence or anything resembling an entrance guard or greeter – and figured that since the field was where the action was happening, might as well head that way.

    I made it to the field, where a bunch of teenagers were lined up, Artemis lecturing. Some younger kids were off to the side, meditating on a bench.

    Artemis was saying something about proper tracking, then threw a bunch of thin earthen disks into the sky. Immediately, the dozen or so mages tried to fire off skills, aiming to hit them.

    In a word, target practice.

    “Elaine! Hey Elaine!” Artemis called out, waving to me.

    “Everyone, this is Ranger Elaine, one of my first students, now a full Ranger. Listen well, and one day you can be like her!” Artemis said.

    I smiled and waved, being good PR for Artemis, resisting rolling my eyes. I’d been a full Ranger before becoming a mage, but I wasn’t going to announce that. Artemis’s school was going well, but it was clear she hadn’t had huge amounts of money dumped on her out of the blue.

    “Elaine’s here to practice her new class, and get a new skill. If you’re interested in getting [Reflexes], come join! Otherwise, pay attention, and learn how to get the [Reflexes] skill if you ever need it – or want to teach it to someone.”

    “Ready?” Artemis asked me.

    I nodded.

    “Block!” Artemis said, whizzing a pebble at me, her trademark attack at a fraction of the speed. I threw up [Veil]as fast as I could, watching my mana take a small hit.

    I dropped [Veil], only to see Artemis throwing more pebbles at me. Shield, shield, more shield, getting them smaller, doing it faster, until-

    [*ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the General Skill [Reflexes]! Would you like to take this skill?]

    Reflexes: One of the most important aspects of survival – quickly reacting to problems coming at you. Improved reaction time per level. -128 Mana Regen

    I swiftly hit yes, throwing my hands up in surrender, then promptly doubling over with nausea as I lost [Training]at level 160. Fuck. I’d forgotten how sick losing skills made me.

    “I got it, I got it.” I said.

    One of the students raised his hand.

    “How do we teach them if they don’t have a shield?” He asked.

    I looked at Artemis. Reasonable question.

    “You make them catch it instead. Also needs to be slower. If you’re a Fire, Air, Water, etc. mage, you can just throw pebbles at them. It takes longer to trigger the skill, but the general idea is the same – make people react to something coming at them.” Artemis explained.

    “Right, Caius, can you work on stone pulls with everyone?”

    To my amusement, one of the students – Caius, I assumed, clumsily saluted Artemis, then started yelling, getting the other students to get ready to hit the stuff he was throwing up.

    “Right, what do you need?” Artemis said.

    “Radiance! Need practice, Night said you were good for fast stuff.”

    Artemis nodded.

    “Yup! With Fire, things were either too close to you for it to matter, or you had to track where things were ahead of time with your [Fireball]. Radiance is a bit different. It’s just there, immediately. It’s difficult to stop or counter as a result, but when it is stopped or countered, your bag of tricks is diminished. Be careful against Mirror – they will straight up wreck you. Arcanite, and Ice you need to be slightly worried against. On the other hand, you do horrible things to Brilliance barriers, and usually Radiance is good against Mirage and Mist.”

    “I’m going to throw things up, and you’re going to hit them. Then we’ll move onto me throwing things at you, and you disintegrating them before they hit you. It’ll train your reflexes as well. Ready?” Artemis said, and I nodded.

    She threw a pebble up in the air, and I focused, willing a thin beam of Radiance into existence. Suddenly, the beam was just there, and the pebble blasted to pieces.

    [*Ding!* Congratulations! [Reflexes] has reached level 2!]

    “Good! Just like that. Carrying on…” Artemis said, throwing three pebbles up in the air. I blasted one, two, three.

    “Eh. Blast all three at the same time. Come on.” Artemis said, repeating the procedure. “You won’t always have time to hit them one at a time, learn how to focus and split your attention. Let’s see how many we can work you up to…”

    Four. The answer was I could handle four beams at once.

    “There’s a skill you could take to try and help you handle more things at once, if that’s what you want later on.” Artemis told me.

    I mentally marked it down, if I could get [Vigilant] and [Reflexes] to merge.

    “Right, let’s practice your new skill – what was it again?” Artemis asked.

    [Nova]

    “Right.”

    [Nova] it turned out, was basically the Radiance version of [Fireball]. Worked the same way, but cooler. A small marble of blinding light was shot out – it had travel time unlike the Radiance beams – hit a target, and exploded into a blinding ball of fire, like a small exploding sun.

    It seemed like [Radiance Resistance] helped a bit with not blinding myself with my own attacks.

    “Hey Artemis, can you try flashing me with a bunch of lightning? I want to see if that still blinds me.”

    Artemis instantly complied, and I cursed as my vision went white, blinding the spots out of my eyes.

    Nope. [Radiance Resistance] was good only for my stuff, not other people’s. Had to check if it helped against hostile Radiance, but given how [Fire Resistance] worked, it might.

    Artemis came up to me at the end, beaming.

    “Good work healy-bug! Hey, just a few more weeks until graduation. I heard Julius is already back!”

    “Ahhh! Why’d you tell me! I won’t have a chance to see him until graduation, and now I know! Good to hear he survived though.”

    “Yeah! I’ll be at graduation – I gotta see my healy-bug graduate.” Artemis said, looking off into the distance at her students, a strange note in her voice.

    “Artemis – are you crying?” I asked, incredulous.

    She swooped down and hugged me – darn her unnaturally long legs!

    “My little healy-bug is graduating Ranger Academy! Of course I’m happy!”

    I hugged Artemis. What else was there to do?

    [Name: Elaine]

    [Race: Human]

    [Age: 18]

    [Mana: 50400/50400]

    [Mana Regen: 45746 (+14257)]

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 572]

    [Strength: 236]

    [Dexterity: 203]

    [Vitality: 560]

    [Speed: 480]

    [Mana: 5040]

    [Mana Regeneration: 5092 (+1425.76)]

    [Magic Power: 4410 (+44100)]

    [Magic Control: 4369 (+43690)]

    [Class 1: [Constellation of the Healer -   Celestial: Lv 240]]

    [Celestial Affinity: 240]

    [Warmth of the Sun: 178]

    [Medicine: 202]

    [Center of the Galaxy: 233]

    [Phases of the Moon: 240]

    [Moonlight: 240]

    [Veil of the Aurora: 212]

    [Vastness of the Stars: 139]

    [Class 2: [Ranger-Mage - Radiance: Lv 180]]

    [Radiance Affinity: 180]

    [Radiance Resistance: 180]

    [Radiance Conjuration: 180]

    [Radiance Manipulation: 180]

    [Sun-Kissed: 140]

    [Blaze: 180]

    [Talaria: 155]

    [Nova: 180]

    [Class 3: Locked]

    General Skills

    [Identify: 136]

    [Recollection of a Distant Life: 159]

    [Pretty: 132]

    [Vigilant: 195]

    [Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 200]

    [Ranger's Lore: 190]

    [Reflexes: 15]

    [Learning: 212]


    Classing up! High color chapter! Patreon hates color! Read on Google Docs! https://docs.google.com/document/d/159vYTjYeZYXfKFLTWUNSiCc7HuOxu6RWhExNPhe4lFw/edit

    ------------------------------


    I stumbled out of the arena, having held up a good front for the crowd, to where Ocean – and Artemis – were waiting.

    “Good work Ranger Elaine.” Ocean said, formally saluting. Holy shit, I was being saluted by a Sentinel.

    Artemis shot him a dirty look, pulling me into a hug.

    “Good job healy-bug. Proud of you. You’re free now. Need a moment?”

    I nodded, resting a moment, gathering my thoughts, then getting up.

    “Right, let’s head back.”

    “Don’t want to watch Brawling?” Ocean asked.

    “I want to get as far away as I can from the crowd that was screaming for me to be raped in front of all of them, thank you very much.” I said, the memory like oily grease on my mind. I spat, trying to get the taste out of my mouth.

    “Yeah, let’s ditch those losers.” Artemis said, as we started to walk out.

    Ocean sputtered behind us.

    “The stands are filled with Citizens! Senators! At least two other Sentinels! And more! You can’t just call them all losers!”

    Artemis shot him a look, which impressed me. She was willing to sass a Sentinel. “I can, and I did.”

    We made it back to Ranger Academy without further incident, where I technically had the rest of the day off.

    It was freeing. I hadn’t realized how much mental load was taken up by Kerberos, wondering where he was, when he’d strike next at me. I had nothing for mental trauma, and his goons torturing me was easily the worst memory I had. Him being dead and gone was freeing, blissful. I was practically skipping and whistling from that.

    I still made it to Sky’s lesson, but apart from that, I took it easy. Who didn’t want to fly?

    There was no way I’d stand Night up though, and we met at the usual time and place.

    “Ranger Elaine. Most excellent.” He started off by saying.

    I’d had time to cool off, and while I wasn’t about to start going down a pacifist path, I just felt sick. I’d literally blown someone’s head off, and I’d had every reason to do it. It was the right thing, it was self-defense, I’d do it again, but Night kinda had a point. I’d never deliberately, directly killed another person before, and it was a whole new experience. The sheer intensity of the emotional fallout from it being Kerberos, the demon who’d been on my back, was doing me no favors as well. My emotional state was all over the place.

    It was good to cope with the emotion. It was healthy to process it.

    Bless the contemplation between each sentence, the silent walking to process thoughts. I had a sense that I was going to pick up this habit of Night’s in the future.

    “I believe, in the few weeks left to us, that it is time for you to class up. I shall make no comment on what I believe you should take, except to listen to those who have, with the best of intentions, given you advice.”

    Classing up time! My spirits lifted considerably at that.

    “Now, with that being said, let us discuss your general skills. Your [Training] skill has reached, more or less, the end of its useful life. You made most excellent use out of it, but at this time, I believe we should replace the skill, and use the remaining time to get your new skill as high as possible, along with getting used to your new abilities, should you change element, or get a particularly interesting new skill.” Night said.

    “I recommend you get [Reflexes]. It will help with your reaction time. The hope is, one day, it will evolve with your [Vigilant] into [Speedster’s Perception], a most useful skill.”

    We took a few moments while I digested what he said. It made sense, but…

    “I know I encouraged Artemis to take the skill once upon a time. I do not know what has happened with her and the skill, but I have reason to believe she still has it or an evolved version.”

    I thought about Artemis, and her superhuman reaction time.

    [Reflexes] it was! Not that I was going to argue with Night over it.

    “It’s hard to say one way or another if taking [Reflexes] now and then classing up will be better than keeping [Training] and classing up. [Training] isn’t that useful, and is unlikely to impact your choices, and [Reflexes] will simply be too low to help.”

    Night shrugged.

    “It’s unfortunate, but the additional experience gained by [Training] more than makes up for it. Let us discuss your stats.”

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 1032]

    [Strength: 184]

    [Dexterity: 210]

    [Vitality: 297]

    [Speed: 220]

    [Mana: 3546]

    [Mana Regeneration: 3967]

    [Magic Power: 3079]

    [Magic Control: 3406]

    We spent a long time walking in silence, Night’s fingers slowly twitching as he performed calculations known only to himself. Finally, he spoke again.

    “Right. We shall currently put most of your stats into your Magic skills, to better improve your choices upon this class-up. After, we shall see what you get, but I would encourage you to mostly focus on Vitality and Speed. When combined with [Reflexes], it will do the most to keep you alive. Do not forget a few points in Dexterity, if you ever find yourself losing control, but for the most part you have reached the end of the line in your Strength and Dexterity, if you wish to continue this path of Healer-Mage.”

    I nodded, and Night gave me the point distribution he recommended. Rounded out my mana regen, spiked my mana up, a bunch into Magic Power, three points into Vit, and the rest went to my control. Damn trade-offs.

    Stats

    [Free Stats: 0]

    [Strength: 184]

    [Dexterity: 210]

    [Vitality: 300]

    [Speed: 220]

    [Mana: 4000]

    [Mana Regeneration: 4000]

    [Magic Power: 3500]

    [Magic Control: 3459]

    There wasn’t much more to say. I turned in for the night, with Night wishing me luck in the morning.

    I woke up to the usual 4thGong, and promptly turned over back to sleep. I wanted to be as well rested as possible for this, and I’d been excused for the day.

    I woke up to the 7th Gong, a tray of food and two women in the room with me.

    “Morning! We’re here to look after you while you class up!” The first one said cheerfully.

    “Take your time! It’s an easy break for us!” The second one said, showing me some cards.

    “Thanks!” I said, chowing down.

    “Just checking, you’re fine with however long I take?” I asked. “You won’t get in trouble or anything?”

    “Nope! Not as long as you’re still classing up!” The first one said.

    A wild grin split my face. Reading time. Yesssssss.

    I laid down, closed my eyes, focused on classing up, and felt myself fall back into the world of my soul.

    I opened my eyes to Librarian, dressed like a Ranger, red cape, badge and all, and the Library.

    “I’m BACK!” I shouted, flexing, doing my best genie impression.

    “You’re back!” Librarian exclaimed happily, grabbing my hands, jumping up and down with me.

    “And I have all the time in the world! More or less.” I said.

    “Yeah, until you starve, or die of dehydration.” Librarian pointed out.

    Curses. I knew there was a catch. Note to self, get a “don’t starve” skill so I can do this longer next time.

    “Right! Let’s get to it!” I said, plonking myself down at the closest table. Librarian rolled her eyes and pointed to another table, one with stacks of books at the ready. Heaps of books.

    Heck, a single bookshelf wouldn’t be able to hold them all.

    Yesssssss. Delicious reading-food.

    “You know, I had prepped a table for this...”

    Mmmm right.

    I moved over, and started chowing down on books, eagerly devouring them all. It was hard. I wanted to read as fast as I could, almost skim them, but then I wouldn’t get the content, I’d lose the story. But I had limited time. If I went too slowly, I wouldn’t get to read as much.

    I needed to class up more often, and class up in places where I could simply spend hours to days classing up, with no responsibilities. Mmmm…. That’d be hard, but I’m sure I could manage it.

    Book after book, tome after tome. Action, adventure, fantasy – wait no, that’d be slice of life here, there was no fantasy, not after what I’d seen. Quiet, peaceful stories. Epic tales, where I overthrew the government, proclaiming myself Queen Elaine the 1st. Sometimes Empress Elaine. Stories where I traded with dwarves, was a diplomat to elves. Stories of riding with centaurs, stealing from giants, fighting off hordes of savage gnomes.

    I don’t know how long I’d been there, but there were at least eight stacks of books taller than my head when I heard a soft cough from Librarian.

    “We should probably get going.”

    Awww, but mom….

    The perils of being an adult, of being a Ranger. Responsibility. Bleh.

    I went up the stairs to the second floor, where my level 32 class-up had occurred. Given that almost all the books were variations of “Burn things down”, it was a significantly less interesting read. That, and there was a tiny fraction of the novels.

    With no small amount of trepidation, I walked up to the third floor.

    It looked nothing like the room I’d been in when I classed up to [Constellation of the Healer]. A long hallway met my eyes, with books on stands to either side. At the end of the hallway, it opened up into a large room.

    Ranger-Mage was in big letters on a plaque above the door, and that’s where I started to walk, idly checking out the other books on my path, seeing if anything would be tempting enough to distract me.

    [Fireball Maniac - Fire] And I was promptly distracted. This class was all about fireballs. Fast fireball, grand fireball, siege fireball, multi-cast fireball, efficient fireballs – the works. The last few months of non-stop [Fireball]had paid dividends with this class. Zero non-fireball skills though.

    Ehhhhhhhhhhhh.

    Fine, shortlist.

    I grabbed it, carrying it with me. I’d dump it at the first solid, yellow class I saw, which I expected to.

    [Formorian Exterminator - Inferno] Taking Formorian extermination to 13. Massive bonuses when shooting flames into the endless black tide, penalties when I wasn’t. I had no plans on living on the frontlines. Next!

    [Oath-Spreader - Metal] A change of track, going forth and proselytizing about my [Oath] for all who’d hear me.

    [Flameclad - Fire] Coating myself in flames, getting close and personal to punch things with flaming fists. Not exactly my style, although the physical bonuses were interesting.

    [Magical Professor - Light] Retire from the Rangers, join Artemis’s School of Sorcery and Spellcraft. At least, that’s what I’d need to do to get any use out of the class. Teaching did sound fun, and maybe one day, Artemis would need a healer to teach classes. It mostly fell under what her school could teach.

    [Author - Wind] Write as fast as the wind! Swoosh! Having charcoal dance around me as I manipulated it with magic!

    Sadly, I’d written my magnum opus, my healing manuscripts. I didn’t have more stories to tell.

    Although, I could start plagiarizing Earth stories, using [Recollection of a Distant Life]. Hang on, there was potential here… more retirement options?

    Were all my choices here different ways to retire from the Rangers? Seeing if I’d be side-tracked on my path to [Ranger-Mage]? The set up of this room fit – a series of books to distract and side-track me from my goal.

    [Scribe - Water] Surprisingly, I was more interested in this class than the [Author] class. It would help me copy my manuscript a bunch, and that was somewhat appealing. I’d get crazy [Oath] experience, and working it out, that could be one of the better ways to improve my healing.

    I honestly would never have thought of that.

    [Black Widow - Dark] Somehow, I didn’t think I’d get in the habit of murdering former fiancés. Something about doing no harm.

    [Papilion’s Puppet - Mist] Well, this one was refreshingly direct. Next!

    [Chop and Burn Explorer - Fire] Burning down a fraction of the Kadan clearly encouraged more pyromancy. I didn’t see myself in the large-scale forest fire creating industry anytime soon.

    [Pyre-mancer - Ash] Origen’s funeral, the solemn occasion marred by the terrible pun in the name. I was in the anti-funeral business though.

    Although, terribly, it’d make me a one-stop shop. “Get healed! If I fail, I can cremate you!”

    [Bookworm - Wood] With the Element given, I half expected to need to physically eat books. Nope, just read scrolls. Still needed to figure out how to convince people to switch to books. Or properly invent them.

    [Goblin Slayer - Fire] Taking killing goblins to 11/10, just like the number of goblins I’d had to kill on my way to the capital.

    More specialization. Power for narrowing my focus.

    [Fiery Flower - Fire] Taking [Pretty] to untold heights. A vanity and preening class. Blazing dresses, flaming flowers for my hair, sparks in the air as I danced through the night. A thing of beauty, and I wished I lived in a world where I could happily take it, without fear of harm to my person as a result.

    [Ranger’s Mascot - Fire]Similar to [Fiery Flower] from before, but with more focus, more purpose. I wasn’t a mascot though, I was a full Ranger in my own right.

    But the mascot class indicated I’d reached the end of the distractions, and was at the room I’d been aiming for from the start.

    I made it to the room labeled Ranger-Mage, and a tiered podium met my eyes.

    There were five levels to the podium, a small stand in front of it with a sad, battered book, then a few more books scattered around the room. I figured I’d start with the sad book, the scattered ones, then make my way around the room.

    [Ranger-Mage – Mithril] the sad book proclaimed, the white text indicating that this was the weakest possible class I could still access.

    Seemed like I had, just barely, managed to get access to the class. I wasn’t going to take it. I had no real interest in magical metal manipulation, and a quick skim of the book indicated that there was no [Mithril Conjuration] or similar skill.

    What good was a Mithril mage, with no Mithril? Utterly useless. Moving on.

    The second book I looked at was one not on the podium.

    [Ranger-Mage – Acid]. The fact that it was greyed out meant I couldn’t use it at all. I thought back to my lessons. Acid was Water + Metal, and Water opposing Fire was probably why I couldn’t upgrade.

    A quick glance around confirmed that every single book here was [Ranger-Mage]. Right, time to shortcut a bit. Just call each book by the element.

    The remaining books scattered around the podium were [Coral], [Mist], [Ocean], [Ooze], [Water], [Ice], and [Mirage],confirming my theory that Fire opposing Water didn’t let me upgrade Fire into an advanced Water class.

    I moved onto the first tier of the podium, where 14 books awaited. A quick, quick flip through them all suggested the all had the same number of stats – 40 – all distributed in different ways, depending on what the element wanted. [Lightning] had more power, for example, while[Spore] had more control.

    [Erosion]. [Forest]. [Gale]. [Gemstones]. [Lightning] – I immediately grabbed that one, dusted [Mithril]off of its sad podium, and plonked it down. My shortlist was being created, and I’d be lying if I said Artemis wasn’t an inspiration. [Fireball Maniac - Fire] joined it on the shortlist. [Mantle] and [Mountain] – the advanced versions of Metal and Earth - also made the shortlist, from a sheer “everyone calls Metal and Earth practical” standpoint, and I wasn’t going to remove them from the running this early.

    [Poison] just barely made the cut, with a large grimace by me. What Arthur was doing was fresh in my mind, but the dose made the poison, and I’d need some serious considering if I wanted to try and side-branch into medicine making, that I could also defend myself with. It required thinking, and as a result, made the shortlist.

    I skipped [Sand], [Spore], [Wind], [Earth], [Wood], and [Metal]. Sand just wasn’t my jam, [Spore] seemed like more of poison, but with different aspects, and the rest were entry-level elements, that I had no intention of side-jumping into. If I was going to do, say, [Earth] or [Metal], I’d just pick up [Mantle] or [Mountain] instead.

    The next layer of the podium beckoned.

    [Brilliance]. [Arcanite]. [Celestial]. [Mirror]. [Sound]. [Verdant]. [Light]. [Dark]. [Void]. [Gravity]. [Decay]. [Miasma]. [Spatial].

    Each one had 55 stats, distributed in different ways, depending on what was most useful for the element. I was also starting to see some physical stats pop up, almost all in vitality and speed. Clearly, my discussion with Night was reflecting here somewhat. Was the System giving me more of what I wanted? Did my belief that speed and vitality help mean the System offered me classes with those stats? Or did it rearrange stats for me?

    Curious. There was digging and investigation to do here, but it’d be hard to do large-scale testing, not when people grabbed what they thought was best for them, and didn’t share information all that freely.

    My bet was the fact that my first class was Celestial, combined of both Light and Dark, was influencing my choices. These were all marginally more powerful, with slightly more stats.

    Annnnnd I was a sucker for the Light and Dark classes. [Brilliance], [Celestial], [Mirror], [Sound], [Void], [Gravity], and [Spatial] all made it to the shortlist.

    “You can only take one, you know.” Librarian said with more than a little amusement.

    “Are you sure you can’t, I dunno, unstitch them and make them all one mega book-class for me to use?” I said.

    “Mmmm. And which Affinity skill would you take? Which skills would you pick? You only get eight slots.”

    I shook my fist at her.

    “Let me dream!”

    Librarian just laughed at me.

    The third tier was the middle one, and the number of offerings was dramatically reduced. [Steam]. [Ash]. [Lava]. [Storm].

    While they were still orange-class, they were now offering me 80 stats per level, a significant improvement. [Storm] was telling in that every point was in Magic Power, letting me know that yeah, I wasn’t close to having enough Magic Power to properly use it.

    Ash didn’t call to me. I shortlisted the rest.

    The fourth tier.

    [Radiance]. [Pyronox]. [Inferno].

    100 stat points per level for each of them.

    And lastly, sitting on the top, the king on top of its throne.

    [Ranger-Mage – Fire]. A whooping 120 stat points per level. The System was clear. Sticking to your path was rewarded.

    It’s probably why Artemis was an Earth mage. She saw no reason to get an advanced element, and just stuck with Earth for the bonus stats.

    The four naturally got shortlisted, and I sat down to my, quite frankly, absurd list.

    I was about to have some serious, serious decision paralysis.

    “Help me out.” I asked Librarian.

    “Stick with something Fire-based, unless one of the other elements is absolutely perfect. You’re taking a major penalty jumping off of fire. As you just observed.”

    Ha! Confirmed! Librarian could read my mind!

    I mean, I could read my own mind, so…

    You know what? I’m going to stop this train of thought before it gets too trippy. I was Librarian, and Librarian was me.

    Fine.

    [Lightning]survived – I still wanted to see if I could be a mini-Artemis, a mental coinflip had [Mantle] surviving and [Mountain] vanishing – sure, I could do a deep analysis on being able to manipulate my own armor and weapons versus having infinite ammo, but if somehow [Mantle]was the final choice I’d do the analysis then.

    I debated over [Poison], which was against the spirit of “quick cuts” but there we go.

    On one hand, [Poison] could easily help make medicine. I wouldn’t be in direct combat when trying to kill something with it. Arthur could give me a hand learning about it.

    On the other, the direct combat potential was lower, and was probably slow enough to kill someone that [Oath]might jump in again, and possibly make me heal them.

    Although, sleeping powders and paralytic agents were in poison, drastically expanding my non-lethal repertoire…

    Argh! Fine! Stay on the damn shortlist!

    Right. Trying to cut books here was an utter failure. One outta four removed, and that was more a “I’ll figure that out when I get to it.”

    Time for the next tier of shortlist. Let me just-

    Librarian stepped in, stopping me.

    “Ask for help again.” She said.

    “I need help.” I said, meaning it.

    “Alright, what do you need from this class, what do you want?” She asked.

    “Flying.” I promptly replied. I’d done the fireball thing, and it was great fun, but I was growing up. The method mattered less to me than the results now, and I’d honestly managed to cast a lifetime worth of fireballs. “The ability to defend. Some utility.”

    “Let’s talk about defending yourself a bit. Don’t we already have [Veil] and [Phases]?” Librarian asked, stating the obvious somewhat.

    “Yeah. Raw, offensive firepower is what I need then, in that respect.”

    She nodded. “Good!”

    She looked around, and grabbed [Lava].

    “For each one, we’re going to say if it’s better or worse than [Lava].Ones that are worse, we cut. Ready?” Librarian said.

    “Ready!”

    [Mantle].”

    “Lava can do everything Mantle can that I know of.” I promptly replied.

    “Great, so Mantle’s out. [Sound].

    “No flying.”

    [Void].”

    “Still no flying.”

    We rapidly cut the list down to size. It made me sad when I had to let [Lightning]go. Heck, all of them made me sad, but we managed to, with Librarian’s firm prompting, get rid of all of the non-fire classes. Mostly on her beating it into my head that, “Sure, you can fly and defend yourself with [Gravity], but [Lava]does that better and has more stats.”

    [Fire]. [Inferno]. [Pyronox]. [Radiance]. [Storm]. [Lava]. [Steam]. [Fireball Maniac - Fire]

    [Inferno] and [Fire] were really close to each other. [Inferno] has mass while [Fire] had better stats. Practically speaking, that meant I could physically push people back with my flames, that they could no longer just charge through them without a care in the world. I figured I’d temporarily cut [Inferno]and [Fireball Maniac - Fire], and if [Fire] ended up winning, I’d debate the merits of the three against each other. Kinda like my earlier reasoning on [Mantle] vs [Mountain].

    With that, [Inferno] was cut. Well, more like side-lined for a later discussion down the line.

    I looked longingly at [Storm], before hardening my heart and cutting it. Everyone telling me that [Storm]mages were almost useless had gotten through to me, even though riding a tornado sounded just as appealing as summoning a thunderstorm. None of those activities were in the book. Little weather manipulations, the scale I needed to impact far beyond what I could manage.

    Couldn’t upgrade the class further if I was dead.

    [Fire]. [Pyronox]. [Radiance]. [Lava]. [Steam].

    [Pyronox] was a bit of an odd duck. Cleansing, removing flames – it was like a high-control version of Fire, with some twists and turns to it. I figure my control was high enough to make straight-up flames work, and [Fire]had better stats.

    [Pyronox] got cut.

    [Fire]. [Radiance]. [Lava]. [Steam].

    I decided to reserve Fire. If anything seemed better than it, I’d take it. Otherwise, Fire was my last choice, so to speak. My backup option. At which point, I’d do my three way comparison.

    I could see why Artemis was still an Earth mage. Nothing must’ve appealed to her enough to take an advanced Earth element, versus sticking with the simple, higher-stated, Earth.

    [Steam]was the first one I looked at. Hot springs. Baths on the road. Never an unclean day again, steam cleaning every night. Hello. I could practically feel [Pretty]leveling up as I read over the class in detail.

    The self-defense portion was fairly weak. Somehow, it was even weaker than [Fire]was in that respect. I’d need to condense steam even harder, heat it even hotter, and then, there was a chance it’d just turn into water as I did it, at which point the mysterious aspects of magic kicked in, and I wouldn’t be able to control it. It would be an amazing element if I opened a bathhouse, but the idea of parboiling someone until the skin sloughed off did not appeal in the slightest. It was a ridiculously ugly way of killing someone.

    Heck, [Acid]had cleaner kills, and that involved people screaming as they melted into a puddle of goo. Killing Kerberos was still fresh in my mind, and [Steam] quite frankly lacked the proper “offensively defensive” aspects, as lovely as it was on the utility side.

    Thinking about it – when I wanted, needed self-defense, I needed it purely on the offensive side. Between [Veil] and [Phases of the Moon], I had a cockroach-like defense. Nothing like a warrior, but I rated myself as “hard to kill” defensively. I needed offensive firepower, to be able to stop people attacking me.

    [Radiance]. [Lava].

    From a utility aspect, they both had small amounts, but nothing spectacular. A detailed read showed that my current Fire utility skills would all upgrade neatly.

    Lava was fairly solid, as elements went. Solid, in the literal sense, where I could throw up a dome of Lava, and attackers would need to get through it. On the offensive side, I was like Artemis, able to throw high-speed, burning rocks at people.

    Although, I’d need to conjure up everything I threw. And Artemis hated conjuring up Earth, due to how expensive it was from the weight. To be fair, she had it on easy mode, constantly walking on endless ammo.

    [Radiance] on the other hand, had almost nothing in the defense department. It was all about blinding, burning, searing light. Light that moved quickly, almost impossible to defend against. Radiance that burned so hot, it’d cauterize any wounds left behind.

    Searing brilliance that, if I needed it to, would quickly, almost painlessly, dispatch a foe.

    It called to me. It fit. My style with my flames had more and more moved towards narrow beams of compressed fire, to better punch through defenses, hit a single spot and damage it. Radiance was the natural extension of this, the entire style dedicated towards thin beams of burning, penetrating light.

    As a bonus, it also was high up, the boost from having Light in Celestial giving it a leg up on the other classes, giving me more stats than [Lava].

    It was what I needed, what I was looking for. Pure offensive firepower.

    I didn’t need the defensive aspects of [Lava], nor did the increased cost of attacks appeal to me.

    I decided to check what the description was, having skimmed over most of them.

    [Ranger-Mage – Radiance]You’ve glowed like the moon. Twinkled like the stars. Shined like the Aurora. Burned liked a fire. Now, Blaze like the sun! +10 Free Stats, +5 Speed, +5 Vitality, +20 Mana, +20 Mana Regen, +20 Magic Power, +20 Magic Control per level.

    “This one please.” I told Librarian.

    She smiled at me.

    “Great! Let’s go check it out.”



    More artwork!

    Our favorite Lightning-Earth mage!




    There are potential spoilers in this post, depending on how religious you are about it. I don't really think there are - what's going to happen next is fairly obvious - but I figured I'd write a nice long thing here to give people a heads up and enough time to exit out if they don't want even a sniff of a spoiler.


    ....

    ....

    ....

    ....


    Right then.

    Elaine's [Pyromancer] class has hit 128, and that means, classing up time! Woohoo!

    Which element do you think she'll be after? Staying with fire, a fire evo, something else? Make your call now!

    Showing 1 - 25 of 191
  • <
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • ...
  • 8
  • >