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.
[Free Stats: 8]
[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.
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 – 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.