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? Who’d even listen to me, when push came to shove, when there was a roaring dinosaur charging at us?
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 do social 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.
The other Sentinels came up to me, offering their congratulations, calling me Dawn for the first time.
I rolled the word over my tongue.
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.
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.”
“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 somehow 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.”
“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 fascinating story 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.”
“Hell if I know. I only found out today. No idea what’s going to qualify as ‘call in Dawn’ or not.”
“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?”
“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.” I got a slightly disapproving, mostly proud, look from her.
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?
Man, why didn’t I get prepped? So unfair. Would avoid a heart attack and a half.
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.
“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 7th Gong 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.