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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 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!

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