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.
“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.
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 Kallisto!” 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 7th gong 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.
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 not up to at all.