I gently lowered Priest Demos’s body to the ground, stepping back. Bulwark moved in, and I tugged on Arthur’s arm, to better give him some privacy.
It was weird. I’d never gotten the hang of sea legs, but my earthquake legs seemed to be fine.
Arthur was also deep in thought, and I wasn’t going to disturb him. The Formorians had stopped attacking for now, but I suspected it wouldn’t be too long before they were back at it.
I shut up, and said nothing, letting the two of them have their moment of peace. Heck, I had some thinking to do myself.
Demos letting me hold his hand did just as much as he’d guessed it would. I wasn’t struggling or self-doubting my actions or choices, which immediately gave me a measure of peace.
However, there was now the certain knowledge that there was no fighting White Dove. If she wanted someone, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it, at least as my skills were now. It was likely my skills would never be good enough.
At the same time, as the stories went, White Dove only took those who were willing, and Priest Demos had gotten more than a little bit of divine attention just now. I had brushed up against the gods once again, and the sheer scale, the sheer difference in power, made me want to run screaming the other way.
I was so glad I had never taken one of Papilion’s classes.
A loud noise came from where Bulwark was, and Arthur and I turned and looked. A large stone statue of Priest Demos emerged from the ground, larger than life, standing protectively over a tomb made of stone. We let Bulwark take his time, carefully having the stone imprinted with fancy patterns, putting up a plaque describing Demos and his life’s work. Putting down basic defenses and complex inscriptions, so the Formorians wouldn’t bother the tomb.
As impatient as I was, as much as I wanted to get moving, I left Bulwark alone. Instead, I idly punched Arthur’s leg. Left. Right. Left. Right. Dude was unfairly tall. He just glanced down and basically shrugged.
Thinking about it, he probably had more stats at this point than anyone else on the old team. His massive evolution at 256, combined with all the levels here? Yikes. Heck, he might be rivaling some of the other Sentinels in stats, given that he seemed to see a nice big level spike as well.
I was getting kinda excited to class up myself, and I was going to do so the moment I could. I’d been checking on my stats and level ups now and then as we fought, but now I took a high level summary look at everything I’d gotten up until now.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! [Ranger-Mage] has leveled up to level 215->256! +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!* [Warmth of the Sun] leveled up! 215 -> 217]
Oh wow. If [Warmth of the Sun] was leveling up, I was in for it. In a good way.
[*Ding!* [Medicine] leveled up! 240 -> 251]
[*Ding!* [Veil of the Aurora] leveled up! 245 -> 256]
All my Ranger-Mage skills, except for [Shine], maxed out as well.
[*Ding!* [Shine] leveled up! 104 -> 111]
I mentally cursed. I should’ve kept [Shine] going semi-permanently at night. I probably would’ve maxed it as well.
At the same time – I was spending most nights recharging my [Nova] gems. I didn’t exactly have mana to luxuriously waste.
[*Ding!* Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the Class skill [Sun Spike]! Would you like to replace a skill with [Sun Spike]? Y/N]
Sun Spike: You are the inviolate sun, high above all other beings. With this skill, you strike down all small things that dare approach you. Increased number of projectiles that can be shot down, increased power of attacks, increased range per level.
I thought about the skill. Basically, it seemed to be a point-defense system. A reward for diving through the Shooter’s spikes from high up, a skill that would let me do it again.
At the same time, it seemed like a skill that just mimicked stuff I could already do with a combination of other skills. Plus, and this was super petty, I didn’t like the phrasing of the skill.
I denied the skill.
[*Ding!* [Bullet Time] leveled up! 230 -> 256]
[*Ding!* [Oath of Elaine to Lyra] leveled up! 235 -> 252]
[*Ding!* [Sentinel’s Superiority] leveled up! 240 -> 256]
[*Ding!* [Persistent Casting] leveled up! 111 -> 182]
[Sun-Kissed] maxing out was sweet though! I’d been struggling to raise that skill’s level for some time now, and getting it capped here and now was great!
I glanced at my stats. On one hand, I didn’t want to punt and screw up my stat allocation. On the other, this was it. My last evolution for my Celestial class that I’d ever get. I’d hate myself if I missed a good evolution because I was short a few stat points. At the same time, we were still in the middle of a war zone, and I didn’t exactly have time to chat with Night, Julius, Artemis, and the rest of the Sentinels to optimize my build.
Then again, I kinda knew the score at this point. I knew what to expect, I knew my build.
[Free Stats: 451]
[Mana Regeneration: 6903 (+4417.92)]
[Magic Power: 5839 (+68608.25)]
[Magic Control: 5839 (+68608.25)]
Right. My Dexterity-Speed ratio was starting to get a hair worrying, but I was still within tolerance. I was also pretty close to 1000, and that seemed to be a nice, round number. 50 points there!
I did some quick math. I had 401 points left. I’d need, baseline, 161 points in both Power and Control to get them up to 6000, and that was before the Power-Control trade-off hit. That wouldn’t leave me enough points to boost my mana regeneration over 7000.
Now, I could do both Power and Control, a nod towards the evolution that was coming. However, my stats were frankly absurd with [Oath] boosting them. What did Power and Control do to help? I mean, apart from the all-too-obvious ‘it helped with my [Ranger-Mage] class.’
However, looking at my stats more – Mana to 7000 and Mana Regen to 7000 was just a hair under 400 points total. Given the current situation, that seemed to be the best use of my stats.
And with that, I had a measly 8 Free Stats left. I tossed a bone to my Dexterity, getting it to 200. I kept the remaining 2 Free Stats.
Alright! I was ready to class up, as soon as I wasn’t in the middle of a hostile army.
Bulwark seemed to have wrapped things up as well, and said his final goodbyes.
“Let’s get moving.” He said, and Arthur and I pretended to not notice him wiping his face.
“That way.” Arthur pointed, and we were off.
Arthur wasn’t nearly as good as Brawling was at hacking through the Formorians, but them being disorganized and somewhat confused was working well in our favor. I was quite liberal with my blasting, although we were getting bogged down. Sucked that he was still using my spear and shield, although it wasn’t like I was going to get much mileage out of using them myself.
“Toxic! Just pick me up and run or something!” I called out in frustration as the Formorian body Toxic effortlessly hopped over was nearly as tall as I was, requiring a lot more time and effort for me to get over it, slowing us all down.
Bulwark was quite a bit taller, but no giant, nor was he a physical classer either. He was able to throw bodies out of the way though, and effortlessly jump over others.
Toxic kneeled down, and I climbed up onto him, piggyback style.
I suppressed the urge to make horse noises, say something like “Onwards my noble steed!”, or hit his sides, like a horse.
My traitorous tongue made a few clip-clop noises though, as Toxic charged ahead, much faster now that I wasn’t slowing us down. I helped by shooting Formorians from over his shoulder.
I mixed in a few Radiance shots from my eyes, just for variety’s sake. Mobile Radiance eye-turret! Pew! Pew pew!
This was a lot more fun when it was just “getting from A to B” and not “Defend this narrow gap, the fate of all humanity rests on it.” I mean, sure, if we died here it would be Bad, and I’d feel pretty sorry for myself. But hey. A spoonful of sugar made blasting Formorians that much more fun.
Gods, I’d love a spoonful of sugar right now.
It helped that the Formorians were acting weird. Almost like they were confused or something. They didn’t have their usual mechanical precision, the relentless unending waves of flesh and mandibles. They were still deadly, still attacking, but not working in tandem as flawlessly as before.
We ran, jumped, blasted, and generally made our way to the once perfect, gleaming walls, now with a hole blasted through them.
The earthquake had done quite a number on the walls to boot, large swaths of the walls broken and crumbled, a rift breaking another segment. Honestly, it looked like there had been centuries of wear and decay on the walls. If you told me that a month ago they were whole and complete, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I twisted and looked at Bulwark, who had a sour, “I totally have my work cut out for me” look on his face.
“Good luck!” I cheerfully gloated to him.
“Your work is even harder, and more time-sensitive.” He shot back. “The more goofing off you do now, the more people die. Go on now, chop chop.”
The smile vanished off my face faster than a snowflake in hell. I bit my lip and turned away, stopping myself from retorting, from getting deeper into the pissing match, and thought about it.
Bulwark was, technically, correct in what he said. The longer we took, the more people would die.
He’d also just seen someone pretty close to him die, and this wasn’t exactly a low-stress situation. I’d been a bit carefree, and it might’ve grated on him a bit.
Ugh. Social Niceties. At the same time, spending a moment and thinking about it probably avoided us getting into a stupid spat over nothing.
Arthur wisely shut up and said absolutely nothing.
Good oversized horsey.
We moved towards one of the holes in the wall, and I started conserving my mana, trying to get full up before I needed to start healing.
“Skip the entryway. I’ll make us an entrance.” Bulwark said. “All the Formorians are funneling into one spot, and if there are members of the army still around and alive, we don’t want to make it any harder on them, not after we already dropped two walls on them.”
I winced. I hadn’t quite put one and one together, but yeah. There had been a bunch of soldiers holding the line between the walls when we traveled in, and said walls had just gotten an earthquake delivered, in geographical terms, directly on top of them.
We continued to fight our way to the walls, and made it, somewhat relieved that we weren’t fighting off Formorians from every direction.
“Move away from the breach!” Bulwark yelled. “It’s more likely that we’ll encounter soldiers, and not Formorians, on the other side if we’re further away!”
Made sense. We peeled away from the entry hole, and found a nice stretch of unbroken wall.
“Over, or through?” Bulwark mused. Nodding to himself, he seemed to come to a decision. “Over it is. Toxic! Look alive!” He said, putting his hand on the wall. Little bits on the wall twisted out, giving a small series of expert-level handholds too far apart for me to try them. Toxic grabbed on to the lowest handholds, I made sure I had a tight grip on my steed, and we went up the wall like a shot, Bulwark following closely behind.
Toxic and I got to the top of the wall, and laid flat on it, to better avoid the Shooter’s line of fire.
I tried to twist my neck around to better see behind us, to better cover Toxic’s back from Shooters, but honestly, he moved so darn fast there was no point. Bulwark followed; a hair slower. He dropped down next to us; a few spikes stopped by tiny stone plates. I raised an eyebrow.
Anyone else I’d say it was a skill, [Pinpoint Stone Defenses] or something like that. On a Sentinel? Raw reflexes and ability was my bet.
“Ahoy! Are there Legionnaires of Remus below?” Bulwark called out. No idea why he wasn’t just poking his head over the side.
There were noises from below – human noises.
“Yes! Who are you? How did you get here?” A tired-sounding voice came from below.
“Sentinel Bulwark, Toxic, and Dawn. Dropping in.” Bulwark said, rolling off the edge of the wall.
I got off of Arthur’s back, and mentally cursed Bulwark seven different ways. Yes, I could probably make the drop. It would cost me mana, and we wanted to – needed to – look good, especially here. Especially if we were going to project the image of the invincible Sentinels, here to save the day.
This is what it all led up to. This is where keeping our image good came into play, where it mattered. There was a massive tonal shift between “Sentinel Dawn slowly and awkwardly scrambled down the wall – the rookie.” And “Sentinel Dawn dropped in like an avenging goddess – all hail.”
At the same time, if Bulwark had used some damn mana to make some damn stairs or footholds, I could’ve gone down elegantly, mana-less. Sure, he’d be spending it, not me, but as he pointed out – my mana and use was critical here.
I wrapped myself in [Shine], just going all-in on the imagery, and I jumped off the wall. Toxic landed right before I did, next to Bulwark who already had his badge up in the air, proving his authority.
Bulwark was barking orders already, and I remembered our time in Massalix somewhat fondly. He also needed to organize stuff, but his method and reasonings were different. He didn’t need everyone to cooperate, just the people he found, and he was good enough at that. His method was to get a bunch of strong dudes together, have them pick up rocks, put them roughly where the wall should be, and he did the rest.
I took a moment to acquaint myself with my surroundings, to see how the soldiers had set themselves up and arranged the fight.
We were in the midst of a half-trampled camp, basically. Most of the neatly arranged tents were mushed off to one side or the other, making the center lane through the camp much wider than usual. Broken spears and torn canvas were thrown off to the side, obvious indications of ‘this is broken but we’re so hard up on supplies and can’t physically throw anything away so we’re keeping it just in case we need it.’ Little contained fires flickered here and there, while some bright beacons of light came from a few tents, obviously the rare soldier with [Light] or some variety of the skill.
Off to one side there were clear sounds of battle, of the soldiers fighting with Formorians and holding the line in the middle of the camp. Losing some ground here meant lost tents and sleeping space, although I was willing to bet large amounts of money that significant amounts of room had been cleared behind them. Which was probably part of the “thrown wherever” debris that was littering the normally clean and well-organized camp.
Toxic whispered to me out of the corner of his mouth.
“Dammit. I’m going to have to be the great big amazing Sentinel holding the line in the middle forever aren’t I.”
I patted him on the arm, talking out of the side of my mouth again.
“Probs. Going to find a soldier and the infirmary.” I said. “I’ll try to swing by now and then to give you a break.”
I looked around for a likely candidate. Too shell-shocked, too leadership-like, too high level to get pulled away to show me things. Ahha! Perfect. A nervous, young-looking soldier. Back when I was regularly on the front lines, I would’ve mentally pegged him as the type to always manage to avoid being in the fight. And hey! Now I could give him a legit excuse to be away from the fighting, and everyone won.
“Soldier!” I said, pointing to him and striding forward, as Toxic hustled over to the fighting and Bulwark vanished with a team instantly assembled. “Show me to the infirmary!”
To my surprise, he balked, and hesitated.
“Um, I dunno about that, I’m supposed to-“
I didn’t care.
“I am Sentinel Dawn. Your orders are to show me to the infirmary. Now.”
“I outrank everyone here except Sentinel Toxic and Sentinel Bulwark, who are my equals. Now move!” I yelled. “Unless there’s no infirmary?” I asked with what I hoped was my best ‘dangerous’ voice.
The soldier, bless his cowardly little heart, snapped into a salute at my berating. Clearly something got through to him.
“Sir! No sir! I mean yes, sir! Er, ma’am? Ah, yes, there’s an infirmary, it’s right this way.” He said, pointing.
“Lead the way.” I said, then corrected him as he started to climb over a pile blocking a side lane. “Through the main path.”
I’d picked an idiot to escort me.
With the multiple false starts out of the way, we started to move through the center lane, my badge held up high backed by my [Shine] being great for parting the sea of soldiers. A Sentinel, in the camp, clearly in a hurry? Clear the path!
This is what all of the politeness and careful navigation and generally not being a jerk came to. When one of us needed to move, when one of us needed things to happen right now, we could – and did – start barking orders, overriding anyone and everyone, and commandeer whatever we needed. The understanding was that we wouldn’t abuse it – and Night came down hard on anyone who did – which gave us a pristine, immaculate reputation.
So, when I came in, and started barking orders, I didn’t get grief. I didn’t get people thinking “oh, it’s just another Sentinel throwing their weight around.” I didn’t get too much sass, or backtalk, or double-guessing. I got what I wanted, when I wanted, which was right now.
It helped that it was the army, who we outranked. It helped that they were used to taking orders. In theory, it would be just this easy to command civilians, and order them to help us.
Interestingly, it was just as hard to order civilians around as it was to order soldiers around. You’d think civilians would be harder to order around, not just as hard. Civilians weren’t always used to being ordered around, so they had a moment of surprise before agreeing to whatever we were asking.
The “I have the combat capabilities to murder you and take what I want and people will be mad at you for slowing a Sentinel in an emergency down” aspect helped grease cooperation quite a bit.
Soldiers had a moment of blinking like before, usually because they were trained on a normal chain of command, and orders coming from someone outside their chain of command was unusual, to say the least.
Either way – I got what I wanted. I was tempted, oh so tempted, to blast out [Moonlight] as we ran through the camp, but I refrained. The problem with doing that was the first blast was great. Then anyone I was healing I healed at the absolute maximum range of [Moonlight], which meant taking the maximum penalty. It made small injuries murder my mana, and I’d just lose all my mana for almost no tangible benefit once I got in range of the infirmary. Better to leave [Moonlight] off until I made it to the infirmary, assess the situation, and go from there.