Our celebration of everyone’s lives had gone on for hours, and the sky was already starting to lighten as we all went to sleep. I hit my pillow and was out like a light.
A soft hand on my shoulder, and I bolted upright, ready to fight, to blast, to protect myself and – oh, it was just Night.
“Huh? Night? Whazzup?” I asked him, adrenaline fleeing and the siren song of sleep soothing me back down. My eyelids were so heavy, I was ready to go right back to sleep.
A pounding headache was letting me know that I’d gotten maybe 15 minutes of sleep tops, and the tent getting slightly lighter as the sun threatened to break over the horizon let me know that, yes, almost no time had passed. I was totally ready for more sleep.
“Dawn. I apologize for disturbing your rest. However, I wish to speak with you, alone.” Night said.
Welp, up and at ‘em. [Sunrise] was a miracle skill, and I was happy to see a notification for it leveling up.
[*Ding!* [Sunrise] leveled up! 2 -> 3]
My eyes flew open as energy bounded through me, although my headache was a persistent reminder that I was running on practically no sleep.
Note to self: Spam the heck out of the skill to try and get it leveled up faster. With my power and regeneration shooting up, I should be able to level it quickly.
Assuming the amount of power I shot through the skill impacted the leveling speed, and there weren’t more arcane aspects to leveling up that I was unaware of. Danger I knew about, stress I knew about, properly using skills was a yup.
Right, well, I’d try to remember to use [Sunrise], although it was a risky move. If I spent all my time thinking about using my skill, I wouldn’t be paying attention to other things.
Like the private conversation my technically-not boss and 5,000 plus year old vampire and I was going to have.
I shook my head as I got up, and followed Night out of the tent.
I fell in naturally by his side as we walked through the cold and dark camp, passing by the occasional party that refused to die, in spite of most of the participants being stone-cold out.
I was reminded of our many walks together, our discussions. If I had my way, if I managed to do everything right, we’d have a bunch of centuries like this. Kinda intimidating to think about. At the same time, Night clearly knew how to stay alive. It was probably safe to get somewhat emotionally attached, since he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“Dawn.” Night said, and paused.
“Yes?” I asked, thanking my lucky stars (ha! I probably had a few of those, given that my element was Celestial) that [Sunrise] had woken me up, stopping me from slurring my words in spite of the massive sleep deficit I was running.
Classing up wasn’t really sleep, and I’d been running myself ragged for awhile, before the party and the mourning.
“First off, I would like to say, excellent work. You are a credit to all of us, to all Sentinels, and to humanity as a whole.”
My heart swelled three sizes at his praise. Praise I didn’t know I wanted, but nonetheless struck deep inside, resonated with me. Put a great big silly grin on my face. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how hard I tried to school my expression, it was stuck on.
“Thank you.” I managed to say, with only a bit of warbling.
I loved the processing time built into Night’s discussions. Let me organize my thoughts.
“Before I forget, I wanted to let you know I got offered [Ranger-Healer] when I was classing up. Given the history of the Rangers, I think it’s a first. Wanted to let you know about it.”
Night gave me a long look, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Excellent work Dawn. From our prior conversation, I recall you did not take said class?” He half-asked, half-stated. I had told him about the special class after all.
I shook my head. I figured I’d eventually tell him, given the long history I expected us to have together. Why not tell him now?
“I got [The Dawn Sentinel].” I told him. I wanted to explode and tell him all about [The Stars Never Fade], but I didn’t even have the skill yet. It’d feel a bit like bragging.
I also kinda wanted to feel out Night’s reaction to it ahead of time. He’d been a paragon of reason and virtue the entire time I’d known him, if a bit long-winded. However, as a human I’d level up significantly faster than he would, and would eventually overtake him, in relatively short order. Well, as far as the timeline he worked on was concerned. And that I would soon be working with. Either way, I’m pretty sure his reaction would be favorable, but eh. I was in no rush to tell people about a skill I’d get many years in the future.
“An excellent choice. There have been a few Sentinels over the years who have had the choice to perform their level 256 class-up, and out of those, the ones who have taken the class corresponding to their titles have all done well. I believe a part of that is since Sentinel encompasses a great many things, you acquire strong experience for a wide variety of activities, which should help you level at a rapid rate.”
We paused for a moment, to keep walking as I digested that.
I wasn’t too surprised that I wasn’t the first Sentinel to perform their 256 class-up. Heck, thinking about it, my level had never been called out when I was being promoted. I assumed it was because they didn’t want to bring attention to my low level, but perhaps it was just that it wasn’t anything special. “The 11th lowest-level Ranger to be promoted” didn’t quite have the same ring to it. For all I know, in the earliest days of the Rangers and Sentinels, they just took who they could until a solid system was sorted out.
Which in some ways made me being the first woman Sentinel all the worse, but I wasn’t about to explore that tangent.
“I would like to speak about the main subject at this time. While this may be a touch premature, I believe once everything has been arranged and analyzed, most of us will be heading home.” Night said.
‘Most of us’, and ‘private conversation’ translated into ‘you’re not coming with us.’ At least, that’s how I saw it.
“What do you plan for me to do?” I asked bluntly, still on the high of Night’s compliment.
Night hummed to himself, a single held note.
“It is complicated. Let me attempt to give you the compressed version of what I believe will be happening next, along with skipping over a thousand tiny details. Like the inevitable coup that at least three generals are planning. Oh, sure, it will occur after the cleansing of the Formorians inside of human lands, but as the Generals finish mopping up the remnants, their armies will only grow more loyal, their fame spread, and themselves closer to the capital.”
“Wait, but –“ I started to say, only for Night to whirl and slash his hand in front of me in a violent motion, cutting me off.
“Permit me to finish.” Night said, a note of displeasure in his voice. “We have much to cover, and your namesake arrives. No, we will not be participating. We are Sentinels. We are neutral. This is no mere rebellion, no slave uprising. The government is scratching and turning itself over. It happens. Remus will survive. No, a side issue, a minor note in all of this, is you would be all-too-tempted to join the fray, not to fight, but to heal. Inevitably it would be noted that a Sentinel was participating, assisting some general or another, then ugly politics would rear its head and drag us in, kicking and screaming. Either we are seen to be fermenting and participating in the rebellion, assisting one general over the rest, or it is civil war among the Sentinels, which detracts from our primary purpose and mission. Either way, we lose.”
Night fiercely breathed in and out, and I realized this was no picnic for him either.
“We are taking the long view, staying neutral, and our mission of protecting humanity will continue uninterrupted. Now. As I said. This is a minor side-note. The Formorian Queens are all dead – so we believe. The endless waves of Formorians have ceased.”
A pause, a note of victory and triumph.
“Now, Hunting has just lost his sworn companion, the other half of his soul, the reason for his being. I have seen it before. It is devastating him, tearing him apart. I do not wish to lose another Sentinel, not when we have three seats to fill already. Especially not when two of those seats are critical seats, and Hunting’s seat is also critical.”
I half-opened my mouth to object to Night writing Magic off like that, but closed it. Magic was likely dead. It was no treachery to assume that was the case and operate like he was gone. It was just cold pragmatism. Made me wish we had properly mourned Magic like everyone else though.
The “critical seats” thing I hadn’t even heard of, but with Night’s habit of letting us think and process, I was able to examine the idea. Kinda made sense, from his point of view. We always needed a Sentinel that could get us moved around quickly, that could let us deploy to any place in the Republic within two days. Without that, we’d lose a huge amount of our effectiveness.
I couldn’t tell if Night considered Sealing’s or Magic’s seat to be critical – I could see arguments either way – but I could see Hunting being critical.
I had no illusions that I was critical. Maybe if I demonstrated my usefulness over the decades and centuries, my seat would morph into a critical one, but that’d be kinda moot, since any plan that involved “Replacing Elaine” usually also involve “Because she died.”
I could eventually retire though. A thought for another day.
This immortal stuff was ridiculously trippy. It was almost as bad as when I got promoted to Sentinel, and all my plans got thrown out the window. Was it too much to ask for that a 5-year-plan get properly executed for once!?
… I said, being 19.
“It is my experience that the best thing possible is for Hunting to be given a mission, a quest, a job to take his mind off his grief, and keep him focused on other things. It is no guarantee, and I could be incorrect, however, simply allowing him to wallow is a poor move. Especially as he is prone to retreating to his estate, which has marks of Katastrofi all over it. I believe it will simply fuel his despair.”
I could see where this was going. I gave a customary pause, as short as possible, before replying.
“Let me guess. You want to send him into Formorian lands to check that everything’s properly dead, but mostly to keep him busy.”
Night nodded at me once it was clear that was all I had to say.
“Correct. Now, for the tricky part, the part that I do not wish to state in front of the rest of the Sentinels, and the reason for our private discussion.”
I was all ears. I didn’t even need [Sunrise] to get me all perked up and listening.
Actually, for that matter, I should probably use a [Sunrise] just to keep myself going. Grinding experience and all that.
[*Ding!* [Sunrise] leveled up! 3 -> 4]
Hurray! More levels! I should do it some –
I should listen to bloody Night and not get distracted!
Sleep deprivation was one way to make sure my mind was on permanent wander mode.
“I wish for you to accompany Hunting on his mission. Nominally, it is to provide him support and back up, along with allowing you to flex and practice your new abilities somewhat away from prying eyes. Prevent Toxic’s poisons from getting to him. I truly have this concern, as the concentration should be significantly higher the deeper into the Formorian lands the two of you travel. Additionally, it is to give Hunting some relief, and allow him to take breaks and have support.”
He was right – the excuse was fairly weak, and I’d normally object to it. I wasn’t just a support minion. I was the one with support minions.
“In reality, I wish for you to watch over him. Provide him support, yes. Support of the type he’d get from Katastrofi, in a sense. Prevent him from mentally reaching out for her, only to find a gap, an emptiness. It should help distract him. Lastly, I do not wish for him to commit suicide, and I believe your presence nearby will help. You are calming. Soothing. You blunt rough edges. You are often happiness and light, and I believe you will prevent Hunting’s mind from straying towards darker territory. However. If I state this in public, in front of the others – especially Hunting – most of the purpose of sending you is lost. Thus, our conversation now.”
We reached some mysterious point as the sun’s rays were starting to creep down the wall, walking at a brisk clip back to our tent.