We spent the rest of the day getting ready, and I was woken up bright and early by Night.
“Dawn. Good morning. We are meeting in a few minutes. Please prepare yourself.” He said.
[Sunrise] continued to be the best skill ever, as I was awake almost instantly. Groggy to bright-eyed and bushy tailed in seconds.
I spotted the packs that Hunting and I had prepared for our trip, visited the latrine, found some more rations, and was sitting at the table with a huge grin as everyone else woke up, in various states of groggy.
Brawling somehow had boundless energy, and he was awake, while Destruction was half-huddled under some blankets, with a mug of something warm in his hands, taking the occasional sip.
I could make everyone else bright and cheery, alert and awake. It was almost more fun not to though, to be the obnoxiously cheerful one in the morning. I’d suffered annoyingly awake people often enough. My turn!
“Good morning.” Night said. “Enough time has passed that I believe a return to normalcy is in order. I have not been made aware of any incidents that would require a Sentinel’s attention. Does anyone have any other business?”
We all shot Night a look that would promise swift death for interrupting our sleep for… a meeting that did nothing. Blowing a hole in the roof of the tent might let enough sunlight in fast enough to disable Night, letting us pile on before he could retreat to the shadows…
Then again, there was something to be said for returning to a somewhat normal state of affairs. The apocalypse was over, time for business as usual. Vacation days were extraordinarily rare in this line of work, generally a few days around the Ranger Convocation. That was only because, with all the Rangers in the capital, we wouldn’t be hearing about any critical problems.
Unless Ranger Command noticed a pattern from everyone’s after-action reports, and sent a Sentinel to deal with the problem.
It still didn’t stop me from trying to plot Night’s demise as the meeting went on. It was significantly more fun than participating, ignoring the fact that [Oath] would never let me act on any of it.
“After action analysis?” Brawling suggested. “While it’s still fresh in our minds?”
“While we’re still all here?” Toxic added.
Night nodded, and Destruction groaned.
“Need more sleep. I did my part to the letter.” He said, stumbling away from the table, and collapsing onto his cot.
I swear, he was asleep before he was even done falling down. He still had a serious sleep deficit from being up for weeks on end.
We all glanced at him, then looked at each other. I shrugged.
“I believe that Destruction performed admirably, and may skip this meeting.” Night tactfully said. Better to grant permission when the outcome was the same anyways. Stopped his authority from being undermined.
“I’ll start, I guess.” Toxic said. “We should’ve had a plan in place for if we killed a Queen, and they counterattacked. We were caught with our tunics down.”
There was some muttering of agreement around the table, and I was nodding my head.
“On some accounts, you are correct, on others, I find myself disagreeing.” Night stated. “We previously had plans to account for such an occurrence, however, after hundreds upon hundreds of years of planning and drills, without a single event occurring, I determined that the time spent planning for such an event, along with constantly needing to re-work said plan in the face of a changing number of Sentinels and their abilities, to no longer justify the small risk of the Formorians changing strategy to an all-out assault. Yes, we were caught unprepared. However, I do not believe preparation for every single contingency is a proper use of the limited resources we have. Indeed, Toxic was not the first attempt at a similar strike. Why, I remember…”
I tuned out Night’s history lesson, and listened with half an ear on the rest of the after-action report. Most of it focused around the decisions around who was brought, and what they’d done.
The stickiest point was if Toxic should’ve been part of the strike team or not. The rest of the Sentinels spent almost an hour discussing it, while my mind wandered as my eyes drifted around the tent, tapping a foot impatiently.
I just wasn’t in the mood to analyze the fight that’d killed a number of us in great detail, especially as I hadn’t been part of it. It was too fresh, too raw a reminder that I’d never see Sealing again. Never hear one of Sky’s quips. Never ride Katastrofi again.
The only contribution I had was when the question of if I should’ve been in the strike team or not was brought up.
“I hate to say it, but no. It was right for me to return to the walls.” I reluctantly said. “From what I’ve heard, I’m not sure I could’ve stopped any of the fatalities, I would’ve slowed you down, and I saved dozens of soldiers here, and got hundreds or thousands more back into fighting shape.”
Endless bloody discussion. I wanted to just get up and leave, walk away, but that’d be rude. I don’t think my vacant look and lack of contributions went unnoticed, but eh. I was trying. I had half an ear out listening, and if I thought I had something, I’d contribute.
I wasn’t pulling a repeat of ignoring my parents at Kerberos’s place. Just… an almost repeat.
After far too much discussion on the topic, we wrapped up, and went our separate ways.
“Hey Hunting!” I called out, as he was double-checking everything. “Do you think we’ve got time for me to class up quickly?”
I hadn’t intended to class up my [Ranger-Mage] class anytime soon, but with the huge boost in stats from [The Dawn Sentinel], along with the achievements for killing the Royal Guards and Queens, I felt like I might just be ready. I had a suspicion that my mage class would overtake my healer class though, which would change my eyes from Celestial to Radiant.
As petty as my desire to keep my eyes Celestial was, as much as I wanted them to stay starry, cold logic dictated that I should probably class up. We were in a relatively safe spot, about to go out and explore unknown lands, and I felt comfortable with my achievements, levels, and stats. I didn’t think I could improve my offerings too much more at this point.
Blah. Classing up now would also mean no reading time, which sucked. Who knew how many decades it would be before I got a chance again?
Hunting looked at me thoughtfully.
“Do you think you can finish classing up in an hour?” He asked.
I thought about it. There was no way I was going to gimp my future prospects by rushing my class-up, not when the class might stick with me for the rest of my life. If I got another chance like the Celestial class up, where I got to build my own class? I was going to take it.
Ignoring that, I was going to carefully and properly look through my options. I wasn’t going to rush it.
“No.” I honestly said. “No way.”
Hunting nodded at me, seemingly satisfied.
“Right, then let’s get moving. Night mentioned that it’s about a two-week trip to the lair. Now, that’s with him only being able to move at night, and fighting through a Formorian horde, so it should be faster with just us.”
“I’m a slow poke.” I pointed out. “I’m not nearly as fast as you or Night. Night, walking through the horde, only at nighttime, is still faster than I am on an open road.”
Hunting looked down at me and frowned.
“We’ll figure something out. Come on, gear up. I want to see the carcasses of the Queens while it’s still light out.”
I gave him a bit of a glare, letting him know that I didn’t need him telling me what to do when it came to preparing to get out there. Still, he wasn’t wrong. It just rankled.
“What are the odds of me getting a halfway clean tunic in my size?” I asked, picking at the filthy fabric.
Hunting eyed me.
“Didn’t you get a spare one in the care package we were sent?”
I hit my forehead with the palm of my hand. Yes. Yes, I did.
I tore into the package, and got a clean tunic. One of my favorites – mom knew me well. I happily changed into it, grimacing slightly as I felt clean cloth pressing against filthy skin.
The worst part was feeling the cloth pressed tight against my skin once again as my armor was snugly fitted over the tunic. It was clean though, which was an improvement from my prior state of being.
I’d totally go toe-to-toe with a Royal Guard for the chance at a hot bath.
It took me significantly more time to get ready than when Brawling had barged into my room, what, a month ago or so? Felt like a lifetime ago.
Mostly because I wasn’t fueled by a liter of raw adrenaline coursing through my body, and also because I was double and triple checking every strap and buckle, jumping a few times experimentally to make sure everything was properly secured.
One last check through my bag and gear, making sure I had everything, and Hunting and I were off!
Armor on, helmets off. Spear and tower shield attached to our massive packs, short swords at our waist.
Technically, the helmets should be on our head. They were off as a concession to both comfort, and visibility. We wanted our full range of vision, since we wanted to see things. We didn’t think we were getting into fights. I wasn’t concerned that some angry mage would try to put a rock through my head.
We walked a long way through the camp, seeing some soldiers drilling, and others packing up their tents and gear. It was clear that large-scale movement operations were about to begin. I trailed slightly behind Hunting, since he looked every inch what people imagined a Sentinel should look like. Apart from his head, which had a fine layer of fuzz as his hair was regrowing from his ‘rip the Royal Guard apart from the inside’ misadventure. Either way, his commanding stride, appearance, and badge prominently pinned on his chest resulted in soldiers getting out of our way with a respectful “Sentinel” and a salute.
If he was 20, 30 years younger he might’ve been interesting.
Still. It was quite a long distance to get to one of the still-operational external gates. We could’ve just gone over the wall directly, but I guess this gave us a bit of time to shake down our stuff, realize we’d forgotten an extra pair of socks of something.
I half-stumbled catching myself. Dammit! I did forget an extra pair of socks! I wasn’t about to suggest we turn around just for socks though.
We found a gate, and paused for a moment, one last final check before we were out and about.
“Hang on, before we get going, can I try a new skill on you?” I asked Hunting.
“Sure, why not?”
I tapped him, putting a [Solar Infusion] on him. There was no obvious indicator, no lit up halo or anything. I was a little disappointed. Sure, that had been an offered perk that I hadn’t taken, what with how each point of starlight being super important. Still. I’d kinda hoped to get a freebie.
“What’s the skill supposed to do?” He asked me.
“Preemptive healing.” I replied. “Heals you like I’m touching you while I’m nearby.”
If looks could kill, Hunting would’ve just murdered me. His eyes, pitch black like the void, bore into me.
Guess whatever he was doing had been enough to get his mage class above his fighter class.
“You didn’t think to mention that this was a regeneration-disabling skill before you put it on a mage!?” He yelled at me. “It’s a damn good thing I’ve got curse breaking skills! This is how you get a teammate killed Dawn! Think! Mages need all the mana they can get, and you know I’m a spellspear!”
I looked down, and mumbled “I did ask for permission.”
Hunting either didn’t hear me, or didn’t care enough as he stalked off, through the gate. I scampered after him, grumbling as he peeled away at his pace, leaving me in the dust.
Blah. I guess I hadn’t fully and properly thought through the reactions of mages to the skill. Like, it was a great boon towards physical classers. They hardly used their mana regeneration in combat. They might, on occasion, use their mana pool.
I had thought about the “stop people regenerating, and potentially be able to be less lethal as a result” aspect.
I just hadn’t quite put the pieces together that Hunting, who was a physical Classer, would get pissed off because I was screwing with his magical side. Yeah, he was right, I hadn’t thought all the implications all the way through.
And worse – I hadn’t even gotten a level out of it!
Blasted physical classers and their blasted speed. Ugh.
I made it through the walls, and there must’ve been some enchantment or inscription on them. The moment I stepped through, the smell hit me, and I looked out upon the field.
The black field, filled with dead Formorian bodies. Around the base of the walls and some distance away the bodies had been cleared up, and soldiers were working in teams to throw Formorian bodies onto huge pyres. Dead bodies continued out, almost as far as I could see.
It was a good thing they were burning all the bodies. I was fairly certain that the army knew that leaving a bunch of bodies around was a recipe for disease, and who knew what nastiness the Formorians could brew up when dead? Still, it was being handled, which meant that I wouldn’t need to throw a wrench in the plans by insisting we cut back early as a plague-prevention measure.
“How…” I asked, trailing off.
“Trampled over the bodies to get to the next row. At a point, they just stopped moving, and stood to fight.”
I eyed the bodies. I looked at the clear sky.
“Welp, I’m going to fly over all this mess.” I said, barely keeping the glee out of my voice.
“Won’t you run out of mana in like, an hour?” Hunting asked me.
I gave him a mad grin.
“Not anymore! I can fly forever!” I told him, as cheerfully as humanly possible. “I restore almost 64 mana a second, and even with all this gear and equipment on, it costs me about 23 mana a second. I can fly forever!” I joyfully repeated, stepping up into the air.
“As long as you’re outside, in the sun, with no clouds, or a Classer who can interfere.” Hunting said, ticking points off his fingers. “Come on, let’s get a move on.”
Hunting took off, and I immediately struggled to keep up. Didn’t matter that he had to wade through bodies. In spite of his bulk and equipment, his dexterity was on full display as he gracefully bounded from body to body.
To contrast, I wasn’t much faster with [Talaria] than I was normally. Sure, I could step up high like I was walking up stairs, then dive down and try to redirect some of that speed, but it barely counted.
However, I was struck with inspiration.
“Hunting! Hey, Hunting!” I called down.
Hunting looked up, and I mentally thanked the Quartermaster for modifying my standard leather skirt into a skort.
“What?” He asked.
I tossed down a rope, holding onto the other end.
“Pull me along!” I called out, trying and failing to restrain the glee I was feeling. This was going to be so much fun!
I tied the rope off around my waist, as Hunting grabbed the other end.
He looked down at the rope, back up at me, shrugged, and started to walk, slowly accelerating into a run.
I clamped my mouth shut, as I was buffeted around like a kite on a windy day.
This was so much fun!!!
I had to find ways to convince Hunting to do this with me more often.