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Four dwarves filed into the room, without Tilruk. Shame. I liked him, and hoped he’d stick around.

Briga pointed to each in turn, and repeated their names, making introductions. I had so many new things today, and life was so strange, that they all sadly went in one ear, and out the other.

Ok, sure, I could probably recall the names with [Pristine Memories], but nicknames were just easier.

Instead, I mentally labeled them “Braids, Beads, Woven, and Messy”, depending on what their beard was. Braids had long braids on the side of his beard, Beads had a bunch of beads in her beard, Woven had a complicated, intricate pattern in her beard, and Messy required no description for his beard.

Not that one would be easy to give.

I tuned back in after Briga went over the names.

“Everyone, this is Healer Elaine the 94th. She’s had an interesting journey to get here.”

There were mutterings of greetings around the table, and four almost-identical offers to share bread and salt.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’d already shared bread and salt!

I had a feeling I was going to be thoroughly sick of bread and salt by the time I was done here.

Maybe that’s why they venerated healers so much. Nobody could tolerate the constant “tradition”, and nobody signed up to be one.

“She’s a… actually, what are you?” Briga asked me, seemingly realizing she’d never asked.

“Human. I’m a human.” I said.

“Human.” Briga said, savoring the word. “We’re dwarves.” She said, giving me the standard name for the species in the Pallos common tongue.

“How do we even speak the same language?” Braids asked.

We all turned and looked at him.

I blinked.

That was an excellent question.

“We’re speaking our traditional language.” Beads muttered into her beard. “How did you get our traditional language?” She asked me, peering at me suspiciously.

“I have no idea.” I replied, thinking about it.

We spent a few moments pondering quietly about it, before I snapped my fingers.

“Night!” I exclaimed.

I got puzzled looks around the table.

“Sorry. Night. My boss. He was around during creation. Told me language got dumped in his head. He’s been around, for, well, forever, as I said. You mentioned you’re speaking your traditional language, so, maybe not too much linguistic drift. Night, and the other vampires, have probably stopped our language from drifting too far.”

That… was a hell of a feat thinking about it. It’d been almost 5000 years since creation. Neither language had drifted at all? We could still understand each other, when it only took a few hundred years for languages to change to an unrecognizable state?

I suppose massively increased lifespans probably threw any number of wrenches into linguistic drift, and it’d take thousands more years for languages to properly diverge.

Or they never would. What did I know, I was no linguist.

“Your boss?” Messy asked, while everyone was looking at me like I’d grown an extra head. “What do you do?”

That seemed to snap them out of whatever funk they were in. Briga smacked him upside the head.

“You know someone of the first generation?” She asked me, with a reverent tone.

“Um. I guess? No idea how your generations work though.” I answered, more than a bit confused.

“How could they have someone from the first generation though?” Woven asked, a frown being magnified on her beard. “Entirely possible that this Elaine has gotten it wrong. The time involved…”

She shook her head.

“Close to impossible.”

Briga shot Woven a look.

“Proper respect is due to our guest that has accepted our hospitality.” She rebuked Woven.

There was some more bickering over Night, before Briga raised her hand.

“Enough. Healer Elaine. You said he was your boss? What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m a Sentinel. Sentinel Dawn.” I said, putting a smile on my face and pointing to my badge.

“What does a Sentinel do?” Briga asked. “Is it an organization of healers?”

I laughed. I wish we had some of those!

“No, military.” I said, getting a bunch of hostile looks in return.

Mmmmm.

I kinda deserved that didn’t I?

“How does that work?” Briga asked me.

That kicked off a long, long conversation between the six of us. I dimly recognized that I was being pumped for information, just like I was trying to get some information out of them.

If it was a game, I would’ve totally lost. By a huge margin.

They were fascinated by the account of the end of the Formorian war, although they were entirely disinterested in the gods and the angels, practically waving them all away. Not terribly religious. They venerated their ancestors, and placed great stock on what generation someone was in.

I couldn’t quite keep a lid on Destruction being able to create massive earthquakes, although I probably played it up a bit. Oooh humans! Super scary!

I was honestly trying to not start a war. I have no idea if what I was doing would backfire or not.

… why did we think this was a good idea again?

At the same time, nothing I told them was exactly secret. Most everything was standard knowledge, like the fact that Remus has a Senate, and that Rangers existed in teams of eight.

Things like average level, class quality, how many Sentinels there were and what our jobs were?

I kept a lid on all that. I wasn’t going to tell a clearly military force the details of our top-end.

I was bad at diplomacy; I wasn’t terminally stupid.

We talked for hours, and I got to know some of how they were structured.

Their country was called Nolgrod, and there was a second country of dwarves called Khazad. That bit of information they were a little reluctant to part with, but it mainly seemed like some sort of bad blood, or rivalry, between the two. Not out of any concern for the information.

“What do they do?” I asked, trying to channel Brawling a bit. ‘Innocent, naïve questions.’

“They rip up the earth.” Messy said with a frown. I was getting good at reading beards! “They grab and they take stone and metal, which will never be restored, and build their own monstrosities with them.”

“Plus, they’re all wrong on the generations.” Beads grumbled. “They’re on the 41st right now, which is all wrong. Not at all what our ancestors wanted. This is the 94th generation!”

Translation: When the guard dwarf had asked if I was from the metal clan, that was a derogatory way to ask if I was a dwarf from Khazad. Also, those were the dwarves that used metal, while the Nolgrods used wood.

Which started an hour-long propaganda speech on the superiority of wood versus metal, with all of the dwarves happily patting themselves on the back about how they were sooooo much better.

Which got more than a few dirty looks thrown at my equipment, which naturally got my hackles up.

“Like take Healer Elaine’s vambraces.” Beads said, gesturing to me. “Sure, the metal’s plenty hard, but the moment it gets a scratch, she’d need to return to a metal crafter just to get them fixed! Every time! Living wood’s much better, it’ll just repair itself.”

I was beyond cranky. The shots weren’t deliberately at me, but, well, they hurt, and I’d just spent a bunch of time in Hunting's unhappy company.

“Sure, but can vambraces made out of living wood do this?” I asked them, taking it off, and flipping it around. Showing them the dozens of gemstones interwoven into the armor, that normally pressed against me.

I smirked as they all looked avariciously at my gemstones.

Wood is superior my ass. I smugly thought to myself. Maybe they were just ragging on the Khazad because they were jealous of all the gems they probably got from mining?

Then again, they had many hundreds of valid points as to why making everything out of wood was good. I wanted to know more – a lot more – and hey, I might be getting a third class one day. I should start doing some light thinking about it. Maybe there was something to be said for wood, carpentry, and making things out of wood? A hobby, combined with making my own armor that could adapt to me and repair itself?

Magic was so damn cool. I still held onto that girlish excitement. There was so much I could do with it! Unlimited potential, endless possibilities! An open third class that I could properly plan for, while having maturity, and experienced advisors, was the most exciting thing ever!

I’d been a frog in a well when I’d picked my first second class – [Student] – and I’d been fairly haphazard with leveling and classing it up. Thankfully it merged into my first class, but then I’d grabbed a [Firebug] without having knowledge or experience to back it up.

Now I could see a third class coming down the line, and-

Wait.

I wanted to hit my face, I felt so dumb.

Dead Zone. Eats experience.

I totally needed to do healing and leveling stuff OUTSIDE of Remus! I’d level so much faster!

And I got more experience by doing new things…

I wonder if the dwarves needed a strong, free healer?

I should be paying more attention to what they’re saying about my vambraces. Damnit! Totally the wrong time to have an epiphany.

“Are those all your gemstones?” Beads was asking, a note of disbelief and longing in her voice.

Yesss. Everyone liked shiny stuff, and a quick mental review had that what I’d missed was mostly the dwarves asking rapid-fire questions. The only other thing I’d missed was every dwarf protesting that, yes, gems could fit into wood just fine. I could totally gracefully re-enter the conversation here, and it wouldn’t look like I’d missed anything.

Bless [Pristine Memories]. While it didn’t help me focus, it mitigated the heck out of getting distracted.

“Nope! Got more… all over really.” I said, realizing that I might’ve said just a hair too much. I didn’t want to give away all of my armor and gear’s tricks. It’d be possible to extrapolate that the rest of the Sentinels were geared in a similar way, and I’d already established that Sentinels were THE elite fighting force of Remus, the absolute best of the best. I didn’t think I wanted to give them a good look into what our top-end could do.

Heck, mentioning that Night was a vampire was probably going too far to boot. I was a little surprised that they hadn’t asked about the word. Were there more vampires around? I’d need to let Night know. They knew we had some floating around, and he couldn’t do mysterious strikes, hit and runs with total confusion.

I wanted to stop examining everything through the lens of a war. It was painful, and saddening to think about. Trade, and the exchange of ideas is what I wanted. Peace and harmony.

Still. I was being looked at differently. Like I’d shown them I was a walking arsenal.

Which, to be fair, I was. I puffed up slightly at the realization.

I hadn’t quite put it together, but I had almost single-handedly taken out a level 750 Royal Guard. I wouldn’t deny that Sealing had helped, not only trapping, but probably weakening the Royal Guard, in a 1v1 combat that was his prime – but I’d done the damage in the end.

I was fully charged up, and had used almost none of my other gems. Only [Feather fall] was out of commission, and given how rare it was for me to fall out of the sky, I didn’t have more than the one. Usually because I could see clouds coming, break my own fall with [Mantle of the Stars], and I ended up back at Ranger HQ often enough to recharge the gem if I did end up using it.

Gems were expensive, and [Feather Fall] barely pulled its weight in the first place. The price to reward ratio on additional [Feather Fall] gems simply wasn’t there.

Of course, I’d just jinxed it, and I expected to see myself getting blown out of the sky any day now.

Focus.

Holy shit my focus was bad today. Too much time around people and being diplomatic had destroyed my ability to properly focus. I was an introvert, dammit, and I needed recharge time.

The topic veered off into some more light chit-chat, as nature decided she wanted to give me a ring. I’d been going for hours non-stop after all.

“Excuse me.” I asked politely. “Could someone point me to the restroom?”

The dwarves glanced at each other.

“Commander Briga Glof the 90th.” Woven said, formally. “I request permission to have leave, and get back to my work. I can show Healer Elaine the 94th where the bathrooms are.”

Briga thought about it for a quick moment.

“Granted.”

Woven got up from the table, beckoning me to follow, which I happily did, leaving my backpack behind.

Everything important was on me, after all.

A twist and a turn, and Woven pointed down one last hallway.

“End of the hallway, turn left, they’re right there. Impossible to miss.” She said, and I thanked her, heading down the wooden hallway, turning left.

Impossible to miss, yes.

Impossible to figure out as well.

Two heavily stylized trees were on two doors, each one clearly a restroom. It probably made perfect sense to the native inhabitants which one was the men’s room and which one was the women’s room. Naturally one of the trees was obviously male, and the other obviously female.

Pretty sure trees had a sex. Nature would know for sure.

Heck, Nature probably could easily guess.

Just how had I ended up here!?

There was no way I was going back to the meeting room and asking for help with the bathroom. No way on Pallos was I going to embarrass myself like that.

Well. 50-50 chance, and I picked one at random to enter.

Thankfully, it was a single-person bathroom.

Less thankfully, it was confusing as hell.

There were two holes in the wall, and one hole on the floor. A chain from above, a slider, a button, and a lever met my eyes.

What.

The.

Fuck.


45 minutes later, I opened the door a crack. Seeing nobody around, I quickly darted out, and closed the door, briskly walking away from the scene of the crime.

They’d probably be able to figure out it was me, but I wasn’t going to stick around for someone to point a finger at me. Time and distance and all that.

The building was laid out in a logical, military manner, which made navigating the paneled hallways easy. I went back to the meeting room directly, kinda surprised that they just let me wander around without an escort. Either they were incredibly lax, or hospitality was taken incredibly seriously here. Perhaps, because I had accepted their hospitality, it was assumed I wouldn’t do anything bad to them?

I needed to know more.

I made it back to the room. Tilruk had come back, and everyone else had left. My “short break” had been anything but. I couldn’t really expect everyone to hang around for me, although they’d probably gotten a strong chance to talk about me or something.

Why did they even have a lever for that?!

“Healer Elaine the 94th.” Tilruk said. “Commander Briga Glof the 90th would like to see you in her office.”

More wooden navigation. I was spending so much time around wood I was starting to see subtly different shades in the color of the wood that made up the building. It probably meant something.

We made it back to her office without incident, where Tilruk knocked on the door.

“Healer Elaine the 94th to see you.” He announced me.

Briga looked up from her desk, as my eyes ended up locked on her bookshelf. I know I should probably be looking at her, but books! At long last!

I had to figure out a way to get a few.

“Healer Elaine the 94th.” Briga politely greeted me, standing up from her desk. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise!” I said.

“We had a discussion about you, and would like to propose a plan, if it suits you.” She said.

“Sure, what’s the plan?” I asked.

“You coming, and the existence of, ah,” Briga quickly flipped through her notes on her desk. “Remus, is a much larger event than I’m prepared to handle.”

I nodded. Made sense. If I didn’t have the Sentinel title, it would be entirely outside of my ability to handle.

Ok, fine, it was totally outside my ability to handle. My Sentinel title only gave me some legitimacy. I could, somewhat, a little, speak for the government.

The Senate would throw a hissy fit if they knew, but Sentinels had a lot of leeway. We could get yelled at, pay docked, but, end of the day, if Night thought we’d acted somewhat rationally, we were protected.

What were they going to do, lose one of the guardians of the Republic? Not have the right people when the next disaster hit, one so large that a Ranger team couldn’t handle? Especially after we’d just lost a number of Sentinels?

Nah. “Don’t start a major war” was the bar I needed to clear, and it wouldn’t be too hard if I shut up, stayed polite, and figured out how the bloody heck those bathrooms worked.

“We’d like to send you to the capital with a strong escort, so you can talk with someone much more important than I am.” Briga said.

I thought about it a moment. It seemed like a totally reasonable request, and while it might be awkward getting back, having talked with someone important seemed like a win.

Although, maybe I should stay? Wait until a [Diplomat] or someone showed up? Then again, what [Diplomat]s were there, anyways? It wasn’t like Remus regularly engaged in foreign relations.

I suppose inter-city conflicts counted. Or guild conflicts. Or…

Ok, fine, there were probably a bunch.

Still, the pros outweighed the cons. Like, be polite, be nice, go along with what they wanted for the most part. They want me to break bread, dip it in salt, and eat it? Sure! They want me to use a confusing bathroom? Why not! They want me to travel to the capital to meet bigwigs? I see no reason not to!

I think? I wasn’t the right person for this at all. Less likely to start a war by agreeing to just about any reasonable request though. “Give me all your stuff//tell me all of Night’s skills//Give us your all-access Sentinel badge” – hells to the no, and I’d fight them if they insisted.

But “Go meet a bigwig” seemed totally fine.

I wished I had some way of contacting Hunting, or whatever other person showed up, and letting them know what was going on. Thinking about it, it was unlikely that they’d send Hunting, not with the way the dwarves had tried to react with extreme violence towards him, just for being what he was.

“I should probably leave a letter, explaining where I’ve gone if anyone else shows up looking for me.” I said.

“How will they know it’s from you?” Briga asked me.

I shrugged.

“Don’t you have a [Scribe] who can make authentic signatures or something? They know what my signature looks like.”

I’d shoved enough Medical Manuscripts in the Sentinel’s faces, and I’d authenticated more things besides. It wouldn’t be too hard to prove it was me.

Some quick arrangements later, and I was writing a letter, awkwardly standing in Briga’s office as I did so.

To whom it may concern,

There is a 10,000 coin reward for getting this letter to a Sentinel.

I, Sentinel Dawn, am journeying deeper into the dwarven land. They’d like me to meet with some of their leadership, just as an initial meeting of sorts. I don’t see any reason not to. I’ve been well-treated so far, and believe a friendship is in the future.

From what I’ve found out so far, the dwarves are strong traditionalists. Following along with what they want to ‘traditionally’ do makes them happy.

We live in something called the ‘dead zone’, which ‘eats’ experience. We’ve all been getting dramatically reduced experience our entire life. I’ve been leveling up like I was level 80 ever since I got here. Worth exploring the edges of the dead zone, and getting out.

With us being in the dead zone, the dwarves have no desire to expand towards us, or be in conflict with us. However, their defensive position is powerful enough that, according to them, the Formorians gave up entirely on attacking them.

With that being said, the guards on the wall here have the level of an experienced Ranger, although I suspect they don’t have the same quality or richness of experience that a Ranger would have. Being in the dead zone means that we take significantly longer to level, which means we have more achievements by the time we class up, which gets us better classes, which has a positive accumulation effect that the dwarves lack.

They are masters of wood, able to carve and shape it however they please. I strongly recommend attempting to form polite relations with them, and trade with them. They’re fascinated by the gems I have, and given their complex relationship with mining, I suspect gems, like moonstones, would sell extraordinarily well here. By the same token, they’ve found a way to cultivate and grow all sorts of magical woods, which we don’t have in Remus.

I’ll be doing my best to get back after meeting with some of their leaders back in the capital. Leaving this letter to let you know that I’m ok.

Let my family know that I’m OK.

Cheers!

Sentinel Dawn

Elaine

“Moonstone” was my way of saying “Yes, everything is totally ok.” “Sunstone” was my “Problem” word, AKA I was being forced to write the letter.

Including neither would just cause confusion. On someone like Hunting, we’d assume the letter was being dictated to him.

With me, Night would probably just assume I’d forgotten.

We each used the gems corresponding to our elements. It’d be totally natural for me to mention that I’d blown through half the [Nova]’s in my Sunstones, for example. Which would let them know not all was kosher.

Which didn’t matter, because everything was kosher.

“All set?” Briga asked me as I signed with a flourish, the [Scribe]’s skills giving my name the distinct signature.

I opened my mouth to say “Sure!”, then closed it, and eyed Briga’s bookcase.

“No chance I could get a few books for the road, is there?” I asked with an impish grin.

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A note from Selkie

Have you ever been traveling to a new place, gone to the bathroom, and just been like ???????? HOW DOES THIS WORK!?

I have. It's always baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. 

 

Elaine continues to be bad at diplomacy, and her current metric is "let's not start a war and I'll call it a win."


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