[Sentinel-Adept] had it easiest. [Talaria] would keep the same name, but lose all restrictions. I didn’t need sandals or sunlight anymore, and I’d be able to fly on a whim. I could stand, make tight turns that I couldn’t before, and more. A straight up, simple evolution. I’d be faster and more nimble.
[Radiant Immolator] also evolved [Talaria]. It kept the restrictions, but in exchange, I got a point-defense system in place. While flying, the new and improved Skill would shoot down projectiles fired at me, at a significantly discounted mana price. Instead of 100 mana, I’d use 60 mana on an equivalently powerful attack, and the discount would grow as the skill got stronger. Heck, a few chapters had me flying a hair off the ground at all times, always having my defenses on. Between that, and [Bullet Time] plus [Mantle], I ended up fairly hard to hit… from small things.
It didn’t do anything about someone dropping a mountain on my head, and if it tried to zap something big and metal, I just ended up with superheated metal in my body. That was before someone cut my legs off flying. Sure, I could regrow them - but I wouldn’t have sandals on my feet anymore, which would lead to a long drop.
As my power and control grew, so would the strength and precision of my point defenses. It tied neatly together like that.
[The Rising Dawn] had angel wings! Glowing, bright wings of soft light. I had to imagine that my interactions with the angel had rewarded me with them. They were restricted to daylight - and they promised to punch a hole through whatever clothes I was wearing - but it came with a significant speed boost. Which was totally in-line with the “Show up dramatically at the right moment to save the day” theme that the class had going on.
[Butterfly Mystic] had technically restricted flight, but practically unrestricted flight. It was only a bit faster than [Talaria] was - a strong jogging speed, instead of a brisk walk. I’d get, surprise surprise, butterfly wings, which was the restriction. If there wasn’t room to move them, I wouldn’t be able to fly. Which was interesting - [The Rising Dawn] didn’t mention a similar restriction. The “learning” part showed up again. The more I looked at butterflies, birds, and at other flying magic, the better my flight would be. Not just from a “The skill improves” way, but just sheer learning about different flight methods would let me use them.
Hang on - it used my jogging speed for the baseline rate. Which meant it tied to my speed, so as my speed improved, my speed would improve. Heh. Classes distributing stats as they needed strikes again!
I’d improve by finding different types of butterflies as well. Birds would also work, but butterflies were best. Some flew at incredible heights, so high up that I suspected going that high would trigger the wrath of whatever Sky had tried to warn me about once upon a time. Others were fast, and I could improve the speed of the skill.
Lots of small improvements was the name of the game. It arguably started off worse than the other flying skills, but could get better.
Shame I was freaking underground right now! Birds and butterflies weren’t famous for making lairs deep inside mountains.
Either way - the flight skill’s differentiation wasn’t going to get me what I wanted or needed. I couldn’t find a way to cut a class, or have one stand out from the rest.
I was undeterred. I was going to keep working at it. I was going to find an answer.
I started analyzing the rest of the skills, and how everything was put together, but it was an exercise in frustration.
All of the classes had skills that supported what they were, and how they wanted to evolve. All of the classes were good.
I was pacing in front of the fire as I finished the last skill analysis, the last comparison. I threw myself into the chair, letting myself sink into it.
“I need help.” I told Librarian. “I’m struggling to decide here.”
“Yeah, it’s tough.” She agreed. “Let’s look at it from another direction.”
“I’m game. Anything.” I said.
“First off, with everything we’ve seen - are any of them wrong?” She asked. “Will we regret being [Sentinel-Adept] instead of [The Rising Dawn]?”
“No.” I said, starting to see where she was getting at.
“Worst-case, we can flip a coin three times, then compare it against Acolyte.” She said. “Let fate decide what we want, and we’ll be ok with it.”
I slowly nodded.
“Better to make a choice, than no choice.” I said. She shook her head.
“No, listen. None of them are bad. We’ll be happy with any of the four. They are all us, they’re all some aspect of who we are.” She said. “You are a Butterfly Mystic. You are The Rising Dawn. You are a Sentinel-Adept. Lastly, you are a Radiant Immolator. That’s all you. The question is - which one do you want to be?”
I blinked, processing. That was an excellent point.
I was all of those. The question was, which aspect did I want to focus on? Did I want to focus on grand heroics? Learning magic? Blowing things up? Or just, the “plain and simple” Sentinel?
[Sentinel-Adept] got cut as I was mulling it over. I’d even initially hinted at it when I saw the class. I wanted to be more than just “another Sentinel.” I wanted to be more than just a one-dimensional being.
By similar reasoning, I cut [Radiant Immolator]. I had no problems blasting monsters to pieces, nor did I hesitate to fight other people.
I didn’t like doing it though. I didn’t want to have to kill monsters and fight people. It was out of necessity, not love. Demand, not desire.
The other classes would also help me stay alive.
That left two classes, before I needed to compare it against [Acolyte of Asura]. [The Rising Dawn] versus [Butterfly Mystic].
I boiled it down, and down, and down some more, and found that, fundamentally, it became a simple question.
Did I see myself as - or did I want to be - Supergirl? Or was I the quiet person tucked away in the corner of a library, reading books and learning more about the world?
On one hand, I loved the idea of heroics. I loved being the center of attention, of swooping in and saving the day. Sure, I didn’t like the escort I had - but something fluttered in my heart when I was seen and recognized as Sentinel Dawn, the heroine, the savior. I enjoyed walking into an infirmary, and healing every single soul in there. I even liked the look on the adventurer’s faces, after I single-handedly killed nearly every single pirate on the ship. I undeniably liked the attention and accolades from being heroic.
On the other hand, I was currently curled up in a fluffy chair in a library with a book. My soul hadn’t changed, there was no lying about who or what I was.
… At the same time, calling it a “Sit in the library and read” class was horribly wrong. It was a “Get out of the library and learn stuff hands-on” class. It was a “Slice people open to discover how they tick” class. It was a “Go poke unicorns 10x your level and ask them for tips” class.
It was a “Join a team of Rangers and have them train you” class.
I’d learned more in a month of being with the Rangers than I’d learned in years in Aquiliea. I’d gotten more out of a single talk with Night than a whole book.
Between “fantastic heroics” and “poking people to learn things”, which one did I like more?
It was tough.
“Got any ideas?” I asked Librarian.
“[Pristine Memories] and [Passionate Learning] both support and help [Butterfly Mystic].” She said. “It’s not a lot, all things considered, but…” She trailed off, shrugging, knowing that I’d get the rest of the message.
She was right, it wasn’t much. It was just a single feather on the scales.
A single feather, from a newly hatched chick’s downy fuzz, but when the scales were well-calibrated and perfectly even, it was enough to tip them a hair.
“So it’s [Butterfly Mystic] then.” I said, a bit surprised. I wouldn’t have guessed it would come out on top.
I took [Acolyte of Asura] out, ready for the last round. Was [Butterfly Mystic] better than it? Which class did I want more? Fancy spellcasting? Or more standard fare?
Did I think I could pull off what was needed to make [Acolyte of Asura] work? Could I learn how to make cool magic spells like Asura did?
Librarian coughed softly.
“Yes?” I asked her, somehow not annoyed that she’d interrupted my musings.
“Well… [Butterfly Mystic] lets you pick up new magics as you see them, right?” She asked, when we both knew the answer.
“Right… oh. OH!” I said, the pieces clicking together. “If I ever meet someone who can teach me how to cast like this, I can get the fundamental skill from them!!” I said, jumping out of my chair.
“Hang on. [Acolyte of Asura] needed a bunch of skills to work. There’s not one fundamental skill.”
“Let’s talk about this.” Librarian said. “I’ll advocate against the class, you advocate for it. Let’s see what arguments we can hammer out, and what conclusions we come to.
“[Acolyte of Asura] is an advanced class, with a huge amount of power behind it. It has twice the stats of [Butterfly Mystic]. It’s like comparing your [The Dawn Sentinel] to your [Light of Hope] class. Yeah, one’s got much better skills, and can do a lot more. However, your interest in casting like this is fledgeling. New. What if you hate it? What if you can’t use it well in a fight? Is it worth changing everything we do for it?” She asked. “However, with [Butterfly Mystic] we get to dip our toes into it gently if we find a teacher. We’d need a teacher anyways. Sure, it’s not half as good, but it gives us options to improve and evolve, depending on what we find.”
“Sure, but the sheer power of the class suggests I’m going to almost double my stats.” I pointed out. “There’s something to be said for becoming almost twice as strong.”
I thought about it more.
“In addition, if I can figure this out, I’ll be another frontrunner. Another ‘human first’.”
“You assume.” Librarian said. “Plus, then your focus is going to be split in half. You’re already stretched thin, teaching Autumn, teaching Rangers, teaching at Artemis’s school, healing people. Now you’re going to add a whole new field of study, one that you don’t even know if you’ll learn?”
“I’m going to be immortal. What’s a few extra projects running around? Plus, then I’ll have ways of leveling up both classes, instead of [Ranger-Mage] stalling out every time I’m in town.”
“But we’re not comparing against [Ranger-Mage]. We’re comparing against [Butterfly Mystic]. Which also levels peacefully.”
“It requires new experiences, which won’t be found in a town that we’ve lived in for centuries!”
“I think a direct comparison is bad.” I said, not liking being on the losing end of the argument. “[Acolyte of Asura] is the better class. I think the better question is - what’s my risk tolerance? How much of a gamble am I willing to make?” I said.
“I think the better question is, how many decades is it going to be until we find a way to use the class well? And assume we make it back home - how is crippling your class for the foreseeable future going to go over with Night and the rest of the Sentinels?” Librarian analyzed, starting to pace in front of me.
I pursed my lips at that. Shit. I’d been so focused on the short term and the long term that I completely forgot the medium term.
“On one hand, not great.” I admitted. My missions had rarely been ‘just heal things.’ “On the other? I’d have a ton of stats to throw at any problem. Which would also strengthen [The Dawn Sentinel]. Bit of a wash.”
Librarian shrugged. “End of the day, it’s risk tolerance. Do you want to gamble?”
I did like gambling - a bit. In moderation. When I could tilt the table a bit towards me. Like when I gambled with the other Sentinels, and played them to make me win a hand. When I bet I could drink people under the table, knowing that I could cure myself of alcohol.
Then - I walked away from the table. I took the small win I knew I could get, and I walked away when the outcome was uncertain. I’d utterly missed my “sure” gamble with the dwarves and their ale, and been punished for it. Not even my “sure-thing” gambles always paid off.
I gambled - on small things. I gambled - for fun, with small amounts of pocket change. Well, large for other people, but I was relatively wealthy.
I didn’t take all my money to a high stakes game. I didn’t bet everything I had.
I didn’t take large gambles. Not since I ran away from home, and even that felt more like it was “do or die”, rather than a risk.
An unnecessary risk, since I had a powerful, perfectly viable option right in front of me.
“Right. [Butterfly Mystic] it is!” I said, picking up the book.
Ha! Back to the bug theme. I’d started off as [Firebug], and it seemed that I couldn’t quite escape it.
Now that the choice was made, I briefly let myself indulge in secondary aspects, enjoying the class. I liked the name. I thought it was super pretty. Plus, who would believe me?
“Yes, my ‘firing lasers all over the place’ class? [Butterfly Mystic].”
I spent a few more minutes cooing over my choice, reading through the book again.
I hesitated. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave. Librarian gently took my hand, and gently pulled on it.
“Elaine. You’ve made your choice. It’s time.” She said, leading me down the stairs.
“But I don’t want to leave you!” I cried out. “I don’t know how long it’ll be before I see you again.”
Librarian smiled sadly at me.
“I know. But remember - I’ll always be here, inside you.” She said, touching my heart with a single elegant finger. “I am you, and you are me. I’m not gone - just more apart of you, so close you can only hear me whisper.”
We made it to the checkout desk, and I gave her a great big crushing hug, her Sentinel armor somehow not hurting or getting in the way. Soulspace rules. I tried to linger, to stay, to be with her some more. To be with her, with me.
“I don’t want to go.” I cried into Librarian’s arms. “I don’t want to leave you. To not see you for decades, if not longer.”
Librarian entertained me, and we spent an immortal moment together. A moment that was but an instant, an entire lifetime, and would need to last me decades or centuries.
But all things must come to an end, and with great reluctance, fingers trailing slowly behind as I tried to elongate this one last moment, I eventually had to let go. All good things must come to an end, and with my skills, this would not be the end.
“See you soon.” I whispered.
I woke up to a flood of notifications.