The fallout from me calling in the Rangers was messy, like a tornado hitting a warehouse stuffed with fish. After I debriefed Bossman, filling him in on all the details, and confirming that I wasn’t needed for anything else, I skipped out on the rest.
I was alright at this sort of work, but it needed to be Bossman running the show. He knew his team better than I did, and he had the needed experience to make it all work. In theory, I could jump in to help, but it’d cause all sorts of problems if I acted as a minion to Bossman, and taking over the leadership role of the investigation wouldn’t be efficient. It’d just be Bossman reporting what they’d found to me, making his own recommendation for what to do next, and me agreeing with it. Not exactly a great use of everyone’s time.
Like, yes, I was trained on how to run investigations. Most of my knowledge was theoretical. Running a large-scale investigation like this? Better left to the field officers who had experience with it.
Plus, I was still conscious that I was Sentinel. Breathing down over everyone’s shoulder was going to make them nervous, and nervous people make mistakes.
I only stayed long enough for the Rangers to find my bag of stuff, tucked away in one of the guard’s own bags. Damning evidence.
Wolfy entered the room where I was staying with my bag, bursting into laughter as the door closed.
“Elaine! Elaine! Gods, you should’ve seen the look on his face!”
“With what?” Wolfy’s good mood was infectious, and I felt myself grinning.
“The guard who took your stuff!” He plonked my bag onto the table I was sitting at.
“Yeah, so, of course he tried to claim it was his.”
“Naturally, I wouldn’t expect anything else.”
“And he knew what was in it.”
“Makes sense. Gotta check what he’s looting after all.”
“Yeah, but then we asked him what the seeds were, and what he was planning with them.”
“The look on his face!” Wolfy tried to mime a surprised face, but burst into laughter again halfway through.
I cracked a grin at him.
“I kinda wish I’d been there.”
Wolfy waved a hand at me.
“No, no, it’s fine. Can’t imagine what would’ve happened if it wasn’t you.”
I paused a moment, debating, then decided to go for it.
“I mean. You can.” I softly half-whispered to him. Wolfy looked uncomfortable.
“Well, gotta get back to it.” He exited the room.
With a half-sigh I grabbed my bag, and headed out.
“Sentinel! Can I bend your ear for a moment regarding the investigation?” An official-looking guard, with a pair of guards himself, called out to me. I suppressed a groan. The captain of the guard. I didn’t want to talk with him - or any guards - right now. Especially not about the investigation. I could just see the captain wanting something, and even a talk could go badly.How? I wasn’t sure. Someone with better political know-how could say exactly.
“Pardon, busy. Please talk with Bossman about the investigation.” I said, nimbly dodging out of the way and finding my way out.
Normally, I’d be lost as heck in town. I still had no idea where most things were. Fortunately, the Rangers were in the habit of setting up their wagon near the guardhouse. I hadn’t seen it - or the Ranger on duty - on the way in, since we’d entered from a different entrance, but getting back to the wagon was easy.
I upped my coin supply, threw away the mango pits - I was in no mood to be chucking them around - and got back to rehumanizing myself after my wilderness adventures.
First order of business was a bath. Again. The heat hadn’t been an issue, all the sweating I’d done was. I didn’t go for a long, luxuriating bath this time - especially after having been made aware that eggy was causing problems for other people in the bath.
Then it was off to find a hairdresser. A few quick questions, and I was pointed the right way.
“Hi! Heard you do hair?” I asked the man in the small store with a comb and a belladonna leaf. The man was busy fussing over a well-to-do lady.
“Yes, but it’ll be some time.” He said without even glancing towards me.
Fair enough. I wasn’t going to kick someone out of their session. I was in no rush, and there was something nice about the sheer mundanity of waiting in line.
I’m not sure when I’d last waited in line for something. The experience was refreshing, a sure sign that I was back in civilization, and unlikely to get stabbed in the back, or have a dinosaur burst out of the bushes, looking for lunch. Practically a novelty.
I’d spent half the day waiting for the guards, but this was different. Eventually, before my patience ran out, the dude was done with the lady, who swept out.
“Can I help you?” He asked. I gave him a look and pointed to my hair.
“Hair?” I asked.
He eyed the small patch of fuzz I had. He hesitated.
I drew myself up to my full stature - admittedly not much, I was still shorter than the dude sitting down - crossed my arms, and gave him my best death glare.
“But what?” I asked.
His mouth opened and closed a few times, before his eyes widened.
Yeah. That’s right. Read my level and weep. Full 511. Unless he’d bumped into one of the other Sentinels recently - and honestly, Ocean was the one most likely to get called out here, and given the guard’s ignorance on the Sentinel badge, I doubted it - I was the highest level human he’d ever seen. Almost by a factor of two.
“But nothing. That’ll be…”
His mouth moved a few times, trying to calculate what he should do with his normal price - up or down, up or down.
“How’s 15 coins sound?” It was more than fair for a few minutes of work. It was a full day’s wages and then some for most.
“Deal.” He instantly agreed. “Hair! How long?”
I thought about it for a brief moment.
“Lower back please! Do you sell combs, brushes, or other stuff?”
He cracked a grin, smelling money.
“Oh of course! Now, let me see here.”
With a few dramatic flourishes - entirely unnecessary to work magic, but I was in a slightly higher-end shop, and the show was part of the experience - I had hair again.
And not the short hair I used when I was out on a mission or adventuring! It was impractically long, easy to grab in a fight, and difficult to maintain.
I loved it. Civilization! Peace! Prosperity! People to supply me with mangos!
The dude’s eyes flickered in the characteristic way of “I just got some levels, hurray!” For whatever reason, he didn’t share the good news with me, although I suspected there’d be some celebrating at home later.
I cried a little as I hugged the dude.
“Thank you. Thank you.” I didn’t have more to say, and he patted me on the back.
My gratitude wanted me to shower him with money, but I had to remind myself that it was the Ranger’s money, not mine, and they’d need it down the line. I spent a modest amount of money on supplies.
Into the bag it went!
“Can I know what dress that is?” He asked, looking at my outfit.
“Mistweave! Can’t be damaged, watch.” I tried to rip one of the sleeves, the material turning insubstantial and moving right through.
“Wow.” His look of envy was making things awkward, and I made some polite noises and left.
Tunic and sandals were easy enough, and I splurged just a tiny bit. Green trims on my tunic, like I’d gotten as a kid. A welcome to the System, a welcome to home once again. I changed into the clothing, no longer sticking out like a sore thumb.
Except for my level. I got some strange looks. After the eighth weird look, I readjusted my level to 128.
Totally anonymous! Healer Elaine was back in action!
Then it was time to get my game face on again. I changed into my new tunic - men’s tunic, the women’s cut was too difficult to move around in - put on my Sentinel badge, my serious face, and made my way over to the courier’s guild.
This time, I skipped the line, heading right to the front.
“Excuse me, urgent Ranger business.” I barged past a merchant, talking with one of the receptionists. His noise of outrage quickly became strangled as he saw my badge.
At least someone here had some common sense.
I pointed to my badge.
“Sentinel Dawn. Urgent dispatch to Ariminum, and the Rangers. Need the runner who’ll get there the fastest.”
The young man at the counter took one look at my badge, how brazenly I’d muscled in, and swallowed nervously.
“One moment Ranger - err - Sentinel.” He excused himself, heading to the back. He returned a moment later with a middle-aged man, sharp and lean.
“Guildmaster Eudoxia. Come on back?” He asked, and we made our way to a private room.
“Sentinel. What can we do for you?”
“I’ve got an urgent letter for the capital. I need a blank scroll, writing utensils, and your best courier.”
He gave a deep sigh.
“Courier Zephyr is the fastest one here, but he’s half-retired. However, for a Sentinel? I think I can get him to make the run.”
I inclined my head in thanks.
“To be clear. I’m not looking for the fastest. I’m looking for the one who’ll get there the soonest.”
“Right, right. That’s still Zephyr. I shouldn’t be surprised that a Sentinel knows the proper way how things work. Too many merchants and citizens with leaves stuffed in their head just think ‘fastest is what’s needed’.”
He tapped the side of his nose knowingly.
“And, since you’re in the field, I’ll even charge the Rangers on the other end for the letter.”
I gave a weak chuckle at that.
“You just know they’ll pay more.”
A few sharp whistles and a quick conversation later, and I had a high quality, blank scroll and some charcoal.
I did not miss Remus’s poor writing implements.
I spent some time flagging the outside of the letter as “high priority”, not quite finding myself able to justify “highest priority”.
To Sentinel Night, or any other Sentinel, or Ranger Command;
Please open in the presence of three or more Sentinels, Commanders, and/or members of Ranger Team 0.
Sentinel Dawn here. I’m alive, well, and in Port Salona.
There is a species of bodyjackers called “shimagu”. They operate by invading a host body, and taking over. The host is physically unable to move, but can still use skills. Shimagu seem focused on suppressing said skills.
I discovered a city of them a distance away from Port Salona. It was along the coast, roughly a full day of non-stop flying for me. I am unsure what distance that translates to. There were a number of humans in the city, with a fraction of them having been captured from Remus by the shimagu.
I took care of the city with some friends of mine.
However, the shimagu are a threat. It’s difficult to prove if a person’s been taken over. One method is to apply a healer to the problem. Shimagu are vulnerable to being ‘healed to death’, as most skills recognize them as a parasite and handle them accordingly. Shimagu are unable to use the host’s own skills, and asking someone to display their obvious skills that are known can also confirm an individual is free of shimagu influence.
I’ve been poking around Port Salona, and have found no shimagu here as of right now. We live in something called the Dead Zone - more on that when I report home - and the shimagu might simply find it too unpleasant to live here.
Please let my family know I’m alive.
The local Ranger team has run into a minor spot of trouble. I’m going to give them a hand for a few days, then I will be returning.
I ended the letter by putting my Sentinel badge over the bottom, then flash-burning an imprint of it with my Radiance. A tricky move to not set the parchment on fire, but I managed it.
I had to be economical with my words - I wanted it all in one scroll, to let Zephyr move faster. I did think the shimagu threat was significant enough to alert Night and the rest about it now.
I wanted to send more letters, but no. I’d hopefully get there as quickly as possible, and I was, frankly, a bit of a loner. Night and the rest would tell my family, who’d know to tell everyone else I knew that I was alright. The list was depressingly short.
I’d be home soon enough.
If things went really well, I might actually beat the courier home, which was a weird thought. The letter hedged my bets.
Some helpers had gotten supplies in the room, and a moderately high level - 280 or so - courier showed up, a breeze constantly at his back.
Which was irritating to try to write with, when the wind decided to blow around indoors.
“Courier Zephyr. This is urgent. Straight to Ranger Headquarters, they’ve got a mail room there.” I sealed up the letter, and handed it to the man.
With a Gale blast, he blew out of the room, leaving a bunch of moisture in his wake.
“Oh for crying out loud.” The guildmaster complained. “He can’t wait to get out of the building before showing off and making a mess.”
The water condensed and slowly fell, making a mess of the floor. I raised an eyebrow.
“Mist runner? I’ve never heard of that.”
“No, Steam. Slowly builds up over time, and lets him go faster and faster, while also providing endurance.”
“And his Gale gives him a flat speed, and a tailwind?” I guessed.
“Among other things.”
I stood up and shook the guildmaster’s hand.
“Thank you for your time.” I said.
“Sure. Am I going to need to evacuate the city?”
I gave a nervous laugh. Eudoxia paled.
“That was supposed to be a joke.”
“He. Yeah. Ummmmmmmmmmm. Bye!”
I didn’t exactly have reassuring words. Dude sounded like he’d been around a few times. He should know that a Sentinel sending a high priority message was generally bad news.
I made my way back to the Ranger wagon as the sun set, timing it well. Dinner was served just as I arrived.
Yessss. I still had the skill [Show Up When Dinner is Ready and Not a Second Before].
“Sentinel. Nice outfit! That hair’s going to be totally impractical.”
“You know what else is impractical? Your face.”
The Rangers greeted me as I sat down for dinner with them, but I waved them off. They started talking about the corruption case over the meal, and I shut up, and stayed out of it. I was all too aware that a word from me would have an oversized impact on the case, and how they handled it.
Heck, I already had an oversized impact. I’d bet coins - and nobody would take me up on it - that they’d spend extra-effort on this case, because I’d been the ‘victim’. Too much time would be spent investigating it, because technically I was their boss, and they wanted to look good to their boss.
At the same time, if I told them to chill, they’d chill too hard.
There was some magic alchemy of words that would get them to tackle the case properly, that would get them to yo-yo to exactly the right place I wanted them to be.
I didn’t know what those words were. I did know that silence was wrong, but speaking up was probably more wrong.
Silence it was.
At the end, we broke and cleaned up.
“Ranger Team 11!” Bossman called out at the end. The team stiffened to attention.
Evening exercise? On a full stomach?
“At ease.” They all relaxed.
Just a stand-up drill?
“Got one complaint today worth investigating.” Bossman cleared the center of the wagon, and gave a short nod to Artillery Mage C.
“Local farmer had the brilliant idea of training and raising caster monsters. Specifically, cows.”
“Why?! That’s just asking for trouble!” Newbie Ranger looked particularly aghast at the idea.
“To, and I quote, ‘deel wif da varmits’.”
That was one heck of an accent, in a place that rarely had them. Just how long had that family been farming, with minimal contact?
“Anyways. As anyone could guess, it went wrong, and one of his herd’s gone rogue. He’s tried to put the cow down a few times now, but the cow’s blasted him for his troubles. He might’ve said something about the cow becoming canny to his tricks? At least, I think that’s what he said. That, or the cow’s fanny to his dicks, and while we all know the jokes, I hope that’s not what’s going on.”
An amused chuckle went around the circle.
“If it was the second one, he wouldn’t be asking us for help.” I deadpanned, completely derailing the conversation for a minute.
Bossman let the merriment continue for a moment, then snapped the Rangers to order.
“Cow’s got Lightning as its element, and is fortunately a single-element caster. Ideas?”
“Long-range rock hit.” Artillery Mage C instantly answered.
“It’s always a long-range rock hit with you!” Newbie Ranger complained.
“The tactic is effective.” Greybeard gently rebuked. “I wouldn’t discount having an excellent trick up your sleeve. The legions train Earth mages by the dozen for that very reason. However. It is worth considering other plans of action, to practice problem solving. Especially given the relatively benign nature of the threat.”
Everyone waited in silence for Greybeard to finish, and even after he was done we kept watching him, waiting for the font of knowledge to dispense information to us.
Heck. He’d probably forgotten more than I knew about being a Ranger, and I’d bet he was ‘in’ on all the secrets. Probably even more than I was.
“Let us try to come up with a half-dozen methods of dealing with this Lightning cow, mmm?” Greybeard proposed. “One for each of us.”
Artillery Mage C had already gone. Bossman suggested bows. Newbie Ranger wanted to make a deadfall. Newbie Mage wanted to use his magic to make something that sounded like a minefield. Wolfy thought that Moonmoon could scare the cow, and drive it into the jungle, then let the jungle take care of it.
That sounded weak, even to me.
For each plan, the team discussed the pros and the cons of each, teasing out what conditions would make one plan better or worse than another. It was a different way of doing things than Julius had done, but I had to admit - it looked effective, not only for hammering out the current issue, but getting practice dealing with other issues in the future.
My serious game-time planning of monster hunting experience was shockingly low. This meeting might’ve seriously doubled it, if every plan was considered a new experience.
“Sentinel Dawn. Would you like to participate?” Greybeard carefully invited me in. I’d been staying silent so far, not wanting to disrupt their planning. I didn’t know their team, or their capabilities, and the exercise seemed to be a good one. I didn’t want to mess with it.
“Sure. This problem’s easy. Send in a Sentinel.” I cracked a grin at my own joke, and got weak laughs.
Greybeard cocked his head at me.
“Being the Sentinel present, how would you handle it?”
“Walk right up to it, Radiance beam through the head. Boom. Dead. That simple.”
“The Lightning? Its spells?”
“I’m Sentinel Dawn. I’m durable. Unless the cow’s somehow level 600, I should be able to heal through literally everything it sends at me. My mana pool should be larger, and that’s before the applied power problem.”
I paused a moment.
“It’s not level 600, right?”
Bossman shook his head.
“Negative. Mid 200’s.”
“Yeah. Walk up to it. Kill it. Walk back.”
I thought about it a moment, then shook my head.
“No no, first drive it to an area where I have to do less work once it’s dead, then kill it.”
“The plan seems viable. My only quibble is the lack of learning opportunities in both the plan, and the execution.” Greybeard said.
“How would you do it?” I asked Greybeard, wanting to know how the font of knowledge would handle things.
“Poison the feed. Get the local alchemist to brew up something potent, unscented, and tasteless, after convincing them that, yes, I know they know how to do it, and no, I’m not going to arrest them for knowing how.” Greybeard rolled his eyes at that, and went on a bit of a tangent.
“Honestly, never known an alchemist without their own super-poison they’ve got hidden in their tunic, yet is convinced they’ll be arrested for knowing how.”
“Poison the feed, scatter it around, and back off. It isn’t heroic, but it should work on a cow.”
I was getting serious Arthur vibes from him. The plan was sound though.
Bossman looked conflicted while all the plans were revised. After settling on, surprise surprise, Artillery Mage C’s plan of “Throw rocks from far away” was selected as the Ranger’s plan of attack, and they started to prepare for a full-on assault, with contingencies and back-up plans being laid. Wolfy started to check over everyone’s gear, and after a moment, after far too long, I twigged to Bossman’s issue.
A cow was easy mode. The biggest ethical problem was “how many ribs am I allowed to take for dinner?” The Rangers already had one problem, and a full day spent traveling out to a remote-ish farm, dealing with a problematic animal, then traveling back, all while the corrupt guards had time to get their stories straight?
Lightning could be nasty. There was a reason Artemis used it. Instant speed, and it could randomly “punch up” by frying a nervous system, or stopping a heart, or frying a brain, or… there were multiple ways Lightning could just end someone.
However. I didn’t care about that. In the slightest. Not with [Persistent Casting].
Bossman didn’t - couldn’t - ask me to take this job on. Not with the level, and the relatively low threat nature of the beast. However, I could ask.
“Why don’t I take this one?” I volunteered. “It’s easy enough for me, and you’ve got the guard investigation to handle. That seems like a higher priority to me, and I’m no use on that problem. Right now, I’m not doing anything else.”
A wave of relief went over Bossman’s face.
“Sentinel Dawn. Many thanks.” He saluted me. “Anyone else have anything?”
I caught Greybeards eye, remembering about sparring lessons. He gave me a tiny shake of his head.
Yeah, made sense. We both had missions tomorrow, and it was late. All the talking and planning had gotten us far into the night.
“I’ve got nothing.” I set the tone with that, nobody else having anything either.
We went to sleep, although the Rangers set a watch and battened down the hatches like we were in the wilderness.
It’d be unlikely for the guards to try and kill us in our sleep, but it wasn’t impossible. A watch it was, and I didn’t volunteer myself to take one.
I wanted some damn sleep, and I got it.
In the morning I changed into my Mistweave, deputized Greybeard with keeping the egg warm while I was on the trip - Pyronox could get just as hot as Radiance, and [Egg Incubation] helped us determine how hot he needed to make it - and generally geared up. And by that I meant, I put on less gear than normal, since Lightning could fry just about anything but my Mistweave. Then Bossman and I went and met the farmer, Bossman made introductions, and we quickly hit it off as we traveled to his farm.
His accent was atrocious. Along with mauling the language beyond recognition.
“Aye, da thundamoo’s a beautbeet. Runna da grawblow, dan BOOM! Iz…”
I got maybe one word in fifty.
We made it to his farm, where the occasional boom from one of the fields indicated the problem.
“Ya, da grawblow dar’s thundamoo.” He pointed, like it wasn’t obvious.
I flew on over, leaving the farmer behind, eyeing up the rest of his herds.
They all spelled trouble. Six in ten were showing obvious signs of being caster animals, and Rangers would need to be here again. The Lightning cow - or thundamoo as the farmer called it - was just the first.
What would be next? The sizzlemoo? The gurgdamoo?
I flew over to the cow, flinching a little as a bolt of Lightning struck me. It was loud, and I don’t think I’d ever get used to being struck by Lightning, mundane or not.
I really, really didn’t want to get used to being struck by Lightning.
At the same time, my healing just shrugged it off like nothing happened. The damage Lightning did was on the smaller side - relatively speaking - even though the damage inside that small area was horrific.
My mana barely flickered.
I took two more bolts, got in range, and dropped the poor cow with a merciful beam of Radiance through its eye.