Nearly all of the Sentinels were arguing and yelling, trying to get their questions heard. Ocean and Night were the only ones not shouting, Night as still as always, and Ocean rolling his eyes.
After four minutes of this, Ocean held up his hand, and a wave rippled through the air in the room, like a deep-sea pulse.
I didn’t know Ocean - the element - could do that!
Oddly, it seemed to “warp” around Auri. Interesting. Something to look into another day.
That did get people to shut up.
Night took a deep, pained breath.
“Senti-Null.” I could see it physically hurting him to use that name. “Please make your way to the archives. Fetch the reports of the destruction of Eboracum, Tencteri, and Port Namnetus. They should be from roughly 2500, 3100, and 3800.”
Holy what?! We had records going back that far?! Just what kind of shape were they in?
Night paused a moment.
“You may need to visit my personal residence, and request records from there. I apologize, but when looking up documentation of this age, I do not trust the average runner or guard to treat them with the proper care. Additionally, I do not require originals, merely the most recent copy that exists. Thank you.”
Senti-Null didn’t look thrilled, but he was one of the most junior Sentinels, and a speedster to boot. Night or Brawling were both faster than he was, but had enough seniority on him.
At least, I assumed that was the logic.
Senti-Null took off, wind fluttering through the enclosed room. I was pretty sure he did that deliberately to screw with us.
“Right. The ‘dead zone’. What more can you tell us?”
“First off. The dwarf giving me the information did not come off as particularly intelligent, nor particularly competent. The information I have is somewhat flawed as a result, but I believe the basic premise is correct, given my experiences.”
I paused for a moment, thinking and reorganizing my thoughts.
“The dwarves recounted part of their version of the Formorian War.” I eventually settled on. “The Formorians were just as much of a menace to them, as they were to us. From what I understood, the dwarves pushed them back to the Dead Zone. However, once they got there? They didn’t care about the ground, the land, or any of it. The Dead Zone was too unappealing to them. It feels “icky” for lack of a better word. They built a wall, manned it, and went about their lives.”
“But you said the dwarves thought you were Formorians.” Nature interrupted.
“Eh, yeah. Given how impressive the walls themselves were, maybe the Formorians just gave up attacking them? I have no idea.”
Bulwark looked a little sour at the idea.
“They were impressive.” Hunting added in. “Much taller and thicker than anything we had, and the built-in defenses were something.”
“They had Hunting scurrying away with his tail between his legs!” I cheerfully threw him under the wagon.
“I didn’t want to test myself against them.” He agreed.
“Either way, the dwarves decided that the area we lived in was no good. For specifics - again, entirely unreliable - the dwarf said he thought we were getting half the experience that we should be getting, and that I’d ‘only’ lost 60 levels as a result.”
There was no uproar this time. The bombshell had already been dropped on the Sentinels. Instead every eye turned towards Night.
The Immortal Night, living since creation. Who’d gotten roughly 5,000 years of experience stolen from him.
He elegantly put his head in his hand, and uttered a single word.
There was dead silence at Night’s pronouncement of the situation, and I whole-heartedly agreed. Auri finally broke the silence.
Night stayed perfectly still, in command of the room by sheer presence alone. There was controlled anger there. Night hadn’t survived all this time by having poor control over his emotions and reactions. The fact that he wasn’t moving at all was the greatest sign of his emotions.
“Dawn. Do you have any further information on the Dead Zone?”
I gave a crisp nod.
“Potentially. The dwarves I met weren’t the cream of their crop, but they had staggeringly poor stats and combat capabilities for their level. After some further adventures of mine, I believe that the Dead Zone comes with a significant advantage. Namely, our class quality is several cuts above where it would normally be.”
It was still Night’s show, and we all waited for him to speak.
“I can believe this to be the case. At first, I believed my class quality to be something of an aberration. A reward, at first, for surviving the creation of the world. Yet, as time passed, and humans lived their quick lives, it was exceedingly rare for humans to match or surpass the quality of classes that I have enjoyed so far.”
He paused a moment, drumming his fingers.
“There is an interesting phenomenon that I have observed a few times. People get powerful classes in one of two ways. The first are the quick.” He gave a slight nod of his head towards me. “Those who struggle and achieve much in a short timespan, pushing themselves to absurd lengths in situations most would not believe. The shooting stars, destined to burn brightly and quickly.”
Ooof. That had started off so well.
“The second are the perfectionists, the masters. Those who hone their craft well, before moving onto the next stage. They are rewarded for the time and care they have devoted to their craft.”
Night paused for a moment, even though none of this was exactly new to any of us Sentinels. However, his analysis on the situation was literally peerless, and we’d sit in silence for an hour if that meant we could hear what he had to say about it.
“I believe, unwittingly, that we have all been forced into the ‘master’ role. Half experience demands that we do twice as much, and the System recognizes our efforts as we select our class, even if it has chosen not to reward us with as much experience as we have earned.”
Made sense. If I had to heal twice as many people, my achievements would be “Healed 10,000 people” instead of “Healed 5,000 people”, and I’d seen how the System “slid” the quality of classes and the stats given already with [Ranger-Mage]. The higher [Ranger’s Lore] was, the better quality [Ranger-Mage] was.
Just seemed like it was a global effect on everything.
“Given my leveling pace outside of the Dead Zone, I can also guess that it might take more than half the experience. I’m not sure of a good way to verify it though, and some of my adventures, well…” I trailed off, not wanting to get ahead of myself.
“Any other questions?” I asked.
“I’ve got one.” Bulwark jumped in. “Night, how much traveling have you done? Do you have any idea if the Dead Zone predates creation, or if it happened while you were around?”
“I thought myself well-traveled.” Night began. “I am unsure of the extent of the world I have visited. At the very least, I have been to every corner of Remus. I have not been across the ocean to the north. Given the utter lack of mapmaking, and the ever-changing landmarks? I can not properly estimate. As for detecting the Dead Zone forming? It may be that it predates me. It may be that it came up, slowly and insidiously, without me becoming aware of it or its strength. It is not like we had formalized methods of detecting large-scale changes in strength or experience. We were more concerned with day to day survival at that time.” Night drily pointed out.
“This sucks.” Acquisition mentioned.
Ocean held up his hand.
“I move that we table the discussion of the Dead Zone for another time. Dawn has given us the information, and analysis at this stage detracts from her debrief.”
“One last note.” Acquisition butted in. “If I may?”
Ocean frowned, but nodded.
“Dawn. Did it occur to you at all that the dwarves might’ve been gently kidnapping you, to use as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with Remus?”
I pointed to him as my mouth dropped open.
I closed my mouth.
“Ummm. No. Whoops?”
I got half the Sentinels laughing at me, while the other half facepalmed, or showed their disgust at my naïvety in other ways.
“It’s ok Dawn!” Brawling called out. “I would’ve done the same!”
For some reason, Brawling putting me on his level wasn’t exactly comforting. I shot him a finger.
“Now, don’t copy me Auri, it’s bad form.”
Auri wasn’t impressed with my hypocrisy.
“I’m going to skip most of the trip, because it frankly doesn’t matter.” I said. “Unless you want the breakdown of a riveting massacre of hellhounds attacking us, and a chupacabra stalking us. Nothing too interesting. The only thing of note before the trip ended was a stop we made.”
I took a few deep, bracing breaths, then had a brainwave.
I didn’t need to say it.
I didn’t need to call them. Damn what the elves said, I wasn’t risking it.
Especially not with Night here. I didn’t think he’d react horribly - and I thought in a room surrounded by Sentinels I’d be safe - but why risk it?
“I need charcoal. And part of a scroll.” I announced.
I got some confused looks, but in a moment I had the supplies.
I quickly wrote on the scroll.
“The Dragon Lun’Kat, the Stygian Deceiver.”
“There are - were? - anyways - two types of dwarves. Well, probably more, but I’m going to divide them in two for this. The ‘Wood’ dwarves, and the ‘Metal’ dwarves. Clearly, I’d met with the Wood dwarves first. We stopped by a town, and the mayor threw a small feast to welcome us. There was a metal dwarf there. He was recruiting for a mission to rob…”
I held up my sign with a dramatic flourish.
A few of the Sentinels leaned forward, to better read what I’d written. Night sharply inhaled, and a few of them gasped as they processed the words I’d written. A few of them went pale.
You could hear a pin dr-
Auri snapped everyone out of it early.
“Holy gods above. They were going after a dra-” Mirage started to speak, but Hunting whirled and backhanded him before he could finish saying The Word.
Nobody else spoke.
“The fools.” Night whispered.
“Yeah, which brings me to the end of the journey. Our trip was cut short when the idiots disturbed…”
I held the sign up, chuckling at the look on everyone’s face.
Yuuup. I didn’t have nearly enough reverence for dragons anymore, specifically Lun’Kat. I couldn’t tell if familiarity had bred contempt, or if I realized just how far below them I was, if I knew, deep down, just how boned I was if a dragon decided to kill me, that there was no point in being concerned.
Lun’Kat wanted me dead? I was dead. No amount of running, screaming, fighting, hiding, or healing would keep me alive. It was refreshing, really.
“I believe she was nesting, and the dwarves disturbed her. Or heck, it’s possible that something else entirely provoked her wrath. Either way,” I held up the sign. “decided that the dwarves had to go.”
I shuddered at the memory.
“Never say their name.” I said with conviction, the memories of that night flashing through my mind like a horror show. “I don’t know if they can or can’t hear you, but She pulled down the sky on their entire nation.”
I waited for a moment, letting the sheer scale and power sink in.
“As. Her. Opening. Move.” I emphasized each word by smacking the back of my hand into my palm. “She repeatedly cast the skill, burning and razing the entire time, while casting a dozen skills just as powerful. No idea if it’ll matter, but I saw Celestial, Pyronox, and Mirage.”
“Don’t write that down.” Night said. “A report on her is one thing, detailing her capabilities? If word got back, she might decide to eliminate knowledge of what she is capable of doing.”
I closed my eyes, lost again in the memory of that night.
“The Guardians came. Etalix, who has a statue in front of every temple.”
“Praise the Storm.” Bulwark muttered.
“Still alive…?” Night half-whispered under his breath.
“Yurok, a great treant. Asura, the Destroyer, a unicorn. Ho-O, a phoenix. Galeru, the Rainbow. Hebei, a xuanwu. As well as long-range attacks from what I believe to be other Guardians, and a giant the size of a mountain.”
I paused a moment, then held up the sign. “... fought them all, and won.”
I didn’t give everyone a lot of time over that.
“That was the Night of the Flickering Moons.” I held up the sign. This was getting obnoxious, but eh. I wasn’t going to say her name. “Took a powerful blow from the giant, causing what I believe to be the illusion on the moons to break. Of course, they were restored in short order, but…” I shrugged.
“You’re shitting me.” Brawling said. “The moons are a skill?!”
“Silence.” Night barked. “Nobody speaks until Dawn has significantly moved past this portion of her debrief. There will be no errors.”
“We were dust in the wind.” I was being a hair poetic, but the fight deserved it. Even the word “fight” seemed to be too weak for what happened. “Blown around by the capricious whims of those battling. The shattered deflection of the side-effect of a physical swing was enough to nearly kill us all, and not all of my escort made it. A single spore from Yurok took tens of thousands points of mana for me to heal. The treant was generating massive clouds of them, and that was the start. There was no concern for bystanders. There was no thought on collateral damage. There was no safe place to go. The world was on fire, Galeru had wrapped herself around the mountain, trapping us, and the battle was raging.”
I let the imagery sink in for a moment. I’d told lots of stories, ever since I’d joined the Rangers. I didn’t have a skill for it anymore, but I had a bit of the flair still. A minor sense of timing and drama.
“The dwarves dove down an abandoned mine shaft, and I followed.” I shrugged. “What else was there to do? At least by putting a few miles of rock between us and the fight, we had a shield against some of the attacks.”
I saw two mouths open - "some of the attacks" having provoked a reaction - but discipline held. They didn’t say a word.
Not even Auri commented.
I think the scale of just how powerful the Guardians were was getting to them. Miles of rock wasn’t safety, it just changed things around.
“More of my escort died, and the Guardian’s battle shook the tunnels we were in. Passages broke, gravity reversed, and at one point we found a gigantic ice pillar in some of the tunnels, a stray attack penetrating deep.”
Brawling wordlessly got up, and started banging his head against the wall.
“I won’t bore you too much with the tunnels. Slimes, orcs, a changeling of all things, starvation, and traps. Oh! I survived getting decapitated! Stripping my former body was weird.”
Almost every head - mine included - snapped towards Night. He didn’t look amused, but after an expectant moment, waved his hand.
“Fine. You may ask. I know I have questions myself on the subject.”
I should invest in earplugs. The room exploded in noise again.
“How?!” Mirage shouted first.
“Skills.” I answered, and Acquisition good-naturedly punched him in the arm.
The interrogation continued for five minutes, but when it became clear that it was just an application of my skills, the Sentinels gave up.
They were all able to do crazy things in their own domain of expertise. My domain was healing, and most of the surprise was due to a lack of familiarity with high level healers.
“You mentioned a Changeling?” Ocean asked.
“Yeah. Killed and replaced a member of my escort. We thought he’d snapped, and totally lost it at first. I became suspicious, but, like, what was I to do?”
“Kill him and check the notification.” Hunting pointed out like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
I rolled my eyes at Hunting.
The Sentinels were interested in hearing everything about the Changeling. What he was like. What he did. What clued me into the fact that not everything was right. The murderous streak he went on, the hunt, capture, and confirmation.
“Hasn’t been a confirmed Changeling in decades.” Hunting muttered. “Good to know what we’re up against. They pop up now and then, and this will be good for finding them next time.”
“I thought Artemis got one?”
“Confirmed kills.” Hunting emphasized.
Well, fine then. I moved on with my story.
“We got lucky, and found one of the underground dwarven cities after wandering around for a few weeks.”
“They’re locked in some sort of total war with orcs, of all things. There were a number of high-level orc saboteurs and assassins hiding out in the dwarven city, causing as much damage and destruction as possible. Almost got me killed!” I said. Senti-Null quietly slipped back into the room.
“Anyways. I’m Sentinel Dawn. I was able to single-handedly change their casualty situation, which is where it got, well, ugly’s not quite the right word, but ugly.” I said.
“Bit of a side note, but an important one. The dwarves have an interesting tactic for empowering themselves. With great skill and Skills, they replace some of their bones with metal implants, coated with Inscriptions. Said Inscriptions then provide them with a number of benefits, starting at their bones being hard to break, and moving on into a wide variety from there.”
I had a few eyebrows raised at that. Senti-Null coughed lightly.
“Brought back the records you wanted. Night?” He politely handed some scrolls over to Night, who unrolled them and scanned over them.
“Records indicate that Port Namnetus ‘sunk into the ocean’, the entire stretch of land that the city was on steeply dropping into the water. There were a number of survivors from the incident, who were able to report on what happened.” Night finally said.
“However, the destruction of Eboracum and Tencteri differ from Port Namnetus’s fate. There was not a single soul nearby that we could find. People from far away reported what appeared to be a gigantic mushroom, made of fire, erupting from the city. Ranger teams that investigated simply found a charred, burned, flattened city.” Night concluded. “Do you believe this to be an accurate representation of what Void mages do when they explode?”
“BrrRRRrrrRRRrrRpt!” Auri’s eyes were shining at the idea of making gigantic fireballs of that size. We ignored her.
“I have no idea. It’s possible? That type and scale of devastation would align with the level of fear that I saw.”
At the same time, it felt like there was something. Some distant connection. Something… about cities getting erased? There was some strange feeling from my old memories, and I had to wonder if something similar had happened on Earth, and all my knowledge of it had been wiped away.
With the lack of magic on Earth, if there were weapons capable of casually destroying cities? Maybe it was a good thing I ended up here… although I didn’t remember living in a state of fear of them…
Maybe that had also been erased?
My head was killing me. I stopped thinking about it.
“Most interesting. Sadly, our census data from the time period is lacking, and it was the rare census that collected classes. Carry on.”
I moved on.
“I could try to copy some of the things I saw, but I have no idea how deep they went. I do know my healing simply erased most of them, at a cost. Questions?”
There were none, and I moved on.
“The dwarves didn’t want to let me go. Wanted me to hang around for a decade or two until their war was over. I had some objections to that.”
Ocean and Night glanced at each other.
“We haven’t been officially told yet - I doubt we will ever get officially told, truth be told - but I think we’re in contact with those dwarves.” Ocean said. “The Emperor has been sending out scouting parties, and I know at least one diplomatic party’s been sent towards the former front lines. Since Hunting had reported dwarves, I suspected them, but then the reports came in that they’d gotten wiped out, since last we’d heard, the entire area had been devastated by…”
Ocean nodded towards my scroll, his meaning clear.
“Unless you know of any other parties in the area?”
“Eh. There could be? I didn’t exactly get a great overview of the situation, and who lived where.” I said.
Nobody had any.
“Right. The dwarves wanted me to stick around, and they were nice about it. Fancy suit of armor and everything. Fancy apartment. Multiple rotations of guards, a near unlimited budget to shop around. However…”
“I’m Sentinel Dawn. I belong here, with all of you, not down there.”
There were cheers and whoops at that, and the Sentinels sitting next to me punched me in the arm. Night was smiling.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [The Dawn Sentinel] has leveled up to level 511->512 +3 Dexterity, +24 Speed, +24 Vitality, +170 Mana, +170 Mana Regen, +48 Magic power, +48 Magic Control from your Class per level! +1 Free Stat for being Human per level! +1 Mana, +1 Mana Regen from your Element per level!]