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“Dawn!” Ocean hurried out of the room behind me.

 

“Ocean. What’s up?” I asked him as I paused.

 

“Let’s walk. Probably best if the Commanders don’t hear me.” He gave me a roguish wink.

 

Ahh. One of those conversations.

 

“I’m heading off to the Indomitable Wall.” I restarted my walk in that direction.

 

I clearly woke Auri up.

 

“Brrrpt?”

 

Her sleepy cheeps were so cute.

 

“Evening sleepyhead!”

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

Auri was determined to show me that she was not a sleepy head, and immediately took off from my shoulder, flying somewhat shakily.

 

“A phoenix.” Ocean shook his head in disbelief. “How does she handle water?”

 

“Brrrpt!?!?!?!”

 

He snorted.

 

“Even I got that.”

 

“What’s up?” I asked him, figuring we’d gotten some distance from the supernatural hearing of the Commanders.

 

“SERE Training and the like. You didn’t seem too enthusiastic.”

 

I nodded.

 

“A year and change isn’t enough. I’m crazy busy as is, and SERE’s too important for a half-hearted amateur teacher to be training all the Rangers.”

 

Ocean nodded.

 

“Agreed. That’s why we have Instructors. For the smaller things, or the specialized things? Us Sentinels are expected to be the ones teaching the class personally. Your medicine class. Your new flight class. It changes for the larger classes. You’re not expected to manage the entire thing on your own. Gods, it’s impossible to, especially something that important. Can’t give the proper feedback.”

 

I digested what he said. It made way too much sense, especially with how many Instructors Ranger Academy had.

 

“In practice, you’re responsible for how the training works. If it goes poorly? You’ll be blamed. If it goes well? More of your friends come home.”

 

Ouch. That was a gut punch and a half.

 

“What do you suggest?” I asked him.

 

“Work with the Instructors. Listen to them. Your job, especially on SERE, which has been a class since Ranger Academy started, is to fix problems. It’s not like your medicine class, which you made from scratch.”

 

“What happened to that by the way?” I’d shown up, started the class, gotten a bunch of students, then vanished with nine months left on the course.

 

“It fell apart.” Ocean bluntly told me. “We tried to get one of the Ranger’s healers to take over, but their view, knowledge, and approach was so different that it just didn’t work.”

 

That was a bit concerning, but also made sense. My approach and knowledge was radically different from how other healers did things. It stood to reason that we wouldn’t be able to teach the same classes well.

Ah well, I was around now, and my Medical Manuscripts were still slowly spreading.

 

“Don’t tell me - you didn’t restart it this year.”

 

Ocean gave me a Look.

 

“Dawn. Five weeks ago, everyone thought you were dead. You were still marked as ‘Missing in Action’ due to a formality. We wait ten years to declare a missing Ranger or Sentinel dead, and put their name on the wall. In practice, anything more than a few weeks is dead.”

 

Ooof. Right.

 

“Of course we didn’t restart the medicine class. We’ll look into it for the next set of classes, assuming you don’t find yourself too busy with SERE and flying.”

 

That was perfectly reasonable.

 

We were at the doors to the main arena at the center of HQ, which had the Indomitable Wall.

 

“Want privacy?” Ocean asked.

 

I mutely nodded, dread welling up inside of me.

 

Ocean clasped my shoulder with his hand.

 

“Good work Dawn.”

 

What was that supposed to mean? Something about me staying alive?

 

Ocean turned and left.

 

I braced myself, and opened the doors.

 

The moons were half full, flooding the arena with light, even in the night. The stars twinkled high above, and the wall stood alone.

 

Proud.

 

Tall.

 

Indomitable.

 

Auri seemed to grasp the gravitas of the situation, and silently took off, making laps of the stands. The seats where crowds of people had watched Julius declare me Sentinel Dawn.

 

She was like a little mobile torch, illuminating things as she flew around.

 

With heavy footsteps, I walked down the stairs. Everything else blurred and fell away, leaving only the Wall in my sights.

 

The bottom lines were what interested me. The newest additions to the Wall.

 

I braced myself, and looked at the Sentinel section.

 

I thought I was ready.

 

I wasn’t.

 

Sentinel Magic.

Sentinel Sky.

Sentinel Sealing.

 

And no Katastrofi.

 

I cried freely as I traced my finger over the carving in the stone, feeling their names. Every straight line, every curve, engraved on the wall and now onto my finger.

 

I didn’t try to stop the hot tears from splashing against the floor beneath my feet.

 

My vision blurry, I moved onto the Rangers, mentally translating each of their names as I read them.

 

Lava. Dude who gave me lip when I’d led the practice fight against the Wood abelisaurus.

 

Levitator. He’d basically become a fully-fledged Metal mage at the end. His efficiency had dramatically improved.

 

Not enough. His name was now on the Wall. It didn’t even say how he’d died. Just that he’d been a Ranger in service to Remus, and had fallen.

 

Alchemist. Proper prior planning and all that, dozens of potent potions prepared hadn’t been enough. Probably ended up in one fight too many, too quickly.

Or had gotten picked off.

Or one of the many reagents he needed to handle had been too deadly.

Or - I’d drive myself nuts speculating.

 

Hidden Blade. Mirages to hide his weapons hadn’t kept him alive.

 

Mirror. “Anything you do to me I do to you” didn’t work so well against dumb monsters. Hopefully took out whatever had killed him, but that wasn’t much consolation to whoever he’d left behind.

 

Artillery Mage B. Dead.

 

Oozy. Dead.

 

Sniper. Dead.

 

Everywhere I looked, the name of another dead friend flashed out at me. Let me know that I’d never see them again. Never hear their stories, their laughter, their rough camaraderie.

 

Ranger life was harsh. Roughly half of all Rangers died each round, and the losses were disproportionately on the newer Rangers.

 

In other words, my classmates.

 

I counted.

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

78

 

78 Rangers from my graduating Academy class.

In their first round.

 

They were dead. Gone. Ashes in the wind.

 

Like Lule.

Like Origen.

Like Lyra.

 

I was finally home. I was finally safe. I could relax my mental safeguards. I could unbox the emotions and feelings I’d been bottling up so long. I could de-compartmentalize, let myself properly feel.

 

I completely broke down.

 

What was the goddamn point of Immortality? Of living forever, and just watching the list of names increase endlessly?

 

Was this my life?

 

I cried and I cried, dissolving into a puddle of tears.

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

Auri had landed on me, and was busy “investigating” what was wrong.

 

“Brrrpt!!!”

 

Her cry of alarm was my only warning before a blazing inferno coated my head.

 

I’d given up on having hair for now, but apparently eyebrows were now denied to me as well.

 

“Brrpt! Brrpt! Brrrpt!” Auri flew around me, triumphantly crowing her success over the evil water that had almost dissolved me.

 

“Love you too, little troublemaker.” I sniffled at her.

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“Dawn. Would this be a poor time for me to interrupt?”

 

“BRRRPT!!!” Auri cried in alarm.

 

I jumped about a foot in the air, giving an undignified squawk, as Night stepped forward, out of the darkness like four feet away from me.

 

“Night! Gods! You scared me!”

 

I swear I saw a brief smile flit over Night’s face.

 

Did… did Night just prank me?!

 

That, more than anything, chased away some of the morose feelings that had been flooding through me.

 

I politely saluted Night.

 

“Sorry. Do you need something?”

 

Night didn’t immediately answer, stepping beside me to look at the Indomitable Wall. His eyes rapidly flickered over the names.

 

“Brrpt!”

 

Night didn’t say anything for a few moments, simply looking at the wall.

 

“It gets easier.”

 

“What?” I said, kinda stupidly.

 

“Handling loss.” He said. “The cruel knife of agonizing loss will never stop striking you as time goes by. You shall continue to make friends, and lose them over time.”

 

He paused a moment, and shook his head.

 

“I apologize. It has been some time since I last needed to have this discussion. As your report mentioned, you have had some experience with Immortal matters with trolls and elves.

 

The way Night stressed elves made me think he didn’t like them that much.

 

Or maybe he was jealous? The elves weren’t that old, and all of them significantly stronger than Night was. They’d managed companions, where Night had failed.

 

Didn’t matter.

 

“My experiences are somewhat different.” Night said, then paused.

 

One of those long pauses that seemed to stretch into eternity. All night even.

 

“Brrrpt.”

 

“Brrrpt.”

 

“Brrrpt.”

 

“Brrrpt.”

 

“Brrrpt.”

 

“Brrrpt.”

 

Auri was driving me up the wall. Pun intended.

 

Before we got into what was sure to be a lengthy conversation, I wanted to sidetrack briefly. I had a relatively quick question that I knew Night could answer.

 

“What’s going on with Commander Julius?”

 

“Ah. You’ve been informed. Commander Julius left on a routine inspection roughly four months ago with the usual minor escort of guards. He seemed to simply disappear en route, and there has not been a single trace of him, or his escort, ever since. Sentinel Hunting was tasked with tracking him down. He reported that, for some reason unknown to us, Julius and his escort left the road, and the trail abruptly ends. No evidence of a fight. No abduction, or trap. Indeed, Hunting maintains that they didn’t even fly away. They simply vanished.” Night said with distaste.

 

I stayed silent, waiting to see if Night had anything to add.

 

“I would believe they had been disintegrated, if there weren’t even traces of that occurring. It is most vexing.” Night sounded frustrated, and I didn’t blame him.

 

“What’s being done now?” I asked. “Any ideas?”

 

“The site is regularly surveilled by our own guards, or occasionally Trainees on an excursion who need the practice. Two birds with a single stone, as it may be. Apart from that, Ocean and Acquisition both are pursuing investigations in their respective domains, as well as the other Commanders playing politics to investigate. After all, the threat came after one of them, and any threat that would target a Commander, could easily target them. As for my own thoughts? The balance of power in the Ranger Command has shifted. Commander Julius being declared Missing, Presumed Alive, means that we shall not fill his seat for some time, as technically we can function with seven Commanders. Yet, the balance of power has tilted towards the Senate, and the Sentinels have been entirely diminished. I do not believe that the Senate has the ability to stop biting themselves long enough to conspire against us, not without leakage, but the Emperor…”

 

Night shook his head.

 

“I apologize. The Indomitable Wall tends to make me natter on. I have no evidence that the Emperor was involved, nor does it seem like any skill was used. Simply analyzing who benefits points to him, as it does a dozen other figures. Why, in some respects, it might have simply been a way to strike at Artemis, who is eminently lethal on her own. There are hundreds of possibilities, and in the end, I simply do not know.

 

The last part was said with immense frustration. Night kept his hands off of things, unless it came down to the few things he DID care about - and the Sentinels were one of them. Whatever hit Julius might easily be an indirect attack on the Sentinels.

 

Still, if Hunting couldn’t figure it out, or trace the track?

 

Yikes. I’m not sure what I could do.

 

A long pause stretched between us.

 

Night seemed to come to some decision, and changed the subject entirely.

 

“The concept of mortality and Immortality didn’t exist at Creation.” He finally said. “Indeed, it took me nearly 300 years to realize that people could die of old age. Nobody succeeded in living that long before.”

 

Night didn’t say it, but I could imagine. A feral world, with no traces or vestiges of civilization. People living and fighting in small tribes. No tradition to lean on. No tried and true methods. Night, low level and leveling slowly the entire time. Worse than teenage me, lower level than most kids, and somehow surviving a brutal world for 300 years. As a start.

 

Night was more and more impressive the longer I thought about him.

 

No knowledge base that said “the red berries are poisonous, don’t eat them.”

No concept of “working in a team produces better results.”

 

Nothing.

 

Not even “Getting older slows you down.”

 

“I believed I had survived as long as I had due to being careful.” Night admitted. “Practicing my craft. Honing myself to perfection. Never slacking. Never permitting myself a moment of weakness or relaxation. And, truth be told, the first woman to die of old age had never been particularly healthy.”

 

Night half-shrugged, and let another silence permeate the arena.

 

Well.

 

Almost silence.

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

“Only once a measure of safety and stability had been achieved did we learn that humans had a time limit - and vampires did not. The curse of White Dove became clear in that moment.”

 

He paused a moment, but it wasn't one of his long ones. Thank goodness.

 

“I hated seeing my friends die. Time began to flit past me. Night after night I stood guard at the fire, the hours blurring together. ‘Why should time steal them away?’ I thought. I had been careful, until that moment, not to turn too many humans to vampires. After all, it was clear that I was weaker than the average human. It was clear that I had numerous weaknesses, and my strengths had not been given time to properly manifest. It was an unusual lot who had chosen to accept my gift and my curse. I believed at the time - why shouldn’t I extend my gift to those who were nearing the end of their life? Permit them to live longer.”

 

Another pause. Another gathering of ancient memories.

 

Heck, my head was full of memories, and I had less than 40 years worth of memories rattling around.

 

Night was pushing 5,000 years of memories, and from the sound of it, few days of his life had been boring.

 

“It was one of my larger, earlier mistakes. To compress nearly 200 years into a few sentences, it was the cause of the first vampire civil war, and the tribe effectively self-destructed. Only a few of us were left in the end, absorbed into another clan. One that was willing to look past the fact that I had, unwittingly, destroyed my own people once.”

 

Night regretfully shook his head.

 

“I survived. I learned. One of the other progenitors attempted a similar project, selecting the mightiest warriors and mages to turn into vampires. His experience was... similar. Hence, I have not turned large numbers of Sentinels or Rangers, in spite of all my affection for you all.”

 

He put his hand on the wall, and bowed forward. I could see small muscles in his hand spasming.

 

“One thing you do not need to concern yourself with is propagation. A friend, a lover, you elect to keep by your side for eternity can not, in turn, make more Immortals, unlike us vampires. We must be exceptionally careful. We have had too many issues with vampires who get it in their head that they could turn who they will. Each time has been ruthlessly crushed, but not without… casualties.”

 

I was reminded that Night wasn’t just a guiding hand. He was the premier assassin in Remus. He wanted someone dead? They died. His relatively low level for his age wasn’t due to a lack of trying, or challenges, or anything other than the System disfavoring vampires heavily, for some reason.

 

If Night told me that his class qualities were all black? I’d believe him. Thousands of years to rack up achievements wasn’t anything to sneeze at, and he’d never stopped fighting.

 

My first Immortal rule: Don’t get on Night’s wrong side.

 

“All of this to say. You have gotten the rarest of skills. The first source that can grant Immortality outside of the Progenitors. I implore you to use caution and forethought when using your abilities. I will be happy to discuss implications and ramifications of anyone you wish to… renew. I will be happy to provide detailed backgrounds if requested. Guidance, if needed. After all.”

 

He paused a moment, mostly for dramatic effect.

 

Auri ruined it entirely.

 

“Brrrpt!”

 

Good girl.

 

“You are one of the Sentinels, one of the protectors of Remus. I will support you, however needed, and I trust you shall do the same in return.”

 

I slowly nodded at Night.

 

“Gotcha.”

 

I wasn’t exactly a great [Speechwriter] or anything. What else was there to say? He’d given me a ton to think about.

 

We stood in silence, as I digested his words.

The elves had hammered home just how rare and valuable a skill I had, but were looking at this from the wrong angle in many ways. They were Immortals, discussing what it was like to be in Immortal society, and raising others into their hallowed ranks.

 

Night’s take was from an Immortal living in mortal society. Many of the problems and implications were the same, but the slant was different. The melody of the song was the same, but the words only rhymed.

 

“Another aspect to keep in mind are goals. I do not know which goal you have pursued until now, nor which goals you currently have. However, I have known more than one vampire to lose themselves in hedonism, and entirely forget the passage of time because they have no goals. They have no objective to strive towards. Without a constraint, without the omnipresent pressure of time pushing them forwards, they believe they will ‘do it tomorrow’, and a century passes before they are aware.”

 

Night shook his head, at the sheer waste of his gift. The waste of the most precious thing any of us had to spend - time.

 

“Brrrpt?”

 

Time was a limited currency. Usually.

 

I’d just gotten an unlimited amount, and yeah. I could see the temptation to squander it. To think “Oh, I can do that later.”

 

Because I could.

 

But if I did?

 

I never would.

 

What Night was saying about goals was hitting extra-hard. I’d been stumbling around life, trying to make goals and constantly having them derailed on me. My most successful completed goal to date was Ranger Academy.

 

And arguably getting back home.

 

Still, I got his point.

 

What was I going to do with myself now? What did I want?

 

Well, I wanted-

 

“Now, you can pursue multiple goals at once.” Night said.

 

Whoops. I’d spent so much time ruminating that I’d eaten up the entirety of Night’s pause between words.

 

“Short term goals, paired with long term goals. I, personally, have a few that I’m willing to share. The eradication of the Formorians was my most recent large goal that I completed. The continuation of Remus. The preservation of the Sentinels, or a similar group. Keeping the number of vampires under control. These are simply a few of my objectives. For yourself? If I may offer my humble advice, look at yourself. Look at the world around you. Ask yourself what is important to you. What is worth preserving. What is wrong, and requires changing.”

 

That was all good advice. I’d need to do serious thinking on it, not just come up with stuff off the cuff.

 

Argh. I was getting a very, very long to-do list of “things to think about.” I should try to get dedicated thinking time in my schedule.

 

Maybe in a nice meadow, where Auri could go nuts burning stuff. Goals. Immortality. My 3rd class. Auri.

 

And I thought I’d get some peace and relaxation once I made it back home. HA!

 

Even if all my Sentinel work was off my plate, I’d still have a ton of work.

 

The worst part of it?

 

All of the work was exclusive to me. It wasn’t like I needed to do laundry, and I could just pay someone to do it for me. No, everything on my list was something that I had to handle personally.

 

“I wish I could stay and discuss this further with you. Unfortunately, I have other duties at this time.” Night said. “I would like to extend an offer to you. One I nearly extended before, but chose not to. You have managed to acquire an Immortality skill, and not only that, one you can grant to others. You have yet to be cursed by White Dove. It seems foolish to me to roll the dice on a curse, and to use a most valuable skill slot on a skill that does not need to be there.”

 

Hang on. HANG ON. Was Night offering-

 

“Normally, I demand total obedience from those I turn. However, for you, I shall make an exception. You will be granted the rights and privileges of a progenitor, allowed to carve out your own slice of Remus and the greater world, and none of us shall interfere.”

 

He paused a moment.

 

Yup. He was definitely offering-

 

“Sentinel Dawn. Elaine. Would you like to become a vampire?”

 

“Brrrpt!?!?”

 

[Name: Elaine]

[Race: Human]

[Age: 20]

[Mana: 578,460/578,460]

[Mana Regen: 434,358 (+517,177)]

Stats

[Free Stats: 195]

[Strength: 1,003]

[Dexterity: 1,826]

[Vitality: 14,214]

[Speed: 14,214]

[Mana: 57,846]

[Mana Regeneration: 57,947 (+51,718)]

[Magic Power: 22,777 (+428,208)]

[Magic Control: 22,777 (+428,208)]

[Class 1: [The Dawn Sentinel - Celestial: Lv 512]]

[Celestial Affinity: 472]

[Cosmic Presence: 300]

[The Stars Never Fade: 2]

[Center of the Universe: 450]

[Dance with the Heavens: 512]

[Wheel of Sun and Moon: 512]

[Mantle of the Stars: 469]

[Sunrise: 347]

[Class 2: [Butterfly Mystic - Radiance: Lv 357]]

[Radiance Affinity: 357]

[Radiance Resistance: 357]

[Radiance Conjuration: 357]

[Solar Flare: 131]

[Nectar: 357]

[Sun's Heart: 357]

[Scintillating Ascent: 334]

[Kaleidoscope: 357]

[Class 3: [Beloved of the Wind - Wind: Lv 8]]

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General Skills

[Long-Range Identify: 375]

[Pristine Memories: 221]

[Hatchling Rearing: 92]

[Bullet Time: 512]

[Oath of Elaine to Lyra: 376]

[Sentinel's Superiority: 512]

[Persistent Casting: 315]

[Passionate Learning: 380]

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Selkie

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