Teaching was a two-way street. Most of the knowledge went from the teacher to the student, but most teachers learned from their students as well. If nothing else, teaching material to a student allowed the teacher to understand it better.
With all that said, I wasn’t perfect. I was half making stuff up as I went along with raising Auri, [Hatchling Rearing] doing the majority of the lifting. It wasn’t a powerful skill, nor was it high level, and there was the added twist of Auri being terrifyingly intelligent. The skill also seemed focused on the ‘rearing a hatchling bird’ part of it, and less so on the ‘and she’s smart enough to need ethics talks.’ I had an unfortunate wealth of “how to raise kids” hammered into my head, thanks to my upbringing, but there was a difference between the theory, and the practice.
I’d been trying to tell Auri about stats, skills, levels, and that in the grand scheme of things, she wasn’t very strong. I didn’t know how well she knew her numbers yet. She had some of them down, but easily got confused.
Still. Months old. Numbers.
However, my effortless removal of any problems had kinda defeated the message that she wasn’t very strong, and the world was dangerous. “I can burn mom, mom can burn anyone, therefore, I can burn anyone.” Was her current thinking.
Showing Auri that I could effortlessly annihilate a log that she’d spent half an hour working on seemed to finally get the message across. ‘I operate on a different level than you do.’
Shame [Sentinel’s Superiority] was capped. I’m sure I’d get a level of it for flexing on a phoenix.
“That was nothing.” I couldn’t keep the smugness out of my voice.
Auri’s beak opened and closed soundlessly.
“Hey, a few hundred more levels, and you’ll be able to do that!”
Auri started to fly around me, remembered she was tired, and basically dive-bombed my hands for her nap.
I smiled as I looked down at her sleeping form. With one finger, I carefully stroked her.
“One day, you’ll be big and strong, burning everything you want.” I whispered to her.
She snuggled into my hand a bit deeper, making herself more comfortable.
She was the best.
I opened up my wings and took flight.
Figured while I was out of the city, I’d go see how Artemis’s school was doing.
It only took a few minutes of flying to find the school. It helped that it was in the same spot, and had grown quite a bit. Ugly buildings were still scattered around, there were new training fields, and it was looking a lot more lively than before.
I circled a few times, but didn’t spot Artemis or Maximus. Eventually I decided to just land next to the biggest building, and work from there.
“Know where Maximus is?” I asked a random student running around.
“That building!” They pointed at one of the middle-ugly buildings - seriously, Artemis needed an [Architect] to give her a hand or something - and kept running.
With a little more wandering around, then finally, after almost three years-
“MAXIMUS!” I waved my one free hand at him. I caught him right after he finished teaching a class, students pouring into the hallway.
He was looking good. Still as non-descript as ever, he had a few more lines on his face, and a couple of grey hairs.
He stared at me, thunderstruck.
“ELAINE!?” He finally got out. “I thought you were dead!”
Ooooh shit. He wasn’t as well connected as everyone else, and hadn’t gotten word of my most recent letter.
“Well, I’m alive!”
He shook his head, chuckling lightly before he froze, eyes widening.
“Artemis! Did you hear what happened with her?” He made a move as if to grab my arm, but restrained himself.
“Something, something, got freed this morning?” I poked him, blasting him with a heal. Never knew if some third-rate healer hadn’t fixed an injury properly. My regeneration rates were crazy enough that if I’d done anything, I wouldn’t notice.
Maximus blinked, the news clearly having not gotten to him yet.
“Well… ok, technically my dad should have finished delivering the coins by now, but yeah. Surprised she’s not back yet.”
“So am I.” Maximus half-muttered to himself under his breath. “Well! Now that’s out of the way, what can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to catch up! Mostly.” I confessed.
“Normally, I’d say I have to give a lecture, but I suspect your stories will be excellent teaching material, if you don’t mind?”
“Yeah, sure! You’re getting the redacted version though.”
“Oh, I don’t think any of us will mind.”
Some quick shuffling around, a quick down-low of what type of events could be covered and interesting things to hint at, a broad announcement by Maximus, and I was sitting in front of a large lecture hall with him, crowds of students filing in and finding seats.
A few of the other instructors were up front with me, forming a sort of panel.
“Thank you everyone!” Maximus announced to the crowds. “We’ve got a treat today! Sentinel Dawn has returned from a year and a half beyond the borders of Remus, and is willing to share the tale of her adventure! Listen carefully! Clever ways of using magic, and the heights of power possible will be revealed to you all! Plus, Sentinel Dawn is the single most powerful [Healer] in Remus. Without further ado- DAWN!”
I waved to the crowd, and got quite the reaction back. Some cheering, one unwelcome wolf-whistle, applause, and interested susurrations were just the start.
A brief pang of sadness flashed through me, an ancient regret. I’d never gotten the chance to be a student like that. Never got to attend large lectures, never got to experience anything like college life. My chance had been ripped away from me, and it just wasn’t a thing in Remus.
Maybe the elf Academy would be similar? I guess there was a shot…
“Hey all! Glad to be here! I’m sure most of you have heard of the end of the Formorian War. Well, let me tell you what it was like in the middle of it. Technically, we were past the front lines, a strike force deep within the territory of the horde…”
I started narrating my story, Maximus being an attentive listener. He quickly made it clear that the panel were the only ones allowed to interrupt, and focused heavily on the skills and magic I’d seen.
“See here!” He announced at one point. “Sentinel Dawn encountered a clever application of Miasma and Fire magic. The orcs lived their entire lives in tunnels, which kept the Miasma close, and prevented dispersion. It allowed the [Mage] to flood the tunnels in a way that couldn’t be dodged, and also let them reach far, far further than they normally could cast! Then, with a tiny spark - and a clever helper defending them - they could inflict terrible damage at range. Now! Who can answer this question: could the [Mage] have a skill to defend himself against his own explosions within one of the two classes he displayed? Yes, Horatio?” He asked one member of the ‘panel’.
Good thing really, I couldn’t imagine letting the students try to poorly answer the questions. We’d be here all day, and while Maximus was delving into the details of my journey and investigating the magic and skills, he was being conscientious of my time. I appreciated it.
“Yes and no. See…”
This little stop was taking a heck of a lot longer than I had planned. Ah well, I hadn’t seen Maximus in years, and while I wanted to get on with my day and see everyone else?
I wasn’t going to ditch him. He’d taught me so much about the System, and even now, I suspected he knew more than me. I could afford to give back.
Auri was also having the time of her life. She was sitting on my still-bald and eyebrowless head, primping and preening in front of the crowd, flashing her brightly colored burning wings around. I estimated a fifth of the students had lost the train of conversation between Horatio and Maximus, and were just watching Auri’s fire show.
She was in heaven.
Granted, it had been almost a third of the students before I’d casually mentioned surviving getting decapitated. It had been with great reluctance that I’d answered the question “HOW!?” with “I’m a Sentinel, it’s what we DO” as opposed to giving a detailed breakdown of how my skills and build working together had pulled it off.
I didn’t want to give away a detailed analysis of my skills and how they worked together to the greater world, not right now. Growing up, I’d been all about sharing my skills and abilities with whoever would listen, but now?
Now I wasn’t giving out a roadmap of “how to kill Sentinel Dawn.”
“What happened next?” Maximus asked, snapping me back to the present.
“Well, after the orc attack we…”
Had to say. It was pretty nice telling my story like this.
I finished narrating my tale, and the students were milling around, trying to figure out what was next. I’d completely destroyed any semblance of a normal schedule.
Ah well. Not my problem.
“Thank you again Elaine.” Maximus offered his hand, and I shook it. “I bet, oh, four rods that you’ll be in at least one student’s class offerings.”
He gave me a winning smile.
I snorted at him.
“You want me to bet against you, in your area of expertise? With literally thousands of chances for you to win? Yeah, no.”
His mouth gave a wry twist.
“Was worth a shot. Anything else I can do?”
“Yeah. Auri here,”
“Brrrpt!” Auri was pleased to announce that, yes, she was here and listening.
“Needs a better education than I can provide on my own.”
Maximus eyed Auri somewhat doubtfully. I waited a few minutes, while he thought about what I was implicitly asking.
“Frankly, I don’t think the School of Sorcery and Spellcraft is right for her.” He concluded. “There’s a level of, ah, focus that’s required, and the individual attention Auri needs, combined with her level and unique nature, makes me think that a tutor would be best.”
“Got any recommendations?” Maximus had spent almost a year in the education space, and knew the players better than I did.
“Try Plato. He’s mostly retired, but I think a letter of recommendation from me, plus the, ah, unique nature of the pupil will interest him enough.”
“Yes Auri, you’re going to get an education. Yes, you’re absolutely the bestest, most unique pupil ever.” I soothed the tiny bird.
Maximus started writing on a scroll.
“I wish I knew everything, but I don’t. Plus, what will you do when I go on a dangerous mission?”
I facepalmed. Of course Auri wanted to come with me to protect me.
“Even when I’m over the sea? The great, big, huge water?”
“BBBBBBRRRRPPTTT!!!” Auri shook her head furiously.
“You might like him.”
“As entertaining as it is to watch you lose an argument with a bird.” Maximus’s roast wasn’t something [Dance with the Heavens] could cure. “I do need to get somewhat of a move on. Here. His address as well.”
“Thanks! Hey, I should be able to drop by regularly.”
“Will you be resuming teaching classes in the evening? We haven’t been able to find a healer nearly good enough to replace you.”
I thought about it a moment.
“Yeah, I can do that. In a few days. I still need to settle back in.”
“Naturally. Could you do me a favor? Could you tell Artemis to get off her lazy ass and get back down here!”
With that, I was off. Onto the next errand on my endless to-do list.
I had a lot to do, and only so many hours to do it in. Given that the Sentinels were still a thing, still existed, and seemingly still had all our exemptions, plus the utter lack of guards harassing me for dodging them the other day?
I just flew right over the walls. Rank hath its privilege and all that.
Next up? Autumn!
Ariminum was big. I mostly remembered the layout, but things had changed since I was last here. Buildings were different, and some smaller streets had vanished, or been added where there used to be a store.
Still, the market squares were in the same locations, and I spotted the one I used. In no time at all I spotted Autumn and her dad, Neptune, at their stall, hawking their wares.
A grin cracked my face. They’d been doing well for themselves, their stall at least twice the size that it used to be, and they had a few helpers.
I paused for a moment, debating how I wanted to make my entrance. What I really wanted to do was sneak up on Autumn, put my hands over her eyes, and ask “guess who!?”
Sadly, I was kinda obvious with my butterfly wings of burning light, and I didn’t want to land somewhere else, only to need to push my way through the bustling crowds. I just didn’t have the time for it, and I know I’d want to light half the people shoving me around on fire, let alone Auri.
And - is that what Autumn would want?
Nah. She’d want to see me ASAP, and possibly get some money out of it. My previous issue with being too flashy came in handy here.
Giving myself a soft Radiance glow, I dive-bombed Autumn’s stall, Auri trilling the entire way down.
I swooped into their stall, my wings flaring as I bled speed, gracefully landing between a shocked Neptune and Autumn.
Having just been at Maximus’s school, I was slightly influenced by the scholarly environment, and had teaching and education on my mind. I was feeling slightly guilty that Autumn was my apprentice, and I hadn’t done anything for her in ages.
Something about being trapped underground.
“Pop quiz! How many bones are in the hand, and what are their names?”
There was a stunned moment as everyone adjusted to my sudden appearance. They weren’t [Fighters] or [Warriors], I didn’t expect them to have the same twitch reflexes.
“Brrrpt!” Auri threw her fiery wings up, letting a small spout of fire erupt. That broke the moment.
“ELAINE!!!” Autumn grabbed me in a hug. I let her, noting that her eyes were starry. She’d picked up a Celestial element while I was gone.
“Whoa! Easy beanpole!” She’d been taller than I was before I left, and somehow had gotten even taller.
Neptune barked some quick orders to his helpers, and they turned to keep helping various customers - along with harassing the passersbys, who had stopped to gape, into BUYING SOMETHING ALREADY.
“I thought you were dead!” Autumn practically wailed. “I almost gave some money to the temple as an offering for your safe return!”
I half-chuckled at that.
“Well, good thing you didn’t.” I put on a mock-serious face. With a tone that was barely suppressing my laughter, I asked my earlier question again.
“So! Bones in the hand! And show me.”
“Brrpt…” Auri gave a bored cheep.
“Scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, trapezoid…” Autumn quickly and neatly pointed to each bone as she rattled them off, the phrasing and the half-song attached to it indicating a mnemonic trick.
“Great! You’ve been studying!” I wanted to ruffle her hair, showing how happy I was. Wasn’t sure if she’d like that. Teenagers.
“Yeah! Oh…” She trailed off, and looked nervously at her dad - Neptune.
I looked at him as well.
“Sentinel. For you.” He politely half-bowed, holding a tray with a dozen mangos prepared on it. What would I do without Neptune, my beloved mango hookup in Ariminum?
“Bribe shamelessly accepted.” I grabbed the first mango, and held it out, making it clear it was for Auri. She gratefully flitted over, and started pecking at it.
“Brrpt! Brrrpt!” She happily told me how much she liked this new bringer-of-mangos.
I grabbed a second one and chowed down, letting bliss flow through me. “What’s up?”
My relationship with Neptune and Autumn was a bit strange. We were friends, but we had numerous business relationships going on as well. They mixed and matched, and we never let one get in the way of the other. I was sure that they’d be happy to give me an entire cartful of mangos just to let me know how happy they were that I was back home.
But with Autumn’s awkwardness, I was suspecting something was up. Little beanpole was great at fleecing people - myself included - from their hard-earned cash, but wasn’t exactly a master at hiding her emotions when it wasn’t transactional.
“Pardon. With the length of time you were gone, and with how quickly she went through your Medical Manuscripts, I felt it was appropriate for Autumn to receive additional tutelage in medicine from other healers. I hope you don’t mind.”
I paused a moment, waiting for Neptune to say more. The silence grew uncomfortable, as Neptune looked more and more uncomfortable.
“That’s it?” I asked him.
I waved him off, taking a bite of my mango in the middle.
“No, no, that’s fine. I assumed there was something, like, actually terrible. For all you knew, I was dead, and you were doing what was best for Autumn. I know how much she likes learning things. I’d never judge you for that.”
Neptune sagged with physical relief, and Autumn visibly brightened up.
“They were horrible. Not nearly as good as you.”
I chuckled at the absolutely shameless flattery. I had no idea how true it was, but hey. I wasn’t immune to compliments, not when they seemed mostly genuine.
“Tell her.” Neptune suggested to Autumn. Her eyes went wide.
“Elaine! Elaine! I got [Dawn’s Disciple] for my level 32 healer class! It was red! And good!”
That went straight to my heart, and I could feel tears of pride welling up.
“Good job. I’m so proud.” I croaked out.
“And while you’re feeling good, they stopped paying for your stall. Sorry!” Autumn quickly slipped in.
I put my hands on my hips, and looked up at her. So unfair how she was taller than me. Like everyone else.
“And what merchant’s rule is that?” I asked her, mock-angry.
“Rule 18 - Never be the bearer of bad news, unless you profit from it.” She promptly replied.
“Mmmm. And would getting in my good graces count as profit?”
I rolled my eyes at her, and stole someone’s stool.
“This is Auri by the way.”
“She’s a show-off.”
“Brrrpt!!” Auri flew on top of my head, and started preening. Made her a little more eye level with Autumn.
“She’s a bird.” Autumn pointed out.
“She’s a phoenix, and incredibly intelligent.”
Autumn did a double take.
“WHAAAAAAAT!? A PHOENIX!? It’s very nice to meet you, Auri.”
“Brrpt.” Autumn hadn’t made a great first impression with Auri.
She got a scheming, mercantile look on her face.
“Hey Auri, you like showing off, right?”
“Dad! Dad! We gotta make a cool stand for Auri to show off from.”
Neptune had been following the entire conversation.
“Naturally. Does Auri understand me?” He asked me.
“You know a lot of words, yes, but you don’t always have the meaning of context behind them.” I shot back. Mouthy bird.
“Fascinating. Prima Auri, what would you like in a stand?”
“Brrpt! Brrpt! Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrpppt!”
“Isn’t rule one always, always, ALWAYS get paid?” I idly ‘asked’ Neptune.
I got a look from Autumn.
“I gotta look out for Auri. She likes fruit juice. How about unlimited fruit juice?”
“All the fruit juice you can drink, while you get to show off.” Neptune offered Auri.
Auri’s shriek of joy was deafening. The only thing that saved our poor hearing was that her lungs were tiny.
“Now, no stealing Auri away.” I joked at Neptune.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Lemme guess - another rule?”
He nodded, as he started to work on some sort of stand for Auri.
She was going to LOVE being here. People to adore her, and all the juice to drink?
I was going to need attractive offerings back home, just so she’d come back! She was somewhat her own bird, and if Neptune and Autumn offered a nicer life, she was welcome to take it. I wouldn’t stop her.
Once she got some more sense in her head.
I clapped my hands, getting Autumn’s attention.
“Ok! Tell me what you’ve been up to, then I’ll regale you with my tales.”
“We got your letter, and your advice was baaaaaaad.” Autumn didn’t hesitate to roast me. “We would’ve gotten destroyed if we followed it, like your hair.”
I winced. Oooops.
“Not your fault, you’d be terrible as a merchant. Too soft.”
Now listen here you little-
“We love you anyways. Right! Your letter was vague enough, but we were able to buy the right stuff before the army came back. It was a rough few months, but we multiplied our investment eleven times over. ELEVEN! That never happens!”
Autumn gave me another hug.
“Oh my gods THANK YOU we made SO MUCH MONEY.”
“So you repay me by roasting me?”
“Oh yeah, totally, otherwise you’d get a swollen head.”
Well. At least her heart was in the right place.
“Expanded to a better stall, hired some help, and managed to renegotiate a number of deals to better favor us. Dad let me do one of them! All by myself! See, they had-”
Neptune gave a very loud, very fake cough. Autumn colored.
“Whoops, right, you don’t care about that. Anyways!”
“I do care! I’ve been gone for so long. I want to hear what you've been up to. But lemme guess, it took like three people before someone took you seriously?”
Autumn’s eyes lit up.
“OK! So! First, you have to realize that keeping track of individual ships that do the shipping runs is HARD. They could sink, or…”
I changed my mind.
I did NOT want to know about the minutiae of shipping routes and negotiating deals. I just wanted my mangos delivered regularly.
Still, Autumn was so happy, I couldn’t bear to interrupt her.
She told me all about how she mostly single-handedly got a better price for food, all while food prices were soaring. It sounded like quite the feat.
“Ok! Enough about what we were doing, it was boring. Tell me about your adventures!”
Her desire to know more was palatable.
“Hmmm. Can’t tell you everything here.” We were in the middle of a busy market, and even some of the less-confidential stuff I couldn’t say.
“Oh! That’s easy!” Autumn exclaimed. “I have a skill for that! [Confidential Negotiations].”
And like that, we had some measure of magical privacy.
“Well, ok then.”
After that, I told her all about my adventures. She stopped me at the part where I got [The Stars Never Fade], her eyes sparkling.
“So wait wait wait. You can make people younger. With a skill.” She clarified.
She grinned at me.
“Which means it can be stored in a gem. Which means we can anonymously sell it. We are going to make so much money.”