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Chapter: 287


After Ocean dismissed us, Night was the only one to move.

I still wanted a minute to center myself after that debrief. No idea what everyone else was waiting for, usually it was a mad rush out of here once we were dismissed.

Night got up, and walked towards the door.

Once there, sensing we hadn’t moved, he glanced back.

"I believe Dawn has prior appointments. Attempting to ambush her with additional questions at this moment is a poor use of her time. She is not about to vanish off the face of the planet. Your inquiries can wait until tomorrow, at a minimum."

Moans and complaints came from the Sentinels, who got up and left. Most of them headed through the door leading to the ‘secret’ tunnel to Ranger Academy.

I shook my head.

Right. I had a meeting with Ranger Command in a few. I’d just told the entire story, and the other Sentinels were basically my friends. Telling them was easy-ish.

Telling Command?

Well, they were my bosses in every sense.

"Brrrpt!"

"Yeah, alright, food." I agreed with Auri.

We got up, and navigated our way out of Ranger HQ. A few enterprising food vendors had their usual stalls set up outside, feeding the masses of employees who worked there. 

On one hand, a cafeteria would be nice, on the other, why bother? Tasty food was practically delivered to us. Open air food court with both variety and quality.

I grabbed a veggie wrap, paid the usurious price the vendor wanted - right, that was my complaint with them - and sourced some juice for Auri.

The dude was transfixed by her.

"One cup for Auri please!"

"Brrrpt!" Auri hovered over one of the ceramic cups the vendor had out on his stall.

"Remember Auri, we need to pay for the juice first, then you can drink it."

"Brrrpt." Auri let me know that she knew already, and to stop with the lectures and hurry up with the paying.

Felt like a hostage exchange. 

"She’s gorgeous." The man said.

"Brrrpt!!" Auri got briefly distracted from her drink to zip around him.

I chuckled.

"Flattery is the way to her heart."

"Is she for sale?"

"Brrpt!?" Auri was confused as to this "selling Auri" concept.

Auri was near me, it was almost spring, and Ariminum was semi-tropical. Still, it felt chilly.

I briefly debated with myself going off on the fact that Auri [Identify]’d as a [Mage], and thus was obviously a person. Exceeeeeeept this was Remus, and being a person was no barrier to getting sold in most minds. I also risked getting dragged into one heck of a conversation.

"No." I curtly answered.

"Brrrpt! Brrrpt!" Auri made a few unhappy noises, and flew off down the street.

Fortunately, she wasn’t terribly fast, not compared to most people.

Unfortunately, she was still made of fire, and constantly shed sparks and embers.

A quick flex of will, and I nabbed Auri with [Mantle of the Stars]. 

"Brrrpt!"

"It’s ok. It’s ok. I’d never do anything like that." I comforted poor Auri.

"Brrrpt!"

"Yeah, you’re totally the best."

"Brrrpt…?"

Ooof. That question hit like a truck, and I wasn’t in the best mental spot after recounting Ochi.

Still. There was only one right answer. 

"No, I don’t think I own you or anything."

"Brrpt?"

I chewed my lips, fighting back tears.

"Auri… you’re really, really young. And low leveled. I’m happy letting you fly away, and do your own thing. But not right now. You’re too little. You don’t know enough."

"BrrrpT!!"

The middle of the street was not the place to have this argument, and I was getting weird looks, talking with a level 16 [Mage] that was also a flaming hummingbird.

Auri leveled fast.

"Ok, I’ll make a deal with you."

"Brrrpt." 

"If you can hurt me, or any of my friends from earlier, you can go exploring RIGHT NOW. Otherwise, wait a few months! I’ll teach you everything you need to know, then you can go off!"

Auri buzzed in front of me, her head tilting back and forth. 

"Brrrpt!" She agreed.

I knew what she was thinking. The little troublemaker thought she could take on a Sentinel and win. 

Well, that’s exactly why I wasn’t letting her go out and about. I was a great big momma bear, not letting anyone or anything touch Auri - but by the same token, Auri seemed to think the world was her playspace. She was utterly fearless, and didn’t seem to have the concept of "negative consequences can happen to me" down yet.

Either she needed to grow up a bit and figure it out, or I needed to gently teach the idea to her in a non-traumatizing way, while not letting her get into trouble that was too deep.

Parenting was haaaaaaaaaard. 

Also, I’d gotten my lunch, and with a quick stop, Auri had gotten hers. 

Time for a meeting with Ranger Command.

After that?

A meeting not on the schedule. A meeting I was dreading, but one that had to be done. 

I’d rather rip my heart out of my chest and trample it, than go there, but I had to. I was compelled.

I shook my head, clearing my thoughts.

"Ok Auri! Want to meet my bosses?"

"Brrrpt…"

"I mean, I can take you back home first."

I thought about Auri, unattended for a few hours at my house. I hastily added conditions, wanting to come home to a bed and not a smoldering crater.

For all I knew, while money was tight my parents had stopped paying off the local brigands - errr - fire company. 

"We’d need to wait for mom to get back home first. She’s lots of fun, right?"

"Brrrpt!"

"But meeting my bosses? That’s a rare treat."

"Brrpt…"

I had a sudden brainwave. One of the dozens of ‘tricks’ that all girls were taught growing up. I’d done my best to studiously ignore them, not being that interested in having kids. Still, repetition made it stick.

Give a kid two "choices" that were both what you wanted. Auri was smart, but I think I could still outsmart her with experience, and take advantage of how naive she was. 

"Do you want to meet Ranger Command with me now, or after another drink of juice?"

"Brrpt!"

"Ok! Let’s go meet them!"

The fact that I could easily trick her like this reinforced my decision that she still needed help and guidance at this stage in her life.

On one hand, it felt a little icky. But on the other, wasn’t that how parents raised their kids? She was an autonomous being, but also completely dependent on me.

This was hard.

Fortunately, I had a great distraction to put the entire thing out of my mind.

I navigated my way through the halls of Ranger HQ, making it to the great double doors of Ranger Command’s meeting room. I gave a brisk nod to the two guards at the door.

"Sentinel Dawn, here to report to Command."

One of them cracked the door open and peeked in.

"They’re ready for you."

I strode into the room, under the disapproving gaze of seven Ranger Commanders. Ocean was in the Sentinel seat, with that look on his face.

I knew him. It was his "oh gods I’m so bored but I need to look serious/like I’m paying attention" look.

Also, given how the Commanders were glaring at me - Whoops. Might’ve taken a bit longer of a lunch break and a chat with Auri than I thought.

"Sentinel Dawn, reporting." I saluted.

"What’s that?" One of the Commanders eyed Auri, who was busy flitting around the room, looking around at the various people.

Reading the notes the Commanders had. Wasn’t sure if she could read or not, but it looked like it. Something to add to my list of things to teach Auri - reading and writing.

"Auri. She recently hatched, and I’ve been looking after her."

"She shouldn’t be here."

I narrowed my eyes at the Commander. Welp, looked like I was going to get off on the wrong foot with them.

At this point though, what was the worst they could do to me? I’d need to seriously piss off a number of Commanders over an extended period of time to land in ‘real’ hot water, or utterly violate everything that being a Sentinel meant. I wasn’t doing the second, and I wasn’t willing to let people poke at Auri.

"Auri is a phoenix, and this is probably the only chance you have in your life to see one." I curtly informed the Commander.

That woke them up. This went from ‘another debrief’ to ‘there’s a phoenix here how!?’

"How-" One of the Commanders interrupted, only for a second one to interrupt and talk over him.

"Please begin from leaving for the Formorian War." He curtly ordered me.

Well, that was better than an argument starting. I immediately started before Command could get bogged down in another fight.

"One moment." Ocean interrupted. "There is one aspect of Dawn’s report which has been personally sealed by Night."

Four of the Commanders glared at Ocean. He stoically looked at each of them.

"I’ve heard the part in question. It is entirely irrelevant here, but could cause all manner of disaster if Dawn reported it."

I saw a wave of realization slowly spread.

"Ah."

"One of-"

"Hush. Most likely."

I gave a slow nod, which seemed to make the Commanders happy.

"It all began that fateful night…" I started my report, as two of the Commanders started to take notes.

This was going to take hours.

=======

My estimate had been completely off. It took longer than that.

The only vaguely interesting part was that Ranger Command took an entirely different set of interests than the Sentinels. Where the Sentinels were interested in fights, tactics, and the story, Command was more interested in what lessons could be learned, extrapolated, and taught to the incoming Rangers.

It also meant I spent long periods of time just standing there, while the Commanders were arguing around me.

So. Much. Arguing. How did anything get done?

The only consolation was Ocean. We started playing rock-paper-scissors, using tiny, tiny hand motions to communicate what we were doing and what we were throwing. Helped alleviate some of the boredom. It also didn’t take so much focus that I couldn’t be aware of the Commanders asking me questions. 

Fortunately, Auri had gotten bored and tired. The day had been exhausting for the little hummingbird-phoenix, and she was taking a nap on my shoulder.

The Commanders started to wrap up their discussion. Which was good, and bad.

Good, because they were reaching the end, and I was going to be free soon.

Which, to my great consternation, meant more work for me.

"Those for assigning Dawn to SERE training?" One of the Commanders asked.

I kept a poker face as I mentally cursed. Seven hands went up in the air. Ocean gave me a tiny shrug.

Not all was lost though.

[*ding!* [Beloved of the Wind] has leveled up! 7 -> 8! +3 Speed from your class per level! +1 Free Stat for being human! +1 Speed from your element!]  

Well, that’d been easy enough. Now I just had to do some thinking on when I’d class up, and as what, but this really wasn’t the time or the place.

"Those for assigning Dawn to Wilderness Survival?" A second Commander proposed.

"Nature is far better suited than Dawn is." Another one pointed out.

Annnd there goes a whole argument. Back to the rock-paper-scissors with Ocean.

"All those in favor?"

Damnit. I missed what they were voting on!

Only one hand went up.

"Sentinel Nature remains the Wilderness Survival instructor." The Commander noted.

"With her healing, is Dawn a better flight teacher than Maestrai?" One of the Commanders wondered.

"Constantly evolving flight is unusual, but it’s also an interesting opportunity. She should be able to match any style, and help trainees evolve towards a style they desire."

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

"All those in favor of Dawn taking over flight lessons?"

Six hands went up.

Fuck.

The only reward for hard work was more hard work.

"On the shimagu." One of the Commanders said. "Dawn, what is your recommendation for keeping Ranger squads from potential invaders?"

"I’ve got a few." I quickly said, my mind racing with all the possibilities. "In rough order. A healer attached to teams would be able to handle any shimagu problems in the team, detect and destroy anyone the team comes into contact with that has a shimagu, and dramatically improve team survival rates. Barring that, a complicated set of rules regarding showing off active skills on a regular basis could work. With a few hundred gems, the right skill could be stored ahead of time and regularly used, although that’d be incredibly expensive. Also, I guess in theory I could be sent on rounds to check up on every team regularly and-"

Wait.

Fuck.

That was a terrible idea, and would completely screw me. So hard. My life would be non-stop on the road. 

I was heavily biased. I knew what I wanted Command to pick, and this was my moment to shove for the solution I wanted. I wasn’t prepared at all, but I was going to give it my best.

Also, I needed them to NOT pick the ‘Dawn is permanently on the road" option.

"A set of rules and procedures is likely to cause resentment, grumbling, and most importantly, Rangers in the field just won’t do it."

"Sentinel Dawn. Are you suggesting that Rangers don’t follow every field procedure perfectly?"

It was one of the Senators. The rest of us gave him a look like he was a dumbass.

Sadly, he had the ego of a small sun, and didn’t wilt under everyone’s Look. However, his attempt at scoring some points or whatever fell flat.

"Yeah. We don’t." I answered slowly, like he was a small child. 

"A healer with the squad, however, can not only secure the Rangers from shimagu threats, but can also handle a number of other issues. Poison. Miasma. Disease. Cuts. Infections. Injuries. A sufficiently powerful healer could also restore limbs, set broken bones, and more."

"Healers that can fight are incredibly rare." One of the Commanders commented.

"So forget that rule. Have them attached to the team, not part of the team. Eight Rangers, and a healer."

"Well…"

DAMNIT.

I ended up in another hours-long discussion. These talks were exhausting. Did they have a skill for this sort of thing!? [Gift of Gab] or something?!

Actually - the Commanders from the Senate were looking fresh and great. The Ranger Commanders were starting to look worn down.

Huh. I guess their base classes mattered. All of the Ranger Commanders were former Rangers, and still ID’d as [Warriors], [Mages], and [Leaders]. The Senators had a chance at 256 to grab classes aimed at, well, stupidly long meetings like this.

In the end, it came down to a vote, as always. The only question was what the vote was for.

It went in a bad direction. A horrible direction. The absolute worst. 

"All those in favor of sending Sentinel Dawn and Commander Ajax to request additional funding from Emperor Augustus for adding healers to Ranger Teams, and for Dawn to be able to give detailed breakdown on the shimagu?"

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Five hands went up. 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ocean must’ve seen my face.

He gave me a shit-eating grin.

Bastard. He knew it meant he wasn’t doing it.

"Any other business?"

Heads shook.

"Vote to end the meeting, and get dinner?"

I’d never seen a unanimous vote occur so fast.

I didn’t wait to get dismissed. I saluted, turned on my heel, and was out of there before anyone could come up with any more "good ideas".

Onto the next thing I had to do.

The Indomitable Wall.

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