Night’s offer crashed over me, and I blinked, trying to process it.
"Do not make a decision now, or lightly. It is one you shall have to live with for eternity. Think on it. Meditate. Discuss it with your friends and family. Take a decade to decide. After all, that is simply a drop in the vast ocean of time that you now have before you. And now, I apologize, but I simply must leave."
With a gust of wind, Night dashed out of the arena, onto his next task.
He’d given me a lot to think about.
"Night’s a vampire."
"They dislike sunlight, drink blood, and live a long time."
"No, that doesn’t sound very fun does it? Plus, how would I play with you during the day?"
It sounded cruel, but I wasn’t going to pass on Night’s offer simply due to a 15-second conversation with a bird I’d met two months ago. However, I was leaning no.
Like, how could I be Dawn, and allergic to sunlight?
Actually, that sounded kinda funny.
With that being said, Night had brought up some excellent points. The biggest one?
I didn’t need to figure it out now.
It went right to the bottom of my "to think about" list.
I then looked over my "to think about" list, and adjusted it to be next to "Figure out my 3rd class".
Goals. End slavery?
Sentinel duties - fieldwork.
Sentinel duties - training. New classes, medicine next round.
3rd Class. When to upgrade, what to take.
Meet with the Emperor. This one was half to-think, half to-do.
Figure out Auri’s education and future.
My to-do list was almost as bad.
Check I’ve been paid.
Pay off Artemis’s debt.
Visit Artemis’s School.
Prepare with Ajax for our meeting with the Emperor.
Meet with the Rangers currently overseeing SERE training.
Make a nice home for Auri.
Figure out what happened with Julius. Hang on, I COULD outsource this one!
Find a tutor for Auri. Both knowledge and Fire.
Playtime with Auri.
Check on the Medical Manuscripts
Spend time with family.
However, first thing first - sleep. The day was over, and I didn’t need to solve the world’s woes - or even my own - tonight.
"Ok Auri! You’ve been the bestest little bird all day today!"
"Brrrpt!" Auri flew around me, happily declaring that, yes, she was.
"I want to get you a special treat for how good you’ve been!"
"Tomorrow, let’s go to the marketplace! It’s a GREAT BIG SQUARE full of people! I’m going to put you way high up, and THOUSANDS of people will be able to admire you!!"
"BRRRRRRRRRRPPPPTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!! BRRRRRRRRRRPPPPTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!! BRRRRRRRRR-"
My hand flashed out as Auri suddenly tumbled from the sky, catching her before she crashed.
"brrrrpt…." she gently cooed at me.
My worries vanished in a flash, and I rolled my eyes.
She’d passed out from sheer excitement.
I gave her a smile.
"Alright, little troublemaker, let’s get you home. Nice big bottle of juice and a big nap. Doesn’t that sound nice after an exhausting day?"
"Brrrpt…" I swear she was falling asleep already.
I smiled, turned, and headed home.
A nice dinner - too late for a full family dinner - and a jug of mango juice for Auri, and I was off to dreamland.
The morning came quickly enough, and I popped down to the Sentinel’s room for our daily meeting.
There was no business that anyone needed to do, and Night dismissed the meeting in short order. He immediately withdrew, leaving me alone with the rest of the Sentinels.
The unmoving Sentinels.
"Dawn! Quick question!"
"I’m wondering about this one part of your trip…"
Three of the Sentinels immediately tried to get my attention, glaring at each other. The rest of them were sitting, eyeing me like a fresh deal at the market.
Not a comfortable spot.
I was sworn to do no harm. However, Sentinels were tough. They also tended to pull their punches in a brawl, because harming teammates was a no-go.
Hence, I wasn’t going to violate my [Oath] with what I was going to do next.
"Winner of the brawl gets to ask me questions."
I skipped out of the resulting mess. The winner could find me, and ask me questions while we walked.
I had no doubts that a Sentinel could find me. My money was on Hunting winning anyways.
First stop of the day - the Quartermaster.
"Heya!" I happily bounded up to the grump.
"Dawn. Glad you’re alive. How much are you going to cost me this time?"
Wow. He was delighted to see me! Given how much angry muttering I usually got from him.
"You probably already heard, but I need an entire new set of everything." I apologized to him. "Only managed to keep my Sentinel badge with me."
He eyed my Mistweave and grunted.
"That’s fine. Below usual operational costs for Sentinels in that timeframe, although not nearly as effective."
"Anyways. Same sizes?"
I poked my belly.
"Anything for your bird?"
"Officially? No. Unofficially? If you’ve got spare stuff that needs burning, she’d be delighted."
"Lemme see what I can do."
"Thanks! Also, this is important - have I gotten paid yet? Kinda need the money today."
I got an extremely unfair judgemental look from the Quartermaster.
"Yeah. 60 rods a week. Your contribution to the Pastos fund is 1 rod a week. You were missing in action 73 weeks. 4,307 rods got delivered yesterday. Next payday’s in 4 days. Anything else?"
"No, thank you."
"Fine. Shoo. Don’t go almost dying again."
He stomped off into the back, muttering just loudly enough for me to hear.
"Damn kids these days spending all their money within hours of getting home. No self control. No discipline. No head for money or finance. Why, if I…"
I looked at Auri and shrugged.
She agreed with me.
Money secured - blessedly, more than the 2,000 rods needed for Artemis’s freedom, holy shit they paid me well - I was off to my next stop.
I looked up at the imposing marble pillars, the hallowed building that dictated the fate of Remus.
Well. Less so than before. Still was unsure on this whole Emperor business.
"Auri, listen carefully to me."
"Brrrpt!" She was a little antsy. It’d been all "no burning this" and "no burning that" for a few days now, and while she still wanted her flower shop, there was just so much to burn. She’d shown SO MUCH self control, and honestly, I was getting a little worried that she was going to blow her tiny top off, and just see how much she could light on fire before I caught her.
The answer was "not much", but Auri would do it.
And Auri throwing around huge pillars - fine, cute and small, but same issue - of flame in THE FREAKING SENATE?
Bad news all around.
I didn’t want to hamsterball Auri, not when it wasn’t absolutely needed.
Well. Time to abuse my station and status a bit.
"Sentinel Dawn." I approached one of the [Praetorian Guards] outside the Senate doors. One of them saluted.
"Sentinel. What can we do for you?"
"I’m looking for Praetorian Elainus. If you wouldn’t mind…?"
I managed to pull off the trick of having my question sound exactly like an order. A polite order, but still an order.
Some saluting, shuffling, and waiting around later, and…
We gave each other a hug - entirely uncaring about his hard armor with some sharp bits to it - and separated.
The guards had enough discipline not to make disgusted noises, but I could imagine what they were thinking.
‘We have to stand around all day, and he gets to hang out with his kid.’
Life just wasn’t fair sometimes.
"Off to the temple?" He asked me.
My finances were in a strange place. Technically, dad owned everything. Stupid shitty way Remus was set up. Practically, the temple knew me, and knew that I was allowed to access the family’s account.
Also practically? It’d been over a year since I last showed up, I hadn’t been since I returned to Remus, and I was going to ask for a LOT of money to get moved around.
Someone possibly unknown, asking to access an account and move around multiple years salaries for even wealthy families?
There was a tiny chance it’d go off without a hitch, a large chance they’d kick me out, and a small chance it’d escalate. What was more likely, a pint-sized Sentinel with a level and a badge, or a high-level [Rogue] with an intricate disguise and level-spoofing skill?
Either way, today was the deadline I’d agreed on to pay off Artemis’s debt. Sure, I could probably extend it, but why make life hard on myself?
Hence. Grabbing dad.
"Same old, same old." He sighed. "Everyone thinks they’re just as important as always, and are just as convinced that the latest meeting over bamboo shoots or dye ratios is the Most Important Thing Ever, and that spies and saboteurs are around every corner."
He rolled his eyes.
"Brrrpt!?!" Auri was alarmed by this prospect.
"No, it’s fine, it’s all in their head." I reassured her.
"There are no tiny spies in the Senator’s heads." I patiently explained to Auri.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. Auri had been around for the conversation about the shimagu afterall, and was doubting my sudden reversal on ‘tiny spies in heads’.
"Hey dad, Auri wants to know more about being a guard, and spies." I told him.
He looked somewhat doubtfully at Auri, who was tilting her head back and forth at him.
"Eh, why not. Ok, so guards protect people, and enforce the law. We…"
I smiled, preserving the memory of dad carefully explaining stuff to a tiny, multi-colored flaming phoenix in the middle of the road, as we carefully navigated our way to the temple.
"Can you manage things from here?" I asked my dad as we reached the front of the temple.
"Sure. You in a rush or something?" He asked me.
I gave a tiny tilt of my head towards Auri.
"I think she needs to burn off some energy, and if she decides to inside the temple…"
I left the rest unsaid.
Auri seemed to think that was a GREAT idea.
Which was the problem.
"Ah, yeah, I can manage this. Swing by for lunch?"
I briefly flitted through what I had to do for the day.
"I think I’ll be busy. Sorry. I’ll be home for dinner for sure!" I reassured him.
"Alright kiddo. Come here, give me a hug." He said, opening his arms. I happily complied.
"We were so worried, you know?" He murmured into my… well, I didn’t have hair at this point, THANKS AURI. That was on the to-do list, but not as important.
I hugged dad back.
"Well, I’m home now. Safe and sound."
We let the moment linger a bit, people stepping around us.
"Brrrpt!" Auri let me know she was getting bored, breaking the moment.
"Have a good day!"
"Yeah! You too! 2000 rods? Senator Enyo, right?"
"Ok, I’ve got this. Don’t get in too much trouble, and your mom will be sad if you miss dinner again."
With a wave, I saw him off.
"Ok! Auri time! Burn something, or go to the market and have people admire you?"
[*ding!* [Hatchling Rearing] has leveled up! 92 -> 93]
I had a few options.
The cheapest would be to find a [Smith] or [Charcoal Burner], or people who needed a fire and let Auri do her thing.
I was entirely unschooled in how they worked, but I suspected they needed things burned a very particular way, and Auri, well…
Auri could burn it the way they wanted, but probably just wanted to burn things the way she wanted to. An artist, working in flames instead of paints, refusing to be tied down by constraints.
Oh! I should totally get the [Sculptor] I’d asked to make busts of various Sentinels to do Auri! She’d LOVE that.
There was trash, but given that most trash was handled by throwing it into the sewers, it wasn’t super viable. Plus, nobody wanted large trash fires near where they lived, and Auri, as adorable as she was, didn’t have the stats or power to do large-scale burns.
She would one day, and I could only pray that she had enough self-control by then.
I didn’t want to think of my options with "highly destructive pyromaniac with no self-control."
Which left "buying something for Auri to burn", and that was easy.
"Wanna fly out of town?" I asked Auri.
I chuckled at her.
"Alright, we’ll do it your way."
I snapped my wings open. Every luminous hue of the rainbow shimmered across the span of my wings, glimmering gold edging them. A faint sense of the vastness of space, of the stars and constellations were visible in them.
I took a few experimental flaps, mostly showing off.
"Brrrpt!!" Auri approved of my lightshow, as she gamely flew up and out.
With a lazy flap of my wings, I caught up with her.
Auri was a bird. Flying was second nature to her, part of the very fiber of her being.
She was also patterned after a hummingbird, which weren’t known for their great high-speed long-distance flight. Fantastic at zipping around. Wings that beat at 10-80 times a second - before speed kicked in! Amazing at hovering, unparalleled agility.
Not great at straight-line flight.
Sometimes, there was no beating the tyranny of stats.
I carefully, slowly flew next to Auri. I didn’t want to insult her by hovering while she was flying her fastest, nor did I want to blaze ahead and make her feel weak and powerless.
More importantly, I didn’t want to be away from her when she ran out of energy, and needed a juice refill. Auri was a tough little bird. She’d throw herself at the problem until her body literally gave out on her. She hadn’t learned to properly pace herself.
When her little wings gave out after a half-dozen districts and a hundred streets, I was there to catch her.
"Brpt. Brpt. Brpt. Brpt." Auri panted in my hand, as I one-handedly opened the jug of mango juice I always carried with me.
Bless my high dexterity. I once again cursed the naive girl I’d been before 14, who thought physical stats were kinda dumb.
They were infinitely useful in everyday life.
"Brrrpt…!" Auri gave me a tired, thankful cheep, then proceeded to try and drown herself in mango juice.
A little more intelligently this time - she didn’t actually dunk her entire body.
Still, her drinks were deep enough I swear I heard her going glug glug glug glug, in spite of her tiny size.
She recovered quickly enough.
"I honestly have no idea what you’d do without me, no."
"Don’t you sass me."
"We’re getting wood for you to burn!"
"brpt." Auri’s ‘whoops’ cheep was tiny, and Very Remorseful.
"Fast or SUPER FAST?" I asked Auri.
I’d never imply her flying was anything other than fast.
"Ok! Let’s go!"
Auri flew up to my shoulder - her favorite place - and "fluffed down", bracing herself.
It wouldn’t be nearly enough, but she wanted to try and stay on, and feel the wind in her… flames?
Either way, I made a neat little [Mantle] construct to keep her in place, and zipped off.
I didn’t know where a handy sawmill was, or even where the local lumberjacks were located. Didn’t need to. Half an hour of flying around, and I spotted large piles of logs near a heavily wooded area. Didn’t take a genius to work it out.
We flew down, and after some quick negotiations I had what I wanted. Half-a-tree now, and to be delivered daily to my home.
Sadly, I thought I’d get a minor discount for wanting "the worst" wood, but alas. Firewood was still in demand. Not all baths were heated with magic, nor was all food cooked with skills.
In no time at all, we had a nice fresh log in an out-of-the-way area.
"Ok Auri! All yours!" I gestured at the log.
Auri didn’t need to be told twice.
"Brrrrrrrrppppppptttt!!!!!!!!" Auri flew over, flames erupting from every part of her body.
The half-tree caught, but Auri quickly ran out of juice - errr - mana. The wood was still somewhat green, and slowly the flames petered out.
"Brrrpt, BrrrrRRppt!" Auri puffed out her little chest proudly.
Hah! The little pyro probably thought she deserved a reward. She certainly did look inordinately pleased with herself… Even though she’d barely torched a fraction of it.
I was reminded that Fire wasn’t exactly a top-tier mage element, and while Auri had a ton of advantages, and was naturally made out of fire, she was also still only level 19, with one class. There wasn’t exactly a lot of firepower behind her flames.
Although… I did some quick mental math. She had a LOT more fire and power than I’d expect out of someone level 19. More like level 70, with a second class.
Huh. I needed to keep an eye on that.
"Don’t leave that there!" One of the [Lumberjacks] yelled at us.
Yeah, buying wood, burning half of it, then leaving it wasn’t great.
"Auri, do you want to burn it any more?"
After about half an hour of Auri recharging her mana, and exploding it all over the log, she’d had enough. About half the log was left, the entire top half charred, and the bottom half drier than when we’d started.
Auri hadn’t been defeated by a lack of willpower, or a lack of mana. No, she’d been defeated by the powerful urge to take a nap.
Too much excitement. Too much fun. It was like letting a kid run and run and run and run until they tripped, and fell asleep right where they landed.
She wasn’t crashing that hard.
I eyed the log, and figured I’d just clean it up.
"Hey Auri, watch this!"
"brrrpt…." Was her sleepy reply.
With a flash of Radiance, I annihilated the remaining log.
I turned to Auri, sitting on my shoulder, and grinned.
My little light show woke Auri RIGHT up. She turned towards me, her beak comically dropping open.