Mrs. Hamilton looked up at the young man that walked into her field office. It was almost noon, and most of the Southern and Eastern new areas had been examined, at least in a cursory manner. From what she understood, most of it was monster-infested wilderness, so much so that the Squads above 20 were having difficulty rescuing people when they found them. Mostly, they just called for assistance from Numerals, or even the Ghosthound himself, if he was in the area.
But now that they had finished their sweep, it was time to hear what the damage was.
“Report,” Mrs. Hamilton said coolly. The man nodded, then began to speak.
“All told, we found about 3000 people. Most came relatively quietly when evidence of monsters became too obvious to deny. But there were some hard-headed ones, that needed convincing. Most were taken to Franksburg, for a more… gentle transition to System life, but we were able to identify a few dozen highly skilled laborers that were recruited. But some of those… I think are a little shocked by everything they’ve seen, ma’am.”
Mrs. Hamilton leaned back in her chair. “So many had close encounters with a monster? How many do we think died?”
The young man closed his eyes, grief clear on his face. ‘He can’t be older than 24,’ Mrs. Hamilton thought to herself, chiding herself inwardly.
“Probably… probably about twice that much. Most of the people were in a small bit of a city center that was transplanted to the Easternmost boundary. By the time we got word of it, an Alien-style monster had set up shop there. Latched onto the face, suffocated victims, planted eggs in the dead body, etc. It was only the Ghosthound’s arrival that saved the rest. He used his roots, I’ve been led to understand, and his aim was impeccable. All infected and live monsters were impaled within a half hour of his arrival.”
Then the boy hesitated, unsure of what to say. Mrs. Hamilton chuckled dryly. “Go on, say it. Randidly isn’t so petty to take offense at the truth of his methods.”
The boy visibly flinched at the use of Randidly’s name, and Mrs. Hamilton almost said something about it, and the danger of deifying a man, but decided against it. Especially when Randidly was going to be so distant from the day to day running of Donnyton, it didn’t do too much harm; it was just somewhat exasperating to deal with. On the other hand, it had the added benefit of making the men treat the actual leader of their Village, Donny, like a regular guy.
So for that reason alone, it was worth keeping around. Mrs. Hamilton was much more worried about Donny letting the fame go to his head than she was about Randidly.
“Well…” The young man coughed into his hand before speaking. “He didn’t… ah… bother to check if there were witnesses. So many people watched their family members, who had previously been attacked by those strange little monsters, be eviscerated by roots in front of their eyes.”
Mrs. Hamilton remained silent, tapping the table. Sometimes, even she forgot how far they had come. These people had never realized that they were about to die yet. They were still innocent, in that way.
Well, now that they were here, it was only a matter of time.
“Fine, now give me specifics.” Mrs. Hamilton said, putting on her cool mask she used when she was preparing to see the threads of people’s lives through the eyes of a spider. “Tell me about our new haul of recruits.”
Mrs. Hamilton’s sharp eyes picked up on the young man’s almost imperceptible shiver before he began to speak.
Fully 32 hours after he had entered the room, Randidly left Donny’s training area. The ground was cracked and soaked with blood. There were portions of the ground and walls that had been warped somewhat, as though reality itself had been bent by the force of what had previously occurred there. Wilting plants dotted the cracked and shattered landscape.
Satisfied, Randidly smiled at Donny, who stumbled out after him, his leather armor almost completely obliterated, his eyes somewhat unfocused. “How many Skill Levels did you get today?”
“You fucking liar, that was so much longer than 24 hours,” Donny muttered, stumbling over to a jug of water by the entrance. He just raised it and dumped it towards his face, some of it going into his mouth, but most of it sluicing off of him and wiping away the caked blood and dirt that built up from so long being pounded into the ground. When he finally finished, however, and looked at his Status screen, his eyes widened.
“Holy shit,” Donny said. “I gained almost 100 Skill Levels.”
Randidly chuckled. Something like that couldn’t be done twice. And the only reason that he had been able to accomplish it was that his Regeneration rates were so much higher than normal. So he could continually push Donny to his limits, never running out of gas.
It had been a varied attack too, so just when Donny was starting to get the hang of fighting against one of Randidly’s attack types, he would switch it up, keeping him on his back foot. That area when the body was struggling to find and teach itself rhythm was the fastest growth, after all. Randidly was likely the only person with enough Skill variety to do it for so long.
He had started with hand to hand combat, then moved onto using Roots, using root avatars, then fire Skills, then different Summons, then spear Skills, then Spear Phantom Skills, then Randidly’s own Class Skills, before finishing out with a period of 8 hours where Randidly relied only on the crushing superiority of his Yggdrasil Skills.
All in all, it had been remarkably beneficial to Donny, in terms of his Skills. After all, he hadn’t gone into the Raid Dungeon with the group, and wouldn’t have that huge amount of growth from that experience.
It was also a great stress relief for Randidly. Donny made a great punching bag.
That thought made Randidly’s smile widen, albeit sadly. “You know, you remind me of someone I used to know.”
“Huh?” Donny asked, stripping off his ripped and ruined armor. “Someone from before the System?”
“No… after. He was…” Randidly cast his mind back, trying his best to recall. “He was… so confusing. He seemed so weak, constantly. He was blustery and full of talk, but when it came to the actual fighting… he generally just got beat up on. So much so that it became easy to forget he was there. And while I wasn’t paying attention, he became really good at being beaten up, without letting the opponent finish him. Phenomenal even.”
“He died?” Donny asked.
Randidly nodded, feeling strangely emotional about it all. Shaking his head, he tried to dispel it.
“What was his name?” Donny asked, tilting his head to the side.
Randidly almost had to chuckle. Thankfully, Donny was relatively good-natured, because Randidly had just told him he reminded him of someone who was at an almost professional level of being beaten up. “That’s the funny thing, I don’t even remember it.”
Now Donny gave Randidly a look, and Randidly burst out laughing. “No, no, I remember it. It was Roger Kingsley. He was… he was a close friend. A follower, for a long time.”
Nodding, Donny sat on one of the benches outside the training area, looking at his hands. There was a silence there, and to Randidly’s surprise, it wasn’t as morose as he expected it to be, based on their conversation topic. Instead, it shifted to something closer to companionship. It was likely true that they had both seen people die, and in that way, they could commiserate.
That was the reality of the System.
Still looking at his hands, Donny said. “I really wouldn’t be able to do this, any of this, you know. If it wasn’t for you.”
“Ha, I don’t handle many of the important bits,” Randidly said, in an offhand manner, feeling somewhat wary of Donny’s serious tone. To his chagrin, Donny pushed forward, looking up at him.
“No, really. You’ve said your piece, and given me this training to push my Skill up, and now it’s my turn to say mine. We do different things, you are right. But you…” Donny closed his eyes and shook his head. “How would a farmer even tell the clouds how thankful she is?”
Randidly opened his mouth, not even sure what to say, but Donny stood. “Look, I know you feel like what you are doing now… leaving Donnyton… is a betrayal. You feel guilty for that. But I don’t think that’s right. You’ve never made a promise directly to Donnyton, to protect it; you’ve made that promise to the entire human race. We here in Donnyton are just closer to you and can see the effects more easily. So even if you leave… you will still protect people. That won’t change.
“So…” Donny said, flushing abruptly red, as his mind caught up with his mouth. He floundered for several seconds, unsure of what to say, but then he raised his fist, offering it to Randidly. “Good luck.”
His fist was bloody and bruised. As it hung in the air, it trembled slightly, even Donny’s System empowered body weakened from so much exertion in such a short time. His muscles were struggling to keep up with the demands upon them, and they were spasming slightly, unsure if they should be clenching or not.
Randidly bumped his fist into Donny’s, feeling strangely at peace.