A note from puddles4263


However, the more Dinesh thought about it, the more he wondered how having access to such an easy tool would affect the growth of people. He didn’t want to leap to any conclusions from only a simple spar, but from the fact that they hadn’t been able to completely kill the ram, only fatally wound it, made Dinesh wonder about their capabilities.

It seemed that they were at a comparable Level to him and Tykes, yet…

Dinesh's eyes glowed knowingly. It must be Skill Level, so much so that the difference bleeds over into stats. Interesting.

In addition, it wasn’t as though the two of them were invincible, either. Tykes was extremely powerful, sure, but his power was often something that he couldn’t exercise effectively. Most monsters simply dodged his attack. The only sort of monsters that didn’t was half dead rams that were bound and blinded.

Dinesh turned when he heard Hank’s voice.

“Ah… I’m not too sure about the details, but for people with higher Intelligence, I’ve heard ya can compress the Mana… somehow.” The man shrugged and scratched the stumble on his chin.

Dinesh nodded, a smile on his face. He had felt it, the inefficiencies in the first shot. He also was aware that the pistol was capable of handling more Mana. How much, he wasn’t sure, but it was surely more than he had just channeled through it.

For his first experiment, he focused the Mana, turning it into a highly dense slug. The projectile streaked out and ripped a hole in the stone, making a hole almost all the way through the likely 2-meter thick rock, before it ran out of momentum. Dinesh’s eyebrows rose. That level of punch was definitely something that was worth knowing about. His appreciation for Hank grew with every passing minute.

Next, he left his Mana in a raw and unfocused state but pushed more into the gun. This made the projectile bigger, but that basically just increased the area of effect.

Then he pumped more Mana into it and concentrated it. This time, the projectile was a dark blue, and it ripped completely through the stone. Dinesh chose another target and did it again, upping the dosage one more time.

However, before the Mana discharged, something snapped inside the pistol. There was a fizz, a spark, and then the thing lay dead in his hand, inert. His Mana had very quickly overloaded what it was capable of.

Inwardly, Dinesh was disappointed. Was the pistol only capable of this much? But it made sense, in a way. This weapon was effective at low levels, but it was designed as a beginner piece. There were likely stronger pistols available to those who had high Intelligence, but with the exception of the unconscious man, none of these seemed to have chosen to go the path of Intelligence.

“ apologies. Perhaps the application of my Mana was insufficient,” Dinesh said, offering the pistol back to Hank after a slight hesitation. Would they require another gift for this…?

But Hank snorted, waving a hand and producing a dozen other pistols, before making them disappear with another flourish. “Don’t worry about. I’ve got plenty. And my Mana might be low, but my Focus isn’t. I blow out the baseline pistols all the time. Higher grade pistols require too many hoops to jump through and seemed less sure than bullets, so I’ve never bothered with the plasma pistols too much.”

Dinesh’s eyes traced Hank’s easy smile, then slid past him to the sharp-faced woman with auburn hair behind him. THere was something… off about this one, although Ptolemy wasn’t sure what it was. Nathan had given him a look when the group arrived, his gaze going meaningfully to this woman. That was more than enough confirmation.

When it came to Classes, almost no one was as skilled as Nathan now was.

“Well, how about we share a drink now,” Dinesh offered. “And exchange some information about our Zones.”

“That would be great,” Hank said, motioning for his companions to set up camp. After a small hesitation, they did, erecting tents near the thorny cabin. Then Hank continued. “Would you be able to send a message to the people in power back in your Zone? Our mission is primarily a diplomatic one; if we could communicate-”

“Unfortunately, our leader is a bit… determined to not give many of the power players back home even the time of day. Therefore, we can point you in the right direction, but the communication is up to you.” Dinesh said slowly. Even he was unsure exactly where the Ghosthound’s surliness in regards to Lyra came from. How could he explain it in a succinct way to a stranger?

But at the very least, he knew that the Ghosthound would prefer not to be overly involved in the peace talks. Although the Ghosthound was focused on the new Zone, Dinesh had figured out that it wasn’t exactly for diplomatic purposes; the Ghosthound was looking for something.

Hank seemed disappointed but accepted this. After Karlito and his wife Bruya had brought out wood, they had a campfire going, and the talk started in earnest. In a show of good faith, Hank went first, talking about Zone 1, the Tiers, the regulations, the rankings. Ptolemy listened slowly, reserving judgment.

All systems have benefits, just like all systems have detriments.

“So you are the old capital of America?” Dinesh asked, curious. His sister had been in Washington D.C. before the System arrived.

Hank Howard seemed torn. “...well… more yes than no, but a lot of bits were missing, especially the suburbs. Most of the food the government had stored in preparation for the coming of the System was lost, but we got lucky with the technological bureaus. They were the real core of the Zone.”

“Intriguing,” Nathan said, stroking his chin. Most of Hank’s party hid a smile.

Dinesh chuckled softly, but not because of Nathan’s comment. Rather, it was because Nathan was playing a fool on purpose to get the opposing group to loosen up. It was an excellent emotional manipulation and one that would cause no trouble if it were discovered. Ptolemy wondered where he had learned that from. It couldn’t have been the Ghosthound or Neveah, they were both too blunt. Tykes was similarly out. Perhaps the sweet talking Hispanic chef, Karlito?

“So, what about y’all?” Hank asked, looking at Ptolemy.

“Well,” Dinesh paused, considering where to begin. “We are much more decentralized. As stated, we don’t have the rigid Tiers for groups, although we have ranks in the various towns. Our population is much smaller than yours too, possibly only a third, so everyone has generally heard of most people of note.

“There are two main political blocks… the Northwest, which consists of the Refuge, Star Crossing, and East End, and the Southeast, which is made up of Franksburg and Donnyton. I, myself, received my Class at Donnyton.

“Of the two, I would say that the Southeast is superior, in both numbers and quality. Donnyton was the first Village in our Zone, and the most powerful. Most warriors worth their salt will travel there to train, at least for a while. Franksburg is the second founded village and the largest city. About half of the people in our Zone live in Franksburg.”

“You even call them warriors!” The other woman, Laurel, said, shaking her head with a smile. “That’s crazy… but I guess that’s what being isolated from the outside world for two and a half years will get you.”

Tykes, who was standing next to the first with his arms folded, nodded and spoke. “And it feels even longer… probably another year spent inside of Dungeons, in one form or another.”

Hank blinked, and it was ultimately the Asian girl Affina that spoke.

“You have been in a Dungeon?” She asked, rank curiosity clear in her tone.

Again, it was Dinesh’s turn to be shocked. “You haven’t?”

Affina shook her head. “Entrance to the Dungeons we have access to are strictly regulated. Only the top quality government talents are sent there, to spend as much time as possible training. The only reason that there is any space at all is due to the body’s eventual rejection of the dungeon.”

An interesting prospect and Dinesh could understand the reasons for doing so. It seemed like every month there was a story of a group going into a Dungeon without proper preparation, and coming back one member smaller. It was a sad thing when all of humanity was struggling against the System, but such things were inevitable.

But the flip side of that was no one emerged stronger from Dungeons, that cruel lesson carved into their hearts.

The talk flowed, going back and forth on various aspects until Hank finally spoke in a very different tone. It wasn’t cold, and it wasn’t angry, and it wasn’t commanding, but it was very clear from his tone and in retrospect his behavior the entire night, that the had been building to this for quite a long time.

“So then, I’m left wonderin’ why you guys could clear your Raid Dungeon so fast,” Hank said simply, scratching his chin. “No offense, but our Zone was forewarned and prepared. It’s pretty shockin’ to me that we were only three days faster than a random grouping of people. There must be something special there, right?”


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