Paolo and Kayle saw them off. Hank’s group would travel with the East End-ers South to their Village, and then would continue to Star Crossing, and take a Teleportation Platform to Donnyton. Again, Hank was a little dubious about the process. But at least he understood why these people didn’t seem to have any vehicles; they could just fucking teleport.
Hank shook hands with Paolo, and then with Kayle. “Thank ye kindly for the instruction. Who knows how long it would have taken for me to get a feel for this on my own. You two are mighty talented, to arrive here so quickly.”
“Haha, it’s not like we haven’t had help,” Paolo said, his arms folded. But the smug look on his face revealed how much he enjoyed the praise. Hank’s mouth twitched, but he said nothing. But before the two Donnyton Squad leaders departed, Paolo added.
“When you get to Donnyton, find Alana. Ask her for a duel. She’s the current leader of Squad I. That woman will show you what humans can aspire to be.”
Then Hank left with Vandal and his crew, with Ezekiel, Laurel, and Affina trailing after. Affina’s face was especially serious, and many times she turned and looked back towards the direction that the Donnyton’s group vanished. It even got to the point that Ezekiel noticed and zeroed in on this behavior.
“What are you doing?” Ezekiel drawled, his eyes narrowed at the Asian woman. “You look like a lovesick schoolgirl. Get a hold of yourself.”
Of all things, Affina blushed. “...I doubt that Sir Kayle sees me like that. Just a daydream.”
Then she hurried off. Ezekiel was left struck dumb, staring after the usually so silent and stoic Affina. Laurel snorted and walked up to Hank, her arm sliding around Hank’s. “You guys really didn’t see her intently watching all of Kayle’s fights? She even asked him to go for a walk so they could exchange “pointers”. She played up her blindness around him so he would offer to lead her by the arm. Does that seem like typical Affina to you?”
Hank shrugged. Honestly, he hadn’t seen any of that. He was busy with other things. Fighting and improving himself was one thing, but there were others.
The time spent recovering wasn’t just spent idle. They had been in contact with the leaders of Zone 32, and they arranged a meeting with people in power. They brought up certain issues, but they were waiting until they were in person to conduct any real business.
Secretly, Paolo revealed that Donnyton was in heated talks with the other Villages over the substance of what Donnyton was able to agree. Although Donnyton was the most powerful, Paolo claimed, the others weren’t without their own strength. And Donnyton never wanted to make these decisions unilaterally.
But one decision that they had come to, and in turn, Hank was told, was that Donnyton was named the capital of the Zone, and the Zone was named Rawland. Although Donnyton was only a tenth of the Zone’s population, sitting at 15,000 after the flood of new arrivals in the edges of the Zone, it was where trade was concentrated.
Still, around the same time, Hank found himself comfortable with his new Skills was when Rawland had reached a political decision; they were ready for Hank and his group to come to Donnyton.
The journey to East End felt quick, although it took an entire day. It was just a very different experience than traveling in the borderlands. Here, the monsters were frequent, but they weren’t dangerous.
This was one thing that puzzled Hank, and when he asked Vandal, the young man just shrugged. Zone 32, or Rawland, seemed to have more Raid Bosses and Dungeons than Zone 1, by a lot. They took small diversions twice to address reports of a Raid Boss. They defeated two Tier IIs and even stumbled across a Tier III that had hidden itself. This was due to Laurel, who felt a flash of insight that many would die if they did not go into a nearby copse of trees.
There, a Tier III python Raid Boss had set up hop, and immediately ambushed them.
Now, Hank and his team were few, but all were experts; they acquitted themselves splendidly. But there were several powerful individuals. Vandal was a wrecking ball and the squad that came with him were experienced and efficient cleaners.
During their weeks together, Hank had gathered a few ideas about Vandal. He ate the meat of monsters and took on some of their characteristics. But what Hank didn’t realize was that due to the consumable nature of this, Vandal didn’t use truly powerful monsters as fuel in a duel against other humans.
After takings 6 bites of the dried meat, Vandal swelled to become a 3 meter tall red hulk, smashing the trees of the copse and revealing the python minions. They bit and attempted to bind him, but his raw physicality just ripped through their bodies. He was a force of nature. And behind him, his squad moved quickly, shooting bolts of fire at the incapacitated snakes, reducing the pressure by finishing off the wounded enemies.
Sighing after the battle, Vandal transformed back into a normal human with an unhappy expression. “Only have one more of those. Apparently, it came from a four armed ape in the borderlands, had to trade with the Ghosthound’s crew to get it. What a waste, definitely overkill.”
Ezekiel hadn’t heard, but Hank’s ears harpened at the mention of the term “the Ghosthound”. Then, he inwardly shrugged. Although they called Ezekiel his name, it wasn’t so strange for them to have a nickname for Ezekiel’s son. But that didn’t sit quite right with Hank.
There was something in the way Vandal said the name, something in his tone that gave Hank pause. But he couldn’t rewind and hear it over again. Plus, it was a small thing. So they moved on towards East End.
When they arrived, it was almost nightfall, with low clouds sliding in from the edge of the horizon. It would probably rain that night.
As they spotted the mall that made up East End, Hank spotted something else. A small bunny like creature, peering over a rock at Hank. Aside from the fact that its ears seemed as long as its small body and lay flat against its head, then down its back, it really looked exactly like a brown rabbit. But there was an intelligence in its eyes, and a strange brown glow around it that seemed to indicate it was something more sinister.
Hank reflexively drew his repeater and then hesitated. Even if it was a monster, it was such a small thing, and he didn’t see a Level indicator above its head. Was it really just a bunny? Or a weird variation caused by the System? That didn’t seem very difficult to believe.
Shrugging, Hank instead shoo-ed it away, and turned to follow the others in his group. But as he did so, he could clearly hear the soft sound of paws delicately moving over rock. Resolutely, Hank ignored it. The creature wasn’t stalking him or getting closer, just following him. So what was the harm?
But as they arrived at the entrance to the mall, which had been heavily reinforced with metal bars, the sound of the feet grew frantic; the little bugger had launched into a sprint.
Wheeling around, Hank leveled his repeater, but still, when he looked at the small body, the brown fur…
….wasn’t this just a fucking rabbit?
But in its eyes, Hank saw something else now: excitement.
The bunny leaped, squealing, and Hank decided to say fuck it. He fired his repeater, causing the rest of the group to turn around. The bullet took the bunny in the chest.
Or it would have. Instead, the bullet passed through the rabbit, causing a few ripples in its body. The rabbit continued unabated, slamming into Hank’s right hand. But again, instead of being flung away, it sank into his hand, entered his body. It felt… warm and comfortable.
Congratulations! You have learned the Skill Elemental Affinity (Unique Earth) Lvl 1.
“Welcome to East End,” Vandal said, yawning while he did so. “Land of the Elementals. Come on in, before more of them come to claim you all.”