Donny cracked his neck. He had been called out of bed early because there was a warning about a woman staying so long in a Dungeon that she had developed Aether Sickness, but it turned out to be a false report.
Then again, she’s associated with Randidly… Donny thought with a wince. She might just be a weirdo.
But because of the early morning, he wouldn’t have time to go to his home and shower; he would need to meet the representative without looking anymore imposing than an unshaven young man. Basically, none of any of the trappings of power he normally liked to have when meeting foreign dignitaries would be present.
Still, it couldn’t be helped. They hadn’t been given much warning. Only six hours ago, in the middle of the night, the delegation from Zone Seven arrived at Star Crossing and met with their Tribunal. After exchanging pleasantries, the representatives requested permission to use the transporter in order to visit Donnyton.
After a brief delay, they had been given permission.
Which was why Donny now slowly walked toward the heart of Donnyton, the System Village itself.
There were currently thirty or so shops operating in that area, most of them bought with points earned through the village. In addition, they had a cathedral and several facilities for processing equipment that was advertised by the System as intensifying the power of production based Skills within.
Sam thought it was a waste of points to buy such facilities, but Donny had agreed with Daniel that buying it was a good idea; if nothing else, they would learn much about the trick that the buildings provided. With that information, they would be that much closer to finding the trick to the System.
Ultimately, that thought didn’t come to fruition; truths were not so simple things as that. But they did learn that not everyone was affected by such buildings. Most of the high-Level craftsmen in Donnyton wouldn’t bother with the forges; they had the expertise needed to finish basic processing already. In addition, something about what the forges did… weakened certain aspects of the forging process.
Sam was of the opinion that the three high-Level pieces of equipment that Zone Seven had sent over were made in just such facilities. Each possessed a strange weakness in its aspects. Or rather than weakness, it was a lack of intensity in some aspects. According to Sam, the numbness from the System assistance would cause exactly that sort of result.
But of course, for those starting out, the System forges were a blessing that would give them a feel for imbuing a vivid character into the weapons and armor that they made. Just for the experience of that feeling alone, the facilities were invaluable.
There were higher tiered facilities available as well. But Sam told him not a bother.
Now Donny was wondering if ignoring those possibilities was such a good idea.
There was an ornate gazebo at the far end of the Village, near enough to the walls that it had been built of sturdy materials in case of monster attack but far enough away that it didn’t feel crowded by the grimly honed walls.
As per Donny’s instructions, the representative from Zone Seven was already waiting there for him. Well, there had been no other choice. Donny had been down at the hospital, watching an extremely irate woman insist she was fine, in spite of the fact that the Dungeon Operator claimed she had been in there for what would have been almost six months.
Donny pushed his hair back. He was a busy man, leading Donnyton. It was perfectly alright to be slightly late to a meeting like this.
Ascending up the short stairs to the gazebo, Donny smiled at the calm man who sat at the central table. But as he looked, that smile faded somewhat. The man was sitting with his eyes closed.
“...excuse me,” Donny said slowly so as not to startle him. “I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. A situation came up that I needed to deal with.”
Now Donny extended his hand as the man’s eyes opened. They were mild and brown. “I’m Donny, VIllage Chief. And you are?”
“Han Yazhu,” The man said. His smile crossed his face quickly, like ripples across water. “A messenger of the people. It is a pleasure to meet you. I have heard much about this Village. And to see it… it certainly lives up to its name as the center of New Earth.”
At that, Donny’s smile turned a fraction more genuine. But Yazhu continued to speak.
“Which is why I come from my humble Zone Seven with a simple request; please allow us to connect to your transportation network. I believe direct teleportation between the capitals of our two Zones will be beneficial to both sides.”
When he was sure that Randidly wasn’t looking, Kerrar fished one of the wooden blocks that the man had tossed into the water and studied it.
Very quickly he swore and dropped the block, waving his hand. Wincing, Kerrar looked at his hand; it was burned.
Then he frowned down at the block and watched it slowly smoldering into ash. Somehow, the burning happened regardless of the presence of water. It simply was foretold that the block would burn somehow, so it did. It didn’t cause Kerrar’s Dangerous Depths to activate, but still…
Was this some sort of equipment that Kerrar didn’t understand that allowed Randidly to kill the monsters…? Then this burning was some sort of magical chemical reaction…?
That made Kerrar feel somewhat better about the situation. If this was an external tool, it made a bit more sense than that this strange man with burning emerald eyes was simply dropping blocks of wood into the water and then killing monsters.
Yet it somehow made Kerrar more miserable. If this character had obtained so many high Leveled pieces of equipment that he could simply toss them away every ten minutes or so… Had Kerrar made a mistake to not research him a bit more before taking his money…? Had he been lured into association with some sinister figure from the other Zones…?
Should I have charged more…? Kerrar wondered as he gnawed at his lip.
Very quickly, all of those thoughts and worries were wiped away from Kerrar’s mind; Dangerous Depths activated again. And this time, it was ringing at another octave higher than the previous warnings.
There was something strange about the signal on this occasion, but Kerrar bolted to his feet and swiftly climbed up the mast to get a better view of the surrounding area. Unlike most warnings, there was no direction. There was only a deep sense that they had wandered somewhere they shouldn’t. But Kerrar was a practical man; he knew his Skill wouldn’t provide all the answers. Some things he needed to find out by himself.
Although he was getting older, the System had given him a bit of his old spark back which enabled him to fly up toward the crow’s nest. Although the world was becoming more fucked up every day, with dangerous wooden plank weapons of all things, those that didn’t die obtained capability from the System.
Once up in the crow’s nest, it only took a single glance to find the likely culprit of the suffocating feeling that Kerrar had in his chest.
A huge vessel, fully twenty-five times the size of Kerrar’s modest ship, cruising swiftly toward them. It had fucking cannons, for christ sake. This was not a fishing vessel or even a monster hunting expedition; that boat was made to kill and plunder men.
And the black flag flying above the ship was a snide declaration of that very intent.
On the way down, Kerrar didn’t bother with the ropes. He simply leapt and landed, the boards of the deck quaking from the impact. Very quickly, he picked his way across the vessel to Randidly, who stood on the starboard side and seemed to be contemplating the waves.
“We have a problem,” Kerrar said without any real greeting. As time passed, the urgency that Dangerous Depths warned about seemed to grow even more hysterical. “Pirates. Murderers. General characters of ill repute-”
“Don’t worry,” Randidly waved a hand. “Stay the course. If they try anything, I’ll handle them.”
“They have cannons,” Kerrar hissed. How much clearer could he be? Immediately, Kerrar felt a flash of regret. He shouldn’t have even bothered to inform this fool. This calmness was that of someone who doesn’t know how seriously out of their depth that they are. Kerrar should have just turned the ship and dealt with Randidly’s ire. “They aren’t here to make friends.”
“Unless cannons have gotten a hell of a lot more powerful since the System arrived, I think I can handle it, stay the course-” Then Randidly stopped speaking, as he glanced up and frowned.
Kerrar didn’t know what was more disturbing: the fact that Randidly seemed surprised, the fact that there was a huge shadow across the deck of his baby, or that his Dangerous Depths was now conspicuously silent.
Turning around, Kerrar only caught a glimpse of a figure cracking onto his deck with enough force to splinter and crack the wood. The shockwave sent Kerrar sprawling, but he was up again in a flash with two daggers in hand. If these pirates thought that he would go quietly into the soft night, they had another thing coming!
Yet the ambiance of the deck was somewhat strange. Even Kerrar, who was ready to leap into action, paused as he considered the two figures who remained at the center of the deck.
A tall and gaunt figure stood on the far side of the deck. Belatedly, Kerrar recognized him as the Pale Killer, the scourge of the entire sea, and took an involuntary step back. He had seen the man’s wanted poster hanging all across Scant. Hell, he had used to joke about one time he had seen a tall mast with a black flag on the horizon and fled immediately.
Now the Pale Killer just stared at Randidly.
And Randidly’s face twisted with a grimace as he stared back. Finally, he shook his head and said. “It was hard on you, wasn’t it? I-”
“You don’t even fucking know the half of it,” The Pale Killer hissed. His hands were balled into fists. Lightning fast, he pulled a dagger from his waist and raised it. Again, Kerrar took a step back in shock, but Randidly just stood there.
“Do you want to fight?” Randidly said in a soft voice.
“Fuck you,” The Pale Killer whispered. Then his limbs went limp and he collapsed onto the deck, his dagger bouncing several meters away to skitter next to Kerrar’s feet. Then the Pale Killer’s shoulders began to shake, as though the infamous killer of the seas… was crying.
Time slowly passed.
Kerrar tried to decide how long was an appropriate amount of time to allow the situation to go on before he spoke up and they addressed the rather obvious issue of a crying murderer on his deck.
The boat slowly bobbed up and down on the waves. The other ship loomed over them, similarly frozen.
Very gradually, Kerrar paled. How long was this going to take?!?