Dozer put his hands on his hips and laughed enthusiastically. “Kukuku, what other outcome but this was possible? Bask in my radiance! I am the strongest!”
Donny and Decklan gazed hatefully at him, but kept their mouths shut. To be sure, both Decklan’s speed and Donny’s endurance and ability to interrupt tempo and survive damage were intimidating.
However, this was not a battlefield. There was nowhere for you to hide, no cover to hide behind. There was no press of bodies that ensured that Donny’s devastating Shield Bashes could be brought to bare. This was a duel.
In an open space, Dozer’s larger weapon was at an advantage, and after a long struggle, he had prevailed.
“The strongest? I would probably rate you as a distant 5th, overall. But your ambition sure is… optimistic.”
Dozer frowned, his moment passed, but didn’t say anything as he turned to face the speaker. Lyra walked forward, her typical smirk in place on her face, her eyes glittering.
Although she was probably the most attractive woman in Donnyton, very few people had the nerve to talk to her. One of the reasons was the presence of the Ghosthound, but the other was the viciousness with which she could rip through enemies with her magic.
The men had whispered uneasily about how when the blood of harpies rained from the skies, in that last monster horde, there was only one culprit: Lyra.
The Ghosthound could reduce a horde into nothing with a blast of fire, and Clarissa was extremely accurate with her icicles, but those didn’t intimidate in the same visceral way as having drops of blood fall on you while fighting. A red rain that marked the activity of her cruelly silent birds.
“Who’s above me?” Dozer rumbled, intimidated, but unwilling to let go of the moment.
Her smile widened, as if this was exactly what she wanted. “Well, obviously myself, Clarissa, Annie, and Sam. Can you think of anyone else?”
The Ghosthound hung between them, a name that Dozer would easily admit was more powerful than he. But at the moment, looking at her small smirk, Dozer felt a hot spark of dissatisfaction.
But then he frowned. “Annie? What are you talking about. She doesn’t even have-”
But Lyra just waved at him placatingly. “Yes, yes, all a big joke. Donny boy, actually I’m here for you. There is a guest.”
She gestured theatrically to a thin man with long black hair tied up in a bun, standing behind her. The man was looking around nervously, but stepped forward without hesitation when he was indicated.
“Hello, I’m Glendel. It’s nice to meet you.”
Glendel returned to their basecamp quickly, hurrying forward through the lengthening shadows. It had been 10 days since the world had changed. Glendel had thought that as a general rule, his group was probably more adaptable than most, and had done well for themselves.
While others had just wanted to sit inside and wait out whatever had happened in the world, Regina had taken a more sustainability focused outlook on the whole situation. She had pushed for gathering individuals, gathering medicine and food, defending themselves actively, clearing out monsters in the hospital where they all used to work.
She had led them, inspiring them to greatness, discovering potion making and magic and everything they knew about this world.
The casual way that the people had talked about these things in Donnyton had shattered his worldview. They were strong, far, far stronger than Glendel had believed possible. During the tournament, Glendel had watched as many fights as he could. And the casual strength even the one-shoulder-pad Classer could display was breathtaking.
Approaching the camp, Glendel stopped and whistled, as agreed, and heard the counter whistle. He hurried forward, happy to finally be back.
They had set up shop at a gas station, their convoy of tractor trailers and ambulances pulling over, surprised at how few monsters they encountered in the area. In retrospect, the reason was obvious; the town was already dominating the nearby landscape. When even the NCCs had enough strength to handle themselves around a monster, the wandering creatures would thin out rather quickly.
Remembering the pens where there were some enterprising individuals trying to breed monsters for meat, Glendel shivered.
As he passed some people, he nodded to them, and received weary nods in return, their eyes hollow, following his bulging backpack. Unfortunately, in this group of 70, the food that he had been given wouldn’t do much to sate their hunger. But it would bring hope.
Alana, the tall woman who handled most of the dirty work for the convoy, looked up as Glendel hurried towards Regina’s RV. After a second of terse silence, she waved him into the interior.
Slightly breathless, Glendel stepped forward.
Regina Northwind, former surgeon, current leader of their expedition, was frowning down at a ledger in front of her. She didn’t immediately notice his presence, and Glendel hesitated, unsure of whether to disturb her. But she coughed lightly into her hand and said “Report” without looking up from the papers in front of her.
Glendel recounted his experiences of the day, about how the first location refused him entry, and how he had gone to the second, Donnyton. Although they were much more tribal, they also seemed more active. Most of the other refugees apparently came into Donnyton, with the other town closed.
He explained how their numbers appeared to be around 1000, and then he showed Regina the powerful mana potion, and examples of the different crops that the administrator woman was willing to trade for tools and clothes.
At this, Regina sighed lightly. “Not interested in the medicine at all, huh… I suppose it makes sense. How much of this did you say they had?”
“Around a cooler full. And from the way they talked about it, it wasn’t too difficult to create. They are even harvesting the energy crystal trees. They are growing a grove.”
Regina’s eyes narrowed. “And they have classes, yes? What do classes do? How strong were they?”
“They didn’t all have classes,” Glendel explained slowly. “From what I could gather, classes gave you something like a special path that also provides skills; in addition, you get a stat growth rate. As for how strong they were….”
Glendel hesitated. After a long pause, he just shook his head. “I do not know how to explain. Strong. So strong that I can’t comprehend their strength.”
Regina was silent for a long moment. “Compared to Alana, how strong are they?”
Glendel reflexively looked back towards the door, where Alana sat. Then he released a long sigh. “As far as I can tell, there are 3 ranks of people, with special individuals above that. Alana… is likely comparable to the first rank. Maybe a little stronger, more skillful with her spear. But the people at the second level…. They surpass the human limits.”
The air was very still. It didn’t even seem like Regina was breathing. Then something loosened, and she leaned back in her chair.
“How are women treated there?”
“It seemed normal. There were female warriors. The head of the…. NCCs, they call it, non-class characters, was also a woman. I also met a very strange woman named Lyra, who seemed to have a fair amount of influence…. But there were definitely more men than women. Outnumbered them about 2 to 1.”
“...If that’s the case.” Regina rubbed her forehead. “We have no choice, and there’s no reason not to trade with them. Let’s gather everyone up and head closer tomorrow.”
“Ah, there’s one more thing, but I don’t know what it means,” Glendel added.
Regina arched an eyebrow, and he continued. “They kept referencing something called a ‘Ghosthound’. At first I thought it was a monster or something, but it seemed like they were talking about a person. Not to put it bluntly, but a lot of the men there seemed like brutes or thugs. But as soon as the Ghosthound was mentioned, they got as quiet and well behaved as christian school children.”
“You think this… Ghosthound is the reason that these villages formed so quickly?” Regina asked, rubbing her chin.
“Maybe. That’s the only thing I can guess.”
“Thank you for your time. And for agreeing to scout. You are dismissed.”
Glendel backed out of the room, a lump in his throat. She made it sound pretty now, but Glendel would rather have not been the scout. But Regina had a very compelling reason why it had to be him; he was the only remaining male in their group.
Immediately after the system arrived., most of the male doctors has stormed out of the hospital, demanding answers, only to be mauled by the waiting monsters. Regina had gathered up most of the nurses and organized them, working through their new series of problems.
Most of the remaining men had either died, or had run off, unsatisfied with taking orders from Regina.
At the end of 10 days, Glendel was the only remaining man, surrounded by 70 women.