The rain made the night an extremely long one. Wave after wave of monsters streamed towards the village. The mage battalion held the road, but the efficacy of their magic was greatly reduced by the damp, resulting in more and more of the reserve squads to be called there to reinforce them.
Donny held the freshly raised southern defensive line. Weeks of fighting at the front constantly had worked great changes in this teenager, accelerating his growth into manhood.
Meanwhile, Donnyton’s scouting teams roved through the forest, ambushing and retreating, constantly thinning out the numbers of approaching enemies as much as they could. But it never seemed to be enough, and as the night stretched onward they began to tire, tiny mistakes turning into fatalities.
The healing division worked as fast as they could, but they had a limited supply of mana potion, which swiftly reached dangerous levels. Non-fatal or debilitating wounds were wrapped up but not healed all the way. Health could regenerate on its own quickly enough, even if structural damage to the body would not without the aid of spells.
It was likely the bloodiest night in Donnyton’s history. While Dozer and Decklan, and their squads, rested, several Tier I Raid Bosses were able to set up shop and multiply, adding to the constant flow of monsters.
In their absence, and the absence of the Ghosthound, several individuals set themselves apart in terms of bravery and skill. Of those people, there were two that changed the course of the night: Lyra and Annie.
When the Northern fortress, the most heavily fortified, and the location of the heaviest fighting, was breached by a rare, fire belching iguana, the defenders paled. Monsters leapt forward, squirming to get into the hole. But from nowhere, she appeared, her typical grey hood pulled over her head.
Dozens of silent birds glided forward, and for the next 5 minutes, the only thing that made it through the breached wall was a thin misting of blood.
During that time, another squad hurried over, plugging the gap and stabilizing the defenses.
Meanwhile, Annie stood atop the watchtower on the road, firing arrows like a machine gun. The production focused people began to dread her glare, because it could only mean one thing; she needed more arrows.
They thought about complaining, but almost unerringly, the arrows that Annie shot would take a monster in the throat, or eye, or heart, stopping them dead.
Although her own stats weren’t high, she invested heavily in Strength and Control, giving her arrows quite the punch.
And just like that, dawn came. With a heavy expression, Regina received the preliminary report. 80 dead, and most of that Classers. Still…
Those that survived were changed. The predictable monster hordes of the first week had been stressful, but they were predictable. The following month had been filled with training, with those hordes in mind.
Only now were they exposed to true strife, the true horror of war. Not just actual level, but their skill levels had sharply risen across the board, allowing them to invest in their paths, which further increased their strength.
Grim faced, they watch Dozer and Decklan’s squads punch their way out, heading out for their respective targets. The monsters would be repaid in blood for what Donnyton had suffered that night.
Randidly worked as a cook, in the aftermath of the concert, after escorting an exhausted Tessa home and asking a barely lucid Cassie to look for two people named Ace and Sydney. It seemed that almost everyone who had watched the concert felt sluggish, so business owners were desperate for help, even allowing someone fresh off the street like Randidly to assist.
They had set up food stands around the city and lowered the food prices, to catch the dregs from the concert, and it worked like a charm; apparently being subtly influenced by a songstress was very draining.
After 15 minutes, Randidly had gained the cooking skill and understood basically what to do; he was making fried street noodles. Another half hour had passed and he had already reached Lvl 3 in Cooking, as he pumped out noodle dish after noodle dish.
Seeing Randidly’s crazy speed and consistency, the overseer for this block moved Randidly to a large grill, where he fried eggs, meats, potatoes, and pastries.
This activity was much more demanding, because each item had its own perfect cooking time, and with the volume of orders, Randidly might have 30 things on the grill in front of him, that needed adjustments at specific points.
The manager’s mouth dropped to the floor as he watched Randidly’s hands blur, both seeming to act independently of the other, keeping the entire kitchen running smoothly, the food even tasting better than it had in a long time, even though their usual cook had his Cooking skill at Lvl 9.
Furtively glancing around, the manager told his subordinates to get Randidly’s information so he could be invited back to a permanent position, then hurried away, confident that this location would be fine in his absence.
At around 5 in the morning, even the most hardcore celebrants had drifted away, and the shops closed down, the business owners packing up, their eyes swimming in all the currency they had gathered.
Randidly, now with a Lvl 10 Cooking skill, had promised to report for work as a chef later, but could only shrug when the workers inquired where he lived. After all, he wasn’t about to tell them about Donnyton, and it seemed slightly rude to use Tessa’s address. The more they pressed, the more hesitant Randidly became, until he finally just took his payment and fled.
Still, he likely would return to work at a restaurant. Cooking was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. It had also helped level Haste and Empower 1 level each, as he worked on his control of those skills.
For the first time, the city seemed quiet, and Randidly enjoyed the peace of it. Even the job criers were absent, although there were several shouting people calling for volunteers for the Freedom Fighters operation today. But it seemed like the euphoric effects left a long hangover, and even the most dedicated volunteers were still struggling out of bed.
Shaking his head, Randidly trotted out of the main part of the city into the edges, sneaking past a guard and earning himself a level in Sneak, and finding an abandoned home out past the vertical farms, and even further, beyond the defensive line.
Although one day was fine, it wasn’t good to go any longer without training certain skills.
Randidly withdrew his spear, the large bone monstrosity made from the spine of the sphinx, and began to move through the basic moves taught to him by Shal. Then he began to accelerate, moving faster and faster, until his body blurred, pushed to the limits of his physique.
When he would tire, he would take a short break and spend his mana on Incinerating Bolts. Then he would return to the spear work, enjoying the physical exertion.
After a few repetitions of this, in which he gained 2 Lvls in Incinerating Bolt and 1 in Spear Phantom’s Footwork, he stopped, and checked his satchel. He still had plenty of potion materials that he had gathered on their trip South from Donnyton.
Honestly, Randidly was mostly annoyed that he had been so stressed and focused that the only way he tried to improve his potion making was by refining these further. But he had been so fixated on this lead on Ace and Sydney…
Hopefully Cassie would remember speaking to him and assist in his search. Otherwise, Randidly was slightly at a loss about how to find them in such a large town. Even if they were here, among 50,000 people… and there were still restricted areas, mostly belonging to the government and Freedom Fighters where they might be…
Randidly chuckled involuntarily, trying to imagine Ace putting up with the swaggering attitude of the Freedom Fighters he had met. Then he sighed and shook his head. One thing at a time. Besides, his enthusiasm for finding them was diminished slightly, the more he thought about them. They had been a beacon that had kept him focused throught he dungeon, but now the sheer size of the area he had to search to find them was discouraging.
Besides, Randidly had to survive long enough to find them. Although that didn’t seem like it would be a problem, Randidly knew that the thing that would be able to kill him wouldn’t announce its arrival and give him enough time to prepare.
So Randidly left his small hide out and went in search of some necessary tools. It was time to return to the skill that had changed it all, that had earned him the spot as Shal’s Disciple, and made him the man he was today: Potion Making.
Lyra stilled, recognizing that voice, but barely able to believe it. Not only that, but this was her secret spot, deep in the forest. How did he…?
She turned, finding a smiling Randidly looking at her, his expression affable.
Something clicked into place in her mind, but still she smiled back at the figure. “Hello.”
Randidly stepped closer, his gaze suddenly turning serious. “I’m sorry to follow you like this. I’m sorry for everything… But after I left, heading to Franksburg, I realized something. I need you-”
Randidly paused there, gazing down at the glowing sword of mana that was sticking out of his chest.
“What gave me away?” The creature taking on Randidly’s shape inquired.
Lyra considered. There was the mana fluctuations she had sensed watching Donnyton the entire night. Images of different monsters, but all hanging back the same distance, that she had seen over the course of the battle. The fact that Randidly would never, could never, sneak up on her. The dumb grin it walked up with. The sweet lines it used. How she sensed only a deadness from this creature, whereas Randidly burned with a strange, musky emerald life.
“The apologies. I have never heard Doggy apologize, even when he’s being an idiot.” Lyra said sweetly. Randidly dispersed before her very eyes, leaving only a shapeless blob of grey-purple laying on the ground. Above its head floated a foreboding label.
Kim-Lath, the Tribulation of Many Faces Lvl 35
“Would you like to fight now?” Kim-Lath asked, its voice oddly flat, as if a computer was speaking. Randidly reformed, this time holding a spear. Lyra just shrugged.
“If you want. But it really is good to see him.” With an exaggerated calmness, Lyra walked over to the shapeshifter and touched his, its, face. Although she appeared casual, her attention was stretched to its limit, prepared to blink away if necessary.
But the fake Randidly tilted its head to the side, and nodded.
“Would you like to share a meal?” It asked, its voice no longer artificial sounding, but also not quite Randidly.