Before the system, Ezzie had worked as a bartender. Not a sexy or exciting life, but a satisfying one. Now, after the world fell to shit, he worked security on the housing for the girls who worked at the Carp Twin’s “Gentleman’s Club.” Normally, this just meant shoving away the bottomfeeders that would follow them home, or attempt to break into their rooms after hours, for a place to sleep. Occasionally he would need to escort one of the girls somewhere, or keep a close eye on one for Missy Carp, who was the more business minded of the Carp siblings.
It wasn’t a fulfilling life, but it was a stable one.
After all, life with the system made things dangerous, and stable was an important factor to consider when choosing a line of work.
Nothing had ever happened quite like this, where his fellow guards collapsed around him. With a strange fear in his chest, a growing nausea, and a sliver of disbelief, Ezzie turned back to the slim man.
“Did… did you do this?” Ezzie hissed, looking closely at the man. Tall, muscular, but not in a bulky way, black hair, green eyes. His features were as sharp as his smile was mild. But something instinctive, deep within Ezzie’s gut, told him that this man was dangerous. This was a man not to be trifled with.
Congratulations! You have gained the skill Sixth Sense Lvl 1.
Where as previously Ezzie had been nervous, now he was petrified. As soon as the skill notification appeared, the prickling of danger became a pounding violence that was hanging over him. The very air that he was breathing seemed suffused with some strange harm. Ezzie stumbled back and away from the man, coughing.
He raised his sleeve to his mouth, trying to filter the air before he breathed it in, but it was already too late; his vision swam, and he struggled to remain standing.
Congratulations! The skill Sixth Sense has grown to Lvl 2.
The man calmly stepped forward, moving around the moaning and writhing men, avoiding the pools of vomit. Strangely, Ezzie could feel that the man had stopped doing whatever it was that he was doing, and the oppressive feeling that filled the air was slowly thinning.
But the creeping dread just grew stronger as he approached.
“I’m just here to visit a friend,” The man said, regarding Ezzie carefully, a small amount of surprise in his eyes.
Ezzie was pretty surprised as well, as he leaned against the wall for support. His eyes wanted to drift shut, but he forced them open.
Congratulations! You have gained the skill Sleep Resistance Lvl 1.
Congratulations! The skill Sixth Sense has grown to Lvl 3.
Each increase in Sixth Sense’s level brought with it a reinforced certainty that this man was dangerous. Ezzie backed up further down the hall.
“You… you can’t. These girls work for the Carp siblings. You know what that means, right?”
The man frowned, and Ezzie felt some relief in his heart. Perhaps if he at least was afraid of the Carps, this whole situation could be avoided-
“Honestly no.” The man said, shrugging awkwardly. “But I think you’ll find that doesn’t matter to me.”
Ezzie collapsed, finally succumbing to the sickness in his veins.
Tessa frowned up at the door. Had someone just…?
The knock came again, in the same even rhythm. She was nearest the door, and her roommates had fled back to their bedroom, fearful of who would dare disturb them.
If this was one of Ezzie’s goons coming to harass them again… firming her resolve, Tessa opened the door. To her surprise, Randidly stood there, looking curiously into the apartment.
“Hey,” He said in that slow, offhand way he had, speaking a beat too late. It was like sometimes he became so focused that he forgot to speak. And when he finally did, it was only because he felt guilty about his silence. “I came to find you. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”
Tessa opened her mouth, then hesitated. Finally, she just said, “Okay.”
Missy Carp trimmed her fingernails neatly, thinking while she worked. There were a lot of pieces moving here. It was hard to handle all the directions that Franksburg was shifting. The arrival of the people with classes from the north. The establishment of the Newbie Village. The rising star of Raina.
Being the head of the seedier business organizations within Franksburg was a tough responsibility, even as the system’s brutal violence eased the disapproval most people felt towards her business ventures, and her brother Edgar sure as hell wasn’t going to take care of it. There was only her, and Edgar would affably follow her lead.
It was only in the cruelty department that he was her vast superior.
And now there were reports of a strange man who could make others sick with a glance, fucking around with her girls…?
Missy gave Ezzie a glance. Out of all of their hired muscle, he was the one with the most potential. Although the Senator had informed her in confidence that there would be limits on who was allowed to get a class initially, as they tried to gauge how well their defenses would hold, he would ensure that a few of the Carp’s nominated chosen would get first crack at classes.
Ezzie was smart, and before today, seemed to be capable. She would probably still send him for a class after this, but…
It was annoying, that this happened now. Were the events related…?
But the Senator had kept the individuals with classes under his paranoid eyes. There was no way that he would have missed out on such a powerful individual among the Classers who had arrived. Unless he was one of their agents used for infiltration….
Sighing, Missy set these thoughts aside; they were useless at this juncture. “Did you get any information about him? Who he was visiting? What the purpose was?”
Ezzie nodded sorrowfully. Then, after a slight hesitation, he said. “He did give his name, before I passed out. So we would know to leave him alone from now on. He called himself… the Ghosthound.”
Missy snorted. “What sort of dumb name is that?”
Shivering, Ezzie could only shake his head.
Alana passed back and forth, annoyed. As time passed, she only became more tense. In a show of generosity, Anthony had decided to limit the amount of people who could get classes on the first day to 500. He made a great show of how torn he was, and how ultimately, he really valued the growing relationship with Donnyton, etc., and that was what swayed him.
He added that he hoped that they would remember his understanding in the future. It made Alana want to vomit. They weren’t doing this for their own benefit, they were doing it to protect Franksburg.
Even Devan seemed somewhat disgusted by Anthony’s slimy way of handling the situation. Only Clarissa seemed unphased.
“Just seems like there are going to be a lot of monsters to kill, which will level my Split Lightning faster. What’s not to like?” The other woman said with a shrug. Alana just sighed. These RPG types were the worst, as they threw themselves into growing with the system like it was a game, flippantly disregarding the dangerous reality.
Still, Clarissa never made a foolish mistake, so maybe Alana just wanted to lash out-
“Devan come here.” The entire group blinked, spinning around. They were located on the roof of a rather nice house deep in Franksburg, that Anthony had given them to use. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, The Ghosthound stood there, beckoning.
Devan immediately stepped forward, and The Ghosthound put his hand on the man’s shoulder.
A long moment passed. The two men gazed deeply into each other’s eyes. There seemed to be… some sort of powerful connection occurring in front of her, some sort of intimate bond. To her surprise, Alana found herself blushing.
What… what sort of situation was this?!?!
Finally, after around 10 seconds of this, Devan looked at the ground. Shaking his head slowly he said. “I… I would prefer not.”
The Ghosthound nodded. “I understand. It is a lot to ask. And likely unnecessary. Alana, come here.”
Alana’s blush turned into mounting horror. Devan would prefer not…?!? And now The Ghosthound wanted her…?
As if he could read her mind, the Ghosthound rolled his eyes. “I have a special skill I’d like to test. But to receive it, you have to sacrifice your class. A strange stipulation, but I suppose the skill is pretty strange in itself…”
“So…” Alana said slowly. “You can give me a class? Right now?”
The Ghosthound seemed to ponder that. “I don’t know. But I do think what I’m giving you will be powerful. Do you want it?”
Alana hesitated, but only for a moment. “Yes.”
“I want it…” Alana repeated, her eyes blazing, remembering the casual carnage left in Clarissa’s wake, and the brutal efficiency of Devan and his squad. “If it’s power I can grasp with these hands…. I want it.”
Randidly put his hand on her shoulder. A notification, a red one, a strange departure of the regular blue kind, floated in front of her.
Warning, Randidly Ghosthound has initiated the skill “Blessing of the South(U)” on you. This will create a permanent bond between you two. Should Randidly Ghosthound perish, all benefits gained from this bond will be retained, but the growth of the bond will cease. Do you still wish to accept his blessing? Y/N
Alana clicked yes, although she frowned. Why did it say warning, instead of the usual congratulations…?
Warning, this bond is permanent. Are you sure you wish to proceed? Your class will be lost upon the acceptance of this Blessing. Y/N
Now this was getting annoying. This must be why it had taken so long. There were so many pointless notifications… Alana pressed yes again.
Warning, this is your final warning. A portion of this bond’s strength will be drawn from Randidly Ghosthound. Are you sure that you wish to accept this bond? Y/N
“Holy FUCK.” Alana swore, pressing yes.
This time, the familiar blue notifications appeared.
Congratulations! You have received the Blessing of the South. Calculating Blessing…
From Randidly Ghosthound, you have received the Soul Skill “Blessing of the Distant Southern Mountains”. You have gained access to the class. “Spear of the Broken Ridge”. As you do not possess a class, speak with a Town Spirit to obtain this class.
Your skill Spear Mastery has been changed to Spear of the Broken Ridge Mastery Lvl 1. All previous benefits have been retained. Spear Thrust has been changed to Sun Strike Lvl 1. All previous benefits have been retained. You have gained the skill Hot Blooded Lvl 1. You have gained the skill Child of the Sun Lvl 1
Hot Blooded Lvl 1: As your current health drops in relation to your max health, you receive a small boost in all physical stats. The boost increases as skill level rises.
Child of the Sun Lvl 1: Regeneration of Health and Stamina increased while under the Sun. At night, your body glows, slightly illuminating your surroundings. Regeneration increased by 2% per skill level. Illumination increases with skill level.
“Oh wow…” Alana whispered, looking at the notifications. She had no idea how good the class would end up being, but the changes to her skills obviously seemed to be changes for the better. She couldn’t wait to try out her new skills. And these weren’t even the skills she would get when she got the class!
She selected the option to display the notifications publically, and The Ghosthound carefully read through everyone of them.
At the end, he sighed. “So, only really useful for people without classes, huh…? Still, that leaves us some options...Anyway, don’t die before we return to Donnyton and get the class. I want to see the stat gains.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if I just got it here?” Alana wondered aloud, but The Ghosthound shook his head.
“The place you get your class… some sort of weird connection is formed there. I’m not sure what it does, but we shouldn’t take it lightly. Just keep leveling up skills for now. After all, the efficiency of grinding for PP is increased now that you have a soul skill. If it works the same way mine does, you get a bonus every 5 PP spent. Devan, just don’t let her die, alright?”
Devan nodded seriously and the Ghosthound walked to the edge of the roof and jumped, disappearing into the night.
Devan walked up beside her, and looked after The Ghosthound for a long moment. Then he turned to her.
“Time to get to work. Ready to join the defenses?”
Tessa looked at the ground, frowning.
She didn’t know what she had expected. She had reunited with an ex-boyfriend, THE ex-boyfriend, and in spite of the crazy change that had occurred, they had gone to a concert together, and then he came over to her apartment, to talk.
Although she didn’t necessarily expect him to beg to be back together, what she really hadn’t expected was for their relationship not to come up at all; instead, Randidly had urged her to move north to a different town.
She hadn’t even realized there WAS a different town. Tessa had sorta been under the impression that Franksburg was all there was left.
While she was sitting on the couch, frowning and pondering, the apartment door opened and one of her roommates came back, practically bouncing with excitement.
“Tessa! Did you hear? People came from out of town! Like out, out of town. Like, 30 miles north, out of town. And they want people to resettle with them. How crazy is that?”
Tessa blinked. “That’s…. crazy.”
Sam sat in his workshop, kneeling on the floor, trembling.
The pressure had evened out somewhat recently, from Raid Bosses, and Donnyton was instituting several new policies in order to raise preparation for the possibility of that happening again. One of those policy was the official formation of 5 new Squads.
Sam had already done the work on the pendants, to give them their mark of pride, but more squads meant more and better equipment needed to be made. Armor was important, as an extra 50 or so health it provided would mean a lot. If some stats could be added, so much the better.
In addition, the high frequency of combat meant that there was equipment in need of repairs, and when it came to skill, Sam stood at the top of his crafting association.
But at the moment, he did nothing.
Instead, he frantically struggled to move, overcome by a strange bout of weakness. His hands trembled slightly, unable to even maintain a grip on the small hammer he had been using to work.
Over the past few weeks, there had been a few scattered moments of lightheadedness, where he felt strangely… empty and light, as if all his strength left him.
Initially, Sam had worried it was age, but Rickman, their official whiskey brewer, had been 79 before the system came, a doddering old man. After slowly leveling his various skills and using the points to increase his Vitality and Endurance, Rickman’s strength had returned, and now he had salt and pepper hair, looking as though he had just turned 50.
Because of this, and other, examples of the elderly recovering at least some strength, if not their youth, as their stats rose, and because no one else seemed to be suffering from these strange bouts of weakness, Sam had ignored them.
But now, as he trembled on the ground, unable to move, he was profoundly afraid. There was so much they didn’t know about the system, so many pitfalls they might blindly walk into. If he died here… Randidly… Lyra…. Even that fucker Kal, still over in Turtletown…
Sam breathed slowly, trying to calm himself. And strangely, he felt the bout of weakness recede.
5 minutes later, he stood, feeling just as vigorous as he ever had. But when he looked at his hands, there was a hint of fear.
….What was happening to him?