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They had a problem, although Randidly supposed it was a good problem to have. The amount of people who wanted to come back with them to Donnyton was staggering. Almost 700 people showed up, their items packed and their expressions nervous as someone from Devan’s squad walked around, speaking with them, marking down their stat distributions and skills, slowly getting a tally.

This was insisted on by Daniel, with Regina’s support, and Randidly knew that he was never going to be the one to actually handle the details, so he had just shrugged and assented. But now that he had seen the exacting detail that it demanded, his mood started to sour. Very quickly, he went to Devan, looked over the questionnaire, and then ripped most of the pages up.

Instead, Randidly inserted a rather straightforward question:

In Donnyton, people are generally divided by their jobs. Which of the following jobs would you prefer? -Administration -Warrior -Doctor -Farmer -Archer -Scout -Mage -Crafting -Construction

Randidly knew that people would shy away from things like Administration and Farmer, but he had hopes that some of the practical women and men who were coming north with them would gravitate towards crafting and construction positions.

Of course some would become actual Classers, and among those, a few would insist on becoming mages, but that was acceptable for now. After all, they had witnessed Clarissa’s abilities first hand. After seeing that power, it was hard to accept just swinging a sword around.

“With those changes, we should finish in about two hours.” Devan said calmly, his eyes scanning the crowd. Honestly, Randidly had removed 90% of the material Daniel wanted.

Now it was basically just stats people focused, their skill level, and the job they were thinking about.

Randidly nodded, his eyes scanning the crowds. He even recognized a few faces. The man he had met while chopping vegetables, who wanted to learn to move faster. Cassie, looking around nervously as she stood next to a hooded woman who was obviously Raina. That determined man, Cesar,  who had been paired with Randidly while digging holes.

But there was one face conspicuously absent.

“I have to take care of something. If the process finishes, no need to wait for me; I’ll catch up.” Randidly said to Devan, and then walked away, disappearing into the crowd.

He knew that he was being foolish, that he had no reason to force her to move. He also had no idea why this was such an issue for him. He had, after all, broken up with her quite a while ago. Deep in his heart, he was sure that there were no buried emotions. But what he did have were positive memories of their time together.

For that, he wanted to spare her the struggle that Franksburg was going to become.

As he ascended to Tessa’s floor, and exited the stairwell, the men pressed themselves against the wall, standing at attention.

The head “bouncer”, who Tessa had told him was named Ezzie, stepped forward. “Mr. Ghosthound sir, I’m very sorry for the misunderstanding on your last visit. Let me assure you it won’t happen again.”

A thin, hot rod of tension slid down between his shoulders, but Randidly forced himself to relax. He even smiled at Ezzie.

“...It’s not an issue. You were doing your job.”

Then Randidly brushed passed him, moving towards Tessa’s room, but Ezzie awkwardly coughed.

“Um… sir…. I just… uh…. My b-boss has a message for you.”

Randidly stopped. “Oh?”

“Yes, it’s just…. It’s from Missy Carp. She owns the…. Establishment that Tessa works at.”

“Oh.” Randidly’s frown deepened, his voice turning cold. He wondered idly whether Spearing Roots would reach up from the ground to here. Probably not without quite a lot of mana expenditure. It was something to be aware of, in the future, that distance from the ground would make the use of that skill more difficult.

Of course, he had others.

“Don’t misunderstand!” Ezzie said hastily, stepping backwards. “Missy Carp allows all of her employees to come and go freely. She wishes you luck on your recruitment drive, and hopes you enjoyed your time in Franksburg. And that if you would return to the city, she is willing to make her compound and connections at the disposal of the good people of Donnyton.”

Randidly’s eyes narrowed, but he relaxed. Rather than a threat, this was a business proposition. God, why had he agreed to come on this thing anyway? This was becoming decidedly political. He supposed he had found a clue about Sydney and Ace, which ended up just demonstrating they weren’t here, but still…

Still, it surprised Randidly how astute this woman was, to attempt to approach him directly. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but it could also mean that this was a woman who listened very closely to the direction the wind was blowing.

“Tell her that I appreciate the offer, and I will report it to Donnyton’s council.” Randidly walked away, heading towards Tessa’s door.

Apparently those words were satisfactory, because no one tried to speak with him again. He knocked on the door, and was surprised to find one of Tessa’s roommates answering it. She quickly ushered him inside, taking him directly to Tessa’s room, where she sat, wrapped in a quilt, staring out the window.

Before Randidly could even say anything, Tessa asked. “Was Sydney the reason you broke up with me?”

Her voice was oddly even, almost monotone, and her gaze didn’t waver from the window. Randidly opened his mouth to respond, then caught himself. Slowly, he closed his mouth. In all honestly… it had been.

“Yes.” Randidly said. When he had broken up with her, he had been brutally succinct, before departing, leaving her crying on the floor of her apartment. For that callous treatment, he owed her a bit of honesty.

Snorting, Tessa swore bitterly. “That fucking cunt. I always knew she was a little slut. Did Ace know? That his best friend was fucking his fiancee?”

Randidly’s eyes narrowed. “It wasn’t like that, we weren’t-”

“What’s the point in lying now? They both are already dead anyway. Is a life with me really so bad? I’m here, right now.”

Barely containing his rage, Randidly said. “I’m trying to say that we never-”

“Do you think I’m an idiot? Do you think ACE is an idiot? Both of you kept disappearing together for those few weeks? Did you think once we noticed, we didn’t talk? And how when we compared our notes, the schedules fit so nicely together-”

“Just fucking listen for a minute!” Randidly growled, but Tessa was too far gone, working up a head of steam for herself.

“Both of you would give a convenient excuse, then slip away. At least you were smart, you stuck to during the day, during the week. No late nights ‘studying’, no moving while the people you two were cheating on were out of town. No, you- uhk?!?”

“Let me stop you right there.” Randidly’s voice was cool, but his eyes blazed with rage as he activated Agony.

****

Ezzie only had a moment, where his new, danger instincts warned him powerfully to run away before a wave of vicious, head wrenching pain knocked the wind out of him. Whimpering, the other bouncers in the hall collapsed, leaning against the wall and sliding slowly downward. Even Ezzie, who had been undergoing special training to raise his skills and improve his stats, staggered, barely able to withstand the wave of pain that struck him.

But what really brought a chill to his heart was that when he checked, his health was decreasing, moving rapidly towards 0.

Although his instincts were screaming for him to run far away and hide, Ezzie pushed through them, rushing up to the door that the Ghosthound had entered. Grunting, Ezzie raised his leg and made use of his Kicking Mastery, smashing the cheap wood of the door, ripping through the deadbolt.

Once inside, the pain redoubled, and Ezzie bit his lip, struggling to stay conscious. His vision swam as he stuttered slowly forward, heading to the back room with the slightly ajar door, where the powerful aura was emanating. Ezzie wasn’t even able to see, to make out the figure, wrapped in air distortions, but in his heart, he knew there was only person who could cause this.

Eyelids fluttering, he leaned against the door, barely aware enough to speak, but he worked at his heavy and fat tongue, struggling to say, something, anything.

“Sir-” But that was all that Ezzie was able to complete, because The Ghosthound turned and looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time in their interactions. The Ghosthound’s face was twisted into a scowl, his eyes narrowed. But the emerald pupils burned like a chemical fire, bright and dangerous.

In those eyes, Ezzie was forced to confront a truth about himself; he would never be a match for the man standing in front of him. Perhaps a month ago this man had been human, but no longer. Now he was….

The Ghosthound.

“You-ll-....... killl-ll……” Ezzie blubbered, his words more slobber than syllable, and all at once the pain stopped, gone as soon as it had came. Gasping, Ezzie fell to his knees.

The Ghosthound pressed his eyes closed, seeming to struggle inwardly. Then he opened them, and his eyes had faded to their usual innocuous forest green.

“I… apologize. I lost my temper.” Ezzie watched as the Ghosthound walked over to Tessa, and put a hand against her neck. A flash of relief crossed the Ghosthound’s face, but then he turned back to Ezzie, once more a stoic mask. “I suppose compensation is in order. Take me to the roof.”

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