Decklan twitched, his brain recognizing a lot of information at once and combing through it. It was only a split second of frozen indecision, then he continued to creep forward, as though nothing had happened.
When they arrived, there were guards, but they weren’t paying very close attention to the portal so Decklan and Annie’s groups slipped away before they were noticed, joining the strange blue treeline nearby. Annie faded into the foliage, slipping away, while the rest followed Decklan. They found a small clearing, and Decklan sent Tera to scout around, trusting her to remain discreet.
Perhaps it would have been better to just make contact, but the fact that Alana and Devan had disappeared for a day meant that this wasn’t exactly a simple situation. After Tera discovered the general direction of the village, they began to move that way.
But as they did so, Decklan’s instincts abruptly screamed that something very powerful was watching them. His body froze, but his Killer’s Instincts, obtained at Lvl 30 from his class, immediately contradicted that, saying he should continue to walk, pretending not to notice the powerful watcher. After all, if the watcher assumed Decklan had no idea of his presence, he might not view him as a threat.
So Decklan continued to walk, cursing himself inwardly for freezing up, but doing his best to relax the lines of his shoulders. But his worst fears came to pass, or at least a version of them. An anthropomorphic turtle appeared on the path in front of him, bent with age, but clearly the source of that oppressive aura.
The turtle grunted. “Passable. You detected me, and you chose to mask your knowledge rather than act. But your execution was lacking. Follow me.”
The turtle turned away, and the rest of the group just gaped, but Decklan straightened and said. “And if we don’t?”
After pausing for a second, the turtle turned back and gave Decklan a mild glance. Without saying anything, he turned away again and began to slowly hobble forward, arms behind his back.
Grimacing, Decklan signalled his squad, and everyone gathered and followed neatly behind this strange figure. Decklan was frustrated, but after meeting that turtle’s gaze, he had no confidence of resisting him, even if they all worked together.
But it seemed that Annie had escaped the turtle’s notice, so all was not lost. Decklan fervently hoped she wouldn’t do anything stupid.
Alana was surprised when Bert returned, leading Decklan and his squad, but said nothing. They all crowded into the low ceiling room, Hess smiling at them all.
“Welcome, welcome. Bert, some more drinks?” Bert nodded calmly and meandered towards that side door once more. “Now, welcome, friends from Donnyton. I am Hess, one of the three elders of this village, Kith Klark. Unfortunately the one with the least influence, but still...”
Decklan’s eyes moved from Alana, to Devan, to the Kiersty and Nathan still sleeping on the cushion in the corner of the room, then to Hess. “...Thank you for your hospitality. My name’s Decklan, one of the leaders of Donnyton’s 3 Speciality Squads. I also am a part of Donnyton’s council. On behalf of all of Donnyton, I thank you for taking such good care of our people while they are visiting your world.”
To Alana’s ears, Decklan’s words sounded very forced, and it seemed Hess heard it too, because the cat woman smiled lightly.
“You are welcome. But we don’t need to act too stuffy; after all, the other elders are using you two to play games with each other.,” Hess said cheerily, “Although their motivations are different. Now, who wants some cider?”
The room around her was filled with a heavy silence.
Later that night, as Decklan leaned against the wall, he felt exactly what he was waiting for; the soft whisper of a ghost in his ear. He listened carefully, then quietly began to explain the situation to Glendel.
In the early hours before dawn, Randidly laboriously created another avatar made of roots, forming the body, the arms, and finally the spear. Then, equally slowly, Randidly had the avatar thrust out with its spear.
Randidly raised his spear and, with his eyes closed, mirrored the action. Noticing the small differences between them, Randidly tried to adjust his form, but after several more thrusts with the avatar, nothing had changed. The spear thrust was just as ungainly.
‘Smaller, then,’ Randidly thought to himself. He thrust again with his own spear. There were so many parts that felt natural, that just happened easily, and those were what he needed to systematically identify and understand if he was to improve.
The avatar thrust forward, with Randidly’s attention focused simply on the way he used the vines to grip the spear. Afterwards, he thrust with his body.
He made a small adjustment to the tightness of the avatar’s grip and tried again.
He thrust with his body.
He made a small adjustment.
Over and over, he pressed and pressed, starting with the grip tightness, moving to the balance of his hands, the distance between his two hands…
Avatar thrust, body thrust.
Avatar thrust, body thrust.
Several seconds of thinking, followed by no adjustments.
Avatar thrust, body thrust.
Over and over, until Randidly blinked, opening his eyes to the warm of the dawn’s rays. He grimaced, slightly annoyed that he had lost track of time. But it was important to do this. His training in the Spear needed some organization to it. It was just discouraging that it took so long to make such small gains-
Almost against his will, Randidly grinned. Had he really gotten so spoiled in the months he had lived with the system…? Although he didn’t learn much from the father who was absent most of his life, he did remember one of the few visits the man made to him and his mom.
It was recently after his parents divorced, and Randidly was still young at that point. Randidly had asked his father why he had to live in this new, tiny apartment with his mother now, without him.
His father looked at him with his calculating grey eyes, and asked. “If I let you live with me, how will you compensate me?”
Randidly just stared dumbly at him.
His father shook his head, almost sadly. “Your mother and her weird fucking names… listen to me, little R, what’s worth having is worth working for. Never ask for handouts.” Then his father straightened and left.
Randidly trembled slightly. He wasn’t sure why he remembered that man just now, but it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. He hadn’t thought about them much, since he left his mother to her string of boyfriends, refusing to return the once a year calls on his birthday from his father. That family was dead to him.
But still, he felt a pang in his heart. Because his new family, too, was probably-
Squeezing his eyes shut, Randidly cut off that train of thought. What he needed now was strength. To find anyone… who might still be alive. To protect the things he held dear.
And he would only get that through work.
After taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of the sunrise, Randidly turned, walking towards the training area. It would be another long day, but Randidly needed it. Because his current self…. Wasn’t enough. He craved more.
Mrs. Hamilton tapped on the table with perfect measure, almost like a metronome. The rest of the figures around the table, Regina, Glendel, Daniel, Clarissa, and Sam, stood still, frowning at their respective fingers. Glendel had just reported the strange situation of the other village, as well as Alana and Decklan could figure it.
Donny and Dozer were both absent, going to clear the dungeons next to old Turtletown and Donnyton respectively. Now that Turtletown had fallen, and most of its people slowly drifted over to Donnyton after realizing their previous town had fallen, monsters spewing from that location were becoming a serious problem for the trade route they planned on establishing to Franksburg.
Mrs. Hamilton’s tapping stopped. “...Best to wait it out, huh. They should be able to take care of themselves over there.”
Everyone else was silent. After a long moment, Glendel spoke. “The children don’t appear to be in any danger…”
“But their mother…” Sam muttered, his arms folded.
Mrs. Hamilton sighed. Regina straightened and said, “I agree with Mrs. Hamilton. This is diplomacy. Delicacy and tact is important here.”
“Even when they aren’t bothering with it at all?” Daniel muttered, and he was rewarded with glares from Sam and Regina.
Smiling, Mrs. Hamilton added. “...and their continued presence allows them to intimately become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of our sister village.”
The others mulled this over for a short while. “In other news… how is the Adventurer’s Guild building?” Mrs. Hamilton asked.
Daniel’s eyes came alive. “It’s extraordinary! Not only does it provide quests, but it also appears that there is a function similar to what Nul could provide, with skill trials. Though unfortunately, the selection is much more bland, but as more missions are completed, the building grows, and more options should be unlocked…”
“In addition,” Clarissa added with a grin, glancing at Daniel. “After the building was created, we have seen a higher incidence of Yellow named monsters, which seem to be related to quests. Often these are quite a bit stronger than normal monsters in the area, but you seem to need to accomplish a series of prerequisites to fight them, or to barge directly into the area they are using as a lair. Nothing bad has happened thus far, but… some of them are quite near to the village limits-”
“But their bodies are excellent for parts,” Sam interjected, smiling slightly.
A bang rang out, dragging everyone’s attention back to the center of the table, where Glendel sat. He looked up at them all, pleadingly. “You are really alright with this? Just letting those children stay over there? They didn’t seem to mean us harm exactly, but… Could we at least ask them to return the children…?”
After a long moment, Mrs. Hamilton nodded. “...Actually, that’s a good idea. I’m sad I didn’t think of it. They will likely refuse, and it will make them think they have a negotiation advantage.”
Glendel blinked. “They will refuse…?”
Mrs. Hamilton checked the sun, and stood to go. “Yes, but that’s not the real reason that it wouldn’t work. She will refuse to return, too.”
“I don’t want to go back,” Kiersty said with exaggerated patience, before Hess even had a chance to respond. Adults needed to be treated very delicately sometimes.
Devan and Decklan’s squads were about to go out and help with the monster problem that Kith Klark was dealing with, but Decklan had taken the time to ask that Kiersty and Nathan be allowed to return to Donnyton.
“After all, there is still a bit more to do here,” Kiersty added, then calmly walked out the door. Right as she arrived, Bert appeared, gravely opening the door for her and giving her a small bow. She smiled at him, pleased. She quite liked this turtle man that gave her cider and snuck her treats all the time.
And in addition, she didn’t have a bedtime over here. Why would she ever go back to Donnyton?
Scared and intimidated, Nathan, as always, was dragged out by virtue of unwillingness to lose proximity with his sister. He looked so scared that Kiersty almost felt bad. But then she shook her head, steeling her resolve. After all, there was a lot of work to do. This wasn’t the time to be selfish.
Arbor had barely gotten his roots into the soil here. There was still much to do, and lately, Kiersty had felt that her growth had become somewhat stagnant. She needed a new activity to distract her and keep her entertained.
It was time to evangelize.