Simon looked at his companion with some concern. “Are you sure you are recovered enough to travel…?”
David nodded, his eyes calmer than Simon would have believed based on how he had seemed wracked by pain over the last three days. Simon did value how little David seemed to speak, content to nod and gesture rather than communicate. Which was a relief, in a way, because they seemed to fit well together, Simon waiting silently and the older man just seeming to struggle with his internal injury.
To Simon’s surprise, although David did not really talk, he was pretty effective at communicating his desires; his current desire was to leave with Simon on his journey to receive a Class. Abruptly faced with this truth, Simon had hemmed and hawed, saying that he didn’t believe David’s condition had progressed to an acceptable level, but that had just made the other man hobble away to a nearby bush, removing the strange, minty blue berries there.
Then the man began to brew Mana potions, the implication clear. If David’s condition was insufficient, provide more of the Mending Fluid.
Which was ONE way of solving the problem, but it wasn’t the way that Simon would have preferred. True, he had almost left weeks ago, when David had arrived, but now… things were different somehow. Before Simon had convinced himself that the world wasn’t as bad as he had imagined.
Now that he had left once, and found the beaten and robbed David, well… that shattered that world view.
What was strangest about the strange new traveler was that he refused Simon’s spare shoes; it almost seemed like a point of pride to David, that he didn't have shoes. Perhaps his shoes had some sentimental value…? After the System arrived, life was much, much cheaper than it had been previously, even though there were many, many fewer living souls in the world.
As the slimes in the apartment near Simon had demonstrated, this System was designed to eliminate the weak.
“Well… okay then.” Simon said, unsure of what to say, and the two of them began their travels North. The distance they were traveling wasn’t far, maybe just 12 miles, but it was through territory where there were prevalent monsters. This was due to the fact they had to traverse around the base of the dungeon that transformed after the Tribulation succeeded in eradicating the humans who had lived there.
These were monsters that were transformed humans, those who received a Class from that village, transformed by the fallen village and forced to respawn, over and over, fighting with madness the entire time…
Simon was suddenly regretting his decision to leave their safe zone, and glanced at his companion, his heart pounding. But there was something profoundly calming about watching the other man walk. There was just… a surety to him. Nothing would go wrong.
Screeching, several howler monkeys jumped down and ran towards the two of them. Before Simon could respond, David stepped forward and karate chopped the front runner. That monkey fell back, reeling, and another monkey attempted to tackle David.
Unfortunately, Simon was standing behind David, unable to assist with that one, but he was able to turn and point at the third oncoming monkey. A blast of water smashed forward, sending that monkey stumbling. Two bubbles followed, popping next to the monkey’s face, his ear drums rupturing, blood pouring out of its ears.
Simon glanced at the tackling monkey, and surprised to find it… reeling. David must have used some martial art, because from the corner of his eye… it had almost seemed like the monkey had run into David and just bounced off. This further cemented in Simon’s mind that David fought even before the System was here.
Those sort of skills… you couldn’t learn them in 6 months. It was impressive.
The final monkey seemed to notice what was going on and skidded to a stop, then it turned and fled, leaving its disoriented and wounded comrades. David calmly walked forward, grabbing the necks of monkeys and wringing them.
Feeling pretty good about the experience, Simon walked forward and used Crushing Grip on the deafened monkey, wringing its neck. The creature died, but Simon shivered somewhat. Even though it definitely would have killed them… it was hard to stomach taking another life, after-
That boys screams-
Simon pressed his eyes closed, his body trembling. Breathing became a struggle, until he felt a soft pressure. A hand on his shoulder.
Simon opened his eyes and looked at David. From David’s expression, it was clear that some of his injuries were acting up after the fight, but still the lines of his face were filled with concern for Simon. Feeling oddly helpless, Simon forced himself to straighten and produced some concentrated Mending Liquid for the man, who smiled wryly at him, but took the vial.
Again, that liquid got Refined to a tiny, golden drop, which David then consumed. His expression eased. In silence, they both turned and proceeded onwards.
It seemed that the display against the monkeys had done a lot to scare the nearby monsters, because for the next 4 hours, they didn’t encounter anything. Until a group of humans came up to them, led by a stocky woman riding a bear. Simon blinked.
Really… riding a bear…? That was possible…?
The groups regarded each other in silence for several minutes, sizing each other up, all the while Simon’s tension mounting. Rather than him, the bear riding woman seemed to be considering David.
Simon looked between them, noticing how their eyes locked. But while the woman seemed extremely fierce, there was a mildness in David’s expression which was even more tireless.
Finally, the woman spoke. “You… are you pledged to the Skeleton King? I don’t want trouble, and your strength is obvious, but…”
David shook his head, and the woman relaxed visibly. She raised her hand, and it flashed green, a strange symbol in the air. “Ah, that’s much better then. I hail from Star Crossing, but I am pledged to the Wild Rider. Are you from the Refuge?”
David turned to Simon with a frown, and Simon whispered. “It’s the Westmost village, controlled by survival enthusiasts and martial arts nuts mostly. Combat focused hunters.”
His expression clearing, David turned back to the woman and nodded. She seemed to relax further, but turned to Simon with a grin.
“Does our friend never talk?”
“It’s not that he never does, but…” Simon turned to David, the other man looking down at him with his deep, emerald eyes. After he was unable to find the right thoughts, Simon just shrugged. “It’s almost as if he doesn’t need to? He’s communicative in other ways.”
David smiled. The woman laughed. “A man after my own heart. My name’s Thea, Thea Glasshammer. Where are you two headed?”
“Star Crossing.” Simon supplied. “I… I’ve decided to finally acquire a Class. And maybe… pledge to the Wild Hunter.”
Thea’s eyes brightened, and she gave a sidelong glance to David. “Now your friend clearly already has a Class… but will he be joining you in your pledge?”
David just smiled. That seemed to drain the rest of the fight out of Thea, and she hopped off her bear, a giant black thing, and walked over. Now that she was on the ground, Simon realized that she wasn’t nearly as stocky as he had initially thought; she simply looked that way, wrapped in thick fur armor.
His eyes were almost inadvertently drawn to her hips, which swung with a very noticeable sway. Simon gulped.
One of the two men who accompanied Thea, a man wearing a grey robe, chuckled. The other, a warrior type with a large ax, seemed completely uninterested in the conversation, though his eyes had not left David for a second since the groups had met.
“That’s Jast, and Teo,” Thea said, pointing to the mage and then to the warrior in turn. “And this big lug is Chrysanthemum.”
It took Simon several moments to realize that she meant the bear. The bear’s name was Chrysanthemum, and the creature was big enough to swallow 6 of him. With such little distance between them, Simon could barely stand his ground. If it attacked-
David shared none of Simon’s concerns, stepping forward and reaching out towards the bear. It sniffed him idly, then seemed to nod, deigning to allow him to touch her. Thea chuckled.
“Don’t be surprised, but bears were already pretty smart to begin with, but the Soul Bond Skill imbues your bonded animal with a portion of your stats, and that includes Intelligence. She can tell how you strong are, more easily than even I can.”
This made David frown, and he crouched on his haunches, lowering his eyes to Chrysanthemum’s. The two regarded each other. Simon made to say something, but Thea held up a hand stopping him, her smile slipping off her face.
For 20 seconds the two regarded each other.
Chrysanthemum growled. David rumbled, deep in his chest in response. All at once, the two exploded into motion, David rushing to the side, avoiding the swipe of Chrysanthemum’s paw. The two began to streak between the trees. Chrysanthemum clearly the faster of the two, but David much more agile, moving like a ghost among the trees.
“They are… playing…?” Jast asked, gaping. And Thea just nodded, her expression torn. Simon blinked several times.
David was… playing with a bear….?