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A note from puddles4263

4/4

Thea Glasshammer saluted to the Executive Directors of Star Crossing.

“Report,” Andre said, the tall, African-American man who had seized the golden coin to found the town and established himself as chairman of the village.

“The Wild Rider… actually thinks the Skeleton Knight is losing the war against the villages to the South, based on his movements.” Thea said with a frown.

“This is a bad thing?” Denise, a thin Asian woman, interjected.

“From what the Wild Rider says… yes.” Thea confirmed. “Although they can decimate his forces, it would be a miracle if they managed to kill him. His stats are just too much higher than even their best. Meanwhile, the more pressure he’s under-”

“The faster he grows. That’s how the Champions work,” Cale drawled, the final member of the Executive Board, a slightly overweight man who had been a baker before the change.

“Exactly,” Thea confirmed.

“And the Wild Rider remains…. unwilling to act?” Andre asked, frowning.

“Yes. According to…. them, the way this should have played out was the Skeleton Knight expanding, hunting for the Wild Rider. Meanwhile, the Wild Rider would be running and hiding, waiting for his Ivory Stag to grow up from an infant. It would be a race; would the Skeleton Knight catch the Wild Rider in his net, or would the stag grow powerful enough to turn the tide.” Thea said. “The pressure from the chase would be important, because it would hasten the growth. As it is…”

“So because it is safe, the growth is slow?” Cale said, shaking his head. “Which is terrible news for us.”

“Worse news for the Southern Villages.” Denise commented. She turned to Andre. “Has the Southern Boogeyman shown up? Or are they still fighting on their own?”

Andre was still frowning when he spoke. “It is possible, but… based on what our scouts have said, the Ghosthound is still missing. Which is a blessing and a curse, if what is stated about his powers are to be believed. Either way, his actions jump started those Villages to the point they don’t need him to go toe to toe with the skeleton army.”

Thea kept her mouth shut for this part of the conversation, even though she had so many questions to ask. She had, of course, heard of the Ghosthound, a man who had started the first village in their Zone, shaped and protected the second, planted a tree and started a cult, and then abruptly disappeared, right when the Tier III Raid Boss arrived.

But everyone agreed: he was the most powerful individual they had ever seen. And the rumor was that he didn’t even have a Class.

Which was… a crazy prospect. Thea knew that logically, most Classes didn’t add THAT much extra stats per level, but the bonuses to Health, Mana, and Stamina alone were enough to make the difference in a fight, in most cases. How could a Classless person hope to match that with just what he received for finishing paths…? The more well received theory was that he had a Soul Skill, but that was even more troubling. Aside from the 4 people he had given Soul Skills to, and the Village Founders Soul Skill, none others were known.

The fact he had done this much on his own...

“So people, focus,” Andre said, his hands spreading out on the wood of the table. “What do we do? What does the Wild Rider want?”

“They definitely want to do something,” Thea supplied, shrugging. “The problem will only be exacerbated if we allow the conflict with the Southern Villages to buoy the Skeleton Knight’s strength, without getting the Wild Rider involved. But all of the options are bad ones…”

“If it’s a matter of-” Cale began, leaning forward, but Andre gave him a look. They all three fell silent, and Thea felt inwardly furiously. The leaders of Star Crossing were hiding things from her, simply because she had pledged to the Wild Rider. Although most of the people had pledged, there was something about the situation holding the Executive Board back.

They were unwilling to fully trust the Champion that had descended to their world, even though the alternative was so abhorrent. Perhaps it was only because the Skeleton Knight’s reign was such a far cry from the freedom these people desired that the Executive Board kept her around in such a high position at all.

Either way, it rankled. Through her mental connection to Chrysanthemum, Thea felt her companion’s emotion turn angry, as her own emotions bled over. Quickly, she schooled herself as best she could, keeping her face impassive.

“There is another reason we called you here,” Denise said, turning to Thea. “Those two you brought in? One of them was given a Class. We’d like it if you could assist in his early leveling. He also expressed interest in the Wild Rider, so….”

“Simon was it?” Thea said, remembering the two figures. Remembering the visceral feeling of Chrysanthemum’s joy as she had played with the other man, David.

Denise paused. “...yes, I believe so. A lovely name. Anyway, help them, but watch them too. They caused some trouble when they went for a Class. The usual arrogant sort of violence. Something to watch out for.”

Thea had a very hard time believing that, but she nodded anyway.

A gong began to sound. Cale swore. Denise’s eyes narrowed.

“Well… it seems we have company,” Andre said mildly as he stood.

****

Randidly grunted with exertion, his will straining. The worst part of this whole recovery was how fucking squirrelly the bits of his broken skill were, as they were embedded in the wrong place. They seemed to wriggle, aiming to get around his pressing will.

It had swiftly become apparent that while his skill being smashed to pieces was the main injury, his Battle Intent, and therefore his application of will, was also heavily injured. Luckily, the amorphous quality he had chosen for it meant that his will was well on its way to reforming.

Randidly supposed he shouldn't be surprised. He had let his Battle Intent take a beating against Drak, then overexerted himself using his new skill too many times, and then he had used it against a Master class opponent, who had absolutely steamrolled him. Surprising, honestly, that the injuries weren’t any worse.

But that was slowly recovering, so he was becoming increasingly even handed with his surgery. With a grunt, Randidly leaned back, relaxing somewhat, letting the dull ache of pain fade away. Several bits of broken skill floated in the space where the skill was once housed, liberated.

Randidly had been able to completely clear the skills Bacterial Regeneration, Running, and Hammer of the Dawn. A strangely eclectic list, but they were the most commonly used skills of the ones that had a light serving of the bits of skill.

What Randidly really needed to clear out was Physical Fitness and Fighting Proficiency, the two passive skills that were basically causing him constant low grade agony. Fighting Proficiency wasn’t so bad, but Physical Fitness had 9 bits embedded in it, one of the worst ones. And these were all deep, worming their way into the crucial bits of the skill.

While Randidly could remove them, moving them incorrectly, or too quickly, or too ANYTHING meant that there was a strange… irritation to his pain. This irritation led to persistent, debilitating headaches that could only be sated through the use of the Mending Fluid that Simon provided.

Which meant that the limiting factor in Randidly’s recovery speed was really Simon, not that he would ever tell the kid that. He had enough stress on his plate. Currently, he was over in the corner, curled up, practicing his Astral Projection Skill.

Randidly’s inherent suspicion of Village Spirits had driven him to intercede, but he wondered whether that was for the best. He truly believed that remaining a Dreamer was the… honest to self path for Simon. But perhaps it was far, far, more difficult to maintain that innocence in the world after the System.

Maybe just… after coming back from Shal’s world, seeing Simon had triggered a nostalgia in Randidly, foolish as it was.

Randidly scratched his hands, strangely irritated. Well, the reason wasn’t strange. He hated this weakness, this waiting. At no point in his life had he ever been disabled like this. And honestly, this wasn’t a very complete disability. He was just… less overpowered.

Or more accurately, less able to refine himself, and pursue his goals. Randidly had a lot of things he wanted to accomplish, finding his friends, addressing the Creature’s use of Lyra’s identity, but right now, he wasn’t sure how he would fare in either endeavor. He simply didn’t know enough about the Zone. Where could they be?

And there was something about the Champions that raised Randidly’s hackles. More hooks that the System could put into you. But he was curious too. His Aether detection wasn’t sophisticated, but there didn’t seem to be anything like an Aether tether other than the Class one on Thea Glasshammer. In fact, the only other connection was between her and the bear.

Randidly abruptly straightened, his eyes flashing. Grimacing, he drank some of the refined fluid. Simon sat bolt upright.

“Trouble-” The boy began, before collapsing into a fit of wheezing. A gong began to sound, likely a call to arms. Randidly just yawned, cracking his neck.

Some light exercise would be nice.

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