Drake stood at attention, his hands behind his back. Sydney sat at her desk, her chin in her hand, as she meticulously read every word of his report.
They had marched hard for a day and a half, back towards the East End Village, Drake driving the men ragged in order to report the failure as soon as possible. It was a personal failure, one that he was furious over. But they had truly encountered something they could do nothing about.
So they had arrived only a week after they had departed, and Sydney was naturally ill prepared for them. She quickly dismissed the mages she was teaching, more like training, to use deadly combat magicks to their full effect, and now sat alone with Drake, reading his report word by word.
It hadn’t been immediately apparent what a deliberate and intimidating move this was until Drake had experienced it multiple times. Say nothing else of Sydney, she was thorough. And her patience and chilly malice could keep her alive even after the world had come crumbling down, giving her control over a population of just over a 1000.
In her own way, she was a genius. But for similar reasons, she was dangerous. Still, Drake owed her, and she had sworn to protect the city as its leader. For now, she had stayed true, and the seeds of loyalty were firmly in his heart, even with the possibility of this most recent manipulation.
Sydney looked up. Her hair, which had been dyed when they met, had been allowed to grow in natural, with the fake parts trimmed off, a dark brown. Her eyes though, were pale amber, in an almost bloodless face. She was lovely, and knew how to use that to her advantage. And based on the bored and serious expression on her face, she was currently making no effort to leverage her attractiveness on him.
Which made him relieved, and respect her more. She was younger even than his own daughter, for her to try and use sex to control him would be insulting. And she knew it, and therefore she did not do it.
Perhaps that should give him pause, but Drake didn’t mind her pragmatism. It, too, made him admire her.
“A dark haired man blew through a squad of your men, overpowered Vandal in seconds, and shrugged off Copper’s spells. He destroyed the Reanimator gifted to us by the Skeleton Knight, and walked away.” She repeated it aloud. Drake almost flushed, but said nothing. There was nothing he could say.
Sydney clicked her tongue. Then she looked pointedly at the door. After a moment, it swung open, revealing the tall skeleton with the flaming skull that the Skeleton Knight had positioned here as a liaison.
“You called?” The thing asked lazily, striding forward.
“You were listening. What do you make of this? You told us the Wild Rider was weak.” Her words were sharp and short, her eyes narrowed. Drake felt his tension increase, drawing his posture even more straight.
Sydney was sniffing around for a betrayal, which was understandable, but if Drake could talk to her, he would say that didn’t make sense. But then again, based on how she was acting, she probably knew that, and was acting annoyed and paranoid to make the Skeleton Knight’s representative think she was less perceptive than she was, which might be useful down the line.
It was above his pay grade. And pointless, in his opinion. But everyone who he had ever served under in the military had done similar things, and it was the ones who were the best at it that stayed above Drake the longest.
And although she was young, Sydney was the most impressive general Drake had ever seen.
The skeleton shrugged, giving Drake a look. “Are you sure your foot soldier isn’t exaggerating?”
“I haven’t spoken to them all, but I’ve spoken to the three primary fighters. They all agree. If anything, Drake is downplaying it.” Sydney said, taking the papers off her desk and throwing them into the fire. Drake suspected that she had obtained a memory skill, because there was no way she would so casually destroy evidence as thoroughly as she did.
And even so, it was a double edged sword. If something happened to her… a replacement without her wide base of knowledge would be inept, at best.
“It seems impossible,” The skeleton said, after a minute of thought. “There are ways to get that strong in a short amount of time, but they require a lot of resources that shouldn’t be available in this world yet. If what they say is true… even I would be annoyed trying to kill that guy. The System just got here, it’s not possible... Perhaps it came across from another world? There is a portal in Donnyton, yes?”
“It is widely reported that those from the other side are strong, but have animal features.” Sydney said lightly, walking over to the window. “...but a possibility, I suppose.”
“The Skeleton Knight has given you all the resources he will give to accomplish your task.” The skeleton announced, its flaming jaw clacking. “He does not appreciate being disappointed.”
“I don’t disappoint.” Sydney said softly, then she turned to the skeleton. “Then I’m glad you understand. Drake, replace anyone who is spooked or injured, and leave again in the morning. Before was shock and awe, now go more snatch and grab.”
Sydney turned on her heel and walked to the side door, which led to her chambers.
“But ma’am, if we run into that man again,” Drake began, but Sydney shook her head.
“Don’t worry, Iznock will handle it,” She said, pointing to the flaming skeleton. “He will be leaving with you in the morning. Good evening, gentlemen.”
The door closed with a soft click.
Thea stood before the board of directors once more, once again talking about a similar subject, but the focus was now very, very different.
“Reports indicate that he was virtually invulnerable to all attacks from the skeletons. He could destroy them with a single punch. He could call flaming hammers down from the sky, shattering groups,” Andre said calmly. “Is this…. accurate?”
Thea could only shrug helplessly. “...As far as I can tell, yes. Simon, his companion, also reports that he turned the tide of the battle by killing this Reanimator monster, cutting off most of their forces, and making sure no more were created.”
“And his intercession saved countless lives,” Cale said, the sarcasm in his voice thick. Denise coughed into her hand, giving him a look, causing the other man to roll his eyes and raise his hands.
Thea frowned. They were… taking this much differently than she had expected them to.
“Sir, I think that establishing good relations with these two will pay dividends down the line for our Village.”
Andre nodded slowly, sharing a glance with the other two board members. “... It certainly appears that way, doesn’t it?”
“Sir… what are you saying?” Thea asked slowly.
Denise sighed. “It’s likely true that he’s a powerful mage of some sort. But all of it together… the spells, the physical strength and speed, killing the enemy leader while only his companion is watching… David is a fiction. Even with the System here, ‘magic’ just doesn’t mean anything is possible. A strength this substantial… it takes time.”
“It’s much more likely…” Cale said, almost whispering. “That our dear friends David and Simon… were planted here, to save the day and keep us from getting a bloody nose in the first battle… so they can serve us up to the Skeleton Knight on a silver platter later.”
“I’m dubious,” Andre said, raising his hands at Thea’s darkening expression, “Especially about how they could coordinate with so many skeletons to have them die as David struck them. But Thea… which is more believable? That a man who is so strong it puts him on the level of Champions shows up, or that this was a ploy to earn our trust? Even if he was that powerful in one aspect, how can he be miles ahead of our people in every stat?”
Thea opened her mouth, and then she closed it. To that question…. She could find no answer.