Simon was profoundly disturbed by the Wild Rider. Well, perhaps disturbed wasn’t the right word, but the other person, shrouded in furs with the large moose antlers spreading from their head, certainly cut an impressive figure. In comparison, Simon felt profoundly underwhelming, just a regular, skinny teen wrapped in leathers.
That feeling was reinforced by the Pledgees of the Wild Rider.
After Thea and David had combined forces to kill the Raid Boss, and Simon was shocked by some of the resulting notifications, he had returned to his physical body to find himself surrounded by two children riding wolves, and an elderly woman on top of a rhino. Tersely, they informed him that he was coming with them.
Simon had seen the interference of the Wild Rider in the battle, although he didn’t really understand exactly what they had done, he assented to going with the Pledgees. All the while, as they rode back together, the children on the wolves were whispering to each other, giving Simon long looks.
He stared at the thick skin of the rhino beneath him, unsure of what to say. Sure, he had definitely progressed in skills, but… there wasn’t anything flashy in what he did. Trying to keep in mind that his assistance was part of the reason that David had been able to kill so many, Simon just sat silently.
After a 20 minute ride, they arrived at a small camp absolutely bustling with humans and animals of various breeds. What was perhaps the most confusing was that some of the animals appeared to be directing the people, and didn’t have a rider, strutting around the camp. The Pledgees gave these animals a wide berth, and hopped to attention whenever these alphas growled.
A tall, shaggy sheep with thick, snow-white fur, of all things, seemed to be in charge, and trotted neatly over towards the newly arrived group, the crowds of barking, crowing, screeching, and hooting animals moving organically out of the way.
It gave them a look, then got down on its knees in front of them.
“What…?” One of the children gasped, and even the old woman frowned. The sheep simply snorted, turning and giving the people the stink eye.
The old woman turned to Simon. “She… uh… she will be escorting you the rest of the way. Get… uh… on her. Be gentle, she-”
The sheep snorted again, louder this time, and the old woman’s rhino made a pained expression and nudged the elderly woman. Simon tried to remain as unobtrusive as possible, and was slightly aghast at the thought of getting on the back of this sheep. Simon supposed that it was larger than a typical sheep, around the size of a motorcycle, but still…
At the prodding of the children, Simon awkwardly walked forward, and put his leg over the sheep’s back. After several seconds, giving Simon time to position himself, the sheep stood, lifting him off of the ground.
Then the sheep began to run. The world seemed to blur. All of his earlier respect was forgotten, as Simon was forced to run his hands through its luxuriously soft fur in order to keep his seat on the sheep’s back. This sort of speed….!
Wasn’t this even faster than David moved?!?
Then abruptly, it was over. There was a single small tent ahead of him, a beautiful, patchwork thing made of brilliant and bright squares of cloth in every color of the rainbow. After Simon had shakily dismounted, the sheep trotted ahead, using its nose to open up the tent and walking right into the area. After a brief hesitation, Simon followed.
So now he found himself sitting with the Wild RIder, simply waiting. Several candles burned throughout the room, and Simon was seated on a series of cushions. Neither had said a word as of yet, and it was really starting to make Simon nervous.
Just as he opened his mouth to speak, the Wild Rider moved, standing. Quietly, they walked to the back of the tent, and pointed. “Your friend is not yet recovered, but… you should speak with your other companion. She.. struggles.”
Blinking, Simon was so shocked by the abrupt movement that he didn’t initially recognize what the Wild Rider was saying. “Uh…. Thea…?”
It was… extremely unexpected that she was the one who was struggling. After the reward she had received for killing the Tier III Raid Boss, wouldn’t she be delighted? Not just the skill, but also that item…
But still, Simon nodded uncertainly and followed the Wild Rider’s direction, walking back into the room at the back left of the tent, almost surprised to find that there was a great space there, another room filled with cushions, where Thea and Chrysanthemum sat. To Simon’s surprise, the sheep was also there, seeming to converse with Chrysanthemum with low growls and snorts.
Thea Glasshammer, for her part, sat on the cushions, almost slumped over, leaning down, her head between her knees. In her hand she held a small crystal, about the size of a walnut, but glittering with rainbow light, the soft glow illuminating the lines of her hand.
Honestly, none of that was even what had Simon stopped dead. What really stopped Simon was that Thea was out of her furs, and she-
“You’re my age!” Simon blurted out, his eyes widening. Thea straightened, her thin face at first blank, and then pursed in annoyance.
“Why do you sound so shocked?” Thea snapped. “And I’m NOT your age, I’m almost 16. What are you, like 12?”
“I’m 14!” Simon said, clenching his fist. “And almost 15, I think. Maybe even 15. I sorta… lost track of counting, when…”
Suddenly, the fight went out of both of them, and they looked awkwardly at the ground. The System’s arrival had done a lot of things, and one of them was warp people’s sense of time. It was hard to tell how many weeks had passed towards the beginning there, as everyone scrambled for food and shelter from the newly arrived monsters.
Combined with the fact that the increased Endurance and Vitality allowed people to stay up for 24 hours without blinking an eye… days quickly lost their meaning, and it was only recently, after their contact with Donnyton, who had instituted a uniform calendar already, that they once more kept track of the days.
The new calender put them in early November, and they tentatively thought that the System arrived at the end of February, based on what they remembered. Still, they lived in a mild climate, but not THIS mild. The temperature should have lowered to at least the 50s, but it remained constant right under 70.
But based on the announcement when Thea killed the Raid Boss, perhaps that would change soon…
Abruptly realizing that they had been silent for almost a minute, Simon floundered, and then finally said. “...is the skill good?”
After a brief hesitation, Thea stood, and held out her palm that wasn’t holding the crystal. A strange, white at the edges, black at the center flame emerged, flickering in the dim tent, barely producing any light.
“Ghost Fire,” Thea whispered. “Will burn and cause extreme pain on the victim, while being completely invisible to all others. I can throw it, but… much easier to press it up by hand, to be sure on who it touches. I haven’t really used it on anything, but… it seems strong. It is a skill taken from a Raid Boss, after all. Uncommon Rarity.”
Then Thea sighed, letting the fire disappear. “The problem is I’m a physical fighter. My Mana can only support using it once every several hours… So I have to decide whether to invest more stats into Intelligence and Wisdom, or…”
Her expression was helpless. Simon blushed. He had been listening, but…
...Thea was…. really really cute…
Inwardly, Simon was somewhat aghast that he had originally taken her to be rather husky. She just wore several layers of bushy fur, that made her body look slightly tubby looking. It wasn’t that she actually weighed any more than him-
THAT thought made him flush. Honestly, with his belly, he was definitely a good deal heavier than she was…?
“Are you sick? You keep making faces.” Thea asked, her expression concerned. She took the crystal and put it into a pouch on her belt, and stepped closer to him.
Which of course, made Simon flush even more. “Uh, I-”
“Your friend is awake.” The Wild RIder interrupted, pointing to an ever deeper entrance, shrouded by a thin, gauze blanket. Glad for the distraction, Simon hurried over, joined by the sheep.