As they rode towards the boundary of the Refuge, Randidly twisted around and gave the woman sitting behind him a stern look.
“Stay on your best behavior,” Randidly said, hating how much he sounded like his own father. “I’m not going to watch your every move. But if something were to happen…”
The girl nodded, her close cropped, curly chestnut hair bouncing with the motion. “I know, I know, but some of the riders… they are so stuffy. I’d rather be like this, out under the sky. Besides, until my companion is grown, I’m stuck with walking most of the time. And I’ve never ridden a giant wurm before.”
“Me never ridden a wurm!” Neveah interjected, apparently aghast at this oversight on her part. “Will soon.”
Randidly rolled his eyes, trying not to pay attention to the fact that Ten’Malla, the Wild Rider, probably the most wanted person in the entire Zone, was nonchalantly riding behind him on Neveah’s back.
Three days after Simon and Thea came over, and Randidly had done his best to apologize and assuage their woes, Randidly felt prepared to leave, and that Neveah was able to handle herself, and asked for a guide to take him to the Refuge.
To his surprise, both Simon and Thea volunteered. Although they didn’t speak much to him about the lie, or what he had said generally about the Creature, they appeared to not mind being around him.
Which was… good….?
Randidly sighed. He hated the interpersonal drama. Plus, the Wild Rider didn’t really feel the need to tell Thea and Simon of her identity, so at first, they were just giving Randidly weird looks. He was rather morose about the issue.
First Jemma, and now this random teenage girl Ten….? Did the great Randidly Ghosthound have a thing for teenage girls…?
Randidly buried his head in his hands for most of the first half of the trip to the Refuge.
The goal of the trip was rather simple for Randidly. Obtain equipment. Of secondary important, he wanted to ask around for Sydney and Ace. Based on what he knew from his visions, Sydney was likely nearby to the Skeleton Knight. Based on that, East End Village seemed the more likely location. Still, better to ask, while he was in a rather peaceful situation.
Of course, asking about Ace and Sydney made Randidly come to the rather strange realization that there were probably people out there, perhaps people he had class with before the System arrived, that heard his name in the Zone and remembered the old him. It was somehow the most terrifying and embarrassing thing that Randidly had realized since everything had happened.
Other people probably thought that his name was made up, that no one would ever destroy their child’s future prospects like that, but the people that knew Randidly would shake their heads and tell their compatriots that no, that really was his name. It was the mark of having grown up with Randidly that they knew that. He could picture it now, happening in some washed up bar that survived the System…
Randidly continued to hold his head for basically the entirety of the ride.
Other than that, Thea had also received a mission from the riders around the Wild Rider to trade for certain supplies. If nothing else, the pelts that the riders possessed were of high enough value to persuade the apparently standoffish Refuge to deal with them. Simon accompanied them as a “reconnaissance type” rider, joining the three person convoy.
Everyone was surprised when the Wild Rider showed up, without her Regalia.
Randidly straightened, looking around. His senses were sharp enough that he could basically feel the forest around him perfectly for about 20 meters, but it was still better sometimes to use your eyes.
Not that there were any real threats. Neveah happily ran over or devoured any monsters that were unlucky enough to encounter their group.
“Won’t they be upset when they notice you are gone?” Randidly said, trying again.
The Wild Rider waved her hand airily. “I took care of it.”
Sighing, Randidly settled back into the ride. But it was only 5 minutes later that Thea motioned for the group to slow down. “It’s right up ahead, welcome to the Refuge.”
Ahead of them, the forest cleared out, and then the small hill that took its place was abruptly stopped by a sheer wall of rock, stretching upwards about 80 feet. Above them, Randidly could clearly pick out buildings, towers, and people looking down at the approaching group. It seemed that the Refuge was a natural fortress, sitting up above the surrounding area, giving a natural view in every direction.
Undoubtedly, it made surviving the monster horde for the first week very simple. That, in turn, could very easily lead to the group becoming rather insular, and the type that preferred to isolate themselves from the world, hiding away rather than training.
As it turned out, the first part of that was true, but the second…
Was completely wrong. This was a primal place, of public brawls and rather barbaric and violent ritual. And it was all held together by the force of will and power of its Village Founder, Dauntless.
“Well let’s go say hi,” Ten’Malla said cheerily.
Rose Callaway made a small notation in her notebook and looked up, her eyes skeptical. Brute stood at her elbow, his arms folded, the overt threat, where Rose was the silent one. At first, Rose had been against bringing the towering, bronze skinned wall of muscle that was Brute around with her to meet with other powers, but Dauntless insisted.
Having a mute bodyguard was one of the prototypical signs that you were a supervillain, Dauntless insisted. It made Rose want to tear her hair out.
Still, it made situations like this much more simple.
There were 10 men arrayed in the room around her. They were not natives to the Refuge, most of them instead having obtained a Class at Star Crossing, or the East End. One was even Classless. They had come to the Refuge to trade, with their small wares to sell as well as they could. Some were farmers, others were tailors, others were miners.
Honestly, Rose wished she could recruit them to her side, and have them become a permanent part of the Refuge’s force. In fact, if it were up to her, they would have been allowed into the city, without issue. They had, however, been unable to pass the test.
These were not strong individuals.
“Our rules are there for a reason. Win against a one star warrior, and you can enter this city.” Rose said slowly. “The outer slums are here for you to stay in the meantime. You may freely set up stalls and sell there with no issue.”
Then, very deliberately, Rose turned to Brute. Even she didn’t know his name, not really, but the man had come hand picked by Dauntless. Plus, he was definitely smart. Instinctively, when Rose was playing a role, Brute could sense it and played his part perfectly, with just the right mixture of force and finesse. It was honestly disturbing to Rose.
Although she was confident in her own strength, there was something unfathomable about the way that he followed her so closely. Was there a skill there…?
But of course there wasn’t or her skill would have instantly noticed it.
“Are our rules not clear?” Brute did nothing, and Rose turned back to the assembled men, allowing the silence to sit there for a while. Then she said. “So why did you have the… gall, to demand on audience.”
A tall, burly man crossed his arms. “You are the one who found it necessary to meet with us. Our points are valid.”
Rose made a note. An Intimidation skill. Interesting, but not unique.
Another, slimy looking fellow interjected. “Look, we don’t want to be unreasonable. We just think that you need to be understanding of our position. We are merchants. The rules-”
Another note. A Persuasion skill, but a low tier one, of the dozen or so Rose had seen. Nothing to really worry about.
Letting the men talk, Rose’s eyes moved to the figure sitting in the leftmost position in front of her. He was short, average looking face, brown hair. The figure seemed profoundly disinterest in what was happening around him, but Rose’s very sharp senses instantly keyed on him, the minute he walked in the door. This was the man that gave these small fish their confidence.
Rose did have to admit that Dauntless was an asshole, and was not able to run a city, but he could deal with problems effectively; sometimes a hammer was the best way to eliminate a problem.
“Brute, perhaps you could remind these people why they are not allowed in the city? Start with this man on the left.”
Brute stepped forward, the man looked up, his innocuous eyes narrowing at the implied threat. There was a knock at the door. Brute turned and looked at Rose. Rose rolled her eyes and shooed him, urging him on, then stood, walking over towards the door. Her heels clacked on the ground, barely covering up the sound of grunts and impacts.
Due to habit, Rose removed a small piece of paper and made several notes. High level martial art skill and strength boosting skill, that would be Brute. A healing skill. That would be the brown haired man. So he was a mage?
Rose’s eyes widened as she noted down a kinetic energy manipulation skill. She even noted it down as a C grade skill. Interesting, was that where all his confidence came from…?
By the time Rose reached the door, there was only silence behind her. She opened the door. A two star warrior nodded to her, glanced at the room behind her, lost interest, and then said. “A group wants to come into the city. They are Rider people. Two of them are unwilling to take the test without their mounts. Another has volunteered to stand in their place. But no one over 3 star is on duty.”
Rose nodded, and turned to Brute, speculatively. It would be somewhat rude, but… well, they could attempt again, after they recovered from their injuries… What was most annoying about the situation was that Rose’s own callous reaction meant that Dauntless was rubbing off on her. Annoying, that.
Rose turned back to the individuals in the room who were still conscious. “Gentlemen… I hope this emphasizes our attitude on the matter. The test is everything to us. Don’t waste my time again. Brute? Let’s go see the sights.”