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A note from puddles4263

4/7

Rose was at least pleased that the group had at least waited until she, Brute, and the two star guard returned, not making any trouble. That either showed they were weak, and were intimidated, or that they knew something about the Refuge.

After all, it wasn’t difficult to fight the people who guarded the edges of the city. But once you got into the city proper… even Rose would be hard pressed to keep herself safe if she had to force her way into the Refuge. Which, of course, was a direct result of her actions in building up the fortifications in the city, not that anyone would thank her for it…

The group was small, but Rose’s eyebrows rose as she looked at their mounts. There was a bear, an ox, and most intimidatingly, a giant bone wurm, which seemed to be looking around curiously. That thing… was truly a monster.

Although Rose understood, intellectually, that the riders could basically tame any monster that acknowledged them, in practice, they were usually pretty normal animals. This monster, however…

There were four people, a skinny young black girl, a chubby and nervous boy, another young girl wrapped in thick furs, and finally a 20 something young man with long, black hair to his shoulders. As Rose and Brute approached, the man looked up slowly, his eyes flashing emerald. The look in those eyes was placid, almost curious, but firm.

It would be the latter option then; these people understood the Refuge, and they were willing to wait and take the test. They had confidence in their strength. Rose almost felt bad that she had brought out Brute to crush them.

Generally, Rose wouldn’t be contacted with handling this sort of issue. It was far, far below her station, and even a bit below the work that most of the warriors thought she did. But this was a two star guard she knew well enough, and he preferred to approach her, rather than returning to the city proper and recruiting a four star warrior off the street, trying to drag them away from whatever they were up to.

Without the threat of violence, most of the warriors above 3 stars refused to wipe their own ass.

Rose produced a notebook and held it at the ready. Hopefully, she at least got some new skills out of this group. “Welcome, travelers, to the Refuge. I assume you understand the rules…?”

She glanced at some of the nearby two star guards. They nodded. “The boy and the little girl will not be tested. The furred one passed her test.” At the end of the short report, the guard made a hand gesture, one that indicated he suspected her to have the strength of a 3 star warrior.

Interesting. If a four star warrior had really been fetched, their leader might have a pretty good shot at winning, if he was stronger than that girl. But unfortunately…

Monologue, Dauntless’ annoying voice reminded her.

“...How brave. As you are shouldering the responsibility of two others… the requirements for entry grow. The first is one extra star, the second two. As such, you need to have the strength of a 4 star warrior to walk with them under your protection.” Rose smiled at the man, who continued to regard her impassively. “Its for your own benefit, you know. Violence is not prevented in the Refuge. If you don’t have at least that much strength… you will not be able to protect them.”

Still no response, and no notes. No scanning skills, perhaps…?

Rose continued to speak. “The challenge, thus, is to defeat a 4 star or greater warrior. Unfortunately, due to personnel concerns, no 4 star warriors are available. You may either wait, perhaps for 6 hours, when the next shift ends, or… if you agree, fight against Brute here, who is above a four star warrior.”

Brute stepped forward. After giving Brute a glance, the man nodded and flourished his hand, producing a spear. Rose’s eyes focused instantly, her hands frozen. She had felt at least 4 skills there, flickering, not even really activating, with that motion. So it wasn’t the production, but just the physical movement that was the skills she sensed. That meant he had an interspatial ring.

But the quick flash of skills wasn’t enough for her to catch, so they faded away. Her hand relaxed. Still, it was annoying. More knowledge would help.

Not that it really mattered. The one thing that Brute did not fear was physical fighters.

“Well then, feel free to begin.” Rose announced, excited to watch the fight. The spear in the man’s hand was weird, seeming to be made of some sort of woven wood, but that wasn’t enough to give her pause.

In an eerily similar fashion, the two men walked calmly towards each other. When they were only a meter apart, both blurred.

There was a strange noise of a ticking.

Rose’s hand sprung into motion. Then it spasmed as her skill wanted her to write almost 15 skills at once, as both men activated them. Very quickly, she sorted out Brute’s skills, doing her best to dig through the other man’s.

There was a Physical Fitness skill, and what looked like Empower and Haste. In addition-

Again, Rose froze, even as her hand continued to write. What?! Her skill gave this man’s skill an A rating? Aside from Dauntless, this was the first time-

“I concede.”

As the two stopped using skills, her skill stopped pestering her, halfway through her note. Very slowly, Rose looked up. Brute stood very still, the point of the other man’s spear at his throat.

The spear was lowered. The two men shook hands. The black haired man looked questioningly at Rose, who could only nod weakly, swallowing. “...Welcome to the Refuge.”

After the other group had left, and Rose had calmed her breathing, she walked up to Brute, who stood extremely still, remaining in the same spot from which he had surrendered. As she approached, Rose opened her mouth to speak, but saw a small crimson bead on his neck, and instead just looked on slack jawed.

Brute remained there, with his eyes closed, as Rose struggled to run through possibilities.

With the sheer volume of skills that the other man had activated, it had been too difficult to pick apart exactly what happened. But even still, Brute should have no trouble winning… he had an almost unstoppable trifecta of skills.

Brute’s most dominant skill was the ability to stop the momentum of any attacks on him in a certain area. The Stamina cost was so prohibitive that it could be used only a few times in a fight from full Stamina, and if burned constantly about two full seconds, but the battle had been about that amount of time. There was no way he should have lost.

In addition, Brute had a short range teleportation skill, and an absolutely fearsome ability to absorb Stamina from any person he laid his hands on. With these skills combined, he could fuel his momentum control Skills almost indefinitely, or until the opponent ran out of Stamina. Combined with a life before the System filled with martial arts training, trying to imagine the way for a close combat specialist to overcome Brute, was a bit…

More than anything, Rose was filled with annoyance, and a small speck of fear. Because her abilities, which she had trusted to feed her the weaknesses of an opponent, had turned up nothing. Was the other obscuring her somehow…? That amount of passive skills, though, what Class…

Brute opened his eyes, his expression placid.

Rose frowned. “...Your ranking should be about an 8 star warrior. Aside from Dauntless and myself, there aren’t more than 3 people stronger than you here. Yet you lost.”

Turning, Brute’s gaze followed the direction the group had left. Still, he said nothing.

Rose lowered her voice. “How were you injured so quickly? I felt you activating your skill-”

“I can only steal the momentum away from my opponents,” Brute said slowly, closing his eyes. “... There is nothing I can do about my own momentum. He gave me no choice but to impale myself on his spear… to avoid his other attacks.”

Rose’s eyebrows rose. Then she opened her mouth again, but closed it, annoyed. Perhaps this had just rattled her because it was the first time in a long time that her skill had been useless. Truly, it was unexpected. Even the Raid Bosses that they found didn’t trouble her like this. They could be seen through.

But Rose didn’t want to give up. If she had another shot-

“If Dauntless returns…” Brute said slowly. “...he will be crushed. That man is the most monstrous thing I have seen since the System arrived. If Dauntless returns, they must be kept apart-”

“He’s already back,” Rose whispered, feeling unwilling, but oddly fearful. Even in the face of overwhelming odds, Dauntless would not back off like Brute would. He would throw himself closer to the fire, unwilling to cede his stance as the strongest. “It was reported while we walked over. He’s just… wandering throughout the city…”

Instantly, that little bit of shock that remained fell away, and Rose Calloway once more felt her mind begin to whir. Although there was a strong opponent, that person was not necessarily an enemy. And if possible, it would be best to keep it that way. But if it ended up going the other direction…

Rose would dismantle the foe that stood in Dauntless’ way. Like she did every time.

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puddles4263

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