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A note from puddles4263

4/17

Mrs. Hamilton leaned back in her chair. “You are morally against this, I assume?”

Randidly sighed. “I just… Can this really be considered a prize?”

“You...are too used to your own life. Let me paint you a picture.” Mrs. Hamilton leaned back, her face becoming shrouded in darkness. But from the shadows, her eyes still gleamed. Randidly, slowly, forced himself to relax as he listened. “You are not a brave person. You do not have an aberrant Skill, and you ask around, and the Paths you have access to are only the base ones. And yet… you crave the strength that you see from the heroes of Donnyton.

“It’s frustrating, and you try training, but you have a hard time sticking to it. You dislike pain, you dislike extremes. Life is beginning to settle down, and slowly, almost unwillingly, your training tapers off further. There are now other people to defend you, stronger people, who worked harder. You acknowledge that. And yet… and yet at your core you have a deep anger, a grand stubbornness, an urge to be great. And you do one of two things. You hate yourself, for your inability to stick to the training, or you turn your hatred on the others.

“Because the only reason they are there, and you are not… is because you are blessed.” Mrs Hamilton smiled at Randidly. “Whatever you would like to do to these people… in a way, it can be considered a ‘Blessing’ if only because it is a deviation from the norm. This will always distinguish that person. It would finally vindicate that voice in that back of their head… Honestly, you can consider this something of a service.”

Keeping his tone even, Randidly said, “Isn’t that a very… callous way of thinking about the issue?”

As her face was still in shadow, even Randidly’s improved Perception couldn’t determine her expression, but he sensed amusement. Randidly frowned slightly. Honestly, if her face was unclear to him, with his Stats, this was not simply a trick of the light. A Skill was active here, one that escaped his notice until now.

“How many lives have you taken, Randidly?” Mrs. Hamilton asked, her voice soft. Randidly’s hands balled into fists. Her amusement seemed to increase further, while Randidly closed his eyes and saw countless faces, the mess of guards that he had slaughtered in Shal’s world. Beyond that… there were several individuals that Randidly had caused the death of, which was similar.

But Mrs. Hamilton wasn’t done. “And also… how many lives will you take? We haven’t dwelled on this yet, or at least the rest of you haven’t, but what happens to us when our Zone connects to other Zones? Based on our trade with our sister Village, there were likely humans who were aware of the coming apocalypse, but they kept it to themselves. Their presence is further verified by the fact that we were the first Village in our world to be founded, but not the first to defeat the Tier III Raid Boss. That dubious honor belongs to another.

“The types of people who would allow such a huge portion of the population to die… a ruthless group, and one focused on their own power. I suspect… they will not take kindly to political rivals. If they come at us, with force… do you have it in you to stop them?”

Randidly kept his eyes closed, now picturing everyone here, in Donnyton. He knew the answer to this question. He would slaughter the other Zones in a heartbeat.

A Spear Advances, Ash Trails…

It was spooky, sometimes, how closely his first self created move mirrored the reality around him. Still, hopefully they could come to a peaceful conclusion where that wasn’t necessary, where they could agree to a balance. That might require a show of force, which Randidly was more than happy to supply. But again, beyond the other Zones, there was something larger. The Calamity. And waiting in the wings was the Creature…

“What’s your point?” Randidly finally rasped, although he already knew what she was going to say.

“My point is that not everyone is you, able to change the world on their own. And they are often more than happy to give their lives to help the cause.” Those small flashes of light in the darkness dimmed, sinking deeper into the shadows as Mrs. Hamilton leaned back farther. “And to emphasize that these are not battles we can afford to lose, Randidly. You are our advantage. Not only for this issue with the Raid Dungeon, and this Creature… but against everyone. Leveraging you… is exactly what we need to focus on.”

Bowing his head, Randidly breathed out another long sigh. So it would be like this…

Careful. Slow. End fine. Neveah whispered, reassuring him. With a small smile, he mentally waved her off. That was true. And to do that… they needed practice. They needed to be able to understand Aether and the way it behaved. At night, Randidly would train in just that, focusing all his attention to mastering the Aether, and moving it, while passively grinding some other Skills. But during the day…

There was another avenue. Not to actually understand Aether, but to understand the ways that he could mimic it...

It was time to see Sam.

****

Regina raised her eyebrows, adding more potatoes to the pot. “He still hasn’t visited you?”

Sam simply grunted in response, his back to her as he continued cutting the meat. Regina smiled bitterly. Even after 5 months of marriage, he could stump her like this. She really couldn’t tell whether he was ambivalent, or upset. He was very excited, she knew, to unveil some of his creations, but… perhaps the wait wasn’t so bad…?

If she could see his expression, it would be different….

“Sam,” Regina said sharply. He glanced over her shoulder at her, then turned back to the meat. Upset, then.

As Regina opened her mouth, there was a knock on the door. Even Sam looked up, somewhat shocked. Basically only the higher level foremen in the Production District knew which house was theirs, located in the mezzanine passages of the housing zone that was propped up against the side of the main production building.

Calmly, Regina wiped her hands and walked to the door. There, she found a tall, athletic young man with cold emerald eyes and black hair down to his shoulders. She clucked disapprovingly.

“You need a haircut.”

The Ghosthound smiled, chuckling. “I think so to, but there just hasn’t been time. Also, one of the unfortunate side effects of high Vitality is that the hair grows back to this length really quickly. Seems more trouble than it’s worth.”

Then he paused. “Is Sam in?”

“Here, boy.” Sam said, rinsing the red blood from the meat cutting from his hands before walking over to the door and offering the Ghosthound a handshake. He took it, and soon Regina had to step out of the way because the handshake had turned into a rough hug.

The two men parted, sizing each other up.

The Ghosthound spoke first, a small smile on his face. “You need some exercise. I didn’t even know that you could get fat since the System arrived.”

Sam grunted and gestured dismissively. Hiding a smile behind her hand, Regina continued to prepare the stew. She had actually made a similar comment to Sam a few months ago, when it started to happen. It had actually been very concerning to Regina at the time, so she had consulted Mrs. Hamilton about it.

After all, Regina had conducted examinations of Sam, and there was nothing physically wrong with him. But Mrs. Hamilton seemed to think that it had something to do with the connection to the Ghosthound.

All Classers, Regina had learned, began to show slight physical changes, based on their Class. For whatever reason, the four who got the Blessings from the Ghosthound received a very markedly increased effect from this. So Sam was simply shifting towards a body that was more appropriate for a Dawn Smith to have.

It was relieving… and concerning at the same time, to Regina. The changes did seem to be slowing down now, as Sam settled into a rather portly figure, but the fact that Classes had that sort of power…

Shaking her head, Regina asked, “Would you like to join us for dinner then, Randidly?”

The Ghosthound nodded, and from his ring produced a series of bottles of beer. After they popped them open, poured them out, and took a drink, Sam’s eyebrows rose.

“This ain’t from here.” Sam muttered, taking another appreciative sip.

The Ghosthound laughed. “Yea, a souvenir from my trip. Actually, while we are talking about it, I don’t know if you are interested in it or not…”

2 hours later, the older and younger man were standing next to each other, the stew STILL in its pot, the table instead dedicated to the different weaponry that the Ghosthound had brought back from wherever he had been, which he didn’t seem keen on talking about.

There were also materials, and most importantly, information on Engraving. Since the Ghosthound had left, Sam had continued to slowly improve in Engraving, but it seemed that what the Ghosthound lacked in patience as compared to Sam, he more than made up for it in sheer Mana pool size and background information.

He had brought with him a full set of encyclopedias about Engraving, as well as several special runes that he had received. The two were currently deep in a philosophical discussion about “the behavior of Mana” and also “subjective versus objective energy”.

Very discreetly, Regina poured herself a bowl of the stew and left. Those two could certainly entertain themselves without her.

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