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A note from puddles4263

5/5

It's good to be back.

Randidly yawned languidly. He was actually quite pleased with the day's hall, and with this chance to grind up his Cooking Skill. Even more positive was the performance of the Grove Defenders Skill. After an hour, the creatures he summoned faded back into the ground, but for that hour, they were in the thick of the fighting, ripping through the cats that were foolish enough to come close to them.

They even visibly improved in their fighting. Some of the mistakes that they made earlier which had put some of the other squad members in danger were by the end almost impossible, considering their increasing proficiency. It was also nice to know that they could gain Skills, and have those Skills leveling up. So taking the time to train them might also be worth it...

Unfortunately, the Mana cost was a little debilitating, even for Randidly, who had such a large Mana pool. He had no idea how anyone else would be able to manage it, considering the cost. Plus, it appeared they lacked the ability to stack; when he attempted to summon another batch of Grove Defenders, while the first was active, there was an error.

Randidly grimaced, looking at the bottle in his hands. And after he finished grinding his Cooking.. it was time to spend a little time working on improving his Potion Making Skills, because this...

Effective Mana Potion Lvl 39: Restores 214 Mana over 30 seconds.

Donnyton had produced someone who was more capable than Randidly at producing potions. Now, this was a good thing, obviously, but it still hurt Randidly's pride somewhat. He wanted to be self-sufficient in some ways and having to rely on someone else for Potions...

ESPECIALLY potions. This was his thing, first and foremost, growing crops and refining them into potions. That was how he had gotten his start, how he had earned Shal's trust...

Unfortunately, Randidly's long stint in Shal's world was a period of great growth in EVERYTHING but his Potion Skills. Most of his downtime went to thinking about Mana Engraving, rather than Potion making, as the craft of choice.

Not that Randidly would have done things differently, but this was still aggravating that the potions were superior to his own. Perhaps there was a process that he didn't know of, he consoled himself. Maybe they just have superior ingredients. But these all sounded like excuses to Randidly, feeling bitter in his heart.

Then he chuckled aloud, somewhat amused. Honestly, he should feel blessed that he was even this talent in potion making, considering how dominant he was in terms of both close and long range fighting. He was a generalist, although that was shifting somewhat, and he couldn't be bitter that he wasn't the best at something when he spent so little time pursuing it.

Letting out a breath, Randidly stood, stretching, savoring the feeling of the morning sunlight on his skin. Aside from the intimidatingly large cathedral behind them, it seemed like a normal hill in the middle of the forest. Small birds chirped. Leaves rustled.

There was a soft step behind him.

"How's it looking?" Randidly asked casually, stretching his shoulders and neck.

"How close did I get before you noticed me?" Annie asked, pouting. Randidly just gave her a look until she laughed and continued. "Well enough. The monsters out here are few and far between, and lower level than the cats, but they are vastly more powerful. Almost Tier I Raid Bosses, each one. Some have families too, and those are ALL that level of strength. Not just like a Raid Boss with minions."

Randidly clicked his tongue. "Well, it's not like that's not something we can handle. Did you really expect it to be as easy as those cats?"

Shaking her head, Annie said. "Maybe I just hoped the Raid Dungeon would pussy out. But anyway, there's something else. A few miles South there is a village. WIth people. Like human ones, just living there?"

That gave Randidly pause. "What? Humans....?"

"Well, they look more like fantasy elves," Annie said dismissively, waving her hand. "Long and willowy limbs, pretentious faces, you know. Think they know woodcraft."

It took a bit of effort, but Randidly resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Annie's confidence was a curious thing, in Randidly's eyes, but he supposed he shouldn't confront her about it unless there is proof its simply bravado. Her pregnancy had kept her coddled and swaddled for several long months, so this was finally her chance to stretch her legs.

Hopefully, nothing was so tight that she pulled something.

Randidly hummed mentally, attracting Lucretia's attention. But he needn't have worried, she was always closely monitoring his thoughts. Pulling her senses away from her study of his Class, Lucretia said. "Well... I've never heard of people actually living in a dungeon, but its fairly common to encounter... neutral, if not downright helpful monster tribes within a dungeon. These are usually weaker groups, so they aren't much help, but they might have information on weaknesses or something."

"Plus," Lucretia added. "Considering you are inside the Raid Dungeon that has a goal other than 'kill the boss' they might have more information in that regard."

Randidly nodded, then realized that he had just stood silent for 20 seconds while Annie stared at him, and focused his eyes. "Alright, let's gather everyone up and talk it over. Then we are probably going to visit some elves."

****

Sydney frowned at her sketch, then brought up the eraser to clean up the portrait. These lines were a bit...

Coppernicus' jaw clacked, clearly amused, even though his face was locked in its constant grimace. Sydney clucked her tongue in annoyance. "you'd think being a skeleton would give you a bit more self-control."

"I must admit, modeling is not one of my strong suits," Coppernicus said, scratching the bone of his jaw. The rubbing of bone on bone made a strange grinding sound, and Sydney couldn't help but wonder if he even actually had itches, or just did it based on habit, or nerves. It was pretty clear that it was the latter, however, considering how little he reacted to rain or wind.

It wasn't that he couldn’t feel it, or he would be easily destroyed by enemy attacks, simply failing to feel them. It was just... some of the information given to him through whatever senses he had, vibrations Sydney suspected, was considered superfluous by his mind. Or by the governing soul that animated him, because his brain had decomposed...

"Why did you warn Drake about... a coming war?" Coppernicus asked, his voice soft.

Sydney shifted, trying to change the angle of her grip on the pencil, so she could finish the drawing from this angle. This then was the reason that he had agreed to pose for her. He wanted to sound her out. FIgure out where her mind was at.

Which was fair, Sydney supposed, her lips pressing into a thin line. The sketch still wasn't satisfactory, so she again produced the eraser and obliterated her previous work. The problem was that Sydney always overdid it when it came to situations regarding Randidly. When they were friends, it was fine, although she knew that it sometimes struck Ace as profoundly strange, the way they treated each other.

But now that they were ostensibly political leaders, their relationship had effects far outside just their minor interactions and Ace's peace of mind.

Gritting her teeth, Sydney opened the small box in her chest where she buried all of her rage and frustrations.

"Imagine..." Sydney said slowly, "That you were born into this world and one of the first things that you saw was an ugly duckling. It was... an unfortunate creature, that could barely take care of itself. Ultimately, it is harmless, but you are told by everyone around you... that is your duckling."

Sydney would like to believe that if Coppernicus still possessed, skin, he would be arching his eyebrow at her, for answering his question about speaking to Drake about a war with an abrupt story. But as it was, he simply tilted his head to the side. Which was adorable in his own way.

Regardless, she ignored it and continued. "That duckling seemed to become more incompetent, rather than less, the more that I watched him. Or perhaps the deeper I looked, the more mediocre he revealed himself to be. Meanwhile... I was widely praised. In both physical competitions and in academic ones, I was... told I was a genius. And I worked hard for it. That was why I accomplished so much.

"So imagine my confusion," Sydney continued, her mouth almost moving without her controlling it now, just following the emotions in their twisted way to make Coppernicus trust her, even if she was acting erratically. "When I watched the duckling work just as hard, if not harder... and accomplish nothing. He seemed to threaten my entire worldview. For me, hard work led to results. But for him... for some reason, it just didn't. He was just a shy, quiet boy who... couldn't stack blocks without god knocking them to the ground."

Now Coppernicus had stilled, his attention fully grabbed. Sydney guzzled down a mouthful of air and continued. "So I went away from it and was glad of it. Better to stay away from this boy who was cursed by the heavens. My world settled back into place, and there was a shape to everything that made sense. Work hard, succeed. Slack off, daydream... and you will be left behind. I think, more than anything else, what people seek in the world is a shape... one that makes sense, and they can accept.”

“Isn’t that what we all do…?” Coppernicus asked, raising his hand and looking at his bony fingers. Sydney’s smile was tight, but her pencil continued to move, tracing the lines of his jaw.

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puddles4263

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