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A note from puddles4263

3/5

Randidly approached the village warily.

Not that he thought, from his passing investigations with Phantom's Lanterns, that there was anyone in the village strong enough to be a threat. But they did appear relatively prepared to fight, which was to be expected, considering the location.

Also considering the location, there had to be a group of people in the village that had enough strength to fight off the Raid Boss magnitude monsters on a daily basis. Sure, they weren't super numerous, but the few that Randidly's expedition encountered were relatively aggressive, once they laid eyes on the people. Perhaps they associated people with weak targets...?

But then why was this village... almost idyllic? There were two elf children playing with a fucking wooden hoop by the gate, for god's sake.

To try and seem as non-intimidating as possible, Lucifer, Thea, Chrysanthemum, Annie, and Clarissa elected to remain in the forest, grinding more experience from the nearby monsters. The remaining portions of the group, Randidly, Ptolemy, Ace, Drake, and Rose would be relatively low key, and un-intimidating compared to the whole of the group. Plus that aside from Ace, most of the people had enough introversion to not cause any personality friction.

Honestly, the only reason that they brought Ace was that Randidly couldn't deny that despite his... abnormal behavior, he was still charming.

"So you've always wanted to be a doctor?" Ace asked, walking easily next to Ptolemy.

"Well know," Ptolemy, a man who hadn't said more than 10 words to Randidly, admitted with a blush. "...I was honestly going to nursing school when the System hit. I was willing to put in the hard work, and I've more than enough bedside enthusiasm... But the amount of memorization you needed for medical school..."

Ace scratched his skin, a small smile on his face. "Hell, rich kids pass medical school all the time. And there is no way in hell that they have half of the gumption that you do. Head Triage Specialist of Donnyton right?"

"Doctor Northwind is the head, but she prefers to leave most of the healing close to the battlefield to me."

It was almost maddening. It's not that Randidly couldn't understand how that Ace had bridged the gap with Ptolemy, with leading questions and low-pressure curiosity. Plus, it was no doubt extremely beneficial for the group for them to grow closer together. Even the thought of doing it, however, filled him with an unending sense of exhaustion.

Which was why he was useful here.

Finally, Ace and Ptolemy's talk caught the attention of the two children, who hopped backward like scared rabbits and scurried back behind the walls. Which was exactly the point that Randidly was abruptly thankful that Ace had been talking, and then he narrowed his eyes, as he realized that Ace was probably speaking on purpose, for just that reason. So there wasn't just abruptly a group of people who silently appeared at the treeline. Perhaps it would mean nothing because the children wouldn't spread the details of what happened. But if they did...

Randidly revised his opinion of Ace as they approached the gate and stood before it. It was open, but he figured it would be more polite not to cross the threshold until they were invited.

His senses were not really focused on it, but Randidly easily caught the dozen or so departing figures from the village as he stood there with his group. They crept out through flaws in the stone wall around the village, which Randidly reflexively noted. The group scrutinized Randidly and company, but they stayed some distance away, slowing surrounding them. It seemed like these people wanted to have an ambush ready, should Randidly's group turn out not to be friendly.

Randidly was delighted when one stopped underneath his spare lantern he had left hanging in the woods. As Annie had indicated, their skin was a dusky grey, and they had extremely long limbs. They simply seemed to be humans who were made of wax, that had been slowly stretched a bit. This one was a bit above two meters, so it was possible that they were also a good deal taller than normal people.

After around 10 minutes of shifting, the ambushers were apparently in position, because the gates to the village swung open, and four people walked out. The front person was a tall man with a thin, white mustache. Beside him was a woman who was more weapon than person. Every inch of her was covered with a different sort of dagger or hatchet that was strapped to her. In addition, immediately when she appeared, Randidly felt a strange wariness in his heart. This was an opponent that he couldn't take casually.

He supposed it made sense. These people were here, at the edge of this forest that was absolutely lousy with Raid Boss strength enemies. If they didn't have their own experts, they would be swiftly overwhelmed. But it was just the first time since Randidly had left Shal's world that Randidly wasn't absolutely sure he would defeat an opponent. It appeared there was more to this village than it initially appeared.

A few feet behind those two, there were two others. The first was a young woman with caramel colored skin, her eyes covered in a rough looking cough. Next to her, glaring at Randidly's group, was a young boy no older than 10.

"What is your business here," The central man said in an authoritative voice, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "It appears... you are a long way from home."

Randidly opened his mouth to speak then paused, thinking better of it. The presence of people here... was profoundly interesting. It was a curious thing that this Dungeon seemed to just be in an area of a world. It made a certain amount of sense because it couldn't be much more impressive than what the System had already done, splitting their world into different Zones. Perhaps there was such a split in this area. There could even be a barrier at the edges that would stop the Dungeon Divers, but let the normal citizens of this world through. The ability of the System to create miracles was not something that Randidly wanted to underestimate.

While the details of this fascinated Randidly, they also filled him with a sense of foreboding. If they DIDN'T know they were in a dungeon... is it possible that other creatures would show up in their Zone at some point, killing things, looking for a way to obtain the Key of Death they needed.

If they DID know... was this perhaps an outcome for a world after the Calamity descended...? Could they simply become a dungeon for other people to use to grow stronger...?

After allowing the silence to stretch for around 10 seconds, Ace jumped in, "Yes, we've traveled far to reach this place... we were hoping that we might be able to take shelter in your village for the night."

Snorting, the man said. "Hmph, does this level of opponents truly bother you? If so, you will be devoured before you can leave the area. There is a blight upon this land, and they likely already have word of your arrival."

"Well... perhaps these are some brave souls seeking eternal life? Taking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of our Lady Zith?" The woman with the cloth over her eyes asked, stepping forward. "We cannot turn away souls seeking a salvation from this cursed land. Plus, since they have the strength to make it here..."

The woman trailed off, and the well-armored woman spat to the side but said nothing.

With an awkward smile on his face, Ace continued. "...Yes, we have come here seeking a salvation. Any port in a storm, right?"

Randidly wanted to facepalm at the Ace's immediately dismissive attitude towards religion, but to Randidly's surprise, although his face twisted in a grimace, the mustached man also nodded.

Meanwhile, the woman with covered eyes was nodding as well. "we do not begrudge anyone for their reasons for clinging to hope; we are just happy that there are so many people here who are willing to fight to gain eternity with us."

Randidly paused, tapping his jaw. They were... inviting the group to join a cult...? He supposed there were worse ways to obtain entrance to the village, which would give them access to greater information...

"That's all well and good..." Finally, the woman who was covered in weapons spoke, her voice low and hoarse. Randidly frowned. It sounded as though she had been injured in the past, and that had slowly healed, leaving either her vocal cords or lungs with a flaw. Yet to still have the air of danger about her... just how powerful would she have been at the peak of her strength...?

"But... how about you recall your guards to join you yes? As Dalton said, there are much more dangerous monsters in the surrounding area than the riff-raff you have likely fought. Better organized, mean, and looking to tear the world to shreds. It would be a shame if an... accident befell them."

A threat...? Or an accurate description of what could happen here...? It was a little difficult to parse apart everything, but it was enough of a show of strength that they were aware of the other group for Randidly to agree to it.

So they stood, waiting, while Ace made several awkward attempts at small talk that filled in a few of Randidly's questions, but not all of them. Still, this was enough to go on for now, while they waited.

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