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A note from puddles4263

5/23

After sorting the bodies, and pouring Health Potions down the throats of the seriously injured, Drake dismissed his armor and sat for a while, surrounded by the unconscious bodies, wiping the blood from his sword. He continued to wipe and polish in small circles, and it was only after he could see his reflection in the blade that he realized that this was Lucifer's method. Without even thinking, be had picked it up and mimicked him, capturing some of the man's fastidiousness in regards to swords.

Torn between amusement and disgust, Drake stowed his sword and looked around him at the remnants of the battlefield. Unlike Lucifer or Thea, Drake had not split the ground with his power. It was a small blessing that at least he wouldn't need to replace the floor of the training arena. Unlike Alana or Annie, the ground was splattered with blood, making it clear that his blows had wounded, but not debilitated the enemies instantly. Unlike Clarissa, Ptolemy, or the Ghosthound, the victim's bodies weren't marked by burns or smudges where magic discharged on their armor and skin.

Not that the Ghosthound needed to rely on his spells, but... the stronger Drake got, the more he grew to realize that Skills using Mana were much, much more fearsome than a common strike empowered with Stamina.

But the bodies around Drake showed the telltale sign of being physically overpowered. During his time in the Raid Dungeon, he had carefully refined his technique. In terms of raw power, Drake might even be considered almost the same as he had been before he had entered into the Raid Dungeon. But this came with about a dozen caveats that explained the difference between these two results.

Before the Raid Dungeon, he would attack with vicious, wild swings, seeking to use his superior Strength to overpower his opponent. Afterward, his attacks mostly consisted of short, brutal blows to incapacitate and allow Drake to move quickly to a more relevant threat. Against monsters, Drake would usually utilize about 5 of those blows, and then unleash a wild swing to finish off the stunned or struggling opponents. Against humans, the brutal blows were more than enough to put the guards of East End on the ground. More than enough, because oftentimes, such strikes would also break their spirits, along with their bones. In one particular case, Drake had kicked out and broke a young man's shin bone. As the battle raged on around him, the young man began to cry, unable to move.

Although he said nothing, Drake made note of this guard's behavior. Not that it would likely matter, but...

Very poignantly, Drake recalled a time early in the Raid Dungeon where a strike from a centaur had shattered his bone helmet, partially blinding him, and stunning him. After he stumbled back, barely regaining his balance, Drake's first impulse was to swing wildly while retreating, blowing through his Stamina in a wild gambit to find someplace safe to recover. But then he had recalled that he was one of two people holding this wing of the battle lines, and his partner Ptolemy would swiftly be overwhelmed if he gave ground.

At that moment, his feet seemed to sink into the ground, and he swayed, blinking away shards of bone, even as his eyes teared up from tiny pieces that dug their jagged edges into the membranes near his eye. At that moment, Drake realized that if he did not hold, he would die, and he had to ask himself whether retreating to death was really an option that he wanted to entertain.

So, partially blinded, he had stepped back forward and used hearing to locate the enemies, generally just putting the tip of his sword between him and them until he had blinked away enough of the bone to understand what was going on.

It occurred to Drake that some people hadn't had moments like that in their lives, even with the System's arrival, and they felt perfectly comfortable calling "time out". Or perhaps more disturbing, they could have had those moments and failed those tests, finding no answer in their hearts to that overwhelming fear they experienced when the possibility of death confronted them.

In the present, a man near Drake moaned. At first, Drake just shook his head, but then he realized with a start that maybe he was being too harsh on these people. After all, the Vitality and Endurance of the group he had just spent the last month with was miles above these average Classers.

"Was it really only a month...?" Drake asked aloud, feeling a strange sense of deja vu as he did so. But it was only a month. It was just a month at a tier higher of living than he was used to.

After calling for healers to head down, Drake wandered up through the mall until he stood before Sydney's castle on the roof. There, he did not knock, feeling rather content to wait for her to wake up. It would do her well to dream, now.

Instead, Drake considered the difficult prospect of finding a way to make East End relevant in the current economy. If they didn't figure out effective methods... they might just find themselves consumed by the shadow cast by Donnyton and Franksburg.

*****

To Randidly's surprise, a figure stepped into his path as he headed towards the warehouse that housed their store of Potions... and also Mrs. Hamilton's office.

Nathan folded his arms, looking more disapproving than Randidly would have expected that an 11-year-old could look. When Randidly just seemed content to regard him with a frown, Nathan cleared his throat.

"Do you understand now?" Nathan asked quietly. "How hard it is to be powerless while I watch Kiersty..."

He trailed off as if he was unsure what to say. Randidly's mouth tightened, but he couldn't help having empathy for the boy. Due to everything Randidly had on his plate, he wasn't able to closely watch what was going on with Kiersty, but based on her strange cult following and now the inclusion of the spiderlings in that area, it made a lot of sense that it was a subject worth carefully monitoring. It was hard enough to know what effects the System had on people who had lives before its arrival; for children, they could pretty easily graft onto the new way of life, quickly forgetting the realities of the old world. What that would mean for Classes and Skills and Paths remained to be seen, but it was worrying enough that it held Randidly's attention.

When Nathan had approached Randidly previously, it had been almost as though fate had offered Nathan to Randidly as a guinea pig for his Class creation, so he didn't have to bear the risk himself. And now, it seemed like fate...

Randidly's eyes flashed. Perhaps he couldn't give Nathan the power he wanted, but he might be able to give him a Class that could help him there.

"Give me a week to think," Randidly said simply, small wheels in his brain turning rapidly. "At the end of that week... I expect I'll be able to help you."

Nathan's face bloomed with a bright smile, catching Randidly by surprise. Wryly, he smiled back and then patted the boy's shoulder as he walked past him. As he did so, his eyes hardened.

One more thing to think about, but that could wait. For now...

The first of three trials that Randidly had to go through before he was confident in what he would do next.

When he walked into the room, he found a surprisingly non-mundane office. Mrs. Hamilton had lined her walls with tubes filled with different brightly colored liquids. These tubes grew increasingly slender until they became droppers near the ground, which led to small trays. Spiderlings moved to and fro between the dishes, dragging lines of their silk

However, the longer Randidly looked at the silk, the more he frowned. Because this was clearly not the silk of the spiderlings; the silk he had seen from them was as fine as gossamer, a beautiful net that worked based on sheer quantity of threads dropped on top of them. This thread… there was a strange dull quality to it, that made it rather unobtrusive in a very dangerous way. Although you wouldn’t notice this silk, it had enough tensile strength to rip through a man’s bones, if he wasn’t specced towards Endurance.

It was Marrow Silk, likely extracted from the farm of Bone Wyrms that Neveah had brought with her when she had been given that body.

After being dipped in the brightly colored liquids, the Marrow Silk quickly shifted to muted colors of that shade. The Spiderlings moved quickly, and their half of the room was a flurry of activity, slowly throwing together a long dress made from the dyed silk. It was somehow… magical to watch the garment form before his very eyes. But even when he let the impressive nature of the feat stir him, Randidly still watched with still eyes.

As someone with extremely high Control, likely the highest human in terms of that Stat, Randidly could understand what it would take to manipulate so many spiderlings. He had always known that the creatures had a strange mental connection that allowed them to act in concert, but this…

“Penny for your thoughts? I find it oddly soothing myself,” Mrs. Hamilton asked, looking up from the drab desk that constituted the other half of the office. “But I understand that not all people can be comfortable to see so many… tiny creatures moving together for one purpose.”

Randidly allowed himself a smile. “No, it's fine. I wonder why people would let something like that get to them, especially now. A two-headed troll that could level a building but walking into it seems a lot more fearsome than bugs. But now we have quite a few individuals that would gladly throw themselves before the greater foe.”

Chuckling, Mrs. Hamilton said “I think it has to do with humans seeing their own strength in another form, and recognizing the threat. After all, millions of insignificant humans were doing a pretty bang up job beating the entire Earth into submission prior to the System’s arrival. Perhaps bugs remind people that against some small threats, the big man truly has no recourse and if enough of those small threats pile up…”

She fell silent. Randidly, who wasn’t inclined to dwell overlong on that point, let the silence remain. Not after he was being brought face to face with his own shortcomings in so many small areas. And no amount of strength would allow him to clear away those problems; only with time and attention could he hope to make a dent in them.

Eventually, Randidly cleared his throat and looked at Mrs. Hamilton with a heavy gaze. “Do you have anything to say, or should I make my accusation first?”

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