Randidly watched the sunset over Donnyton, his expression neutral. He had arranged for people to meet him here at twilight, but for now, he had some time to think.
The more he considered how his... attempt with Lyra had gone, the more that Randidly could only shake his head helplessly. That girl just... wormed her way under his skin. And he couldn't exactly blame Lyra for that, he did the same thing to her. When they were with each other, they just couldn't help regressing to the versions of themselves they were when they met: He couldn't take her seriously, and she couldn't stop teasing him long enough to have a real conversation.
And just like he held it against her that she was barely more than a child, she held it against him that he couldn't see anything deeper than her age.
Still, Randidly didn't mind the final result. Something had broken between Lyra and himself, which was dangerous if they both remained here, acting in the same sphere of influence, butting heads. But if they were apart... Space would make these differences, smaller, Randidly believed.
And he realized that he was looking forward to it somewhat. Having the freedom to leave Donnyton and exploring the new border areas in their Zone. When 6 months had passed and they were connected to the wider world, he could then range even farther, pushing the boundaries of their world, finding and fighting the most powerful monsters that this world could throw against them. Not in the attempt to protect Donnyton any longer, but to push his strength up as quickly as possible. He now had a Class, and a new Soul Skill and Randidly didn't doubt the combination of growth he would receive from these two things would eventually raise him to a tier all of his own.
But it became obvious after his time in the Raid Dungeon that his Levels took significantly more experience than other Classers’ Levels. And it only seemed that effect was increasing as time went on. It was likely a function of the size and scope of his Class, but Randidly would need more and more fuel it seemed to raise it upwards.
A point there for the System, that its Classes were efficient, but...
Randidly grinned. He had some ideas of how to work on providing Classes for people that wouldn't be connected to the System.
Dinesh and that haircutting woman Tanya were the first to arrive, winding their way up the path to the outlook where Randidly stood. He glanced at them when they arrived, taking note of Tanya, who was panting as she made it to the top.
It was something of a wonder to see her, simply because she seemed so... nostalgic, in a way. She had barely experienced a week's worth of the System and hadn't even raised most of her Stats to above 15, as of yet. Randidly was slightly dubious of her inclusion of his new group, but Dinesh vouched for her, and Randidly could tell that the man felt responsible for her.
After all, it was only due to his interference that she was brought to Donnyton to stay, rather than being sent to Franksburg. Although she was clearly going to be a liability in the border areas, especially at the beginning, Randidly reflected that he couldn't very well do experiments regarding Class creation without NCCers, so it was a necessary evil.
Tanya seemed to be very often defaulting to a nervous titter during the few times he had been around her, but she seemed kind and genuine and was basically 5 days old. This was important, only because it meant she treated him like a normal person, rather than some fleeting incarnation of a god.
"Oh wow, it's beautiful," Tanya said, huffing. "But I HATE hiking."
Dinesh's face shifted to a very strange expression. Randidly simply chuckled. She would learn very quickly to endure it, Randidly expected, even if she never grew to like it. In Donnyton, she might have been able to rest on her laurels, making a living cutting hair and grinding other odd Skills in her spare time. She likely would have gotten a unique, if uninteresting Class in that manner. It might very well be that Dinesh's sense of responsibility would end up punishing Tanya, as she was forced to adapt to situations far beyond her ability to handle alone.
In a way, Randidly was curious as to how she would handle it.
The next individual to walk up the hill towards Randidly and his growing group was Nathan. The boy had a backpack that was clearly very recently salvaged from the border areas because the plastic Power Ranger outside was crisp and bright.
The view struck Randidly as somewhat strange because he had grown so used to interspatial rings that a more typical variety of pack was... somewhat disconcerting. Even more eye-catching was the pot that he was carrying, which contained a small, seemingly fresh planting of Arbor. Even this new planting shook its limbs excitedly when it caught sight of Randidly with whatever strange senses trees possessed. Randidly smiled.
After steadying himself, Nathan placed the pot on the ground. "A gift from Kiersty, for wherever you go."
Randidly shook his head. "I expect we will move around a lot. I don't-"
Pointing to the trunk of the small planting, Nathan said. "That's what the spiderlings are for."
Inwardly, Randidly wondered whether the spiderlings, who were individually about the size of a ladybug, would be able to defend an Arbor planting, but said nothing. Although Kiersty was... a child, and extremely warped by the presence of a cult around Arbor, it seemed that she wouldn't endanger Arbor at all, so he decided to let it pass. Besides, it wasn't impossible to plant it in a central location that they could stay near, providing assistance if it was necessary.
Then next group members to come up the hill were familiar to Randidly in a very distant way, and only because he had spent some time reacquainting himself with them. The first, the short Hispanic man, was Karlito, who had owned a small restaurant in Franksburg all that time ago when Randidly went to visit. When it became clear that Donnyton needed talented cooks and a growing demand for high-end food, he immigrated to Donnyton, bringing his wife, Bruya.
Randidly had never officially met Bruya before, but he had seen her around the kitchen a few times when he worked for Karlito. But to find out that the two were married was something of a revelation to Randidly. He had always assumed she was… some sort of accountant, who was constantly disapproving of how much money Karlito spent on ingredients in the like.
Her disapproving glares took on a whole new light with this information.
Where Karlito was short and slight, she was large and fight. She was the same height as Randidly, although he reasoned that she wore rather sizable wedges, to make up the little difference in height between them. And she was about twice as girthy as Randidly, and about three times that of Karlito.
There were two reasons for bringing them along on this journey to the border areas. One for each of the people.
Karlito was to provide food and also to assist Randidly in some experiments he wanted to perform with an eye towards mixing cooking and potions. Bruya he was bringing because she was an NCC, and she was one of the most promising users of the Illusion Skill granted by Simon’s Champion status. Right now it was nothing more than being able to show a mostly realistic painting, but it would undoubtedly improve.
But as Randidly thought about Simon, his expression turned grim. He had received word that the man was ripping out his hair, scouring the entire Zone for Thea, who had abruptly disappeared from his awareness.
This presented two problems, both in the form of Simon’s imbalanced tendencies and in Thea’s location. Randidly wouldn’t address the former because it seemed like a hassle, and Simon would likely grow out of it, and the latter because he respected Thea’s privacy in this time of mourning.
But when Simon sent Randidly a message, his arguments that she hadn’t just secreted himself in a Dungeon made sense. Mrs. Hamilton agreed that something seemed off, as well. But again, Randidly wasn’t sure what he could really do about it. This world was the type where you could lose yourself in the wilderness if you wanted to.
Alana seemed to take the news of her disappearance the hardest, becoming almost lethargic, and extremely unlike her. However, this had mostly passed after a few days, and now she mostly overexerted herself. Hopefully, someone would get her back on track soon…
“Ready for an adventure?” Randidly said with a laugh.
Bruya smiled politely, but Karlito rubbed his hands together with a mischievous gleam in his eye. “Hehehe, walking through monster dens with the most powerful man in Donnyton? What could go wrong? I can’t wait to try some rare meat, something over Level 40…”
It took about another hour, but their final member arrived. Tykes, his arms folded, a perpetual scowl on his face. There had been some drama earlier in the week between Tykes and Raina after he pushed things a bit too far, and Randidly wanted another fighter worth a damn on the trip.
Not that he thought that he would need a fighter, but it was Randidly’s plan that after the Zones opened up, he would head to the other locations. Then, they would need something special to help trailblaze.
Tykes was special, that was for sure, in terms of his Skills. Sometimes it just seemed like the young man got in his own way. He was full of anger.
But Randidly, probably more than most people who had thought to teach Tykes, knew anger. And he knew what it could become.
“What are you looking at me like that for? I said I’d come.” Tykes said, clearly suspicious.
Randidly just smiled. “Nothing. Wave goodbye, people. It’s time to go look at what’s waiting on the edge of the world.”