The Lottery was a concept that Senator Firefly came up with to both encourage enrollment in the military and to give the lower classes in the Orchard a way to rise up. Even though it had only been several months, the Orchard was beginning to move towards being rough in some districts. To escape that, the Lottery was born.
It wasn’t truly a lottery, but part of it was random. The idea was that buying rations from one of the sponsored grocery stores would always come with a paper pouch. If you arrived home and ripped open the paper pouch to find a golden ticket, that was an admit one to the chance of the lifetime.
The Lottery occurred every month on the last day. Each month, 30 tickets would be distributed to the surrounding grocery stores. Those tickets would allow you to attend the lottery, which was an event where you would be put in front of the elites of the military, the research department, political organizations, Chivalric Orders… it was basically a giant job interview. And very rarely did people attend seriously and not receive some sort of compensation.
There were a few caveats, however. Namely that a person could only attend a Lottery one time and they couldn’t have a Class.
None of this would even matter, however, if there hadn’t been an accident at last months Lottery. A man with the ability to shatter stone with his fists destroyed the stage and collapsed it on top of spectators. It was in the Old District, so hundreds were injured and there were even a few deaths.
After that, Senator Firefly pulled some strings to move Lottery to a sturdier location, and one that befitted the solemnity of the occasion. The penthouse ballroom of the Manhattan Building in the commercial district of the Orchard.
Aside from the scene views available in the penthouse ballroom, one particular factoid of note was that the Manhattan Building was home to Orchard’s largest bank on the bottom few floors.
So as people ooo’d and ahh’d at the chance to be inside the penthouse ballroom of the Manhattan Building, someone within the Haveheights opened up a lottery ticket and had an idea: use the ticket to enter into the Manhattan Building to rob the bank. Not of all of its money, of course, but as much as that person could carry.
Still, the Haveheights had a problem; all of their influential members had already obtained a Class. It was a quick path to power, and they had taken it to stay competitive in a city that was increasingly full of power hungry gangs. Besides that, they would need someone that they could control to do it. The Haveheights would look like fools if the person they picked to go in just fled with the money. So they needed leverage on that person. And vulnerabilities.
That was why Ricky Stain took the time to explain the details of the plan to Naffur Suite.
Naffur was rather skeptical that entering through the use of a lottery ticket would do that much to help in the mission. But by the end, he was somewhat swayed. His listened with sweaty palms as Stain explained that having the applicants demonstrate their combat Skills was very common, so they would be able to bring weapons into the building. In addition, quite a few of the rather capable security guards the bank employed would be diverted to the ballroom to protect the VIPs.
Although the System generally meant that people at the top could use their influence to speed up their Leveling and grow strong, very few relied solely on their strength. It was very rare to see even the most powerful Classer without bodyguards.
Randidly Ghosthound was the exception that proved the rule. If you weren't him, it was better to be safe than sorry.
The plan was rather simple. During the combat portion, Naffur was to look for an opportunity to be injured. Use that opportunity to go to the healer’s tent, and afterward excuse himself to go to the bathroom. Slip away from or incapacitate any guards who followed him, and then drop down to the ground floor to launch a surprise attack on the back of the guards.
When they heard the commotion, the rest of the team that was waiting outside will attack. During the confusion, Naffur was to grab as much currency and valuables as he could find and slip out.
The more Naffur listened to Ricky Stain, the more he realized something. Even if things went South, the Haveheights would lose nothing. Naffur would need to accomplish almost everything successfully before they would even become involved. It wasn’t particularly complicated, but…
“You know, it’s not all bad. I know of your… circumstances.” Ricky Stain grinned and revealed yellowing teeth. “Got a taste for craps, eh kid? But if you do well here… who knows, there will probably be more jobs like this in the future. You could be so rich that your organization hires from the lottery. Wouldn’t that be something?”
The Stain held out the shimmery golden ticket.
As Naffur reached out to take the ticket, he froze; Ricky Stain had drawn a plasma pistol and was pointing it at his chest. At this range, it was impossible to dodge. And Naffur had seen plasma eat through human bones like-
“Don’t fuck this up.” Ricky Stain reversed the pistol and offered it to Naffur. “Welcome to the team.”
The next day passed in a blur. Before Naffur knew it, he was walking up to the Manhattan Building in a suit. There was a cheap exosuit on his back, an energy suit. He had several plasma grenades, a plasma pistol, and a concussion charge. The elevator he rode up in was a light blue with silver metal trim. After looking at it for a while, Naffur went pale; it was genuine silver.
By sheer coincidence, he road up with a tall woman who was scribbling furiously in a small notebook while mumbling to herself. She seemed to be practicing what she would say to impress the people she might meet.
“Incredible,” the woman muttered. “The combat spirit around you is so thick, Mr. Ghosthound. It’s a pleasure.”
Naffur tried not to roll his eyes. Was she practicing lines in case she met actually met him? The Ghosthound rarely came to the Lottery events. Even the people who ran the lottery, aside from Senator Firefly, wanted to meet the Ghosthound. That was just the kind of person a hero was. There was always another task that needed doing.
To Naffur’s surprise, the first part of the plan went off so well it was uncanny. After being gobsmacked by the opulence of the strange floating globes of light and the crystal dome covering the entirety of the ballroom, Naffur was informed that as he was a few hours early, to take some time to be acquainted with the space. There were a dozen people already there, practicing their Skills. Naffur wandered over to an athletic bald man and timidly asked if he wanted to spar a bit.
He was so nervous that his Deceitful Words Skill didn't’ even proc. But the man accepted and they began fighting. Naffur… well, he wasn’t bad at fighting, but he wasn’t good either. He had no true offensive Skills. Most of his fighting revolved around using Feign Injury and Feints to confuse the opponent, then striking with Cheap Shot.
As it turned out, his opponent was rather skilled in the mental games associated with fighting, and it became a genuinely enjoyable duel for a while. Then, gritting his teeth, Naffur deflected the man’s blow just a hair too weakly, and his follow up low kick cracked into Naffur’s side.
“Oof,” Naffur said, dramatically gasping and staggering backward. Looking concerned, the other man stopped.
One of the employees walked quickly over and waved the man away. “Don’t worry about it, this happens a lot. Kid, you alright? Head down a floor, there is a healer waiting there for situations like this. But hurry, we will probably start in 25 minutes.”
Feeling like he was sleepwalking, Naffur limped convincingly to the elevators. The doors opened. A young woman’s humming reached his ears. With widening eyes, Naffur watched Mareen walk out of the elevator, so intent on whatever she was thinking about that she didn’t see him.
“Ow. I’m sorr- Naffur?" She blinked at him. "Oh wow, I can’t believe you got a ticket too.” Beaming, she gave him an impulsive hug. “Wah, I’m so nervous. It’s good to see a familiar face. Ah, where were you going?”
Naffur mumbled something about the bathroom and tried to forget the feeling of her warm hands. It wasn’t until elevator doors closed that he could breathe again.
Why… why did she have to be here? If the bank was robbed and he disappeared, would they know it was him? Could he sneak back somehow?
With a ding, the elevator doors opened. Because of his somewhat shocked state, it took Naffur a while to register what was going on in front of him. In the ornate hallway, across the tiled floor...There was a pool of blood, spreading from a man wearing a Red Cross robe: the healer. Above him, glowing with power, was a two-meter tall portal.
A temporary portal, Naffur recognized with a start. They cost a fortune and only persisted for 24 hours but for short jobs, they were-
Someone killed the healer. A voice seemed to whisper, and Naffur shivered. His feet seemed stuck to the floor. Slowly, the elevator doors closed with a soft click. What… what was he supposed to do-
If he was caught here-
His thoughts were a jumbled mess. Naffur fumbled in his pack and removed a mask from the bag. There had been a lot of attempts to capture the Ghosthound in an image, and this was the one that he always preferred. The face was that of a cartoonish dog’s, but the fur was dark grey and the eyes were emerald green.
Originally, it would have been an ironic disguise for a robber. Now, it was a much-needed refuge from the reality of the situation.
His fingers were trembling as he pulled the mask over his face. It helped a lot to calm his hyperventilating breathing. There was a dead man on the other side of the elevator doors. Someone seemed to have the same idea as the Haveheights, and a lot more of a budget to accomplish it. And these criminals were willing to kill.
What if they weren’t here just for the robbing? Could they use it to attack Senator Firefly? Naffur had heard that he had been attacked by assassins in the past. And if they did attack-
It was then that Naffur heard the voices.
“Someone’s gonna have to clean this up.” A female voice said.
“There will be a lot to clean up after we’re done. Just try to keep the mission in mind, alright?”
“Yea, yea…” Came the tired reply. The voices seemed to trail off right in front of Naffur.
Then the elevator dinged. The doors slide slowly open.
When he first heard the noise, Naffur didn’t even realize what it would mean. But with dawning horror, he watched the body of a woman and a man in combat gear come into his vision as the door parted. Immediately, Naffur’s eyes went to their boots. They were stained with blood.
What should he do? What should he-
“The Ghosthound?” The woman said stupidly, looking at Naffur.
What would the Ghosthound do, if he were here? What would a hero do?
Naffur’s hand tightened into a fist. That spark that he had carried today after obtaining the Path of Cowardice hit his fear and ignited into an explosion of emotion that Naffur didn’t know he had possessed.
The Ghosthound would punch, obviously.
Congratulations! You have learned the Skill Intrepid Hammer (Ru) Lvl 1.
Naffur’s fist caught the woman’s right cheekbone, moving so quickly that even he, as the attacker, was taken somewhat aback. The bone cracked and her body buckled underneath the excessive force.
Congratulations! Your Skill “Intrepid Hammer” has reached Level 2.
The impact made Naffur’s arm ache. Like a puppet with her strings cut, the woman spun across the ground and rolled through the pool of blood, screaming. The man seemed so shocked that he didn’t react for a second. Then he drew his plasma rifle, but not before Naffur thought better of his action and pressed the penthouse floor button on the elevator.
As the door closed and the elevator began to rise, Naffur threw himself to the side as a beam of plasma ripped through the silver and blue elevator. His heart was pounding. He wanted to vomit. His hand ached.
And Naffur Suite had no idea what to do next.