Naffur’s back itched terribly, but he dare not scratch it. Neveah was sitting beside him at a large table. She was in her androgynous form, but she still beamed around at the other members of the table with palpable good cheer. The other people around the table seemed more focused and grim after every Order at the table had given its report on numbers and growth.
Some orders, such as the Order Valorus and Order Fide, seemed pleased with their monthly progress. They were led by a sharp-eyed woman named Alana and a tattooed man named Alumuran respectively. Both were difficult to look at, for different reasons. When one looked at Alana, one’s eyes would begin to water. And whenever Naffur snuck glances at Alumuran, he instantly noticed and peered back.
Meanwhile, it seemed that the Order Ferocitas, Veritas, Caelim, and Umbra were less impressed by their progress. Compared to the first two, these Orders had experienced extremely disappointing growth. But still, Naffur paid close attention to them, mostly because Sydney was the representative of the Order Caelim.
Seeing her there was a shock to his system, and immediately Naffur was wracked by doubts regarding the flower crown in his interspatial watch. What if Mareen thought he was an idiot? Getting a flower crown for a nineteen-year-old? What was he thinking! It was a children’s toy!
But nothing else had seemed to fit. And now he was stuck with it.
To distract himself from his worries, Naffur considered the last group of the Orders, at the far end of the table. The Order Sapienta wasn’t present, due to their leader being otherwise occupied. But both the Order Ferrum and Order Infandus had sent individuals. The Order Ferrum was a gruff man who had introduced himself at Kelly. He wasn’t the leader of Ferrum, but he spoke with the leader’s authority.
And the thing from the Order Infandus was one of the people transplanted into the body of a monster, due to Father Foster’s experiments. Just looking at the scaly claw at the creature’s side made Naffur shiver.
“Does everyone agree that we continue to remain inactive in regards to the Ogre Gorge and the portal to another world?” No one spoke, but the previous argument was exhausting enough that Naffur was glad that the powerful individuals at the table didn’t have the energy to continue. The worst of it was that every once in a while, other leaders would spare glances for him and Neveah.
Neveah just smiled blandly and Naffur began to sweat more and more behind his mask. They couldn’t expect him to have an opinion on the issue, did they?!?
“Alright, onto the next order of business,” The leader of the Order Veritas led the meeting. Naffur believed her name was Tessa, but it was hard to remember. That itch had spread up to his neck, and it was making things very difficult to focus. “Order Ducis, do you have any recommendations regarding the establishment of new Orders?”
Naffur was busy sliding up and down in his chair to use the back to scratch himself when he realized that everyone was looking at him. Immediately, he froze. Neveah poked him under the table.
With a jump, Naffur produced the two letters from Orders he thought sounded okay enough and slid them to Neveah. Smiling, Neveah took them. “The Order Ducis has two recommendations. Ah… The Order Sanus and the Order Machina.”
For the first time all meeting, the quiet man from the Order Ferrus looked up. “Order Mechina?”
“An association built around Ghost’s experiments and Erickson Technological Conglomerate, I believe,” Tessa said, glancing towards Neveah. Neveah nodded simply. “With the Order Sanus being entity pushed for by Mrs. Northwind.”
Alumuran made a low sound. “An Order for both Zones. Equitable.”
“An Order for Donnyton,” Sydney said sourly. She turned and looked at Tessa. “Is this put to a vote? I do not see the need for additional Orders.”
“Indeed, clarification is necessary.” The pale-faced woman who led the Order Umbra said. She cracked her knuckles methodically. Naffur remembered her name was Illya. “So… I believe that neither the entities that we spoke of have been put forward by the Order Ducis. The Order Dinaris or Order Currus. Without an order to control the rail lines, our talks will undoubtedly fall through. It is… an interesting choice by the Order Ducis to ignore this issue.”
“Isn’t it just a railroad? Don’t act like it’s the end of the world,” Alana said dismissively. Although it was difficult to look at her, Naffur liked her. This whole time, it was clear that Alana was fighting off the urge to nap while sitting at the table.
“Zone 1 needs System relevant equipment, and Zone 32 needs the market expansion,” Sydney said with a sharp look towards Alana. “Both would benefit from something more reliable.”
For the first time in a while, Neveah spoke up. “What about another portal? Like between Donnyton and Star Crossing.”
A few of the people at the table grimaced. Finally, it was Alumuran who spoke. “The teleporter is, of course, available to us… however, I fear that none but Donnyton have the points on hand to construct such a thing, let alone operate it as freely as they do. Without Classer Squads harvesting points for months, it is an impossible expenditure.”
“Also, the Village Spirit of Donnyton has become… unreliable recently.” Kelley said, giving Alana a knowing look. “Although to afford such a thing is feasible… let us consider that a backup plan.”
“-Either way,” Tessa said sternly, looking around the table. “We are skipping the current issue. The Order Ducis has the right to recommend Orders to the Council. It is put to a vote then. All recommendations are considered together. We either approve both or neither. All in favor?”
Tessa, Alana, Alumuran, Kelly, and surprisingly the scale man from the Order Infandus raised their hands. Sydney, the burly man from Ferocitas, and Ilya didn’t move.
“Motion passes. I’ll send out the paperwork, and they will be official Orders three months from now,” Tessa said. Then she glanced around. “Okay, now it’s time to talk about-”
Tessa looked at Alana and frowned. “What is it?”
But it wasn’t Alana who answered. Alumuran pushed back his chair and stood. “It appears this will not be a peaceful day.”
Sighing, Sydney said. “Unbelievable. How cliche can you get?”
Naffur was bewildered. The Eastern Gardens were a sprawling series of ornate gazebos and pavilions that were divided by tall hedges. There was also a central fountain and a jogging path that wound its way around some of the more ornate areas of the park. The wind picked up, and the rustling of leaves sounded like children’s laughter. The sun was warm on Naffur’s exposed skin. There was a drop of sweat running down the inside of the mask.
What was this if not a peaceful day…?
Of course, as soon as he thought that, an explosion rocked the parks. Distantly, Naffur could hear people screaming. Suddenly, a strange rip in space opened up in front of the table where the heads of the Orders were sitting. With a howl, monsters over Level 60 that looked like blue wolfmen rushed out of the ripped space and brandished hatchets.
Frozen, Naffur could only watch aghast they streamed out to assault the group. His hands tightened on the arms of the chair. His Path had given him such horrible look recently. Because the table was slightly rounded, the wolfmen would reach his sitting position first. He was going to die-
There was a warm breeze and a flash of light, and then the first six wolfmen toppled over with sizzling holes in their chest. Alana stood with a golden spear and a winged helmet that made her look like a Valkyrie. Her sharp eyes scanned the horizon, and then she swore. Another sweep of the spear blasted out golden light and neutralized the rest of the wolfmen. “This portal thing is a neat trick.”
As she spoke, the portal shivered and closed up.
“It’s Mana based,” Sydney said, spinning slowly in a circle. When she had spun 360 degrees, her mouth was twisted. “There are a lot of them. I can trace it to the source, but it might take a while.”
“Is this targeting us?” Ilya said aloud with a frown. “Or was us being here a coincidence? There was an attack on a building in the Orchard a few weeks ago, correct?”
“Humans haven’t yet mastered using monsters to fight,” Alana grunted. The representative from the Order Infandus chuckled, and Alana seemed to wince.
Naffur just stared at them all. They had just been attacked by a dozen monsters over Level 60, and they were so… casual about it. Like it hadn’t mattered, and everything would be fine.
But were they wrong? They had so easily dealt with that attack that Naffur couldn’t deny that they seemed fine. These people lived in a different world than Naffur. They had Classes and Skills beyond what he could manage.
Although they might be fine, others would not be. Naffur’s eyes widened. Mareen’s Birthday! It was still before noon, but if she had come early to set things up-
He leapt to his feet. Neveah tilted her hand at him in askance.
Gritting his teeth, he said. “There are other people in the park.”
“The Knight-Errant Ducis is correct,” Alumuran said with glittering eyes. “Whether it is an attack on us directly or simply on the legitimacy of the Order structure, we need to take it seriously. Let us make this faction regret drawing the ire of the Council of Orders.”