A crowd had formed as people elbowed their way forward, pushing and shoving to get a better view. I took my places among the crowd, watching from different vantages. A group of armed men, swords, clubs, and other crude weaponry in hand.
A large man with scarred arms climbed above the roots, staring down at the masses as his group shouldered and suppressed the crowd. His eyes were dark and his face just as scarred. A jagged smile.
“Welcome to the apocalypse!” He boomed, his voice carrying farther than it should’ve. “Starting today, anyone who wants to enter the [Sleepywood] does so only with my permission!” Cries of outrage, scoffs, and grumbling. A man was beaten down and the speaker stared down at a quieted crowd.
“It’s not too late to join my group. If you’ve been approached before, I’ll give you the rest of the day to come groveling back. I’m going to be the one to lead you all out of these dark days! With the rewards we get from this Dungeon, Roothaven will be a shining beacon for other survivors!” He smiled, a crazed glint in his eye. “If you’re with me.”
Someone pushed through the crowd near to one of my clones. “What’s happening?”
I pulled my cloak down, recognizing him. “Some crazy is claiming the Dungeon.” One of my clones said, eyeing the speaker.
The man turned, blinking at me. “Evahn?”
I gave a small smile. “Hey, Gary. Good to see you again.” I nodded at the familiar face. “Any idea who this is? I’ve got an idea myself but I’ve never actually seen him.”
Gary took a moment to gather himself but then grumbled, focusing on the man speaking. “That’s Blitz, no doubt. He’s been giving everyone here a hard time.” He confirmed my suspicions. “His group was supposed to set out and leave. I thought we’d only have to endure their crap for a while longer before they did. Turns out they liked what they saw here.”
“Slimy bastard,” I said, staring up at the man.
“They’ve been shaking everyone down for food and other essentials,” Gary explained, though I was already aware of some of the stuff going on around the camps.
They were also ‘borrowing’ some buildings Ralph’s people built and ‘confiscating’ useful items like water flasks, among other things. Not exceedingly violent, but that didn’t make him an angel. His presence was a constant threat to anyone’s safety.
“Hey! What gives you the right?” A man in the crowd yelled. “We should be able to do what we want! Why the hell are you suddenly controlling the Dungeon? That’s bull—” He choked as one of Blitz’s men grabbed him by the throat. “W-what are you—”
A handful of people went to help but they were pushed down by what was apparently decently leveled thugs. And actual [Thugs], if my guesses were right. I recognized strength beyond the mundane at work.
“This,” Blitz grinned. “Gives me the right. And if anyone has any problems they can gladly take it up with my men.” He smiled.
“Damn bastard.” Someone cursed nearby. “I know a couple of people who got some pretty useful stuff from there.”
“It’s a treasure trove, I’ve heard. If you’re willing to risk it.” Another whisper. “I heard a group just got back. Apparently, it looked like they came with some Items.”
“And he’s just taking it over?”
“Well, what do you want us to do? We’re not in a position to argue with him. All his people have high levels. I’m only level four.” Another said.
Gary looked around, sighing. He took to standing next to me fairly easy and he whispered something as Blitz was apparently done talking. “[General Sentiment].” He spoke evenly, my level of PER easily catching the words, gazing across the crowd and towards Blitz.
He crossed his arms. “Most people think it’s unfair.” He answered my questioning eyebrow.
Some kind of social Skill? I cocked my head, listening to the thoughts of the crowd from multiple clones.
“Obviously,” I replied. “The [Sleepywood] might be these people’s way of becoming strong enough to protect themselves.”
Gary grimaced. “That’s the other thing. It’s certainly unfair but Blitz and his thugs have also demonstrated their strength. They’ve already been fending off those goblins and wolves poking at the edges of the clearing, a couple of other creatures too.”
“They think throwing their support behind him means protection.” I said after a moment, following his logic.
“Exactly. They’re all high-level.” Gary nodded. Then he looked back at me, reconsidering. “Relatively high-level, that is. With everything going around the clearing, especially the Field Boss so fresh in everyone’s mind… no one knows what to expect from the swamp, let alone the rest of the world.”
I sighed as three other versions of me relaxed their weapons. More than those in the crowd, there were others hanging around the roots, even behind Blitz. A couple watched the entire procession.
Blitz wasn’t exactly the ideal outcome but he wasn’t the worst person that could’ve appeared. Besides that, injuring him, let alone in front of so many people, wasn’t conducive in assuaging anyone’s fears.
Gary looked at me. “We’ll handle it.” He said. “The people won’t take this sitting down. Everyone’s already realized the importance of the Dungeon. A couple of groups have already been showing off their rewards, not to mention the levels.”
“I wasn’t planning on doing anything anyway.” I shrugged. “So long as people can take care of themselves, it’s not really my problem. Now, if he was going around killing people… it’d be a little different.”
“Didn’t say you were,” Gary said simply, watching Blitz step down.
I followed his gaze, watching the man. A couple of my clones were close enough to listen in on his thoughts, near the front of the crowd. There, the jostling was wilder, the shouting louder. But my mind could pierce it all and skim the surface of the man’s thoughts.
He faced everyone without a trace of fear, smiling, smug. There was a depth in his eyes though as he looked over everyone.
We have to be stronger than this. Stronger than these weaklings. Look at them, too scared to step away from the crowd, cowed by a mere man. There are things worse than me that walk our world now.
I watched him go, unable to disagree.