Thea didn’t know what sort of face she should be making for Simon as they said their goodbyes.
“I mean… I would go, but… Other- Denise just thinks… since we found each other, there’s no reason to tempt fate by going out in the world. Yea, the journey is just to Donnyton, but she was explaining about Raid Bosses, and how they are known to congregate around Donnyton and Franksburg…” Simon said to her, his tone clearly indicating his lukewarm belief in the subject matter.
But still, he looked at the ground, his eyes red. Thea sighed inwardly. She knew of Simon’s fear. Out of them all, he was probably the one with the weakest nerve. The violence of the System left the deepest scars on Simon. Their fights so far had allowed him to stay at the back, but the violence in that final clash appeared to have come just a little too close to his physical body.
Or at least, that was what Thea assumed. Simon seemed to be going along with his mother’s arguments too easily. But she supposed that it was his mother…
Thea blanked for a second, remembering the death of her parents, before a nudge of Chrysanthemum’s snout woke her up. Absently, she reached over and rubbed her companion’s head to show her appreciation, and turned back to face Simon’s words.
“…do you think he’s mad at me? He just grunted and nodded when I told him I wouldn’t be coming. We had a little… talk, so I think it’s fine, but….” Simon glanced over towards Randidly.
‘Randidly’. It was weird calling him that, Thea reflected, turning to gaze at the man called the Ghosthound. Mostly because the name was so fucking ridiculous, especially when paired with something like Ghosthound. She had thought that it was a moniker they had come up with for him, but everyone she talked to, even the burly and brusque men from Dozer’s squad, insisted that was his real name.
Those were men that Thea had a barely concealed admiration for; the toughest, hardiest, most stoic-in-the-face-of-danger sort of people she had ever met. Dozer was not an easy leader to follow, and they did so without complaint. Her eyes slid from the Ghosthound to the Squad, as they expertly packed up camp and prepared to leave, while Dozer and Decklan talked to Randidly.
They seemed so far away. It almost didn’t seem real to Thea that she would be accompanying them to Donnyton. Which, in her mind, was also a place of legends. The birth of the human resistance. The city which had Squads throughout the entire Zone, apparently, hunting and patrolling for Raid Bosses. A city where she could use her Stone of Fate, and take a step forward.
But the direction she wanted to step in…
Thea snapped back again, realizing that Simon was waiting for an answer. Slightly annoyed by his pouty look, Thea said. “Honestly Simon… he probably doesn’t feel much. Maybe he’s a bit sad you won’t be coming but… they are all focused in on the Raid Dungeon. He’s probably working on preparing for that constantly. Instead of trying to distract him, maybe help?”
Simon opened his mouth, looked hurt, then rethought that, and closed it. Then he walked away, muttering to himself.
Well, didn’t matter to Thea. Shrugging, she walked over to the group. A few guards from Star Crossing were there as well, to make the trip, and several merchants, who would be joining them. After Randidly, Dozer, and Decklan noticed her arrival with Chrysanthemum, they gestured sharply, and the whole group walked towards the South side of the Village.
Rather than a portal, this was more truly a teleportation rune, that could transport everyone and thing in an area between the two runes. However, there was a high contribution point cost associated with it, so it wasn’t feasible quite yet for most people to use it. However, for those people interested in joining them in the instant travel down to Donnyton, there was plenty of room for them to join on the rune without crowding.
Five other Squads, lead by the infamous duo of Kayle and Paolo, strolled over to join the increasingly large caravan that was shifting supplies and carts onto the rune. It was a lowered, circular area, crisscrossed with dim black metal bands. As she stepped onto it, Thea tapped one with her foot, but no noise was produced.
Scratching her head, she bent closer.
“Better not touch. Strong magic. System magic.” A grunt sounded from behind her, and Thea did her best not to fall forward, and then turned to face the speaker. It was Egger, the man who was Dozer’s second in the Squad. He was a mid 30s man who was balding enough to not be able to grow hair, but grew enough hair for his unshaven beard to merge cleanly with the scattering of hairs on his head, giving his head a strange appearance.
“Oh, yea, sure,” Thea said quickly, her heart beating rapidly, looking away from the man. Although he wasn’t attractive
, and didn’t seem to give her more than the same matter of fact glance that he gave everything else, there was something… oddly compelling about him.
Thea guessed that it was the strange certainty he had in his voice. Just the way he became after commanding the Squad behind Dozer for several months. She wondered whether she would ever sound like that, if she would get her own Squad. Did Donnyton let foreign Classers get Squads? She should ask.
“Um-” Thea began, but she was interrupted by Egger, who was scanning Chrysanthemum.
“The beast strong?”
There was a sharp pang of annoyance in Thea’s heart at that, but she stuffed it down. He didn’t mean anything by it, this was just a man who had fought at the front lines against monsters for most of his time. It made sense that it would make him rather insensitive as to a Soul Bonded creature. “…she, she’s female. And yes, she is.”
Grunting, Egger turned and walked away. Thea opened her mouth to call out to him and ask him…something, but nothing came out. What would she even say anyways…? Although they had monsters in common, beyond that…
Thea looked around for Randidly. Of them all, at least he would talk with her, explain some things. But he was guiding Neveah, who seemed to have grown further, and was having difficulty moving without using her Earth Magic, which would of course damage the portal.
Turning, Thea figured she could go talk with a merchant she knew or something, but found a figure there behind her, watching her closely. The man had his reddish brown hair up in a ponytail. His face was sharp like a hatchet, with a large, thin nose. A dagger danced across his fingers, the pommel seeming to flash with color. The Killer of Donnyton, Decklan.
“…Decklan, yes?” Thea asked slowly, looking around as covertly as she could. No one was especially near her. Why had this man come here?
Not that she feared that he would attack her randomly. They were on the same side. But it was just… strange. She felt like a bunch of people were coming out of the woodwork to talk with her, and she had no idea why. Well, sometimes talk. Decklan appeared content to nod and continue to study her.
“You know…” Decklan began, his eyes glittering, catching the light of the metal bars underneath them as they activated. “If you continue to follow the Ghosthound, you will at some point be forced to forsake everything else. That’s his path. Is your resolve enough, I wonder…?”
The world flashed white, and Thea felt her stomach lurch as the very world shifted around her, even as her body tried to remain still. Strange forces grabbed at her, pulling, while others wound themselves around her, pressing her more firmly down to the ground, keeping her from being ripped to pieces by the conflict between them. Her vision was completely nonexistent due to the light, but it strangely swam, distorted by waves of force.
Then she was still, and blinked, slightly bewildered. Birds chirped around her, and there was the persistent sound of hammers and beaten metal. There was a thump.
As her eyes adjusted, Thea looked around. Decklan was gone. In front of them there was a series of wall-less warehouses, where dozens of men moved weapons and bars of metal, sparing the new arrivals a glance before they returned to their hurried labor.
A weathered looking man with sharp eyes and close cropped grey hair walked over to the group from the warehouse. His wiry chest was bare, and his skin somehow caught the sun, glowing a soft golden color. Thea blinked.
No, his skin wasn’t catching the light… the man was literally emitting a dim glow. Just… standing in the sun.
“Ghosthound?” The man asked, his tone clipped.
Dozer glanced around, then shrugged. “Here, but apparently already gone elsewhere.”
The man snorted, and turned to regard the carts that were brought here. “His loss. His gift will have to wait. Those of you who don’t really know… this is Donnyton’s Industrial District. Welcome.”