“You made a gym?”
Donny looked up, the voice that grabbed his attention clearly amused. Randidly Ghosthound stood there, in the underground wooden training area that Donny had made for himself, pouring most of his points with the Village into making his perfect paradise. This was where he came to work, where he came to train, where he came to get away from everyone.
Everyday 6-10 AM, Donny would come down here, and just let everything fall away. It was his sanctuary, and it was somewhat annoying to him that the Ghosthound had chosen this time to come visit him, finally.
Quick as lighting, Donny shook his head, banishing that feeling away. It was a necessary skill, learning to control his emotions, especially when dealing with this man. Based upon the timing, Donny suspected he was one of the final visits, but he didn’t mind that part. After all, it meant that their talk could be more productive.
Or perhaps, Donny reflected, it could be less so, just catching up. He almost shivered with how much he wished for that. Things were definitely… different, with the System. But not all in a bad way.
“Well it’s more than a gym,” Donny finally said, setting down the weights he had been working with. He gestured at the punching bags and weapon racks. “It’s a great place to train, too, and to try out new things. We’ve been doing some research into creating our own Skills, and Mrs. Hamilton is very optimistic about what we can accomplish moving forward…”
The Ghosthound simply nodded, and Donny considered the man that had changed his life so much. His feet were still tanned and bare, the legs of his pants ripped to shreds around them. He was a tall man, and muscular, although it was a very different beast than Dozer’s slabs of meat that covered him. These muscles were all built for a very specific purpose… to kill.
His hair was still long and black, his eyes still burning a bright emerald… Basically, what had changed was that it seemed like the Ghosthound’s arms had gotten marginally longer, his shoulders widening more noticeably. And also, although the color of it hadn’t changed, the tone of his eyes had definitely shifted. There was a harder cast to his features, a cruelty and violence to it.
Donny recognized that from his own face, magnified 100x on the person in front of him. This was the dark side of the System. The way it warped you, shifted you, changed you to fit a mold of something that you were not.
He could only guess what mold the Ghosthound was growing into.
Feeling slightly awkward at the silence, Donny said, “So? Did you have… something to say to me?”
The Ghosthound smiled, but it was extremely sad and tired. “Well… yes. But I think I need to wait for a bit to say those things…”
He trailed off for several seconds, then his emerald gaze snapped to Donny, with such force that Donny almost jumped. The examination was intense, and lasted for several long minutes, but then the Ghosthound turned away, sighing. “Perhaps… what I really want to say is thank you. I could not have managed to do this if you hadn’t stepped up. You’ve kept this town alive.”
‘What other choice did I have,’ Donny wanted to say, but he simply nodded seriously. Everyone had their own burden to carry. He didn’t need to add his small weight to the Ghosthound’s back. After all…
“Thank you but…is what the notifications say true? That the energy in the air…?” Donny let the question hang in the air, but the Ghosthound’s shift in expression was all the answer he needed.
“Yes.” The other man whispered, his eyes narrowed to slits. “And I suspect it’s a bit more complicated than that. I’m going to need to borrow some of Donnyton’s strength in order to handle it.”
That… was slightly shocking to hear, even though Donny had expected it. The rumors about a group of 10 going to clear the Raid Dungeon would be true, then. Did that perhaps mean…
The Ghosthound’s eyes flashed, and Donny could see the man clench his fist, then force himself to relax. It earned a certain amount of admiration from Donny, because the struggle of emotion never crossed his face, just in that small physical expression of the hand. That degree of control…
“So then, there’s that, that I do want to talk about.” The Ghosthound said. He folded his hands, giving Donny a level look. “Tell me about the people here. Who would be worth considering to kill a monster?”
Randidly’s conversation with Donny left him thoughtful. It was almost noon now, and Randidly hesitated. Of all the people that Randidly had intended to visit, the one he hadn’t yet visited was Sam. Still…
He could feel inside himself that Lucretia was clamoring to speak with him, in regards to some of the Aether he had absorbed. In addition, Randidly had left Neveah alone for a while, and she was starting to grow bored of interacting with the Squads of Donnyton.
Randidly’s mouth twisted. Well, he needed to reframe the issue as best he could before Thea used her Stone of Fate and Randidly needed to observe the process, doing his best to extrapolate some truth about the construction of the System. Since realizing what was ahead of him, he had done his best to observe the world better, but…
It really would come down to a roll of the dice. But he also had access to his Stone of Genesis…
Several things clicked into place in Randidly’s head. The Stone of Genesis would serve as a good 2nd experiment in regards to Aether construction, but he had been stuck on how to choose who should get it. He had received a relatively long list of names from Donny in regards to talented people, perhaps 25 in total, but Randidly didn’t believe that he would ever gift the item away without meeting the person.
In addition, the work he had done with Mrs. Hamilton, in regards to shifting the social emphasis…
A tournament…multiple tournaments…
Randidly’s eyes glittered. He would need prizes for each of the different tournaments, for the different social strata. The Stone of Genesis worked for one, but as for the rest…
Well, issues for later. Something that Randidly could consider slowly, because these probably wouldn’t be announced until the weekend, when Annie and Dozer announced their baby’s name. The tests themselves would take a bit more time to implement…
Grimacing, Randidly began to move faster across the hills, eventually arriving at the spot where Neveah was playing with the people of Squads 2 and 3. After shooing the people away, Randidly hopped on Neveah’s back and road North and East, away towards the edge of the Zone and away from human habitation.
After traveling for about half an hour, Randidly believed they were far enough away from people, and had Neveah stop. They were in an area that was just more and more low hills, covered in scrubby trees, and relatively lousy with a strange crimson haired monkey creature.
Frowning, Randidly considered hunting down the Raid Boss that was probably producing these creatures, but ultimately decided against it. As the soul who had inhabited Neveah’s body had said, they had room to grow, but it was not infinite, and above 30 it became extremely difficult for the monsters to improve, much like it seemed that people had hit a similar wall above 45, their leveling speed slowing to a crawl.
“So much to do…” Randidly muttered, closing his eyes. Neveah pressed her body up against him, causing him to smile. Well, at least he had support.
Don’t act like I’m constantly trying to sabotage you, no matter how much you wish I would
. Lucretia’s sour voice floated up in his subconscious.
Randidly’s mouth twitched, but he said nothing.
Laying on the ground, Neveah curled up around him, covering his body in several rings of bones. Part for protection, but also because she liked the proximity to him. Eyes burning golden, Randidly used most of his Mana and thousands of small root tendrils exploded out of the ground, filling the air, writhing back and forth.
Most of what Randidly would be doing was discussion with Neveah and Lucretia, who would be doing the heavy lifting in terms of Aether manipulation, although both of them relied on his Skill to interact directly with it. But that would mean a portion of his consciousness would be free, and there was no point in wasting that extra time.
Slowly, dozens of Root Avatars began to form, picking up their root spears, getting in line, and they began to practice and polish their spear arts, lightly sparring against one another. At the same time, Randidly activated Anguish, and then closed his eyes, floating downwards towards his Soulscape.
Lucretia was waiting there, as well as a foggy figure that was part human, and part wurm. Randidly squinted at it, and it wiggled back and forth, distressed.
Difficult. Want better. Eventually.
Neveah sounded reproachful, depressed and sad.
Randidly could only shake his head, and did his best to console her strange amalgamation. Then he turned his head to Lucretia. Her smile was small, and for once, not designed to rip and tear.
“I have good news, and I have bad news,” She announced. After Randidly cocked an eyebrow, she continued. “The good news is that this will definitely work. Watching the portions of Aether we-”
Neveah thought darkly, in a way that was exceptionally clear to Randidly did NOT include Lucretia. Randidly hid his grin.
“-absorbed from the Creature disintegrate, I think I have a pretty good idea of how to make the actual… substance of the Class. As for the shape….” She paused. “…we need examples. Preferably multiple. Preferably live. Preferably… getting a Class for the first time.”