After cracking his neck, Randidly stood. The area around him had been reduced to a glass smooth crater. He scratched his ear. Apparently, some of his Aether had escaped in a major way due to his lack of control during the process because a casual kick from Randidly wasn’t enough to even scuff the empowered ground beneath him. It seemed that so much concentrated Aether had the benefit of strengthening even something as basic as the ground.
If he had put this in a more useful position…
But Randidly shook his head, banishing the thought. Better to stay focused for now. Even though he wanted to explore a bit, and try out his new Skills, better to head back to Donnyton, and then gather everyone up to head North, towards the Raid Dungeon. There was one thing that Randidly wanted to do before he went in there if he could help it.
In case he failed, he had to check….
Again, Randidly shook his head. That was for later.
His Soul Skill seemed to be still in its strange transition period, so Randidly instead reached out for Neveah. She didn’t respond, but he could sense her nearby, her body waiting while he performed the ceremony to obtain a Class. Although Randidly suspected that he could move very quickly, especially now, and it wouldn’t be difficult at all to obtain a few Levels, he figured it wasn’t worth the effort.
Those first few Levels would be easy to get either way. So Randidly just walked over towards Nevaeh, who appeared to have dug a trench out for herself a fair bit away from him.
“Neveah? Are you-” Randidly reached the edge of the trench and looked down. Then he began to frown.
A small bird formed out of the air, condensing on his shoulder. It chirped at him.
Randidly shook his head. “No… I don’t think it’s bad, but… it certainly throws a wrench in things…”
Lucifer sat as still as he could, but his traitorous toes gave away his excitement by tapping excitedly. It was dawn, and he had arrived in Donnyton. After he had been given a delicious meal, he was now brought to the staging area, where he was given an interspatial pouch, filled with 20 of the highest tiered potions he’d ever seen, although he wasn’t going to reveal that now.
Standing with his arms crossed, he surveyed the other people who had already arrived. Alana was there, of course, looking as surly and serious as ever, two spears strapped to her back, and a shield to her arm. Standing nervously next to her was a young girl, absolutely strapped with armor, and next to her there was a tall grizzly bear, rubbing its belly.
There was also Clarissa and Ptolemy, who Lucifer recognized, who he assumed would be the mages for their expedition. Although Franksburg’s militia was improving by leaps and bounds, that was one area that they still had to rely on Donnyton for, which rankled somewhat. The mages that came out of this small town were absolutely inspired-
“Like what you see?”
Lucifer barely controlled his urge to jump, and spared a sidelong glance to a very pretty woman, with long, dark hair tied behind her head in a ponytail. She gave him a saccharine sweet smile and waggled a finger at him.
Annie, the White Arrow, they called her. “Just standing here? Why not introduce yourself. We are going to be teammates, aren’t we? Let’s get friendly.”
She linked her arm in his and started walking. What was shocking was that she had enough Strength to forcibly drag him across the area towards the final duo that was currently waiting, an athletic man with short, golden hair, and a woman who looked like she was constantly taking notes. The two looked up as Lucifer was dragged over by Annie, and the man smiled.
“You,” The man said, pointing to Lucifer, “have the making of a truly great villain. Never stop chasing that dream, kid.”
“That’s not how you greet people,” the note-taker said, then glanced at Lucifer, scanning him up and down. Lucifer had gotten used to being looked at, both before and after the System’s arrival, due to his height and long, bright orange hair. Now, that lanky frame of his was covered in a layer of muscle, which drew even more eyes to him. Combined with the large cleaver he often carried across his back…
But the way this woman looked at him was disturbingly clinical, as though she could see right through him. It made the sleepy beast in Lucifer’s heart, suppressed by shyness, wake a little, one eyelid trembling. But then the woman extended her hand, and the moment was past.
“I’m Rose Calloway. I believe I’ll be in charge of analysis and tactics on our expedition. This is Ace. You are…?”
Lucifer frowned. Rose and Ace…? Those were not names that he was familiar with, based on the dossiers that he read of Donnyton’s personnel. And to go so far as to say she would be in charge of analysis and tactics… well, hopefully, she had the ability to back up that claim…
“…this is Lucifer. He’s from the South, and even worse at making friends than Randidly, so keep that in mind.” Annie said, removing her arm from Lucifer’s and casting him an amused look. Lucifer managed to shrug, trying to look nonchalant, inwardly sweating. Still… it might be hard to tell now, but these people were undoubtedly all strong. There was no reason to dismiss them. Better to just… extend an olive branch.
Lucifer, running on a flash of nervous energy, extended a hand and put it on Ace’s shoulder. Then, as calmly as he could, he spoke.
“Heeeyyyyy….” It came out as a low growl, hanging in the air. Ace’s eyes met his. Very rapidly, Lucifer felt the attitude between them change. Tension crept out of hiding for both of them, as they both began to glower more and more strongly. Lucifer realized abruptly how what he had done could come across as threatening, but now he could only sit back helplessly as the instincts of the beast inside of him took over.
The other groups looked over. Alana’s eyes narrowed, as she looked on, and she quietly drew one of her spears.
“You…” Ace said, his eyes squinted. Then his face broke and he sighed. “You might be the most talented villain I’ve ever seen. That flashy appearance, that deadpan expression, that gravelly voice…! You make enemies everywhere you go, don’t you? I’m so jealous!”
Ace patted Lucifer’s shoulder a few times, then walked away, a sad expression on his face. Lucifer scratched his cheek. That turned out…. fine…?
An older man with short grey hair came out of a nearby building, carrying a long package, and looked around at the group of them quizzically. “Not here yet? Christ, that boy…”
Annie laughed. “You saw that spike of energy to the North. It just abated. He can’t be two places at once-”
“Yet,” And suddenly Lucifer’s perception narrowed, focusing on the tall young man that had appeared in their midst, his shoulder-length black hair swishing lightly from his obvious momentum. The ground beneath him remained undamaged, which made Lucifer’s heart pound.
To stop without damage, at that sort of speed…
He looked just the way he did in Lucifer’s memories, but he felt… so much more. So much more focused and real, so much heavier. The air was thick with his presence. His eyes flashed emerald, as he scanned through them all. But apparently, what he found there wasn’t what he was expecting.
And when the Ghosthound frowned, that weight turned piercing. “Alana, where’s your second? We should leave soon-”
“Thea’s my plus one for this dance,” Alana said, putting her hand on the shoulder of the young girl. For her part, the girl looked extremely nervous, just looking at the ground in the face of the Ghosthound. Lucifer could understand that. There was an intensity to that gaze that made him uncomfortable as well. Still, the beast in his chest would never allow himself to look away, if the Ghosthound initiated contact, no matter how uncomfortable Lucifer himself was.
But the Ghosthound’s eyes softened as he looked at the girl, Thea, and he said nothing. Instead, he nodded, and turned away.
“There’s a 10th spot, yes?” Clarissa asked, tapping her wrists. “Who will be our final member?”
“…Another from the North.” The Ghosthound said, this time looking at Ace, who waved good-naturedly at him with a cheesy grin. Almost in spite of himself, the Ghosthound’s mouth curved up into a grin. “From East End. Ace, you’ll accompany to ask for their assistance, yes?”
Ace’s happy expression fell away. Instead, his face twisted into a combination of pain and guilt. It was so strong that even Lucifer could discern it, so it was indeed extremely overt. The Ghosthound frowned in response, and it was Rose who stepped forward with a hesitant expression.
“…No offense meant, but… that is not the best idea. The two of them… did not part on good terms.” Rose explained. The Ghosthound said nothing. Ace’s foot began to tap again.
“Well, then I’ll go alone,” The Ghosthound said, turning away. Mrs. Hamilton and their research specialist, Daniel, were hurrying over. As they made a beeline for him, The Ghosthound turned over his shoulder and said. “Introduce yourselves to each other, familiarize each other with everyone’s Skills. It’s just a hunch, but… I suspect we won’t have an easy time in the Raid Dungeon. Strength isn’t enough… we are gonna need teamwork.”