Donny steepled his fingers, his expression grave. “What do we know?”
“They knew the location of the mine. They knew its defenses, at least in the general sense. They knew the location of Tellumurite in the mines. They retrieved the Tellumurite. It’s hard to tell if they knew our shipping schedule, but they struck two days prior to the packing day. Therefore, they received five days worth of the mineral.” Mrs. Hamilton said smoothly as if she was checking off items from a list in her mind. Then she glanced at Simon, who sat cross-legged in the middle of the room.
It was extremely rare for Simon to travel anywhere in person since he had become the Zone’s Champion. Which just made Donny more worried.
Simon said nothing, so Mrs. Hamilton continued.
“Their main force was composed of Raid Boss minions. The Raid Bosses themselves were located in a small camp several miles away. Their location has been found, but they have done well to cover their tracks. The Raid Boss minions were released to run rampant. Although we may have missed a few, Glendel is using his ghosts to cover most of the plains as we speak. Based upon these facts, I surmise that they have been biding their time nearby the mine for at least a month, building up forces. These all were fodder to obtain the mineral.”
“Why?” Donny asked, straightening his hands and flexing them. “Why spend so much time to get Tellumurite? It can give a boost to Skill performance and learning Skills, but with just that amount-”
“We can’t rule out that they plan to use it… in an unusual way.” Mrs. Hamilton said with a sigh.
“…you mean in the way Randidly used it. To ignite a great deal of Aether to cause an explosion.” Donny said with a sigh. “We are talking real terrorists. And if that’s the case, I assume the prime suspect is… Yystrix. The Creature, as Randidly calls her.”
All gazes turned to the fourth person in the room, Lyra. She calmly sipped her team, seemingly unperturbed by their suspicions. Donny had taken Randidly’s message seriously, but he had a very different relationship with Lyra. He understood that she was prideful, but she truly wanted the best for humanity.
But her posture now very clearly indicated that she would contribute nothing to the conversation. So Donny moved the topic forward.
He turned to Simon. “How did you miss this? With this many Raid Bosses, shouldn’t it be easy to detect?”
Simon sighed, and Donny was surprised that now, of all times, Lyra spoke up. “Let Mrs. Hamilton talk about the core squad of the enemy’s operation.”
“…Yes, I believe that also contains the answer. I am of the opinion that the Creature had a hand in this, but she hired out the labor. The core was four individuals. A man with obsidian armor. A huge man with a deep, bass voice who remained covered the entire time. A strange monster the size of a car. And…”
Simon sighed again and then spoke. “Someone who wields a hammer, yes? It was they that struck the final blow.”
The room fell silent for several seconds.
“Thea,” Donny said slowly, looking around. Lyra smiled at him.
“She is Nemesis,” The Village Spirit who had once been a person said softly. “Just like Champions seek to raise us up, us as in Humans, Nemesai will attempt to make us fail the tests of the System. The Calamity is their god. It makes sense that they would work in conjunction with Yystrix.”
The group mulled that over for a bit. A classification that would hinder the Zone made a lot of sense, considering the past moves the System made to fuck them over. It was just somewhat tiring because there was always a trap.
“But where did they find the man with the obsidian armor that kept Decklan tied up? That level of fighter… he wasn’t someone from Zone 1, unless they are severely tricking us with the information available.” Donny said.
Mrs. Hamilton pushed her glasses up her nose. “I have a theory. But it… has some troubling implications. Specifically, that the System’s goal is to punish overly powerful races. Even the final resting places of seven Zones means that there would be an extremely high pressure…”
She trailed off for a second, then snapped back into focus. “What I’m saying is that I believe that the obsidian armored man was in fact a foreign power. But he was not a person. He was Zone 1’s Nemesis.”
Everyone fell silent again. Simon opened his eyes slowly. “I had felt something was wrong. But to think… well, as you expect, I have tested my limits. I cannot leave the Zone. I am bound here. I did not lie. Nothing changed after joining the wider world. I can dream of anything under the sun, as long as I dream it here.”
“…so the working theory is that there is System created, super powerful terrorists,” Donny said slowly. “That can move from Zone to Zone. And as more Zones connect to the wider world, the more of them there will be… can they be killed?”
This final question was directed at Lyra. She nodded. “Plus, all Champions’ powers currently grow fuzzy around the Nemesis. A head start. When there are more, that fuzziness will fade, so they can be located more easily.”
“Better to kill them now. I’ll look into it,” Mrs. Hamilton said with a nod.
Donny almost wanted to smile. If today was any other day, he would have smiled at the relentless practicality of the woman. Just like that, a whole new series of threats were coming their way, but she faced it unflinchingly. Donny wished for that assuredness.
He also wished that the Ghosthound was still here. Because what he had to do next was very difficult. But the Ghosthound had made his choice clear, and it made sense. Donnyton needed to grow on its own. It couldn’t rely on that man’s strength forever.
With a sigh, Donny stood. The rest followed his lead. “Well, let’s get to it. This funeral won’t run itself.”
Randidly left the compound before Tatiana had emerged, content to return another time to speak with her about her presence there. He moved Nathan and the rest into town, where they took up residence in his small hovel-like it was nothing. Tanya seemed the most happy, because there was a distinct lack of hairdressers in the steelworkers’ town.
But Karlito took all of an hour to ingratiate himself with some seedy looking workers and was soon playing dice while preparing his stew. Bruya hummed softly and began curing leather from some monster they had killed. Tykes was surly and seemed perpetually looking West, towards the girl he had carried.
Nathan was the most delighted because he finally had some children his own age to play with.
Each wore a powerful illusion, as their faces were known to Ghost, which was another headache that Randidly needed to explain to Tatiana. But that could wait for now.
Randidly had intended to return to the smelting rooms, to make some more metals, but he was stopped by another large screen that the Unity Church had erected. Now, they were talking about asking for volunteers in the building of their new shelters for the rapidly growing number of refugees. The government predicted another wave of suburbs would be freed up in a week, and they needed labor to finish the project in time.
“We are also happy to announce,” An elderly man said with a stern face, making his message somewhat comical, “that the Unity Church will now be purchasing large quantities of steel made from this location for its construction, and even more importantly many of the drones produced by Ghost’s initiative. These observation and defense drones will constantly patrol the areas owned by the Unity Church; while working on the project, your safety is all but guaranteed.”
Randidly snorted and turned away. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do about the Unity Church issue as of yet, but he had already given Dinesh orders to scope out the surrounding area for similar organ harvesting locations. And when one was found…
Well, Randidly would personally go to get to the bottom of the issue.
But then he froze, and turned around, looking at the elderly man who was still speaking. Because he recognized him.
It was his maternal grandfather, Kulwort Shaw.