Two weeks later, about a week and a half before the time that Randidly planned to head back to Shal’s world, a group set out from the now bustling headquarters of Erickson Steel to head towards the Ogre Ridge. It included Randidly, Neveah, Tykes, Dinesh, Tatiana, and also Hank and Thaddeus.
Hank had spent the last few weeks with his family after Alan was forced to retire as the president of the UHF after his heart was removed by Father Foster. It was difficult, Randidly surmised, to live without a heart. He was somewhat shocked to find out that Arbor had set up shop with the monster people in the Northeast of Zone 1, and had saved Alan’s life with a strange ritual magic.
It had intrigued him enough to visit, which had sent Arbor into a flurry of dancing. But even Nevaeh was stumped by the strange magic that the tree explained to them. Ultimately, Randidly simply wished Arbor good luck and departed. After all, the monster people and their presence was a source of constant tension, for all that Tessa had included them in one of her speeches.
In his spare time, Randidly listened to all of Tessa’s speeches as she traveled around Zone 1 campaigning for the adoption of the Chivalric Orders. And she was winning; public opinion was slowly turning towards the orders as a way to restrain rogue elements within the world that possessed power with any legal justification.
Randidly was well aware that these speeches, purposefully or not, were aimed at limiting the ability of a person to do exactly what he had been doing in Zone 1. Perhaps he should have felt threatened, but the process of running a company and training employees, even if it was only for two months, had done a lot to get rid of Randidly’s jitteriness when it came to public interactions. Where he was unsure of himself before, he now had found confidence.
Besides, fighting against the idea would just drive it out of the open and into darker places. Randidly was prepared to fulfill his responsibilities as king after claiming this area. But now was not the time.
The Crown of Silence and Upheaval.
If we didn’t believe this, people would just believe in something else.
Apparently, Hank hadn’t told Thaddeus exactly what they would be doing, so the man literally jumped when he spotted Randidly. Afterward, he had explained that although he looked different, Thaddeus would have recognized those emerald eyes anywhere. They had left a lasting impression on him at the height of his arrogance which had driven him to work on the basics.
Without fanfare, as the factory was waking around them, the group left and boarded a train. The closest stop was also the stop near the monster area, so they were immediately greeted with tired and tense eyes when they departed from the train. At this point, both Randidly and Thaddeus’ clout helped move things along much more quickly than the average person.
‘There are benefits to this,’ Randidly reflected, watching the creeping flush in the young man’s face as he realized he was in the face of some of the most powerful people in the Zone. ‘Like it or not, people respond to power.’
Before they left, Dinesh touched Randidly’s shoulder. “You know… that press conference is today. It will be held in a few hours. I believe that the bishop of the Unity Church will be here, to participate in the founding of the orders. Paolo and Kayle as well. Should we not wait for this?”
“I believe we will finish with time to spare,” Randidly said calmly, and he truly believed it. In the past, it had taken him almost twelve hours to move through the Danger Zone and reach the boss. But this time, not only was he stronger, but he was surrounded by capable people. Randidly fully expected to make the trip in four or so hours. “And also…”
And also Randidly did not want to see this particular speech. Not only because he expected the content of it to be disappointing to him, who might need to act to prevent the Orders from causing damage to the Zone, but also because Mrs. Hamilton had tipped him off that she had heard the speeches would address him directly.
It would be better for all involved that no one would be around to see what his reaction was. So Randidly planned on attacking the Danger Zone in this window. He would likely be down before the speech had actually begun, but it would give him a palpable excuse as to why he didn’t respond immediately.
Not that Randidly really needed one.
On foot, the group made slightly less good time because neither Thaddeus nor Tatiana were quite up to speed when it came to physical fitness. Their running speed burned too much of their Stamina, and their trotting speed was insufficient for Randidly’s needs. So the group kept shifting speeds, to give those two the chance to recover. Of the two, Thaddeus honestly seemed the most out of breath.
Two months of training with Dinesh and Tykes had really pushed Tatiana to another Level. Literal,ly that was true, but she had also gained numerous Skill Levels as the two of them had almost tortured her with combat and training to push her to her limits.
Randidly almost felt a stab of nostalgia as he remembered his own time in the prison on Shal’s world. It was a time of emotional barrenness in his life, as that was the only way to make it through the ordeal, but he had gained so much from that time.
Then he frowned. Marco Polo. When Randidly returned, that man would answer some questions of his.
When they arrived, they rested for 30 minutes outside of the Danger Zone. Randidly had previously stored quite a lot of Mana and Stamina in his rings, but he took this time to go over them all one last time. A lot of the stats he had gained raising the Crown of Yggdrasil Path to completion had gone into Intelligence. When he switched to his current Path, Growth of Yggdrasil II, he had switched his stats to Reaction and Agility. Randidly expected that he would need it in Shal’s world.
“Ready?” Randidly asked. The group nodded. As one, they moved into the Danger Zone. This time through, Randidly mimicked his previous performance and charged forwards. Instantly, high-Level ogres leaped out of their ambush spots to attack him. Their clubs smashed against Sulfur, who purred with something like happiness. Acri blurred as the head of the spear ripped through their thick skin.
Once Randidly had all of the attention, the rest struck. Dinesh rained spells that distracted and stunned some ogres. These beasts were strong, but Tykes demonstrated what happened when Strength was used to its fullest. Hank and Thaddeus provided covering fire, whittling down the monsters health while Tatiana snuck around and seized the killing blow.
When nothing moved any longer, they took a minute to rest and check themselves before moving on. Of them all, Tatiana was being force-fed the lion’s share of the experience on purpose to push her towards 50. Of them, Tykes and Dinesh had made it past 50 with Randidly’s help the prior month. Apparently, whatever Nathan had done to Hank had allowed him to cleanly condense his Fate, although he didn’t receive very many stat benefits per Level. But according to him, the Fate had condensed on his rabbit Earth Elemental companion, and now her powers were doubled.
Thaddeus was nearing 50, but Randidly wasn’t so concerned about him. And Neveah… well, Randidly wasn’t too sure how she truly grew more powerful. It just kept happening. Part of it was Skills and Levels, but Randidly would swear that she was passively evolving constantly, due to her partial status as a monster. It wasn’t fair.
Whereas Randidly would passively take the strikes of the ogres sometimes to gain experience for Sulfur, Neveah was rip off the ogre’s arms for daring to strike her. There was a ferocious hunger to her that gave no quarter to these foes. Randidly admired that.
They pressed forward, outpacing Randidly’s estimates by a good hour. Only three hours later, they stood above the ravine that led down towards the three-headed ogre that had mocked Randidly so in the past. The same ogre that had later been reduced to tears as Randidly stood in front of it, completely bereft of Mana, unable to take its life.
This time would be different.
Randidly glanced at Tatiana. “What’s your Level?”
“Forty-Three, now,” Tatiana said, somewhat glassy-eyed. Although they had prepared her as best as they could, it was hard to simulate the feeling in being so covered in blood that trying to wipe some gore away would only spread more of something else. But she was standing steadily, which was good enough for Randidly.
He nodded, turning forward. “No promises, but we will try and get you the kill. That will push you up pretty close to 45, I believe.”
Blinking, Tatiana asked, “you don’t want it?”
“Not if I can help it,” Randidly said, not bothering to explain. Glancing around, he saw everyone was ready. He pointed. “Let’s get to it, then.”