Alana looked up, bored. They had largely been left alone here, and the charm of the group’s company had worn on her. Devan’s plan to wait until the blonde man had taken some action had seemed reasonable initially, but now that two days had passed, it was beginning to seem foolish.
It’s not like there was enough room in here to practice with her spear. And not even the guards provided much distraction. Although today, most of the guards seemed excited about something else, so much so that there was a life to their faces as they were served gruel, which the group didn’t even bother to go near.
But then, as the sun set, something changed.
There was banging, and yelling, and swearing, and then silence. The blonde man who had claimed to be in charge of the town came in, pale faced, followed by three men. The first was tall and grizzled, his hair cropped short, a total military type. He hovered around the blonde man, glaring daggers at the other two.
The most eye catching of the two was a large man who was missing his left arm. But strapped to his back was a large metal disk that seemed to be part shield and part buzzsaw.
The third figure was a portly man with glasses. He smiled at the group when he arrived, but otherwise stayed silent.
Finally, the blonde man coughed, turning to the “prisoners”, who had clearly escaped their handcuffs and were enjoying a meal of dried wolverine meat.
“We… we have decided to believe your story. And offer you your freedom, in return for an alliance.”
Devan nodded serenely, as this was the most natural thing in the world, but Alana could barely resist snorting. But she managed it, barely.
“What sort of alliance?” She asked cautiously.
The blonde man’s face fell, and he turned to the two figures who were clearly from another power in the city.
The portly man smiled. “Hello, it’s nice to meet you. You are Alana right? I’m Anthony, the man who founded a combat focused organization in Franksburg, the Freedom Fighters. We are in the midst of an operation to kill one of the nearby bosses and receive a gold coin, so we can gain a Newbie Village.
“At our suggestion,” Anthony glanced at the blonde man, “The Senator has seen fit to offer you your liberty in the city in exchange for your assistance in this operation. I assume you came here with a purpose, and as long as it’s within reason, I’m sure we will be amenable to it.”
Although she was pissed off at being trapped here for so long, Alana felt that some exercise would be just what the doctor ordered. It would mean that they could finally recruit more actively in the city.
Still, helping them gain a Newbie Village might be counterproductive to the recruitment efforts…
For a long moment, she was torn between helping them, and the goal of the mission. But she supposed that they came with recruitment as a goal, it was just an assumed goal. They had just wanted to help any families who were still surviving. But as things seemed to have stabilized in the region, assistance and the development of a positive relationship could be considered a success.
For her pride, she would find a way to extract reparations, but that was for later…
She gave her toothiest smile, resembling more wolf than person. “…That would be excellent, Mr. Anthony, of course we would be willing to help you. We are all humans, after all. We need to work together to defeat this monster threat.”
“And honestly, I would do anything if you gave Devan a shower.” Clarissa added snarkily, her nose wrinkling. “It smells like stale animal sweat in here.”
Devan just chuckled, his face impassive, as the Senator and his military aide looked on nervously, worried by the recent developments. But things were no longer within his control, and the Senator could do nothing but acquiesce.
“Pan-seared, pan-seared!” The small hispanic man yelled over the clatter of the kitchen noise, miming at Randidly. Randidly cocked his head to the side, and then recalled the method that had been explained to him earlier, and used a spatula to press down on the beef, or whatever red meat this actually was, before flipping it and repeating the same on the other side.
Still, he didn’t press too hard, so as not to drive out the juices. He took a pinch of spices and sprinkled them on top, before raising the heat and placing the pan back down. He pivoted to his left, bending over and removing the fish fillet from the oven.
His other hand reached out and began to throw butter, herbs, and garlic in a pot, stirring rapidly. Then he flipped the meat again, lowered the heat, and brought the sauce onto the stove.
The hispanic man, Karlito, working to Randidly’s left, passed him the vegetables, shaking his head. “You do learn quickly, don’t you? Don’t forget about cutting the meat. Smooth, even strokes!”
On and on it went, a night of movement and constant heat. Orders were shouted from the front, and the kitchen staff jumped to work. Apparently the previous chef had volunteered for the Freedom Fighter operation and hadn’t come back in time for his shift. That, combined with the ominous news that had made it back from the front line, made the owner willing to let Randidly work in his kitchen, regardless of his lack of experience.
It also helped that he had a Cooking skill of 10.
By the end of the night, of course, that skill had risen to 13, the constant stress of a long night working the kitchen pushing him beyond his comfort zone. Mostly, the small, cramped space had started to wear on him, but that too, had its own benefits. He had earned the skill Grace, and raised to Lvl 3.
Grace Lvl 3: Passive Physical skill. Increases the fluidity and control over movement. Also slightly increases coordination and balance.
Although it was a passive skill, it seemed to be incredibly useful, even in fighting. Shal’s spear methods emphasized assault and overwhelming, direct speed, without much use of feints, so Randidly supposed he just hadn’t reached the proper criteria previously to earn the skill . But twisting in spot and sliding between other chef’s had certainly been a work in physical control.
Randidly idly wondered how people had managed to perform this job while they had normal stats. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he walked out of the back door to the building, and gratefully accepted a drink from Karlito.
Randidly drank it in one gulp, and then grimaced. “Was that… tequila?”
“Of course,” Karlito said with a smile. “Unfortunately, your resistance to alcohol rises with your Vitality… but still. There is nothing so wonderful as the burn of a good tequila.”
Then he gestured to the unmarked glass bottle, winking at Randidly. “But when there is no good tequila, we make do with what we have. Do not drink too much more friend, overexposure to this swill is known to cause blindness.”
Randidly shook his head, amused. He liked Karlito, and his wild stories and exaggerated jokes. He was loud and abrasive in the kitchen, but Randidly could tell that he was a good person with an honest heart.
It was, Randidly reflected, tragic that Karlito was born in this time, where good people like him died like flies.
They joked and laughed for a while longer, Randidly feeling strangely at ease, even as a part of him nagged to get back to the potion recipes. But before he could leave, their manager came hurrying back out the back door, sweating. “Oh, thank god you two are still here. I’ll pay double, no triple, if you stay and make one more meal.”
“But the kitchen has already been cleaned. Do you want us to go through everything again?” Karlito rumbled, his eyes narrowing.
The manager raised his hands in a placating gesture. “No! No! I’ll handle all of that. But a very important client came, and- well, for her, there are no such thing as ‘hours’. Please.”
As soon as the manager agreed to let them off without cleaning, Karlito’s cheer returned.
Tying his apron back on, he called over his shoulder. “So, who’s the big wig?”
The manager’s face became starry eyed. “It’s Raina.”
Derek Quinn had been a truck driver before the system had come to the world. But when everything changed, he had crashed his truck into a column of giant, mutant ants and received the Exterminator I path, he had no idea what to believe.
Perhaps even more difficult to handle was the ants subsequent counter attack, swarming him and biting at him, ripping off his left arm before other drivers on the highway saw his plight and came forward to beat them off of him.
He still remembered that extended hand, and opening his eyes to find a portly man smiling down at him, his glasses splattered with blood from that ants. “Hey there buddy, I’m Anthony. You’re gonna be okay.”
Luckily enough, Anthony was a nurse, and had managed to bandage his wounds enough to keep Derek alive. Unlike most people who were mutilated in the aftermath of the system’s arrival, Derek didn’t fall into a stupor, giving up.
He got angry.
And that anger had served him well. He had gotten up to the Exterminator VI path, cutting his way through the ants. But there were still so damn many of them.
Derek spared a glance for the group of 12 people that trailed after them, wearing a mismatch of bone armor and fur, most of them holding swords, but their leader holding a spear. The other woman seemed to possess no weapon at all, but just walked forward in the middle of the group, yawning.
He was slightly depressed when Anthony had called him away from the front line to escort this group, and was now even more disappointed. Even with a class, how could this group change the tide of the fight…?
After all, the problem wasn’t talent. It was simply…
They rounded a bend in the road, and the battle stretched before them, almost endless. Thousands upon thousands of ants marched forward, rushing to attack the intruders. These hills had been empty 8 hours ago, but now the bodies were piled higher than a person in some places.
“So you see,” Derek said sarcastically. “A small squad like you would be perfect for this operation.”
Alana, the leader, nodded seriously and turned to the weaponless woman and what seemed like the vice commander. “So?”
“Doable.” The vice leader commented.
“Child’s play,” The weaponless one said, cracking her neck.
Alana turned back to Derek. “Alright, take us to the front. We will handle the rest.”