The Outlands - Chapter 70

Published at 3rd of May 2022 09:12:01 AM

Chapter 70

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Tess was sitting down with the rest of her party and the Rumors in their private room in the guild, a magical television of sorts in front of them. Displayed on the screen was Gramps, standing behind a podium, a myriad of microphones arrayed in front of him.

He cleared his throat, and the faint buzz from his audience faded. “As you are all well aware, the guild’s expedition leaves tomorrow, and with it, we are officially changing our ranking system. As such, I have called this meeting to lay out how exactly we will be handling this change, and what this means for those of you that aren’t in the guild.

“For a while now, those towards the higher ranks have noticed that rank ten is far too broad a categorization, and, unlike other ranks, the strength of those within varies drastically. So, from here on out, we will be moving to a twenty rank system. Those at rank ten will not be automatically promoted. Their performance in the upcoming expedition and a series of tests will determine their new rank.

“That being said, we are endeavoring to not make rank twenty the new rank ten, at least for a while. It is inevitable that, as people grow stronger, the highest rank will become as crowded and diverse as it currently is, but we wish to avoid that for as long as possible. As such, the requirements for reaching the higher ranks will be far more stringent than they are for lower ranks.

“In fact, we don’t expect anyone to reach rank twenty for a long time; the highest we are expecting people to reach after the expedition is fifteen. Now, for those of you who aren’t active freelancers, this has a few ramifications…”

He talked for a while longer on how civilians would be affected by this change, before, eventually, opening the floor up for questions.

“Where will the Titans be placed in this new ranking?” A reporter asked.

“My party will have to meet the same requirements as everyone else.” Gramps said calmly. “We will not be automatically promoted, nor will we receive special treatment during the tests. I understand that it’s a bit of a difficult situation, with me being the head of the guild and all, but I will be making sure there are impartial judges and that the tests are recorded, so anyone who suspects foul play can check for themselves.

“Of course, when I said that we do not expect anyone to reach higher than rank fifteen, that includes my party, so do not be surprised when we aren’t an exception.”

“As if.” Alice snorted. “If they’re not rank twenty material, I don’t know who is.”

“Didn’t he basically say no one is?” Ellie said. “At least, not now?”

“Yes, but he’s lying.” Alice said. “The fact that all four of them are Appointed instantly bumps them up a few ranks, at least in terms of raw power. They can’t even use their strongest stuff openly, and they’re still better than everyone else.”

“She…has a point there.” Ker mused. “While ranks are not a perfect indicator of how strong someone is, a party almost never loses to one of a lower rank, not unless one of those parties is ranked incorrectly. While the exact mechanics of Descents are pretty guarded, it’s usually considered they make someone effectively invincible. If that’s not worth bumping them up a few ranks, then they’ve really tightened up the rank requirements.”

“Wait, do we have a rank?” Tess asked. “I don’t know if we’ve like…officially made a party or anything.”

“The Guildmaster put the two of you in a party when he registered you, I checked your paperwork.” Jin said. “But even if you weren’t in a party, everyone that’s registered with the guild has a rank. You haven’t taken any tests or anything, so you should still be rank one, but don’t let that get to you. You’re still learning, and once you’re done training, you’ll probably be able to get to rank four or five, easy.”

“When are we finished training?” Ellie asked. “It’s been…well, a while.”

“Honestly, you’re getting pretty close.” Jin said. “We were thinking that, depending on how the expedition goes, we’d have you “graduate” after it’s over. If it goes poorly…well, it depends on how poorly it goes, but you’ll be with us a little longer. But, given your performance in the Jagged Cliffs, I’m confident you’ll be fine.”

“That’s…going to be lonely.” Tess said. “It’ll feel weird not having you guys around.”

“We’ll still be about.” Alice said, throwing an arm around Tess and pulling her into a side-hug. “You can come see us any time you want. In fact, I’d be offended if you didn’t.”

“I’m sure the gods would have something to say about it, too.” Ker said, smiling faintly. “The Guildmaster told us what they said about your social conduct as of late.”

“Does everyone know about that?” Ellie groaned.

“I’m afraid so.” Maven said. “The Guildmaster said that both he and the gods were very concerned.”

“Hey, you’re a princess, right? Surely you understand getting caught up in your work, right?” Ellie asked, a desperate edge to her tone.

“Not in the slightest.” Maven replied. “I make an effort to avoid that work whenever possible.”

Fortune: Look, I get it, number go up make monkey brain feel good but you really gotta help make your person brain feel good too, and sometimes that means pushing yourself to do things you don’t necessarily want to.

Death: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and all that, you know? But…seriously it’s really not healthy to be as focused on work as you two were, and it’s our job to make sure you guys don’t hurt yourselves while working for us. So…yeah, seriously, we really don’t want to see you two become social recluses.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing that you’re willing to put so much of your time into your job, but that’s only if you know your limits and have a good work-life balance.” Jin said. “I thought we were clear about that when we talked about taking days off each week, but I suppose that is something we should hammer home more.”

“And what if we pass your test during the expedition? You won’t have time to hammer that in, then.” Ellie said, raising a brow.

“Who said anything about not doing that on the expedition?” Jin countered. “Just because you’re out with the guild doesn’t mean everything has to be about freelancing. There are ways to pursue your hobbies while traveling, and we’ll make sure to show you how.”

“Weren’t you guys planning to do your Appointed debut tomorrow, too?” Maven asked. “How are we going to meet up afterwards?”

“Ah, yeah.” Tess said. “So, it’s going to go like this…”

Tess and Ellie stood nervously in the gods’ realm, dressed in their respective uniforms. For Tess, that meant swapping out her foxkin traits for rabbitkin traits and wearing her suit, while Ellie was wearing an ornate set of weight-reduced plate armor crafted for the occasion. Of course, both were also equipped with divine-tier recognition blockers that would allow them to keep their public identities secret, but that didn’t really help with the nerves.

“You two will be fine.” Life said. “I have the utmost confidence in your abilities. You don’t have to do anything particularly impressive, you just need to get yourselves out there. And remember, if you begin to falter, we will be here to bail you out.”

“Evan’s just about done talking!” Death said, looking up from the television she was using to scry the mortal realm. “It’s go time!”

“Alright. Let’s do this thing.” Fortune said, grabbing Tess’s hand and giving it a squeeze. “You ready to Descend?”

“As I’ll ever be.” Tess replied. And with that, Fortune slid into Tess’s mind, her hand going limp as she left her body. A glance to their side revealed that Death had done the same with Ellie, and the four of them shared a nod before teleporting down to the top of the wall that Gramps had been addressing people from.

There was a murmur from the crowd as Gramps turned, an array of spellwork spreading out behind him. He knew they were coming, of course, but he had to keep up appearances.

“No.” Ellie and Death said, snapping a finger. The crowd gasped as Gramps’s spellwork crumbled, and they became aware of just who was talking.

“You’ll have to forgive us for interrupting, but we have an announcement to make.” Tess said, giving a small bow at Fortune’s prompting. “As our appearance here must be making clear, we are the two newest Appointed.

“I am Fortune’s Appointed, and she,” Tess said, motioning towards Ellie, “is my girlfriend, the Appointed of Life and Death. And, with our advent, we will be making some changes to the way things are.”

There was a beat, and then Ellie stepped forward. “The majority of you will not feel my influence, provided you are not…foolish.” She said, Life’s voice now entwined with hers instead of Death’s. “I will be carrying the dual duty of being Mael’s protector and being one to guard the general public from those that would greatly disturb the cycle of souls.

“This means that I will be personally handling any who would cause mass death outside of wartime, terrorists and serial killers that the law does not have the resources to handle. In practice, this will generally refer only to those who are too high level to be dealt with conventionally, but I might step in in other circumstances, should they be considered dire enough.

“And, as I mentioned before, I am the protector of Mael. The time is approaching for Mael to be fully integrated into the wider community of planes, and those who try and invade while Mael is still adjusting will face my wrath.”

“And, of course, as her partner, I will be assisting her in that endeavor.” Tess said. “Should any of the countries be foolish enough to draw our ire, I promise that it’s not just their armies that will be suffering.

“But the rest of my duties will be much more applicable to the rest of you. Aside from auditing Fortune’s church, I will be taking it upon myself to reform gambling. I will say now that gambling will never be a consistent path to riches, and often it is best to avoid it altogether.

“Still, I understand that attempting to abolish gambling altogether is both futile and unwanted. So, I will be opening a company of my own, which will not only provide accreditation of gambling parlors, but will be manufacturing machines that are guaranteed to be devoid of trickery.

“In two months’ time, I will be officially opening this company for accreditation services, and in another four months, I will begin providing machines.” Tess let her own presence fade and Fortune came to the forefront, tweaking the instant recognition that came with her voice so people would know it was only Fortune speaking.

“Unfortunately, talented though she may be, my Appointed is only one person. Her time is limited, and as such we cannot provide accreditation for free. We will be keeping the fee as insignificant as possible, and as such will be completely inflexible with our price. If you cannot afford it, I would personally advise against going into the gambling business altogether.

“This accreditation will expire after one year, at which point you will need to pay the fee again. If we determine your company has cheated anyone at any time while you have been accredited, you will be blacklisted, and will not be able to obtain accreditation again for a period of twenty years, after which you will be required to pay an exorbitant fine if you wish to obtain accreditation again.

“Furthermore, if we determine you have been particularly egregious in your conduct, I will be personally punishing those responsible.”

Fortune let Tess once again step up so the two were presenting equally. “As for the machines, I will not be able to personally make all of those, either. I will be providing designs and outsourcing the work to manufacturers, and we will work to offer these machines at competitive prices.

“Those making my machines will be held to an extremely strict standard, and any misconduct will be met with severe and immediate punishment. If you wish to be involved in this production, issue a public statement, and I will contact you if I determine you to be a good fit for the job.

“For the public, once I begin providing official accreditation, I highly advise you only gamble at places I have accredited. Those who are not accredited are either trying to cheat you, or are too poor to pay out anything more than small sums. Either way, your money would be best spent elsewhere.”

She turned to Gramps and gave another small bow. “Our apologies for hijacking your speech. We wish you the best of luck on your expedition and would like to remind everyone once more to not do anything that will draw our ire.” She grabbed Ellie’s hand, and the two were teleported back to the realm of the gods.

Immediately, Ellie hunched over and began coughing. Death walked over and began rubbing her back, a concerned look on her face. “How are you feeling?” She asked. “I know switching in the middle of Descent is rough on you.”

“F-fine.” Ellie wheezed. “I was just holding it in for a bit, and it caught up to me. I’ll be fine in a couple of minutes, I think.”

“Good job.” Tess said, grabbing her hand and squeezing it gently. “Nobody could tell a thing, I guarantee it.”

“Good job yourself.” Ellie said weakly. “You sounded great. Thanks for doing all the talking for me.”

“Any time.” Tess said. “Besides, most of the talking was for my stuff, anyway.”

“You both did great.” Fortune said. “I’m proud of you two.”

“I agree, but I am afraid our time here is short.” Life said. “I need to get you two sent back to your companions. Are you ready to leave?”

“Hey, don’t be a party pooper!” Death protested. “They can stay for a few more minutes!”

“The guild is already starting to mobilize. They are going to hold back their companions if they don’t leave soon.” Life replied. “So, once again, are you ready to leave?”

Tess looked towards Ellie, who gave a nod, then looked back at Life. “We’re ready.” She said.

“Good. Enjoy yourselves out there.” Life said. There was a lurching, and then Tess and Ellie were back in the private room in the guild.

“Ah, you’re back.” Jin said. “Good job up there.”

“And congratulations on taking another step towards becoming fabulously wealthy!” Alice said, throwing an arm around Tess’s neck. “We’re still planning on having my company manufacture some of those machines, right?”

“Of course!” Tess said. “But money really isn’t why we’re doing this.”

“I know, but you have to admit it’s a nice benefit.” Alice replied, smirking.

“Are you feeling alright, Ellie?” Maven asked. “You look a little…worn out.”

“Sorry.” Ellie said. “Switching gods mid-Descent is really tiring. I’ll be fine in a minute.”

“Does healing help?” Ker asked. “I can try it, if you’d like.”

Ellie shook her head. “No, sorry. It’s more…pain in the soul than in the body. Trust me, I’ve tried healing myself with my Blessing, and it just doesn’t help.”

“It might still be worth a shot, then.” Ker said. “Your Blessing is…well, it’s somewhat related to the issue, isn’t it?”

“I…suppose.” Ellie replied.

“Are you well enough to walk?” Jin asked. “If so, we’ll have Ker try and help you on the way. We need to get going if we don’t want to be left behind.”

“I’ll be fine.” Ellie said, taking a step forward before faltering.

Ker caught her before she fell, shaking his head slightly. “Sure you will. Look, I’ll just carry you until we reach the hoverer. No shame in it, I can’t begin to imagine how taxing it is.”

“At least let me walk and just use you as a crutch.” Ellie protested. “I don’t want to be carried all the way out of the city, people might notice! Plus, we’ve tested this before, I will be fine, so just…let me walk, okay?”

“If you say so.” Ker said doubtfully. “But if I think you’re looking like you’re pushing yourself too much, I’m picking you up.”

“Fine.” Ellie said. “It won’t come to that, though.”

“Right, clock’s ticking, so let’s get going!” Alice said. “This is gonna be an experience you guys aren’t going to forget any time soon!”

Fighterman481 It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here! Um...I don't have much else to say, though, I've had a draining week and I'm kind of out of steam, so...yeah.

Next time we'll be getting into the beginning of the expedition, so look forward to it!

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Please report us if you find any errors so we can fix it asap!