The Outlands - Chapter 83

Published at 22nd of September 2022 11:49:24 AM

Chapter 83

If audio player doesn't work, press Stop then Play button again

The next hour or so was tense, but, finally, Jin broke the silence. “We should be in the clear now.” He said. “We’re almost to the expedition’s camp.”

“Already?” Tess asked. “Well, I mean, I guess we weren’t going slow, but I thought for sure it’d take longer.”

“It should be about ten more minutes.” Jin said. “Now, Ellie, Maven, I assume you’ve already figured out what your mistakes were. Let’s start with you, Maven.”

“I was too early.” Maven said. “And it threw everyone else’s timing off.”

“Correct.” Jin said. “This isn’t a huge mistake, but keep in mind that it’s generally better to wait for your hardest hitter to attack before you let fly. Their attacks may well break your opponent’s armor, and allow you to be more effective. There are situations in which this isn’t the case, but if you’re just dealing damage and not applying debuffs or status effects, most of the time you want to wait. Now, Ellie, how about you?”

‘It’s…because I made too much noise, right?” Ellie asked.

“Yes. While lightning magic does deal a lot of damage, it also is highly visible and incredibly loud. This is less likely to be an issue in a standard dungeon environment, as monsters are more likely to be stuck in one location, but in an open area where there are probably hundreds of monsters nearby, it’s not wise to do so.”

“I understand.” Ellie said. “It won’t happen again.”

“And that’s all I can really ask for.” Jin said. “Remember that it’s normal to make mistakes, and that there is no shame in it unless you repeat your mistakes.”

“Is there anything I should make note of?” Tess asked.

Jin shrugged. “Not really. For better or for worse, you didn’t really have an opportunity to make a mistake. You informed us of any approaching threats, and that’s about as much as we could have asked of you.”

Tess wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, she had done her job flawlessly. On the other…Jin had basically said that she had been useless otherwise. She knew logically that it made sense, that her magic simply wasn’t suited to cracking the sort of defenses that monster had, but it was one thing to know a fact or even to say it herself, but it was something entirely different when someone else said it. It was a petty emotion, and one that made Tess feel a little guilty, but…there wasn’t a lot she could do about it, other than tell herself to get over it.

“Jin, phrasing.” Alice said sharply, shooting him a glare. “We very well could have asked her to do more, but that would have been too dangerous when we’re supposed to be protecting her.”

Jin blinked. “Sorry. I thought that didn’t need to be said. Yes, obviously, we could have asked more from all of them, but we had to limit it to only things that wouldn’t put them in unnecessary risk.”

“I mean, Target of Affection makes attacking monsters pretty safe for me, right?” Tess said. “I can be helping, I think.”

“Not exactly.” Ker said, shaking his head. “You’ve only tested that Skill on dungeon monsters. Monsters in the wild act differently, more…” he paused, face wrinkling as he looked for a word, “real. It’s highly likely that Target of Affection doesn’t work the way we’re used to. Then again, it is Phantasmal, so we could be being overly cautious, but…better safe than sorry.”

Dungeons: This is because all monsters are, to some extent, puppets of the system. Even the ones that seem to have language and intelligence are just given a bit more attention by the system. Dungeon monsters in particular are almost entirely driven by the system to prevent them from killing each other or going where they’re not supposed to. It is highly likely that Target of Affection simply hijacks this mechanism to do its work.

Tess: So…would it work on monsters outside of a dungeon?

Dungeons: Sort of. Outside of dungeons, the system mainly provides increased aggression and faux intelligence to monsters, and lets instincts handle the rest. You wouldn’t be affected by any of the increased aggression they have, but they would still react as a normal animal would. Still, they’ll probably target others before you if they have a choice.

“The gods say they won’t be as aggressive as normal, but Target of Affection won’t completely prevent things the way it does in dungeons.” Tess said.

“Then we made the right call.” Ker said firmly. “We had no information on that monster, and there was no telling what it could have done to you. You’re a close-combat specialist, and it would be silly if we expected you to keep up with the mages in magic. Just because you can use any magic, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.”

Fortune: Yet.

 With that, the conversation sort of fizzled, and there was a silence as they continued their march towards the camp. This continued until they crested a hill and the camp came into view, which was immediately followed by a buzzing from Tess and Ellie’s phones. Tess pulled her phone out of her pocket and checked it to find that it was a text from Gramps, instructing them to come meet him in the largest tent once they returned.

“Gramps wants us to go meet with him when we’re back.” Ellie said.

“Let’s not keep him waiting, then.” Jin said. “Where does he want us to go?”

“The biggest tent.” Ellie said. “Don’t know where that is, though.”

“Probably near the center.” Alice said. “I’m sure we’ll see it when we’re close.”

And see it they did; tent was, perhaps, an understatement. It was more akin to a small warehouse than it was to a tent. The walls were made of compacted earth raised to a height of five or six meters, and the only tentlike part about it was the cloth that acted as a roof. Tess could also make out large piles of wood and stone that people were hauling about and using to reinforce those walls.

“It doubles as a fort.” Gramps chuckled, stepping out from behind a nearby tent and clapping Ellie on the shoulder. “In the future, this will become a semi-permanent base of operations for anyone wanting to do anything in this region, so we don’t like to take half-measures with it. So, how’d it go?”

“Um…well, I think?” Ellie said. “I’m not totally sure.”

“It went about as well as we could have expected, Guildmaster.” Jin said. “There were no major incidents, and we were able to find something, at least.”

“Good.” Gramps said. “Walk with me, if you would.” He began walking off down the path between the tents, making some motions with his hands as he did.

Tess hurried to follow, and once everyone had more or less caught up, Gramps began to speak again. “I’ve taken the liberty of warding our conversation from outside observers. Please, feel free to speak freely on any confidential topics you wish.”

“We found a canyon, and upon our entrance, I detected the Mana of a dungeon in the area.” Maven said. “But we had to leave early, as we made too much commotion while down there.”

“We charted our route with a mapping orb.” Alice volunteered. “Do you want it, or should we put it through the normal channels?”

“I can take it now.” Gramps replied. “Where is it?”

“Uh, gimme a second here…” Tess said, reaching into one of her pockets and pulling out the orb. “Here you go.”

Gramps took the orb and deftly placed it into his own bag. “Thank you. Did the wildlife give you any trouble?”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” Jin said. “We got into a few fights, but we didn’t encounter anything over level fifty or sixty. We’ve dismantled some of the corpses so we could teach the kids how to dismantle them, but we’ve kept the rest in the same condition they were in when they died.”

Gramps smiled. “Excellent work, as usual. Please, fill me in on the rest as we walk.”

So, they did. As Gramps led them into the under construction fortress, they took turns telling him about the terrain they had walked through, the monsters they had found, and any other little detail that popped into their mind.

Much of it was able to be condensed to “there were a lot of empty hills”, so by the time Gramps had brought them to a large office-like room, they had gone through most of their story. As they reached the door, Gramps turned around and gave The Rumors a small smile.

“Thank you for seeing the kids through this first day.” He said. “Unfortunately, the rest of your exploration will have to wait until tomorrow. Expeditions are even busier work for Appointed than they are for regular people, and I’m afraid that goes for these three as well. Please, go take a well-deserved break, and I’ll have them back to you in the morning, alright?”

Jin nodded. “We understand, Guildmaster. Take care.”

Gramps ushered the three younger girls into the room, where they found the rest of Gramps’s party, and, strangely enough, Rachel, sitting around a table waiting for them.

“You’re on the expedition?” Tess asked Rachel. “I thought you weren’t a freelancer.”

“I’m not, and I’m not on the expedition.” Rachel said. “I just popped by for this meeting.”

“You just…popped by, to a place that’s thousands of miles away from any sort of civilization.” Maven said flatly.

“Get used to it.” Eyfura said, smirking. “The normal rules don’t really apply to Appointed. You yourself just “popped by” to visit your parents, didn’t you?”

“I…did not think of it that way.” Maven admitted.

“Anyway, we have to get down to business.” Eyfura said. “Has Evan explained why we’re here yet?”

“Sort of.” Ellie said, taking a seat at the table. “Something about it being a busy time for Appointed?”

“Yeah. The guild is something of a peacekeeping force in a lot of places, and most of its high profile members tend to join these expeditions.” Eyfura explained. “So there tend to be a lot of opportunistic people who think an expedition is a perfect time to do bad stuff.”

“We leave enough people behind to deal with petty criminals.” Gramps added. “But that’s not why we’re here.”

“Right.” Eyfura said. “It’s frankly not worth our time to go after every second rate thief. We’re more worried about the big fish that are going to make their move.”

“We don’t expect you three to be dealing with anything unless it’s directly related to your gods’ domains, and even then, you’ll have our backup.” Ava said. “And, in Maven’s case, that’s not even likely to be an issue at all. Even if it was, she hasn’t debuted yet, so she’d basically only be coming along as an understudy.”

“Right.” Eyfura said. “So, we wanted to hold this little meeting so we can lay out the “usual suspects” for you three, and give you an idea of what kinds of things we’re keeping our eyes on. Atum?”

Atum nodded. “So, first on our list, as it’s more directly related to you three, is the head of Fortune’s church. Though…perhaps it would be better to leave that one to Fortune to explain.”

Fortune: Right, so, her. She’s like…well, she’s always been rotten, but not rotten enough to actually warrant getting her removed. Without an Appointed to be my mouthpiece, it was a lot harder to get rid of high profile people in my church so long as didn’t do anything too bad. Evan’s purges helped cleanse the lower ranks, and keep them from becoming too…fetid, but I had to keep the top brass in line myself with threats.

Fortune: The head, a woman by the name of Olga, has been annoying, because she’s been very careful in pushing the line, so she never was quite worth removing, but was always just that little bit frustrating. She’s been preparing for some time now to make a getaway, but we’ve been putting off actually dealing with her so you can get stronger. She may be somewhat out of practice, but she’s still level 60 or 70 and it would certainly be convenient if you were strong enough to deal with her without having to resort to Descent.

Fortune: But now seems like a pretty good time to make a getaway, so we’re betting she’s going to try something. If she doesn’t, perfect, we’ll wait and bring justice to her on our schedule. If she does…then you’re stepping in.

Fortune: That’s all from me, so please let them know they can continue.

“Fortune’s done explaining, she says to continue.” Tess said.

“Perfect. So, her aside, the next on our watchlist is the Principality of Orellia.” Atum continued.

Maven made a face. “I’m not surprised.” She muttered.

“Do you have history with them?” Tess asked curiously.

“The country is one of Paumen’s neighbors, and is particularly aggressive.” Maven explained. “Dealing with them has never been enjoyable.”

“Right.” Atum said. “And they keep trying to claim land other people own, be it from surrounding nations, small settlements in the Outlands, or even the City itself. As of late, they seem to have realized that expeditions really aren’t better than other times to make blatant power grabs, and they’ve been relatively quiet. Still, we don’t fully trust them yet.”

Atum continued listing more people or organizations that the Appointed were keeping track of, explaining a bit about each. The list ran the gamut from individuals to countries, but more often than not consisted of smallish groups, such as crime families. Maven seemed to be familiar with many of the names presented, but even she didn’t know all of them.

Finally, when Atum finished, Rachel began to speak. “You don’t actually have to do most of the watching, in these cases.” She said. “Especially since you’re busy out here. Generally speaking, your gods will be in charge of determining when these people are about to commit a severe enough infraction to warrant your intervention. Still, it’s good to do your own research on these entities so you have some familiarity with the subject if it comes up.”

“How often do we get called in, on average?” Ellie asked.

“Usually only once or twice per expedition.” Rachel said. “Sometimes more, sometimes less. Currently, we’re guessing only the head of Fortune’s church and maybe one other group will make their move, so it should be relatively quiet. But people are people, and may change plans, so we cannot say for sure what will happen.”

She reached down into a pocket, then pulled out a parcel larger than the pocket, which she slid down the table to Maven. “But enough of that. I actually dropped by today because I finished your clothes, and wanted to hand them over in person. I just figured I’d join this meeting as something of a social activity.”

“Already?” Maven asked, picking the parcel up. “I’m impressed.”

“I work fast.” Rachel said, smiling. “Do let me know if anything isn’t fitting quite right, I’ll be more than happy to resize it for you.”

“I will, thank you.” Maven said, stowing the parcel away in her bag. “Did you get the payment?”

“Sure did!” Rachel said happily. “Let me know if you have anything else you need made!”

“I…will, thank you.” Maven said.

“Now…” Rachel said, reaching once again into the pocket that must have been some sort of bag, “I brought some food. Care to eat?”

Fighterman481 I'll be entirely honest: I know I had something to say about this chapter, but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was. I've spent far too long agonizing over it and trying to remember, so I'm just going to go without lol

Anyway, next time we're going to probably return to the canyon, so...look forward to it, I guess?

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Edit from the present: For those of you that didn't see the post on my page, I was recently alerted that someone had pirated this work and renamed it to sell on Amazon. I've gotten it taken down now, but if any of you see something similar in the future, please let me know so I can get it taken care of! As of right now, the only places you should see this are Scribblehub, Royal Road, and Patreon. If it's the future and you're unsure, check the description of the work on Scribblehub, which will have the most updated list of all sites this is posted on. Thank you!

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