The Outlands - Chapter 86

Published at 13th of December 2022 08:53:04 AM

Chapter 86

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As it turned out, Alice’s idea of relaxation was to carefully go over her gear and make sure everything was well-maintained. Ker and Jin on the other hand, simply headed to the back of the hoverer and went to go take a nap. That really just left the three younger girls on their own, trying to figure out what they were going to do with their free time.

“I have a handheld, we could set it up on the floor and try and get something going.” Ellie ventured.

“A handheld what?” Maven asked.

“Game console. I…think I have enough extra controllers in my bag for us all to play.”

“I think I will have to decline.” Maven said. “I’m feeling rather tired myself.”

“Well, the back’s always open, if you don’t mind Jin’s snoring.” Alice said, looking up from her sword. “Should be plenty of room back there.”

Maven paused for a moment, then nodded and made her way to the back. As she did, Tess turned to Ellie and gave her a smile. “Want to head back to Mael for a bit?” She asked. “We can have some…alone time.”

“Mael how are we…” Ellie said. “Oh, right, the door in our hoverer. Yeah, that sounds good to me.”

“Make sure you’re not using fertility boosters.” Alice said distractedly, scrubbing hard at a particularly grimy part of her sword.

“Fertil – we’re both girls!” Ellie said, face as red as Tess’s felt. “Those don’t do anything!”

Alice paused, her expression indicating that her brain was catching up with what she had just said. “I keep forgetting you guys are from Mael. Fertility boosters in the wider world most certainly get around the issue of being the same sex. Anyway, you two enjoy, I’ll hit you up if you’re not back before they get here.”

Still blushing, the two exited the hoverer and set up their own on the other end of the room, then climbed in and went through the door leading to Mael. “I’m kind of surprised Alice picked up on that while she was distracted.”

“You weren’t exactly subtle.” Ellie chuckled. “Not that I don’t share your eagerness. It’s been a while since we’ve had an opportunity like this. So…even if we only have an hour, let’s make the most of it, hm?”

Unfortunately, Tess and Ellie had to cut their fun a little shorter than they would have liked, as Tess’s phone started to ring only forty five minutes later. The two girls hurriedly disengaged, and Tess grabbed her phone.

After a brief confirmation that it was indeed Alice, Tess answered it. “They’re here already?” She asked, panting slightly.

“Yeah.” Alice said, voice filled with barely repressed mirth. “Fair warning, I wasn’t getting good signal inside the dungeon, what with it being out of control and all, so I had to go in your hoverer and get into your house. So…uh, make sure you’re presentable before you come downstairs.”

“Thanks, Alice.” Tess said. “See you in a minute.”

“See you in a minute.” Alice replied, hanging up the phone.

“So, Alice is downstairs.” Tess said, turning to Ellie. “We should probably try and get a little cleaned up.”

Ellie cast her gaze over to the window, which had its curtains drawn. “Alright, I’m going to try and cast a quick purification slash healing spell.” She said. “I haven’t tried much on Mael, but if I’m willing to spend a fair bit more Mana than usual it should work, right?”

Life: Correct.

Ellie began chanting a spell, face screwing up in effort as she did. A few moments later, her chant finished, and a soothing sensation washed over Tess. She repeated her spell for herself, then shuffled over to her clothes and began to dress herself. Tess followed suit, and soon the two were heading down the stairs together.

“Looking good, lovebirds.” Alice said, grinning. “But fun time’s over, it’s time to get back to work.”

Tess blushed. “Um, yeah.”

“It’s perfectly normal, nothing to be ashamed of.” Alice said, clapping Tess on the back. “But let’s not keep the Guildmaster waiting too long, okay?” She led the group back through the house and into the dungeon lobby, where Gramps and his party were waiting.

“How’d it go?” Gramps asked, giving the girls a huge smile.

Tess motioned for Ellie to talk while she packed up the hoverer. “Pretty well, I think?” Ellie said. “We had to help out towards the end, there were too many monsters for just The Rumors to take on their own.”

“I assumed you might have to.” Gramps said. “Was anyone seriously hurt?”

“Tess took a nasty hit towards the end there when she didn’t one hit kill one of the monsters, but we dealt with it.” Ellie said. “No lasting damage.”

“Then all’s well.” Gramps said, nodding his head. “The four of us are going to run through this dungeon, we’re estimating we’ll be finished in a few hours. If you get enough info to think you’re capable of taking on the dungeon, feel free. Just remember your charges, and don’t go in if you think you can’t handle protecting them, too. If you wish to go through this dungeon by yourselves, please wait until the four of us return, and we will take care of the girls while you go through it once or twice.”

“We’ll do that, Guildmaster.” Jin said. Judging by his disheveled state, he hadn’t taken any time to make himself look nice after his nap – he had just rolled out of bed and called it good. Ker was the same way, but Maven was, at least, a little neater, though remarkably less so than she usually was.

“Should I ask Dungeons for the information, then?” Maven asked.

“I think so.” Jin said. “We can get an idea for how well we’re going to do and make a decision from there.”

Gramps nodded. “We’ll leave you to it, then. We have a dungeon to clear.”

Ava and Eyfura waved at the group as they headed towards the entrance into the dungeon, and Atum gave a thumbs-up. Gramps followed shortly behind, and then they were gone, into the dungeon and out of reach.

“Woah.” Maven said. “That is…bizarre.”

“What?” Alice asked.

“I just felt something new pop up.” Maven replied. “The instance they went into. I think I could take us in if I wanted.”

“Best not to.” Ker replied. “We’d just be getting in their way. What’s Dungeons say about this dungeon’s difficulty?”

Dungeons: Mmmm…it’s really hard to say. The Rumors could probably handle it on their own, but they also need to protect you three. Were you any other three people, I would say it’s definitely not a good idea, but you’re not any other three people. You and Tess are significantly stronger within a dungeon, and all of the monsters in here save for the boss are going to completely ignore you. And Ellie is way more capable of taking hits than most people around her level.

Dungeons: Maybe give it a shot and see how you do? Short of just making the monsters do nothing, I would recommend leveraging the full power of your Blessing in this instance, though; that will drastically decrease the risks associated with guarding you three.

Fortune: She could just order the monsters to not attack her party. They could basically just tag along for the ride while The Rumors do all the heavy lifting, and they would only be at risk of splash damage

Dungeons: …I should have thought of that myself

Fortune: You’re not used to instructing someone working with your Blessing, and it’s a very complicated Blessing at that. Besides, that’s what this chat is here for, to help all of us collaborate and learn things together

Life: Fortune is correct. Together, we are much more efficient than we would be otherwise. I feel that, if this continues to be as productive as it currently is, it will become the new normal for Appointed and gods. Perhaps one day we might even have access to one of these “chatrooms” that contains every Appointed and every god, even the ones that do not have Appointed.

Death: Together we will synergistically increase our core competencies and amplify our unique skillsets and…uh…I’m running out of buzzwords

Fortune: Can we work pain points in there somewhere?

Death: Probably but that’s too much work for a bit

Life: I do believe The Rumors are waiting.

Death: You started it

“The gods say that, were you three alone, you could probably handle this.” Maven said. “With the three of us, it becomes much more…murky. However, I am capable of ordering the dungeon monsters to ignore just my party, so the only risk from us would be taking damage from area of effect attacks, if that is something you would prefer.”

“You can do that?” Alice asked. “I knew you could mess with dungeons, but the monsters too?”

“And the traps.” Maven said. “Essentially, any part of a dungeon is mine to control as I wish. The more complex changes such as transforming the dungeon require Mana, but commanding already existing monsters and traps is free.”

Ker whistled softly. “So, you can just walk through dungeons entirely unopposed?”

“If I want to, yes. The Guildm – Gramps has already warned me about doing so, however. He said that it will be useful later, but right now it will just stifle my growth.”

Jin nodded. “Of course. It would essentially be boosting, without the extra step of having a bodyguard fight for you. I would have said much the same if it looked like that was something you were planning on doing any time soon.”

“I think it’s fine for now, though.” Alice said. “If the gods think the three of us can safely handle this dungeon, I don’t have a problem with them using that ability to tag along while we do. They’re not going to gain a ton of EXP or anything, so they’re really only getting some extra Skills or Classes, which…I mean, they’re probably gonna be stronger than what they normally get around this level, but they’re already using stuff way more unfair than an extra couple of Skills.”

“You just want to get into the dungeon, don’t you?” Ker asked, smiling faintly. “But you have a valid point. I don’t see any harm in it for now.”

“Agreed.” Jin said. “Let’s suit up and be ready to go in…let’s say ten minutes. Sound good?”

The dungeon turned out to be rather similar to the canyon in structure, at least for the first few floors. In fact, those floors were a little easier than the canyons; yes, the monsters weren’t fighting amongst themselves like they did in the canyon, but there were fewer monsters overall. That and Maven’s ability to make the dungeon monsters ignore the younger girls made traversing those floors much quicker than their movement through the actual canyon.

Tess offered to do her usual scouting job, but The Rumors turned her down, saying that they wanted the practice themselves. Tess had nearly forgotten that The Rumors were only tutoring her party because they were in something of a slump and were struggling to breach the barrier between rank nine and rank ten.

And that got her wondering about ranks and how promotion was usually handled. She had heard the explanation before, but she was, admittedly, getting bored and wanted some conversation, so she decided to ask the gods about it.

Tess: So, I know it’s been explained in the past, but…how does rank and getting promotions work in the guild again?

Fortune: Why this all of a sudden?

Tess: I was just thinking about The Rumors and their rank

Fortune: Well, usually you apply for a promotion and the guild reviews your performance and puts you through some tests. Things are going to get a little wild and whacky for the next bit because of the rank system changes, but that’s the shape of it.

Tess: So, it’s not automatic?

Life: Not unless a person or party racks up so many achievements that it would be ridiculous to not promote them.

Death: What were you wondering about The Rumors? Also, “wild and whacky”? Really?

Fortune: I’m in a whimsical mood

Tess: I was thinking about how they were in a slump before they started tutoring us, and I was wondering if they would be able to cross over to rank ten now.

Dungeons: As they are now, I believe they would be capable of passing the tests. While they have not gained levels or even that many Skills, they’ve put a lot of thought into how they fight and what they could do to improve since they sparred with Evan’s party. They were already right on the border of the ranks, so that nudge is probably enough.

Ellie: What do you think our party would be ranked?

Dungeons: Taking into account your Blessings, and assuming you’re not allowed to use Maven’s to trivialize dungeons? Probably rank four or five. It would be a rank or two higher were you more experienced, but you’ve only been doing it for…what, half a year? That really drags your rank down

Maven: And I assume removing our Blessings from the equation brings us down a couple of ranks?

Dungeons: Yes and no. Tess is in this really weird grey area where she can’t be properly evaluated because her Blessing is so integral to…everything. But, if we assume the strictest of secrecy with your Blessings, then the lack of them puts you down a rank all on its own, and…depending on how you count Monster Breeder in relation to the Blessing, Tess’s presence might drag you down another, sorry. Too much of your kit is too integrated with your Blessing, and your stats look really bad on paper. If the evaluation takes Monster Breeder into account, though, she wouldn’t drag you down

Tess: Yeah, I was sort of figuring that would be the case. Uh, the bit about me that is, not about our ranking, because I had no clue what we would be

Further conversation was cut off as they reached the end of the floor they were on, and stepped into the lobby.

“How are you guys holding up? It’s not too boring, right?” Ker asked.

“I am used to this already.” Maven said. “Frankly, even without finishing off the monsters myself like I did when I was boosting, this is still more exciting than Boosting. Your fights are much…flashier than my tutors.”

“That’s because they were probably mostly people who were just leveraging their stats to kill things.” Alice snorted. “They weren’t actually fighting, just doing chores.”

“I…cannot disagree with that.” Maven said. “You should have seen how my father acted when I suggested boosting wasn’t as ‘real’ an education as you teaching me. He said it was a ‘time-honored tradition’ and got mad.”

“Lots of people are like that.” Ker said. “They like to tell themselves that they’re still as qualified as people who actually worked for what they have. It’s just the way people tend to think.”

“Maven, I don’t know how to say this politely, but…the more I hear from your father, the less I like him.” Ellie said. “He, um…does not exactly seem like the sharpest tool in the shed, and his ego seems a lot bigger than is deserved.”

Maven sighed. “As much as it pains me to admit it, you are correct.” She said. “His marriage with my mother was mostly political, and I think my mother hoped she could teach him enough to beat some of the…less intelligent parts of him out. They do love each other, I think, but my mother does have to put her foot down quite a lot. He puts a lot of stock in ‘the way things have always been done’ and that is often not the best for the country.”

“Let’s talk about this over food.” Jin interjected. “I think the three of us could use a break to restore our resources, and it is getting to be quite a while since we last ate.”

“Agreed.” Alice said quickly. “I’m starving.”

“I’ll whip something up for us, then.” Ker said. “Give me ten minutes, alright?”

Fighterman481 A quick word: The following author's note was written quite some time in the past, so the bits about a break have already happened. That being said, I decided to leave the note up for posterity's sake and because the second paragraph is actually a little relevant, so here you go.

I don't have a lot to say about this chapter. Or, well, about the contents.  I'm going to keep things rather brief, but the TL;DR was that I saw I was suffering from burnout and that my series were suffering for it, so I've decided to take an extended break (2 months).

And, during this break, I'll be taking the opportunity to...reevaluate my priorities with this story, in a sense. Take a step back and determine what I want to spend the story's time on. So, it is highly plausible that next chapter I end up taking focus away from the expedition and onto other things. I'm hoping that whatever I decide translates into higher overall quality going forward.

That's...uh, all I really have to say, though, always, thanks for reading.

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