Side Story: Cindy’s Vacation
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It had been an extremely hard week. Too many things had been happening at once, between the investigations into the government buildings, the construction of the second guild site, and the management of the day to day, I was starting to lose more sleep than normal. The minute I discovered my deteriorating condition, I started appointing shadows to learn the tasks I accomplished, and this week, they would be brought on to work in my stead. Considering Victoria’s successful return from her delve, I elected to take some time off to train as well as cut back my hours to only twenty-five a week. That would allow me to practice and improve until I reached a point where I could safely defend myself.

Originally, I had planned to visit my parents, but this morning I awoke to a disappointing text message. I pulled out my phone and read it again.

[Hi honey, hope you’re doing well. Your father and I discovered a ruin to the north on our last scouting expedition and have decided to clear it. I’ll let you know when we return so that we can go out a grab dinner together. Love you!]

I slouched down in my comfy chair and released a long sigh.

Of all the things to happen after this apocalypse, the one thing I never expected was that my parents, who historically were calm and rather anti-violence as a rule, would become such gung-ho adventurers. With the second wave, my mother and father had become forest fey, an elf-like magic race variant similar to myself. With this came youth, fresh bodies no longer marred by the effects of old age. My father, who played football in college before an unfortunate injury, and my mother, who was an ex-triathlete, both jumped headfirst into the guild and the benefits that increasing levels and skills offered. They were excited to participate in anything I was so committed to, as they have always been ever supportive of me, so they were among the first adventurers to sign on. My mother specialized in a type of magic archery and recently hit rank two. My father, ever competitive, refused to quit until he too ranked up.

I feared for their safety at first, but they proved to be aggravatingly talented, particularly as scouts, and were responsible for the discoveries of three of the eight repeatable ruins currently operated by the guild, and one rank one dungeon. Alas, I was an adult now, and they were adults as well. We each had our own lives. It seemed that we wouldn’t be meeting up this week. I felt a twinge of regret, but I understood. We saw each other often in the guild hall, but I still wanted to spend some time with them while I wasn’t occupied with work.  

I sat up from my rare slouching posture. I immediately felt my skills activate, bringing me into an upright position. My emotions calmed, and my thoughts cleared, and I felt myself brimming with poise and attentiveness.

Minor Noble Bearing – lvl 45/75 – You exude the aura of nobility, sensing when and how to act in social situations. Others are more inclined to defer to your decisions, and you gain insight into ruling groups of people less than 1000 in number.

 

I turned to the door. If my skill activated, I was about to have company. Sure enough, Taylor walked through the door into the apartment. James followed closely behind. These days, he was never too far from her.

“Cindy, sweetie! Was today your first day off? I expected you to be out training!”

I shook my head and responded in a measured tone.

“No, not quite yet. I will be leaving for the southern forest tonight”

She grinned and nodded.

“Please, Cindy, make sure to stay safe. I’d hate it if you got hurt. You’ll have too much work to do when you get back to merit any sick leave!”

I sighed again as I felt my skill deactivate, the façade it created falling. Obviously, Taylor was joking, but there was a small amount of truth to her statement.

“It's unfortunate, but you’re partially correct. I’m dreading the mess of paperwork that will pile up when I return.”

At my comment, Taylor’s expression changed, the grin fading.

“Aww, sweetie, it’ll be okay. I’ll be here to help out, and there are lots of people in the guild who are just waiting for a chance to step up. It’s important that you take some time for personal growth. In most stories, guild masters were powerful ex-adventurers before even assuming their position. You don’t have that, so we have to make do.”

“Yes, you’re right. There’s no sense in waiting around then, is there?”

Taylor just smiled in response as I rose and moved to the fire escape. I turned and gave her a slight wave before taking to the sky.

--------------------------- ----

I turned northwards and began the path to my destination. Unlike Vic, I was forced to fly only a few dozen meters above the ground, and my skill burned mana, but by assuming the correct velocity I could stay in the air for several hours.

Meanwhile, I activated my favorite skill called Wandering Mind, putting my brain on autopilot. I had stumbled across the skill while observing Vic right before her rank up, the understandings behind it appearing in my head out of nowhere. It didn’t allow perfect multitasking exactly, but if you needed to do something physical, like filing paperwork, it let you ponder and find solutions to other problems while your body wiled away. It let your flesh work while your mind soared.

In the streets below, people moved about, trying to pick back up what remained of their lives and livelihoods. When the monsters appeared almost everyone was still under emotional suppression. For the lucky ones with strong willpower, the effects were less profound, allowing them to run away when necessary. People like that would just mindlessly go about their normal routine, but would otherwise respond to stimulus if they needed to, keeping them safe from monster attacks.

Others were not so lucky. Some simply starved to death or died of dehydration after losing all sense of self. More still were killed by goblins or wolves spawning in their back yard. Sometimes even in their closets, making for particularly unpleasant scenes. Unsurprisingly, being deprived of fear, panic, and awareness while in a life-threatening situation was a poor combination.

After sending out some clerks to bring back rough census data, we came to the staggering conclusion that just under half of the 2.5 million people in the Austin area died before the power came back on and the suppression was lifted. Many more died as they wandered into forests and were killed by monsters. Because bodies decayed fast once they lost their internal mana, all of our estimates were on the low end. The casualties could very well exceed two-thirds of the population.

The massive loss of life was not the only problem Austin was facing, though. With the reintroduction of electricity, most stores were able to operate again, and people were trying to rebuild their livelihoods. They needed magic equipment and weapons, and not everyone had the strength to break rank 0 and collect them by themselves. The guild helped some become adventurers, but most normal people wanted to buy defensive relics and armor on the market.

The problem was a matter of currency. All trade was switching away from the dollar and moving to ‘moons’, the system-minted coins. As the dungeon coins carried a moon on one face, people picked up the moniker and it had started to spread throughout the city, and with its spread came a wave of panic that broke on the shore of the only place that tried to help; the guild.

The problem people now faced was that there were too many professions that have been replaced or removed altogether with the system’s introduction. This meant a substantial amount of the population was unable to earn an income.

Anyone that already had a technical profession was able to quickly continue their business and change to the new currency. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and stonemasons were finding their jobs more important than ever. The introduction of magic also often made them some of the best natural mages around, doubling down their usefulness.

The chair jockeys, though, were suffering. There wasn’t much call for insurance agents or tax auditors anymore, not to mention doctors or nurses who were now entirely useless because of healing magic.

Farmers, butchers, and tailors were in high demand, making the jobs quickly lucrative. Annoyingly, the people begging at the guild refused to take these jobs, as they had no desire to become simple laborers. It was obvious they were holding on to hope that things would normalize again, but it was a vain hope and was very self-destructive. I knew, eventually, we would regain a need for the more sedentary occupations, but it would take time, and it would never be as it was.

On top of all of this, was what the guild had dubbed ‘the reclamation of the earth’. This was perhaps even more problematic. Originally, the magic landmasses which had been added to the planet were separate from the original local land with obvious divisions. The world was like a bad jigsaw puzzle. On one side of a fence was a magical forest, and on the other was someone’s backyard. What we didn’t foresee was the magic spreading.

On the southeastern border of the city was a dense mossy jungle with lush grass, dense foliage, and long trunked trees appearing hundreds of years old. The forest was full of strange mist that would confuse anyone who strayed into it without enough constitution or wisdom, as well as dangerous plant-based monsters. After some testing on Taylor’s part, it was discovered that the foliage growing around the junkyard and destroying the buildings there were of the same species as those found in the southeastern forest zone. The magic areas were claiming the old earth and were destroying all buildings in the process.

One of the more mathematically inclined workers in the library was able to calculate that in only one month, the guild hall would be in the middle of a jungle. That gave us enough time to fortify and reconstruct a few important structures, but the guild couldn’t do everything by itself, and we already acknowledged that thousands would lose their homes in the next few months. It was a terrifying prospect and would forcibly increase the number of adventurers in the area dozens of times over, for better or worse.

It, unfortunately, also meant that most powerlines would disappear, meaning that all of our efforts to digitize were useless. The discovery of an ink sprite who now worked in the library made transferring our records from digital to physical easy, but it was still an inconvenience we had not foreseen. The intent of the system was clear; old technology, old buildings, old occupations were now gone. We needed to adapt quickly, or we would fail not just ourselves, but our entire race.

With a jolt, I felt my body shift to the left as an arrow whipped over my shoulder. The attack was jarring enough that Wandering Mind was forcibly disengaged, causing me to plummet. I regained control of my body after a few moments, saving myself from a painful landing and I started to charge a spell.

I guess I would be starting my training a bit earlier than expected. How unfortunate for my attackers. I was considered one of the strongest members of the guild for a reason, after all, and I did so love to assert my dominance.

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