“So, the guild has two different ranking systems,” Bruce said, leading Eve’s party to the job boards, “one for subjugation quests, and one for handyman quests. Your subjugation rank increases just by killing monsters, completing requests, and taking a quick combat exam, but handyman ranks require you to complete more thorough assessments from the guild. There’s a party rank and an individual rank, with the party rank of course being how good your party is as a unit, and individual rank being how good you as a person are.”
He rifled through the listings on one of the boards and grabbed it, then led them over to a line for a receptionist. “Ranks start at F and go up to S, and you can’t take requests above your rank. It’s stifling, I know, especially given the skill Eve’s already shown, but we just can’t allow people to take on unnecessary risks with the danger level being this high. That might change in the future once we manage to prune the monster population, but for the time being it’s just not in the cards.
“To accept a request, you just go to the board, take the notice, and then bring it to a receptionist.” He whacked the back of his hand against the sheet of paper he was holding. “Some handyman requests require a subjugation rank to accept, but pure subjugation will never have a handyman requirement. This one is to pick up herbs outside of town, and because it is…outside of town, it requires you to have a subjugation rank, but just F. Some people do sign up just for handyman jobs, but we don’t need to worry about them right now.”
He was cut off as they reached the front of the line, and he handed the receptionist the paper. “Ava and I will be taking this as mentors.” He told him. “Mentoring Eve and her party here.”
“Ah, right.” The receptionist said, a knowing look on his face. He took the paper, made a couple of notes on the computer next to him, then turned back to the group. “You’re set.” He said, then looked at Eve. “Good luck out there, miss. Ava’s a handful but she’s a good person, we wouldn’t have let you mentor her if she wasn’t.”
“I’ll make sure she doesn’t get too carried away.” Bruce laughed. “Thanks, Ahmed.”
“No problem. Have a good one!”
“You as well!” Bruce replied, then led the group back to room they had been waiting in before.
“So…generally speaking, how tough is each rank?” Anna sked while they walked. “Like…how strong would I have to be if I wanted to get to that rank?”
“F rank is the bare minimum needed to get by outside of the frontier towns.” Bruce said. “E is being able to be relatively safe out there, and D is being comfortable. That’s really all “normal” people have got to right now, people who don’t have much prior experience or combat aptitude, but people who are talented or were soldiers or something have gotten higher.”
He opened the door to the room, and Ava jumped out instantly, lunging for Eve. “Are we ready to go?” She asked, recovering gracefully as Eve dodged her leap. “I’ve been waiting!”
“Yes, but control yourself.” Bruce replied, positioning himself between the two. “It’s just your standard herb collection, so please don’t get overprotective.”
Ava pouted. “It’s dangerous out there!” She protested. “It’s better safe than sorry!”
“I seem to recall her handing your butt to you not half an hour ago.” Bruce said skeptically. “I don’t know how much you can do for her.”
Eve saw Anna and Jameson sharing a knowing smirk where their mentors couldn’t see. “We’ll be fine.” Jameson said. “We haven’t just done this on a whim, we’ve prepared.”
“Don’t worry, I believe you.” Bruce said. “But as I was saying earlier, C rank is where things start getting serious.”
“Our party’s C rank, almost B rank, and we’re D rank, almost C rank!” Ava said proudly.
“Yes, yes, it’s very impressive, and I’m sure these lovely people are in awe of our strength after one of them beat you in a fight.” Bruce replied, rolling his eyes and starting down the hallway.
Ava hurried after him. “Hey, fighting people and fighting monsters is different! The skill doesn’t necessarily translate!”
He rolled his eyes again, looking back to make sure Eve’s party was following. “As I was saying, soldiers and people with prior combat experience find themselves in C pretty fast. C rankers start venturing further out to find new materials and places to settle. From there the gap upwards gets larger and larger, with B ranks being able to take down large game, and A ranks being the last “normal” rank. They could theoretically handle something nasty like a hydra or a kraken or something. S rank is something that’s only given out to by guild leadership when they determine someone as being worthy, and no one’s there yet. There only a few dozen A rankers anyway, so we’re waiting for this new system to pay even greater dividends than it already has before we officially appoint an S ranker.”
“So, theoretically, where would the world’s big players fall on this scale?” Eve asked. “Like the Perfect Chimeras or the High Arbiter or whoever else is top dog?”
Bruce laughed. “You kidding me? No way the Perfect Chimeras and the High Arbiter would be anywhere close to these ranks. They’d be like…SSS or something stupid we haven’t even thought of yet. They’re exceptions among the exceptions’ exceptions, any one of them could easily take on this entire town without a problem. I mean, Isa and Winston are the only reason the people on Haven didn’t die hundreds of years ago.”
“He’s right.” Ava added. “You’re not old enough to remember any really big monster attacks, and you wouldn’t be asking those questions if you’d seen one of them fight. I once saw Isa take down this building-sized monster without even breaking a sweat.”
Hey, you two, Eve mentally told Anna and Jameson, stop with that look. If they see you, they’ll get suspicious.
The two tried their best to return their faces to a neutral position but were unable to completely hide all traces of amusement.
Unaware of this aside, Bruce continued. “Other major players…I guess Titania is an easy S rank, and all of the Council members are at least A rank, though I think some of them would make S. Like, say, Enna or Gabriel. Were they all to be in a party, it would definitely make S. That’s all speculation, though, so take it with a grain of salt.”
They kept the conversation up until they reached the wall, where Bruce and Ava showed them where to exit and what to show the guards in order to be let through. The herb collecting after that was fairly simple, any monsters that approached being driven off by the dogs or easily taken out by one of the team. Eve had more trouble evading Ava’s constant attempts to touch her or otherwise get close to her.
A few uneventful hours after that, they returned to the guild. The process to claim their reward was simple; they just went to a receptionist and handed over the gathered herbs. The receptionist looked at their account information, looked the herbs over to ensure the contents were as promised, then gave payment. “Do you have a preferred method of payment?” She asked. “We can handle credit cards if you fill in some more forms, but until then it’ll have to be cash. I can give you the form now if you would like.”
“That would be great.” Jameson replied.
The receptionist reached down, picked up some papers, and handed them to Jameson. She then opened up a register and pulled out around 125 dollars, handing them over as well.
The money was ‘Haven’ dollars, money issued by the Protectorate. One was roughly worth one USD (give or take ten to twenty cents depending on what the exchange rate was at the time; the Protectorate’s economy was particularly volatile at the moment), and they were generally the currency of choice in the frontier towns. The frontier towns were in an odd grey area with regards to what government controlled them, but generally speaking most residents of the frontier towns had come from the three cities of Haven, seeking an escape from what essentially had been their prison. Many expected that, when the ten years of ceasefire were up, the majority of the frontier towns would fall under the Protectorate’s jurisdiction.
Eve and the other Parallels weren’t going to let that happen, though. The whole point of the ceasefire was to make sure the Protectorate didn’t become too powerful when all the countries of Earth were acclimatizing to magic and controlling most of the access to one of the worlds would certainly count as “becoming too powerful”.
If more people from Earth didn’t move into the frontier towns and the Protectorate’s claim didn’t become murkier, she’d have to have a talk with the Council. Yamato would almost certainly be the most receptive of her suggestions, and Gabriel still felt like he owed her a favor, so she had options.
But that was the future. Right now, she had to get home. They took the payment, and then went to the side with Bruce and Ava. “We’ve got to go home.” Eve said. “It’s getting late.”
“Aw, come on.” Ava whined. “You’re full-fledged adventurers. You don’t need to have a curfew, you and your parents should let us show you the city.”
“They’re not my parents.” Eve said flatly. “We’re just friends who decided to adventure together.”
Ava raised an eyebrow. “How did you all meet, then? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but Jameson feels like someone from Earth, and I would say the same for Anna were it not for her race.”
“I was changed by the fae and decided I liked it.” Anna said. “Both Jameson and I are from Earth. We met Eve through an MMO, and we didn’t know she was an angel until the Shift.”
“That makes three of us.” Bruce said. “I was from Earth too, met Ava through a forum, and we began dating. We had a long distance relationship going on, she had been using magic to disguise herself as human for video calls and stuff, and now…well, here we are.”
“Really?” Anna asked skeptically. “You were fine with a relationship where neither of you would be able to meet face to face?”
“We both needed companionship more than anything else. I was paralyzed in the hospital, she had had some bad experiences, we clicked…well, it worked out. First thing after the Shift she came and personally healed me, and we’ve been going strong ever since.”
Ava looked embarrassed for the first time since Eve had met her. “We don’t need to talk about that right now. Eve, your parents do know you’re doing this, right?”
Eve nodded. “They know and they’re perfectly fine with it. They know I’m strong enough to handle myself. But we really should go see our families. Anna and Jameson have a kid at home, and I’m sure my parents want to hear about my day. So, sorry, but we have to leave.”
“Fine.” Ava replied sulkily. “But you have to adventure with us tomorrow, alright?”
Eve groaned internally, but she was playing the good girl, so she had to grin and bear it. “Fine, we’ll come see you tomorrow.”
A day later, Judy was in a room with Kali and all the Parallels, ready to give her report.
“Sorry.” She said sadly. “I really wish I could have been there for you when you woke up, but the moment I got word Mai made her move. I…didn’t even know she knew who I was, much less that she was tapped into my network.”
“It’s fine.” Lilith replied gently. “What happened?”
“Eve let me know that you had woken up, and while I was preparing to make my exit she teleported through the wards on my house, pinned me down, and began to use an ability. I dispersed my consciousness at that point, but it was too late, she got the main body. She has like…I don’t even know how to describe it. Once she breaks through your wards, your whole way of thinking is warped. She becomes your mother, and you would do anything for her. I…still loved you all just as much, I just thought that the best thing for you would be to be under her influence.
“It’s not as simple as it sounds, though. It’s like…conceptual in a way. She was taking my swarm whenever they went to spy on her, and she was somehow able to keep them from reporting to me while still hearing all my orders and just…ignoring them.”
She shook her head. “I can’t tell you how tough she actually is, though. I’m not nearly strong enough to be able to make her go all out. She’s got Errus under her thumb, and each of her villagers is similarly controlled. They’re all tough, too. They’ve been living way out in the sticks since the war, and they’ve spent that entire time training and getting themselves strong enough to handle whatever may come. I wouldn’t be surprised if their average citizen is as strong as one of the normal Adjudicators, but again, I haven’t seen enough to get a better estimate. I don’t think they completely trusted my ability to keep a secret when I would be in close proximity with the world’s best telepath and another Perfect Chimera.”
“That’s fine, you didn’t really have a say in it.” Lilith reassured. “Kali, what would be my best defense against an attack like Mai’s? Don’t say so as someone who knows exactly what it does if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, just what your opinion would be as an expert in mental magic.”
“Actually, you’re pretty much completely safe.” Kali said. “As a Higher Being you’re pretty much immune to mind-altering effects from anything that isn’t a Higher Being itself. Fortunately, Mai doesn’t know that. I had Judy put part of her swarm into me, and anything relating to details on Administrator functionality is in there, so that’s your big edge.”
“The most important piece of information she has is that your status was frozen, and that you were knocked out these past three years.” Judy said. “She also has a vague idea of your abilities, but nothing concrete. The other really big thing is that she knows that both she and Errus can make a dungeon, so I expect her to be making one shortly. Other than that, she knows who you’re close to and who lives here, as well as their abilities, and that’s about the extent of her knowledge.”
“Great.” Lilith groaned. “Do we need to have another lockdown?”
“We should be fine for now.” Judy replied. “She doesn’t have any reliable way of getting to them yet, and until her dungeon takes off, I don’t see her getting a way to stop us from just teleporting everyone back here at the first sign of danger.”
“And I have my swarm in her base now, too, though I’m not sure why. I’m in the process of pulling them out.”
“You’re fine.” Kali said. “That’s my doing. She made a very ill-advised bet with me and lost pretty spectacularly. I’ve completely removed her ability to do anything about your swarm other than try to exterminate all of them, and she knows enough to know that that’s not really a feasible solution now that you’ve taken root.”
Lilith raised an eyebrow. “Mind if I ask what the bet was?”
Kali grinned. “A battle of champions. Hers versus mine. If her champion won, I wiped Judy’s memory of her stay, and if my champion won, Judy got to keep her network in the city. She accepted because she thought that you were the strongest thing I had at short notice, and she was confident Errus could beat you. She was dead wrong.”
“Did you…” Judy began cautiously.
“Yeah, I sicked Levi on him. The whole fight took like a minute and a half. It was great. I even got to wipe her memory of Levi, so now they just know they lost and don’t know how.”
“Who’s Levi?” Lilith asked.
“Old project of the Administrator who gave this plane to me. He came as a bonus in case I needed a panic button and boy does he fulfill that role. You might want to avoid the northmost ocean, it’s kind of his territory and I’m pretty sure he could take all five of you Perfect Chimeras at once. But, he’s dumb as a sack of bricks and is meant to be remote-controlled by an administrator, so he’s sort of just sitting there in a holding pattern, eating anything unfortunate enough to come into his awareness. Here, I saved a video of the fight, I’ll give you a taste of what he can do.”
Lilith watched the video with interest. “So, you said he’s really stupid, right? Is he stupid enough to just randomly accept an unprovoked offer to be my Champion?”
Kali grinned. “I like the way you think. Unfortunately, he’s more likely to try and eat that offer and inadvertently reject it. But, even if he did accept, you wouldn’t get much out of it. Most of his strength comes from direct alterations made by his old administrator, and you won’t get copies of those. He doesn’t even have a proper Racial Class for you to get benefits from, that’s where most of the other Administrator’s alterations are kept.”
That reminds me, mistress, Mae said, I’ve been keeping a list of important gains from everyone else just in case something like this happened. I was going to just let you learn them over time with our memory dumps, but I think it might be prudent to show you the list now that we’re in a more urgent situation.
“After this meeting.” Lilith replied. “We’ll take it into account for the household strategy meeting.”
“Right, anyway, countermeasures.” Kali said. “You should be able to sever any unwanted connection she has to anyone if you take them into the dungeon and then my place. Stuff like Zoan’s Barrier should work fine, but she can still break through if it’s not reinforced well enough. Once she has her claws in someone, though, I’m the only one that can undo what she’s done.
“If she does snag someone…well, I’ll make sure they’re not treated poorly, but I’m not going to save them until you deal with Mai herself. Not unless you can mount a rescue and bring them back here. If Mai sends them back here of her own accord as spies or something, as long as you’ve noticed and can keep them here, I’ll fix them. Got it?”
“Yeah, I understand.” Lilith said.
“I know it’s a pain, but this is all for the sake of making you more capable. I’m only doing this because I believe you can do it. Otherwise I would be more than a safety net for you.”
“I understand.” Lilith soothed. “It’s fine. Judy, do you have any idea what their endgame is?”
“From what I was able to gather, Mai’s goal is to bring the whole world into her flock. She thinks it’s the best way to solve the world’s problems, make world peace, end world hunger…you get the drift. She really wants you under her control, because once she has you there will be three Perfect Chimeras on her side and she’ll have enough force to easily take the rest of the Perfect Chimeras, and from there the world.
“Of course, this is just putting together stuff I overheard while under her control and things I’ve heard from my swarm in the past couple of hours, but I think it’s probably right. She could be trying to throw me off with misinformation, but it doesn’t feel like it.”
Lilith nodded. “Thanks, Judy, glad to have you back. I’m going to give you a couple of days to recuperate while I look at Mae’s list and find the quickest ways to get stronger, and then we’re going to have our family strategy meeting. Sound good?”
Judy gave Lilith a hug. “Sounds good. I’m going to go take a nap, get me up if you need anything.” She left the room, leaving Lilith and the Parallels alone with Kali.
“I’m going to go too.” Eve said. “I, unfortunately, have to go meet up with Bruce and Ava. I’m going to go get the party and take off.”
“Just us, then.” Kali said. “Since you’re…well, still recovering, you want to watch some TV, spend some time together? It’s been ages since we’ve truly been able to enjoy each other’s company.”
Lilith smiled. “Sure. I can spare a few hours, so long as you don’t think I’ll desperately need them.”
“You’ll be fine. I’m not going to offer if it’s going to mess things up.” Kali shyly reached forward and grabbed for Lilith’s hand.
Lilith took her hand and squeezed gently. “Let’s go get back up to speed, then.”