“All right, we’re done waiting on stragglers. Let’s get squads sorted out before we leave for the graveyard,” shouts Justin!

We collect together, and there are close to 30 of us in his grinder group. Justin asks, “Are there any pairings? We’ll try to preserve them, but I’d like five squads if we can balance it out.”

Several of us raised our hands, and Justin assigned all of us to squad leaders quickly enough. “You two will be under Lil’ Billy,” and he pointed out a rotund man, who had to be at least three meters tall and had a face like a baby cherub – except for his red bulbous nose that made you think he was prone to drinking to excess. He was holding a small tree banded with iron rings studded with knobs and spikes that he carried like a baton, and he was the leader of a marching band. We scooted out of the way of the others and stood next to him. Soon we were joined by a guy wielding two short swords, Mark. Jennifer, a fox girl, wielding a gladius, a large square shield with rounded corners, and two pilums sticking up over her right shoulder. The last to join us was Toby, a skunk beastkin with a crossbow and a heavy mace.

I nodded to Mark and asked, “You appear to be the odd one out in our group – I hope you aren’t one of those who hold some prejudice against those of us who don’t want to play as a human.”

Mark laughed and slapped his knee. “I hope you don’t get scarred later, kitty when my puppy comes out to play!”

“He’s a true werewolf, Pretty. Once the sun sets, he’ll be able to change into either a hybrid form or fully into a wolf,” added Toby.

“Oh! Apologies – I’m looking forward to that! Is your transition instant or horror based, like in ‘American Werewolf in London?'”

Mark looked a little confused at that. “I don’t know that reference. My transition is not instantaneous – it hurts like a bitch! I’m also vulnerable while it happens. The good thing is that I heal all wounds when I shift.”

“Ok, that’s cool! I have a few tricks, but you need some mana to use them. Does anybody have five or more mana?” Everybody indicated that they did, so I continued. “Great, if we run into big trouble, I’ll be able to buff you up!”

A deep rumbling bass voice joined the conversation, and Billy said, “Good. I’m glad to see we are coordinating well already. I have worked with some of you before but let’s be sure everybody knows how this works. I provide backup and organization while you learn. You are the grinder or the meat; kill or be killed. Right now, I suggest you set up a basic formation behind Jennifer and her shield. Mark should draw a few or small groups to us with his crossbow. Jennifer is the tank. Pretty and Oki Ren will work to keep them off of Jennifer while Mark and Toby play slash and bash. Jennifer and Pretty are new to me. Do you have any questions?”

“I don’t,” and I look at Jennifer.

“This is my first hunt in a squad, but I’ve killed the undead before. Bash in their brains, cut off their head or remove limbs until you can,” Jennifer replied.

That was a little disturbing to think about what I knew was needed. I was here to learn a little about using this weapon and work off some frustration. I didn’t see any reason to back out now, and I was starting to think that this might be a good learning experience. It will be the first ‘normal’ thing I’ve done here in Nirvana.

Billy thundered, “That’s great. Now then, if you are going to play in the graveyard, get on one of those busses, and we’ll get rolling.”

That’s when I noticed that at least a dozen buses were waiting on the street. I was so engrossed in what we were doing that I didn’t even notice them.

“This will help us get to the graveyard before nightfall. Mark, you can change when we get to the gates,” thundered Billy.

Mark nodded, “Sure, that’ll be fine!”

Soon we were loaded up and moving through the streets at speed. Before I knew it, we were at the gate, and the other grinder leader waved a flag at the guards, and they got out of the way. As we passed through, I looked to the end of the bus train and saw Justin waving the same flag at the gate guards, and they closed up ranks and went on with business as usual.

Toby noticed my interest and told me, “The grinders go out every day at dusk, so the guards have given those flags to any approved guild that regularly mounts an expedition. It lets a large group like ours get out of the city fast. But we’ll be challenged and have to pass back into the city on foot.

“Seems like that’s convenient and provides a way for a criminal to get out of the city fast.”

“Sure, that’s happened before. But if you try and leave the suppression company before dawn, the leaders will kill you as punishment for risking your squad,” said Toby. “Most criminals also aren’t suited to fight the way we’re going to. Few will fight like this after their first or second run – unless they get good pay or are working on some guild quest.”

“I didn’t think there were any quests here in Nirvana; there are no experience awards.”

Mark joined our conversation at this point, “That’s true that Nirvana doesn’t give out quests. But guilds and other organizations want you to prove yourself before they spend their resources helping you. So often they will issue challenges, quests, for prospects or members to complete to either earn or keep their status.”

“Ok, I can see that. Then many of those things are fetch quests for resources; the kills themselves don’t matter.”

Jennifer nodded, “That’s right, Pretty. The kills don’t matter, though some of the fetch quests mean you need to kill a beast or monster to harvest the materials you are supposed to fetch. Very few are interested in giving up their body parts just because you ask nicely,” she said while smiling.

I focused on my companions and learned more about their expectations for the upcoming nighttime fight, working on getting my head in the game. The conversation is light, and I notice that Mark isn’t engaged. In fact, as the trip goes on, he gets grimmer and grimmer. Finally, just as the graveyard comes into sight, “Pretty Kitty, that was the most traumatizing movie I have ever seen, and I fear the day Nirvana decides my kills must haunt me like that – that’s more than a little disturbing,” and Mark shudders.

The rest of the bus looks at me, and I shrug my shoulders. “So, is your transformation like in the movie?”

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