Ultimately, Randidly believed the best decision was to reform his old As the Sun Stills Skill. The physical power was something that he was currently lacking and would do a lot to increase his chances against the monsters that he expected to be coming towards him.
Acri had raised the power of his weapons by a whole level, giving him an increased amount of damage. However, that felt insufficient. The Kata of the Ashen Spear was his first Skill Set and the one that had earned him the admiration of people in Shal’s world. It also helped him overcome his first Judgement. It could be said that this Skillset was critical to his success.
It was largely set aside in his current battle tactics because he had found himself in the position of being an all-rounder, that excelled at controlling the opponent. His spells and spearwork were very fine-tuned, and it allowed him to have an almost impenetrable defense while continuing to inflict blows on the opponent.
Therefore, the Spear Advances Ash Trails was less used, as it represented committing totally. But Randidly was starting to see the limitations of his control strategy. Even if that continued to be his dominant battle style, having a few aces in the hole never hurt.
So Randidly began the rather gruesome process of healing the Skill. It wasn’t an easy thing, because it had continued to swell and grow during the past year or so, however long it had been since it had broken. Honestly, Randidly was starting to have some difficulty keeping track of the time, due to the Dungeons.
It was also largely exhausting because it still resonated painfully whenever he touched it with his sense. It was a lot like performing surgery on yourself. Lucretia could help, but she still had to rely on his “limbs” to do it, so it was like he was doing it himself. The pain caused him to sweat, and almost lose track of time.
After about four hours, which was a large chunk of the time that Ghost wouldn’t be observing this area of forest, Randidly leaned back with a sigh. This wouldn’t work. The process was too time-consuming, and it also left him with little knowledge of how to proceed. When it came down to it…
It seemed like total annihilation would be the best bet. Randidly was a little unsure of how it would affect him, but he knew there were likely some unintended consequences to destroying his Skill. But the remnants of the broken Skill were getting in the way. The best bet would to clear out the scrap and forge it anew.
So the rest of the night was effectively setting a small Aether fire in his own head. This was even more painful, so much so that by the end of the process he had two more Skill Levels in Pain Resistance. It was also a much more minutely controlled operation, because if the intense, burning Aether fire spread it would eat through his useful SKill, causing damage that Randidly didn't’ truly understand.
At the moment, it was really like he was a child playing with fire. But he trusted his will, and he trusted Lucretia, and it went off without any significant hitches.
The empty space in his soul space felt… different. It was as though it knew that there would be a new Skill there soon. But as he was exhausted from the clearing up, Randidly decided to put off the first refining steps for the Skill until later.
There was still another hour until Ghost’s drones flew overhead, so Randidly spread his Perception once more across the forest. His work developing an area underneath the forest was going well. Originally he had planned it to be a workshop, so he could do more experiments on metals without other people observing him. But very quickly, Randidly realized it would be a good base for himself to live, and perhaps some others, if his group from Zone 32 wanted to come and stay with him.
It would also serve as a nice staging point for more hunting expeditions into the borderlands. Not that Randidly needed any more bones; a single ingot only took about 1/10 a monster bone. And Randidly had collected over a thousand skeletons in the past six months. But Randidly didn’t want to lose his edge in combat.
The Creature could strike at any time, and he would be ready.
Plus, he wanted to let Acri and Sulfur grow, which was important in and of itself.
Therefore, Randidly had started expanding the area underground to be able to house a dozen or so people, just in case. It was nice practice using Plant Dominance, and it was oddly soothing to do.
Satisfied with the progress there, Randidly turned his attention to the larger forest. Immediately, he noticed two things. First, there appeared to be more people staying in the farming compound in the middle of the forest. Almost double the amount that had been there previously. Which was innocuous, but Randidly made a note of it.
Second, there was a small little shrine built at the spot the little girl had been lost, and he had helped her. It was just a branch stuck in the ground, with small flowers laid around it, but it was clearly an offering of some sort. This made Randidly chuckle. It seemed paganism was alive and well in Zone 1.
Still, he appreciated the gesture of thanks. Perhaps they thought it was a benevolent Raid Boss or something. Although Randidly had never heard of such a thing happening, based on his interaction with the Bone Wurm that provided the body for Neveah, it was possible. So Randidly reached out with Plant Dominance and touched those flowers that had been laid there.
A pulse of life ran through them. Although they had already been picked, new roots grew out of them and stuck themselves into the ground. The flowers straightened, straining upwards for the few glimpses of sunshine that would come through the forest canopy.
Randidly frowned; it didn’t look there would be any, the tree cover was very complete. His small bed of flowers raised its faces high, undaunted.
He didn’t want to cause too much of a stir, but…
...moving a few trees to let some sunlight down onto the path wouldn’t be a big deal, right? Ghost wouldn’t notice such a thing. Besides, his use of Plant Dominance would be a waste otherwise.
So Randidly reached out again, grasping a few of the surrounding trees. Grimacing, Randidly forced them to draw their roots out of the ground and move a meter or two away from the flower bed. A break in the canopy opened up, and starlight rained down on the flowers.
After using the roots to sweep the ground and clean up any disturbed earth, Randidly smiled. Then he turned back and returned to the forge.
Randidly hadn’t realized it prior to talking to Gregory and Sonya, but metal was truly a fascinating substance. It was so rigid, and yet so malleable. It formed an internal structure with itself, and it could be blended with other varieties of metal to form other things. Hell, monster bones blended well with it. It was the medium by which weapons were made.
It was like a fire was lit in his belly. It was delightful to play and create with metal. It made him wonder whether this was something new, or had it been inside of him his entire life, just waiting for the opportunity? It made him regret choosing to take coding over metal shop in high school.
In addition, Randidly found that the more he worked with metal, the more he wanted to push the bounds of the quality of his steel. But he knew the idea right now was to remain relatively inconspicuous. Instead of quality, Randidly increased the quantity, but not in the speed sense. He focused on producing more ingots from a smaller amount of materials. To do that, he had to Extract more fully and Refine more exactingly.
It was time-consuming, which was a headache, but it also got him Skill Levels, which was reassuring. He poured over the raw ore, doing his best to get every bit of iron out of it. Then it went into the blast furnace, so he could mix in the bones. The deftness with which he used Gravity Affinity also increased at a pleasing rate.
Which was good, but it also clearly displayed the limitations of Gravity Affinity; it simply wasn’t a very powerful Skill. Randidly had done an experiment once, and an Inspired Gravity Affinity was only as powerful as his regular punch. Getting force above that simply wasn’t possible. He would need to find a way to evolve the Skill, as he had done with Root Manipulation, in order for it to be effective in a fight.
When Randidly turned in this day’s work, he was almost one-third of the way towards obtaining preliminary citizenship. Foreman Davey was as pleased as a pickle that Randidly continued to refine his steel-making process and threw an extra $50 in the deal as a reward, and an agreement for continued business.
This Randidly agreed to with a nod and a smile.
It was strange, they didn’t actually know each other, but Randidly felt some rapport with Foreman Davey. There was something reassuring about having a strictly professional relationship with another person that eased Randidly’s worries about social interactions.
Feeling relatively pleased with the day’s haul, Randidly began to wander back towards the edge of town where he had set up a small shack, to throw people off his under-construction place in the forest. But before he could return to his home, he saw a scene that made him from. It was a conversation between two women he recognized, although he didn’t know the one’s name. And with them was a man that Randidly very much wanted to forget.
The man toyed with the edge of his military uniform. “Look, I just wanted to apologize.”
Her bright orange hair swishing back and forth, the young woman shook her head. Her street clothes were gone, and instead, she wore a brown robe like she was a monk of some sort. These two strangely dressed individuals were a stark contrast to the normal population of the area. And between them stood Tatiana.
“I think you’d better leave,” Tatiana said coolly, and then she looked over the man’s shoulder and made eye contact with Randidly.