Decklan sighed. “This was fun. Do you really have to go so soon.”
The man covered in the strange liquid obsidian chuckled. His right arm was cut to the bone, but he didn’t seem particularly bothered by how useless it was at his side. “Don’t play coy. We both know that an operational sortie from Donnyton can get here within 10 minutes. There isn’t enough time to see which of us is the winner.”
“I would say the judges are unanimously in my favor,” Decklan said, raising his knives. They were crimson now, from drinking this strange man’s blood.”
The man smiled. “In war, the only battle that truly matters is the last one. Let’s save this for that, shall we?”
The damn insectoids surged forward, interposing themselves between Decklan and the man. Moving quickly, Decklan slashed his way through them. But by the time he had broken the encirclement, the man was gone. Decklan clicked his tongue, then cut his way through the monsters towards his squad.
Beneath them, there was a strange rumbling from the ground. Decklan’s smile widened. Reinforcements and that was only… 7 minutes 32 seconds.
Around them, the monsters seemed to notice it too, and they began to gather themselves and slowly retreat. The monsters suffered disastrous casualties, pulling out of the mine, but a core group with a cloaked figure made it away. If Decklan hadn’t fought to a stalemate with the obsidian man, perhaps he could have done something. Now, however…
“Chase?” Someone asked Decklan when most of the monsters were away.
Decklan shook his head because a thin, thorny vine popped up out of the ground and waved at him. “We’ve got that covered. Where is-”
But the vine was waving wildly at Decklan. He could read Thorn’s intentions, it wanted Decklan to head into the vine. Sighing, Thorn walked toward the entrance to the mine. Time to see what was taken.
Still, there was a bit of excitement here, wasn’t there? It had been so long since Donnyton had any foe that they had struggled with directly. There were the weak monsters, but the big threats the Ghosthound handled. If there was a terrorist group raising Raid Bosses….
Decklan allowed his thoughts to run away from him as he quickly walked into the mind. His face was in a bemused grin until the last possible moment.
Foreman Davey passed Randidly a thin piece of paper. “Congratulations. You are now a probationary citizen of Zone 1. Basically, as long as you don’t break any laws, you are now eligible for Ghost to raise your citizenship tier, based on your performance.”
Randidly dubiously looked down at the paper, which he had signed. Honestly, the whole thing seemed someone… feeble, especially now. Did he really spend so much money on a piece of paper…?
But he supposed it was just a step he needed to take. The more Randidly established himself as a creator of drones, the less likely it would be for Ghost to assume he was from Zone 32, where there was no technology. Or at least that’s what Randidly was counting on.
In addition, the higher he rose in the area, the more exposure to information he would have. There was something… strange about the Zone, aside from the Creature’s lurking plans. There were some rotten things under the surface. With that information, Randidly could begin to address those threats too.
Because the longer he was here, the more he felt responsible for these people. If he had strength, he couldn’t in good conscience just sit back and allow people to suffer.
“My performance?” Randidly asked. “Are there… tryouts for citizenship?”
“Oh, no, ha. I forget sometimes that you one of the newly free refugees. Ghost watches everything, through cameras and drones in the sky. If you choose to start building drones now, that’s the sort of technology you will be working with. A little theory intensive, especially at the beginning, but there is a demand for drones always.”
“...interesting,” Randidly said, feeling a chill down his spine. Just how much information did Ghost have? It couldn’t be too comprehensive, or he would likely have been seen through already. But that might just be a function of how recently this small steel town had been built. There were cameras all through the new apartment areas, and several businesses were now opening in the seedier areas outside the factory. These all boasted factories.
From now on, Randidly would need to be especially careful about revealing his strength. Hopefully, his illusion held…
Perhaps he should increase the timeframe of his plans for his other base beneath the forest?
Randidly told Foreman Davey he would take a day to think about the possibility of working on drones. Foreman Davey chuckled and informed Randidly that it would likely be another $2000 in upfront costs to buy what was needed to start working with the drones.
Randidly excused himself to go work for a while in the refinery.
While Randidly was walking around, Randidly saw Jude receiving instruction from another metal worker. To his surprise, Jude was speaking fluent English, nodding along with what the woman was saying. Randidly almost tripped over his own feet.
But then Randidly shook his head ruefully. Of course, he could speak English. The System translated everything that they said. Basically, no matter what language they used the System would shore up the gaps in understanding. Thinking back, the other man hadn’t ever spoken another language, he just looked blankly at Randidly whenever he spoke to him, and only responded in grunts when Maude gave him instruction.
Could it be that the man simply didn’t like him…?
Feeling slightly put off, Randidly went into his area and began to work. Truly, the longer that Randidly spent here, in the refinery, the more he enjoyed the work. His control with Gravity Affinity was growing increasingly fine, and the mixing of the molten metal grew more smooth with every attempt.
Likely, it wasn’t a matter of proficiency with the Skill, but understanding what exactly he was trying to accomplish when he used it. Metals worked best when the mixtures were made in a fixed pattern. It was a rigid structure. Slowly, Randidly learned that making the spread of the powdered monster bone uniform was good, but concentrating the bone at uniform points throughout the metal was even better. Constantly, Randidly was refining his process and increasing the strength of the metal.
Or at least, Randidly believed so. He hadn’t tested the tensile strength of the metal in any scientific way in order to hide how much his Skills were improving. But some very unscientific tests with his hands revealed that the metal was definitely increasing in strength. One step at a time.
Randidly made about 600 ingots within the first 24 hours within the refinery, then took a break to experiment with other methods. He tried adding potions directly to metals, but that didn’t seem to work. He reduced the red and blue shards to powder and attempted that too, but it seemed the effect was negligible. Even higher tiered mixtures didn’t do much.
Then Randidly got out some of the bones from the strongest monsters and made a few ingots out of that. These came out excellently and seemed to be a third again as strong as his usual fair.
All this took Randidly only 4 hours. Sighing, he lay on the ground of his workroom and stared at the ceiling. Although he could turn in the ingots now, his speed of production was still too shocking; it was best if he could stall for a bit more time. So he closed his eyes and turned his attention inward.
Randidly’s working with metal had given him a new view on how his Skill should function. Just like the creation of something was a scientific process, a reaction between different forces and energies, so was destruction. It was, perhaps, a simpler reaction, but it was a reaction nonetheless. Randidly had focused very powerfully on the image and forces, but he believed that one way of strengthening his image was to go through the concrete processes that would occur as a sun stills.
Now, Randidly didn’t have any true scientific background. But as far as he could tell, the sun was an engine that grew bigger and bigger, and grew hotter and hotter as it burned. At some point, the sheer weight of itself demanded that it burn hotter and brighter in order to continue to function. As the sun runs out of fuel, more and more of its mass becomes concentrated at its core, where the engine resides.
Eventually, the engine fails under its own weight, and it collapses on itself.
That was a supernova. That was the powerful force Randidly was seeking.
Congratulations, your Skill has become 50% complete!