“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to attack you. But I think… I think I noticed when you got out of the city yesterday that you weren’t who you said you were.” Tatiana said after a brief pause.
Randidly nodded slowly. That explained the tenseness earlier.
Abruptly, Tatiana looked up at him. “What’s your real name then? And my Woman’s Intuition is running at full bore, so I’ll sense if you are lying.”
Randidly’s smile widened. “Woman’s Intuition? Is that a Skill? You are saying it like it’s a Skill.”
Frowning, Tatiana said, “Of course it’s a Skill. I use it on a daily basis. The only issue is that it’s of such a high caliber that the System is unable to quantify its Levels.”
Randidly rolled his eyes and then said. “That’s fine then. Just… well, I’m a little afraid you won’t believe me when I say my name.”
“Yes, and these stalling tactics aren’t exactly making you more believable,” Tatiana said with a touch of her old humor in her voice. “Just get it over with.”
“Alright fine,” Randidly said, straightening. “My name… is Randidly Ghosthound.”
Tatiana just looked at him with a strange expression on her face. “Like… the politician? The guy who’s marrying the 16-year old pop star?”
Randidly winched. “She isn’t 16, she’s 19, and I-”
“Holy shit, I need to sit down,” Tatiana said, raising a hand and pressing it against her forehead. “I thought… and this whole time you’ve been sneaking away at night to visit your teenage sex pot-”
“Hey, wait, that’s not me,” Randidly said, raising his heads.
Randidly felt profoundly uncomfortable as Tatiana looked at him like he was a dead thing. “Imagine my surprise when I am told that I am about to get someone’s real name, and then they go on to say ‘that’s not me’. It makes me wonder what I should believe.”
“Uh…” Randidly shrugged, wondering how best to condense the truth. “The person marrying the pop star isn’t me. I have… a close friend, she’s acting in the role of me. I really am Randidly Ghosthound. But I wanted to disguise myself and figured it would be incredibly suspicious to the people in power here if I disappeared from Zone 32. They would assume I was hiding here.”
“Which you had,” Tatiana commented, but Randidly ignored her.
“So just like I’m disguised to look like this, she is disguised to look like me.” He finished.
Tatiana seemed to be considering him for several seconds. Then finally, she shrugged. “Okay, fine. You have a cross-dressing friend who is acting as you. My real problem… isn’t Randidly Ghosthound, well you, a really powerful Classer? How can you just… spend your time playing with drones?”
Randidly opened his mouth, but couldn’t find much to say. Honestly… knowing what he did now about the at the very least wounded Creature, he had wasted a lot of time. If he wanted Skills, he could have found them in other places. But he had armed the population against monsters, so it wasn’t a complete waste. That was just an unintended pleasant side effect.
“Well… I guess I just like it.” Randidly said with a half shrug.
“You like drones? Did you… were an engineer or something before?” She asked, her face setting somewhat.
“....well no,” Randidly admitted.
She just stared at him. Then she reached up and rubbed furiously at her eyes for 10 seconds, before continuing to look at him. “...can you understand why it’s hard to believe you? You are just being… so casual about everything. When I thought you were an underachiever this personality made sense, but when you claim to be the leader of Zone 32…”
“I didn’t lead Zone 32,” Randidly pointed out, feeling slightly hurt. When had she thought he was an underachiever…? “I just… helped found a lot of the Villages there. Well, only two. It was timing more than anything else. I’m being casual because… because this has slowly become something like a vacation. Not that I’m just lazing around, but… I’m working on noncritical Skills. I’m helping set up the infrastructure so more people can take advantage of it. My drones will protect people. Because… I don’t think I’ll fight my real enemy for a while. Not until the System moves onto the next stage.”
Tatiana frowned at him. “...it’s really true, isn’t it? This is why Raid Bosses are nothing to you. Why we had so few casualties when you went to help evacuate that suburb in the borderlands. How powerful- no, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.”
She walked over and stood before Randidly, looking him up and down. “Can you… can you disperse the image? Let me see what you really look like?”
After a second of hesitation, Randidly nodded and controlled Aether to rush about around him. Very quickly, the image trembled and dispersed, leaving him standing before her, barefoot and… well himself.
With exaggerated care, her gaze shifted upwards until they made eye contact. As they looked at each other, Randidly’s heart began to pound. She looked at him for fully five minutes. THen she nodded.
“Okay, I believe you.” She turned then, on her heel, and left him in the woods.
With a wry smile, Randidly scratched his cheek. He didn’t even know what he was expecting, but… he had been expecting something. But she had just looked at him and then left. Considering what a bad mood she had been in to start the conversation, Randidly supposed it was something of a gentle resting place. That was for the best.
It was also good she hadn’t kept antagonizing him. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could have controlled his temper.
Randidly eventually moved through the forest to a place where Bruya could reapply his illusion and then he went towards the drone compound. Luckily, he very quickly located Henrik. In fact, he found the other man so quickly that Randidly had the impression that Henrik had seen him come in and was making himself available in case Randidly took the initiative to seek him out.
And indeed, Henrik was initially very bright in their conversation. “Oh, Mr. Erickson. Did you finish more drones?”
Randidly shook his head. “Not yet. I’ll probably have a few more finished in about two weeks. I need some time to take a break and rethink some small flaws in the design. No, today I came to talk about something else.”
“Oh, of course,” Henrik said, obviously disappointed. “But if there is anything you want to make, perhaps some of those pterodactyl drones-”
“No, today I wanted to ask about… exosuits. How they are made, whether they use runes like the drones, etc.” Randidly said.
Immediately, Henrik became extremely suspicious, demanding who from the exosuit industry had approached him. It took him a half hour to calm him down enough to get the story out of Henrik. Apparently, the exosuits were produced by a block of Senators that controlled the supply very carefully. When Randidly had asked about exosuits, Henrik had assumed that they had got wind of Randidly’s accomplishments and was trying to poach him.
“...well, if you are just looking for protection,” Henrik said reluctantly. “I recommend just buying one. For all they gouge you with the price, their stuff is high quality. But as a fellow creator, I can understand wanting to have full control of what you are wearing… Okay, I can ask for some blueprints. I know Ghost gathered them. We are simply unable to copy them. It isn’t runic engraving; they use inlaid wires to fulfill a similar role though. Ghost postulated that runes could be used in exosuits the same way they were in drones, but never devoted the time to experiment.”
Not that Randidly really needed physical protection, but understanding exosuits would help him fight against them. And obviously, if he were to understand them, Randidly would make one of his very own.
It would take some time, so Randidly returned to the steelworking factory and began preparing metals. He mixed the ore, refined out the impurities, and then added Raid Boss bones and blood to the mixture with Gravity Affinity. He was close to running out of the bones. He would need to go on a gathering run soon if he wanted to use the high-quality alloys he was experimenting with.
I really enjoy this, Randidly confessed in a mental message to Neveah while he was working with the metal. I enjoy the heat, the solitude, the making... A part of me wants to just let everything else go and pursue this. I can’t believe I never worked with metal before! If I had found this earlier in my life… well in my old life… I probably would have tried for a different career.
Well if you want, Neveah responded, Just work with your clockwork toys. I’ll become so strong that I can save everyone. No need for you to worry.
Randidly chuckled and shook his head. He couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t give up control of his life. He wouldn’t bury his head in the sand. Standing in his laboratory, his tapped his lip as he considered his next move.
Dinesh was still looking for more locations, but Randidly believed finding them would be hard. No, it would be much better to go to the source. Some being that looked like Father Foster continued to speak to the people of the Zone, even after Randidly had killed something… similar looking, if slightly older.
So should he just go forward and break down the front door of the Unity Church cathedral, or…?