Despite her earlier doubts about the staying power of the demonstration, Vye’s eyes were locked onto the screen from the very beginning.
Randidly casually waved his hand. Behind him, a monster with a huge claw for a left arm and a spear for a right arm appeared. Its legs were inverted, like a raptor’s. Its face was obscured by a layer of skin, revealing only dark holes for its eyes and mouth. From it, a vast sense of desolate loneliness washed outward. Vye’s hands tightened into fists. Around her, several people flinched or took several steps backward.
But then, in the next moment, it was gone.
In its place, there was an immaculate tree. The ground physically rumbled, causing Vye to blink rapidly and place her hand against the wall to steady herself. When she looked out the nearby window, she paled; there was a hundred-meter tall tree right outside of the assembly hall. It’s thick branches spread over Erickson Steel, shading it from the midday sun.
Just as quickly, the tree disappeared. In its place, motes of emerald fire danced around Randidly.
“I’m going to move through this preface quickly,” Randidly said casually as he spared the three assistant forgers. “During the actual smelting, feel free to ask questions. For now, just listen. Helen, if you would like to start?”
The lovely woman next to Randidly nodded and walked over to the central area, where a heavy wooden table sat. With a flourish, she deposited almost a half-ton of shattered and cracked bones onto the middle part of that table. Several loose bits of bone rolled down over the edge, clattering onto the floor as the table wasn’t able to handle all the bones.
Just as quickly, the woman produced a spear and used it to skillfully knock the larger pieces that had fallen back up to the table. Her movements were so quick that it was difficult for Vye’s eyes to follow. After putting everything back on the table, the woman began to brutally chop and crack the bones further, reducing them to just debris.
While Helen did so, Randidly continued to talk. “To put it generally, Skills are preset images that we obtain from the System. Therefore, when I say “image” I’m referring to the process of using a Skill without System assistance. It is a matter of willpower, belief, and focus, but these are generally much weaker than Skills. After all, these images don’t consume attributes. So what they lack in power they make up with flexibility.”
Randidly strolled forward to the central table, ignoring Helen’s continued frenzy of activity. He waved his hand and two barrels appeared next to the central table. “Ah, it is also a difficult process to reach the point I’m at. When you struggle… just know it is part of growth. Now, on to forging.
“The point of images in forging is to give a… character to the metal. If you think about it in System terms, what I will attempt to do with an image is to give the metal a ‘Class’ to shape its strengths and weaknesses. Because, as I’m sure you have all noticed, the System places particular importance on the individual. Therefore, if I force my image into an inanimate object vehemently enough, the System will notice and empower that object. In this case, this metal.”
Scratching his cheek, Randidly seemed to consider his words and looked back. “I bet this is all a lot. I’m moving through a lot of information very quickly. And it isn’t scientific. But what I’m telling you is that this is a method the System has provided to improve our results. If Erickson Steel masters this, it won’t just revolutionize our high-end products; every bit of metal we make will have an edge over the competition. So suspend your doubts and watch.”
Then Randidly pointed to the barrels. “I’ve brought two special ingredients. Those of you who already possess some standing in Erickson Steel probably can recognize them. For those of you who don’t know, work harder to deserve that knowledge. It’s enough to think of them as a strengthening liquid and a weakening liquid.”
The camera shifted, displaying a barrel filled with a crimson liquid and one with an emerald liquid. Vye blinked. I’ve seen those before, but never in those quantities. Based on the reports, those...are just his blood.
Just his blood? Just blood that has the chemical properties equal to industrial acid? A tiny voice ridiculed in her head, but Randidly continued to speak before she could be distracted by that nagging voice.
“We have the liquids, we have the monster bones being ground up as we speak, and the only other ingredient we have is raw iron ore provided by the mine on site. I wanted to work with basic materials so you had a better understanding of what image can accomplish. So, let’s begin.”
Abruptly, Vye realized something. The secret of Erickson Steel’s high-quality steel, using a mixture of monster bones, was being broadcast to everyone on the factory floor. Now, there likely wouldn’t be any non-employees wandering around, but it was unrealistic to think that the news wouldn’t leak now that everyone knew the secret.
For a dissatisfied bureaucrat, this bit of news would net quite a bit of money.
Yet Tatiana clearly understood this. She had announced the demonstration; there was no way that this wouldn’t have occurred to her. So what were they thinking by giving this knowledge away so cheaply?
Without seeming to care about his casual treatment of Erickson Steel’s trade secrets, Randidly Ghosthound walked up to the crate and removed several rough chunks of unprocessed ore. Based on what Vye could see, they were relatively impure too. It would be very difficult to get metal worth working with just from a few of those chunks.
Randidly didn’t pay it any mind. As he moved over to stand next to the table, Helen finally seemed to have finished her work.
She gathered up all of the broken pieces and swept them into a huge trail that was waiting behind the table. A tray that was basically just a dumpster with very low walls. As she knocked almost all of the bones within, she stepped into the dumpster-tray and began to grind those pieces into even smaller bits. Randidly beckoned the three assistants over toward him.
“It will be easier if you follow along.” The three blinked and then surged into motion, grabbing their own chunks. Whether it was purposeful or not, the other three also gathered five pieces of raw ore, just as Randidly had. These they selected with much more care, and it was immediately clear that the pieces they chose had a much higher purity than the ones Randidly casually picked.
But Randidly just smiled at them. “So, I’ll lift the ban on questions now, but I’m going to start with the first one: what traits do we aim for when producing metal? If we want to imbue an image into this, it needs to start from the beginning. So before we start, we need to know what sort of character we want for the metal, and focus on it the entire time.”
The two men and one woman glanced at each other. Eventually, the woman cautiously said. “Strength in the face of adversity. Ability to resist being warped.”
Still smiling, Randidly casually tapped one of his chunks of raw ore. Before the entirely of Erickson Steel, the impurities simply fell away, revealing a gleaming core of metal. As one, everyone’s jaw dropped to the floor.
Even if he had a ridiculously high Level in Refine, the fact that it happened instantly… Vye struggled to grasp what she had just seen. Although she wasn’t interested in forging, she had watched forging occur hundreds of times. It was a tedious and drawn out process. And all he did was tap the top of the raw ore and it seemed to Refine itself...
“Next?” Randidly asked.
One of the men stepped forward. “Flexibility and functionality.”
Randidly tapped another piece of ore and a similar thing happened. Suddenly, it was just the pure metal within. Randidly looked at the final man.
“Durability,” the man grunted. “It needs to endure.”
After tapping another piece of ore, Randidly twisted and looked to the side. “Helen?”
The woman snorted. “It needs to make a spear.”
Rolling his eyes, Randidly tapped the fourth bit of ore. Then he paused, as though considering something. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth and spoke. “And I think… metal needs to protect.”
After tapping the final piece of ore, he had five gleaming bits of metal in front of him, each no larger than a fist. Vye blinked as she stared at the screen. Then she leaned closer. ...were all those nuggets really extracted from the same type of ore…? The coloration-
Randidly waved his hand, causing roots to twist up from the ground and pick up the barrel of emerald liquid. The roots casually poured the liquid into four smaller glass trays that were waiting on the central table. Then Randidly casually tossed the five nuggets into his tray. He looked over at the other three forgers. “I recommend you stick with your own image and use it on all five pieces. Ah, whoever creates the best metal will receive some personal instruction from me, so give it your best.”
Instantly, the eyes of the three assistants were lit on fire. After seeing how casually Randidly was able to manage everything, their earlier doubts were assuaged. The temptation of being instructed by him was more than enough motivation.
But the man who answered endurance raised his hand. “I do have a question… if we use the Refine Skill without heat, won’t impurities remain? Even at… ah… your Skill Level?”
Randidly nodded. “Yep, but that’s kinda the point. That’s what the weakening liquid is for. Mostly, I use that initial Refine to impress the image on the metal. While I’m Refining, I’m thinking of removing everything that doesn’t help the one focus I want. The weak things that I miss will be devoured by the weakening liquid.”
“Won’t that also damage the metal?” The woman who said strength asked.
Again, Randidly nodded. “But just like something is never truly invulnerable, nothing is ever truly damaged beyond repair. Now… you should hurry, so I don’t move need to move onto the next stage before you even have refined your metal.”
Already, the emerald liquid was frothing around the nuggets Randidly placed into them. With pale faces, the three assistants surged to work. It was clear from their pained expressions that they were attempting to mimic Randidly’s casual motions.
With that same small smile, Randidly turned back to the camera. “An image gives purpose. When that purpose in the metal resonates with the purpose of the piece of being equipment it is being forged into, the benefits are strengthened. Images associated with armor or weapons are relatively simple. It is a much more abstract thing to have an image for the material.
“Not impossible, obviously, but less intuitive. Honestly, I would recommend trying to obtain images in other areas and then working on images with materials, but… we simply don’t have time.” At that moment, Randidly’s smile turned somewhat pained. “The world continues to spin, no matter what we need. But remember, that need isn’t useless. Use that need as fuel. Use it to warp the world around us. It is only by growing beyond recognition that we can survive the future.”
It seemed like Randidly abruptly sensed something was amiss because Randidly tilted his head to the side. In the administrative booth, the silence had shifted to something full of confusion. Even Vye couldn’t really follow what Randidly was saying.
Need isn’t useless? Use it to warp the world? Vye wondered. But more than his words, Vye was fascinated by the feeling that he had created as he had spoken about those issues. Every word had weight. The air hummed with it. It was that urgency and power, which they had hitherto not seen from Randidly, was what gave everyone pause.
For just a moment, he had seemed… inhuman in his intensity. His eyes were blazing lanterns of emerald light.
I… just what do I need…? And what would I warp to make it so…? Vye wondered. Somehow, the words started to lose their meaning; in their place, that wild determination and Randidly’s emerald eyes were all that remained.
The question didn’t matter… what Vye was transfixed by was the attitude that let him ask such a ridiculous question. Because there was not a hint of doubt in Randidly Ghosthound right now, demonstrating before a couple of hundred people.
This was what she had dreamed of, without knowing she was dreaming. That easy assurance, that freedom-
Vye wanted it so badly she couldn’t breathe.
Randidly grinned, seemingly aware of the effect his words had. Although he was just looking at a camera, it was like he understood exactly how the group watching was reacting to what he said. “Too much too soon? Well, you all will see eventually. Time has no mercy. Anyway, Helen, demonstrate some images for these people so they don’t assume I’m crazy…”