Vye stared at the screen. How can that be considered a testing method?!? If he varies his speed or angle just a tiny bit… the efficacy of the cutting test would drop to nothing!
After blinking rapidly, the rest of her brain caught up with what she just saw. Nevermind that, did he seriously just slice five times through the high-performance alloy?! I could barely follow his movements…
Although the three assistants on screen seemed to have similar doubts to the ones that Vye had, they still stepped forward and offered their ingots to be “tested” in this manner. And as they watched the results, the blood drained from their faces.
“Four slashes! Even if we just consider the fact that you beat the high-performance steel on your first try, it’s pretty good. Understand the value of images now?” As Randidly Ghosthound glanced around at them, the three just stared at him. Vye gulped.
As he stood surrounded by the three shocked forgers, Randidly seemed profoundly in his element. Now, his rather crumpled shirt and ashy vest didn’t make him seem shabby. Instead, he seemed to dominate the entire room with his presence. The muscles of his forearm stood out clearly as he gripped his spear. His emerald gaze calmly looked around, then dropped to the sliced bits of metal that covered the floor.
Then Randidly shook his head. “Well, I guess we will test mine then.”
He picked up an average looking grey ingot that he had made and tossed it into the air. Again, his arm blurred into motion beyond the range that Vye could catch.
“Ah whoops,” Randidly winced. Trotting over toward the small hole in the wall, Randidly beckoned for a camera to follow. While everyone watched, he removed his ingot from the fist-sized hole in the concrete wall. The ingot itself was bent and twisted, with a savage gash that cut almost all of the way through it.
“I suppose that will count as one slash,” Randidly said lightly, bringing the ingot back to the table and picking up another one.
Sighing, Randidly walked again to the wall. This time, the ingot he had used had been completely split in half, so the debris from his strike impacted the wall in two places. With a shake of the head, Randidly walked back to the table with the severed pieces. “This one… I suppose on and a half would be more accurate. If it hadn’t been knocked away, I would have had time to strike again.”
Then Randidly calmly proceeded with his tests.
Aside from one ingot that was full slashed by Randidly twice, the others could endure a single slash from Randidly. More than that, Vye’s mind was buzzing as she reflected on the earlier tests. So basically… the difficulty in slashing through our high-performance steel is so low that no force is transferred to an airborne item…?
Randidly considered the broken wreck of one of the automated cameras that had been destroyed by debris from his testing. Then he shrugged and brought all the pieces of the ingots he had forged back to the central table. His eyes scanned the surrounding people. “That’s all for today. I’ll leave these here for you to test. Perhaps… In a week, I’d like to do this again. I hope your results will improve by then. Don’t let this be all you ever accomplish.”
Vye shivered as though Randidly Ghosthound had stood behind her and whispered those words directly into her ear. Don’t let this be all you ever accomplish.
Then Randidly left the room. About two minutes later, the three assistants finally found the strength to move, heading toward the central table. They immediately reached a consensus and split up to test the ingots that Randidly had made. Although Randidly had left, the broadcast continued. The people around Vye began to talk quietly with one another as they discussed what they had just seen.
Some shared Vye’s doubts, but others seemed infected with a contagious sense of awe and veneration for Randidly Ghosthound. Even if his testing methods had exaggerated the results, it seemed clear that he could craft materials that made the Erickson Steel high-performance alloy obsolete.
It took ten minutes for the assistants to give up on their quest to damage Randidly’s ingots. With the basic furnace that was used in the test, it wasn’t possible to melt the metal made by Randidly Ghosthound. They were effectively invulnerable.
Even the ingot that had been slashed twice by Randidly was only slightly warped by their combined efforts. From there, they began to test the abilities of their own creation. What soon became apparent was that while these creations had their own weaknesses due to their lack of familiarity with the process, they were likely the strongest ingots each of them had ever made.
The talking in the assembly hall became a dull roar. But Vye didn’t even notice. She simply stared at the screen, slightly dazed.
Don’t let this be all you ever accomplish.
Then, as her resolve finally returned, she got up and headed toward Erickson Steel headquarters. Likely due to the pseudo-holiday that today had become, the building was almost deserted. But it was with great relief that Vye arrived on the top floor and found that Tatiana was still in her office.
At least, in this case, this woman’s addiction to work was a good thing. Otherwise… Vye shook her head. I might have done something drastic. If I wasn’t able to say this today...
When Vye knocked on the door, Tatiana looked up. Her face immediately cracked into an uneasy smile. “Ha, I figured you’d come. Incredible, wasn’t it? He’s… well, he’s not the most famous individual in the world for nothing.”
Then Tatiana paused and looked at Vye a little bit more carefully. “Heh, you are trembling. Hit you that hard? Did his display finally light your inner passion for forging? I can’t say that I’m surprised. He made it seem so-”
Again, Tatiana paused. This time her inspection of Vye took several seconds longer. “Vye, you are white as flour. What’s up? Did you-” Tatiana’s eyes went wide. Then a knowing smile settled on her face. “Did you happen to develop a crush? Randidly certainly has a compelling intensity. When we first met, I-”
“Tatiana,” Vye said through gritted teeth. Her hands were trembling. “I’m having a hard enough time saying this as it is. Please, dont…”
Vye trailed off. Tatiana’s grin faded somewhat. “Alright, I won’t tease you. Spit it out. I’ll help you with whatever you want.”
“I’m quitting,” Vye said quietly.
“After… After seeing what he did, what he could do… after knowing that he had gone to so many places to reach that level…” Vye shivered. “I can’t stay here Tatiana. I really want to thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. Without you… when I was released from the time freeze six months ago, I would have been… who knows.
“And if you hadn’t offered me a job as your assistant, I would probably still be struggling in some refugee slum somewhere. So… sincerely, thank you.”
Tatiana’s smile returned, filled with warmth as she regarded Vye. Then, as though releasing some dark weight she had borne for too long, Tatiana walked over to Vye, hugged her, and sighed meaningfully into her shoulder.
Vye blinked. “You… you’re not surprised?”
“Of course not. I was hoping this day would take much longer to arrive, but… no, I knew this would happen someday. You think I didn’t notice you sneaking off to climb up the radio tower? Hah! You are a hundred years too early to sneak away from an old pro like me.” Tatiana reached out and patted Tatiana’s arm. “I always knew… you dreamed too big to stay here forever. Although it’s a good thing, you don’t remember the horror of a world that wasn’t prepared for the System. The time freeze kept you safe for the most bloody first months. Those of us who were originally here…”
A shadow passed over Tatiana’s face. “...we all bear the scars. Probably even Randidly Ghosthound. We can only advance so far before those deep wounds make us stop, in fear of what lays beyond. But someone like you… we need heroes like you to make our world a better place. Heroes willing to go out further than our current limits.”
The image of Randidly’s emerald eyes appeared before Vye. Him, standing barefoot and lithe, seeming more of a natural force than a human being. “...I’m no hero.”
“Neither was Randidly, when I first met him.” Tatiana shook her head. “As I recall… the first time we met was at a cocktail party where he destroyed a rooftop pool. Heh. even then, he had a flair for the dramatic.”
While Vye was attempting to imagine that, Tatiana shook herself, as if rousing herself from a stupor. “Well anyway, what do you want to do now? The world is a wide place. If you need any connections to find a place to stay, feel free to contact me.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate it.” Vye smiled. Immediately, she imagined the wide sky spread out in front of her. “Traveling. Without a destination or a goal. Just… experiencing the world. Well, that’s a bit general, but…”
Vye produced a chocolate and popped it into her mouth. After finally quitting, her heart was humming with joy. Now all she needed to do was pack up and leave. And honestly, she was so excited that she considered leaving all of her worldly possession behind.
“...I have some friends in the Orchard,” Vye finally said. “Maybe for now, I’ll go visit them. But after that… I have no idea. I’ll see what fate has in store for me.”
When Randidly arrived at Tatiana’s office, he found the woman once more drinking a glass of that precious liquor that she had shared with him when he arrived. Compared to the time she poured glasses for all three of them, this glass was significantly more full.
Randidly’s eyebrows rose. “Is this… a celebration?”
“In a way,” Tatiana said softly. “But also… something somewhat I’ve feared for a long time has finally happened. It’s good news, but… life isn’t so straightforward that the things that make us happy can’t also hurt us.”
Nodding, Randidly’s mind turned back to his departure from Donnyton. If he was able to shock them into understanding the importance of images, he would be very glad. The Earth needed heroes. The System would not be kind when it came collecting.
But the way that that lesson had ultimately played out…
Randidly released a breath through his nose and said. “Well anyway, I just came to let you know I’ll be heading South for a few days to check out Dungeons. If you need anything while I’m gone, contact Helen. She should be able to handle most problems.”
Shortly afterward, Randidly was rushing South. Now, it’s time to find out just how inevitable the arrival of this Judgement is...