“Today, we have an extremely special guest participating in our monthly lottery,” The tall bearded man said with a confident smile. As the MC of the event, there was some onus on him to inject life into the process of the Lottery. But it was clear that at the moment, his excitement was genuine. “Let me introduce you to… Naffur Suite, Knight-Errant of the Order Ducis and acting leader of the most influential Order on Earth!”
Around Vye, people broke out into thunderous applause. Some of the mild-mannered competitors that she had been standing next to looked up with burning eyes. She cast her gaze around slowly while bringing her hands together as one more inconspicuous fish joining the sea of applause.
From there, the noise rose to an even higher volume. Besides the thirty or so people who were on the ground level to participate in the Lottery, there were almost two hundred individuals in the upper level, looking down toward the participants. Even if these people were there for the same reason as Naffur Suite, they still perked up when the Order Ducis was present.
These prestigious individuals were the representatives of companies and governments from across the Earth. A particularly large delegation from Franksburg were all wearing sharp grey uniforms with gold trim. Conspicuously absent was any group from Donnyton.
Other Orders were here, but even they applauded for the Ducis. After all, they all wished to curry favor with the Order Ducis in order to strengthen their own position amongst the lesser Orders.
To Vye, it seemed… oddly sad. Whereas Randidly basically went wherever he wanted, Naffur had to stand as representative of the Order Ducis and handle all of the attention that the true leader of the Order Ducis brought. The flood of positive emotion must be suffocating. Honestly, if Vye was standing in Naffur’s shoes, she might have preferred that the recently burned delegation of Donnyton was present. The fact that Donnyton had pulled out for the first time since the genesis of the Lottery was rather telling.
It seems that whatever challenge occurred between Randidly and Donnyton… wasn’t exaggerated. How powerful does one have to be in order to cow an entire town…? Vye wondered.
Her gaze shifted to the extremely young man who stepped forward during the introduction. As soon as she saw him, Vye clenched her fists and stopped trying to mimic the applause surrounding her.
Because Naffur, to Vye, was a bridge to a life that she had craved for too long. A life where she could control her destiny. If Vye wanted to pay back all the heavy debts she owed to the people who had helped her get here, there wasn’t a better way than joining the Order Ducis. And as the Order Ducis wasn’t commanded directly by Randidly, it would be a way to truly feel free.
Of all the Orders, the Order Ducis was all the most mysterious. But when the monster village was discovered, the Order Ducis was the first to intervene. When the Danger Zone cleared by Randidly began to spew out ogres, the Order Ducis was at the frontlines, pushing the monsters away from the vulnerable cities of civilization.
The first impression that Vye had of Naffur was that he was young and tired. But his eyes gleamed visibly from this distance. At his side stood a tall inhuman cockroach, coolly regarding the barely disguised disgust on the faces of other groups. At his other side was a pre-teen boy, smiling widely at everyone in the arena.
Vye’s determination receded slowly as she looked at the lonely silhouettes of these three figures. Her lip curled upward. What is with everyone and possessing glowing eyes?!? The pupil should only reflect-
“And now…” The bearded MC for the lottery turned back to the assembled people. “Remember, do your best! There’s no punishment for failure-”
Except being stuck in this city for your whole life, bound by chains of relationships and expectation tighter than any physical jail-
“-and the rewards for success are unimaginable! Let’s commence the Lottery! I am positive that you all will find Paths to your dreams today. There are forms on the table to fill out, should you be willing to reveal your Skills and Stats. These will be distributed to the representatives during the following cocktail hour. Feel free to mingle and introduce yourself as much as you want. After the talking is done, there will be a series of duels to demonstrate your abilities.”
The bearded man’s face twisted into a sardonic smile. “Although it is not a pretty truth, our world has been transformed by the presence of the System. Without strength, we can accomplish very little. Still, for those of you who aren’t gifted currently in martial might, the point of the duels is not to see how much you can accomplish now. It is to show these influential organizations that you would be an individual worth cultivating. To that end-”
“If I may?”
A mild voice cut through the bubbling excitement of the arena. The bearded man turned in surprise to look at Naffur. It was the young man’s cool voice that had cut across him, right as he was heading toward the crescendo of his speech. If it wasn’t for Vye’s experience reading people, she would have missed the subtle tightening of the lines around the bearded MC’s eyes. Then the bearded man nodded and gestured for Naffur to go ahead.
The young man was thin and pale, but he raised his head and spoke confidently to the room. As he spoke, his spine straightened and his shoulders seemed to spread out behind him like extending wings. Vye almost couldn’t believe her eyes. How did his physicality change so drastically in such a short amount of time…? It was like he was a different person.
When he spoke now, Naffur’s voice was low and persuasive. “Nothing is as important as spirit and dedication. Nothing is as important as that precious inner drive that propels you forward. That image you hold in your chest for your own future… that’s what I hope you show us in your duels. Give us a hint of the ideal you present in your heart. The You that has succeeded. The stronger that feeling you can project is… the more we, the Order Ducis, will be moved.
“We intend to allow ten individuals into the selection for the Order Ducis. Nine of those spots will be filled, but for one of you… perhaps your fate will change today. Good luck.”
After a short nod, Naffur Suite turned around and stiffly marched back to his companions. Some of his solemn air was completely dispersed when the young boy who had accompanied him enthusiastically grinned at him and pounded on his shoulder in a ‘job-well-done’ kind of way. Blushing, Naffur coughed into his hand.
But Vye stood frozen. The image I hold in my chest for my future…?
Her gaze sank toward the ground. Around her, the participants began to whisper to each other in excitement.
I just… I just want… to be free… I want the sky to stretch endlessly above me. I want to never need to be in someone else’s debt. I…
Without waiting for Vye, the people around her surged toward the table, prepared to reveal their Stats and Skills in order to catch the eye of someone in power.
Although the three-day agreement with the mollusks had expired yesterday, Randidly hadn’t yet resumed his forging of metals. In fact, underneath the star-filled sky, those other concerns seemed to slip away. Inside the Dungeon, it was easy to feel distant from the other concerns and live in the moment.
Randidly currently held a rather hastily created metal forearm bracer in his hands. With incredible delicacy, Randidly flicked the piece of armor and listened to the sound of its resonance.
Randidly stared at it for a long time, measuring the shape of it, carefully calculating the curve of its structure. In his head, a meticulous 3D image of the bracer was slowly being constructed. With his new capabilities after he reached Control of 1000, it didn’t take very long for the model that Randidly made in his mind to reach a satisfactory level.
Sighing, Randidly raised his right hand. The pointer finger began to glow blue as Mana concentrated into a razor sharp point. When his hand moved, a blue trail lingered in the air for several seconds before slowly dispersing into glittering motes of ambient Mana.
Randidly pressed his finger against the bracer and began to Engrave.
The great trick of creating an engraving that possessed the ability to Level was to create a symbol that made sense at both the micro and macro levels. The micro levels would slowly be filled with energy while the Skill contained within the equipment would Level. The Macro Level was the ‘world’ constructed within the equipment where the Skill would actually exist.
This relationship would continue, in theory to the point where the micro image became the entire world. However, none of Randidly’s previous experiments had made it to that as of yet.
A powerful Skill was very possible to make with Engraving. Already, Randidly had thought about several variations of his metallic left arm that he could make that would improve his combat ability. The current Skill in his left arm was slowly being left behind by the capability of his Descent of the Grim Chimera Skillset and image. At this point, there wasn’t much of a benefit to mixing it into his fighting style.
Better to forget it and wait for the opportunity to improve his metallic arm.
But again, Randidly was still fascinated by the possibility of creating a Skill in a piece of equipment that could grow with him. Ideally, a Skill that would fill in some of the gaps in his own abilities so it wouldn’t just serve as a redundant alternative.
...Although as time passes, it feels like I have less and less glaring deficiencies in the way I fight. Randidly reflected. Then he imagined Shal’s amusement and the subsequent brutal training session if he would realize that Randidly had that thought. But who knows if that's just from fighting rather weak enemies for too long…
The Level of the monsters in the Dungeon was slowly ticking up as Randidly released Aether, but it had become clear that the Level increase didn’t do much to actually increase the monster’s strength. They were inflating like a balloon, but the substance of what the monsters were didn’t change much.
Randidly suspected that there might be some more qualitative evolutions eventually, but at this point it was just increased Level and weird extra limbs.
Grimacing, Randidly felt a pang of worry for Shal. What did Lyra know-
With another sigh, Randidly gritted his teeth and forced those thoughts to fall away. He was in the Dungeon, far from those concerns. He had time to prepare and think through his actions. His finger, still glowing with Mana, was poised over the bracer. Once his mind was clear once more, Randidly continued with the process of engraving.
One thing at a time, Randidly thought to himself.
The image he chose this time was a twisted claw, somewhat based on the Descent of the Grim Chimera. It was a swirling series of twisted lines that was relatively simple to draw and that mixed well in high numbers to make a mesmerizing whirlpool of lines that drew in the eye.
Humming to himself, Randidly casually went through the process of engraving. With his new skill with Control, Randidly was having a much easier time maintaining a uniform level of depth to each of his strokes of the Engraving. Because he didn’t attempt to push the depth very far, the ultimate limit of the Skill’s growth wouldn’t be too impressive, but this was an exercise in consistency.
Randidly believed that what he needed right now was more experience successfully understanding the process of creating a Levelable Engraving. He had time, nine and a half more months of remaining within this Dungeon, in which he could further work on creating the product he would be able to use for quite some time.
Now was the process of building his foundations.
After about an hour of engraving, Randidly grunted in satisfaction and tossed the bracer to the side. It clattered into a meter tall pile of similar bracers laying scattered next to them. Each glittered with the tell-tale glow of a powerful engraving. Each was covered with a different rune that skittered, spider-like, across the whole of the bracer.
Next to that pile was a smaller pile filled with cracked and partially melted bracers: Randidly’s failures.
Not all of Randidly’s attempts so far had been successful, but his current success rate was about 75% at this point. And considering that each of these attempts was made with a rune that Randidly had never worked with before, Randidly was quite satisfied.
Randidly produced another bracer and studied it for a long time. When he had finished constructing the mental model, Randidly looked upward and chewed his lip as he considered what sort of Skill to try and create this time.
After a few minutes passed in stillness, Randidly’s emerald eyes began to glow. A thin kernel of Mana condensed on his finger and he began to smoothly draw.