Ten days before he would need to face his Judgment, an exhausted Randidly watched Zone 1 government’s inspection team head North along the Manatech rails back to their cloistered realms of society. Their images had been just as sweaty as their hands, and Randidly was profoundly gland that the had left.
“The fat one called me a midget,” Wendy complained with a pout.
“Did you hear when the gaunt one whispered to the other ‘she’s a woman worthy of bending over a couch,’ while looking at me?” Tatiana’s eyes glittered with suppressed violence. “They were not good people.”
“But they sold us the mineral rights,” Randidly said lightly. Inwardly, Randidly was profoundly glad he hadn’t allowed Helen to accompany the tours. All three of them knew that midget was one of the least offensive terms that the group had used. It was clear from the very beginning of the tour through the Erickson Steel compound that the sleazy group of five men sent by the Zone 1 government didn’t put anyone in their eyes but Randidly.
And even for him, they thought he was a brute who had lucked into his position. They used airly language and broad hand gestured to describe their grand plan to help him. When the details of the agreement they were making finally came up, they only showed Randidly the actual paper copy for a split second before they flipped to the back urged him to sign the dotted line.
Did they truly underestimate me so much…? Randidly watched the departing railway with half closed eyes. Or was it a test sent to sound me out…? Not that it really matters. These little games are merely diversions for the sake of a solid foundation for Erickson Steel’s image. Nothing more.
Of course, that moment of exposure had been more than enough for Randidly’s Perception to scan and memorize the contents of the deal. But there was no respect in their eyes as they had looked at him.
As Randidly had watched the blatant disrespect and entitlement of those five men, the growing network of images in Randidly’s chest howled for blood. So much so that even the image of the Grim Chimera grew interested in exacting a steep price for these people’s disrespect. But Randidly had quieted his inner violence. It was true, after all, that he wasn’t subject to even a fraction of the ridicule that both Wendy and Tatiana were. If he was mad, they were doubly so.
Although both of their smiles were razor sharp, they were still politely in place. Perhaps that was why it was so difficult for Randidly to resist the urge to break the men’s bones over his knee like they were kindling for a campfire
Randidly was honestly pretty low-key when he was underestimated or disrespected; there was a part of him that preferred it that way. He had spent too much time pursuing anonymity to not be used to it. Being understood by an opponent was dangerous and somewhat exhausting. Even Randidly got slightly tired when he really sat down and thought about all the things that he could accomplish.
But to so blatantly disrespect the people to which Randidly extended his protection?
Just to be safe, Randidly had memorized the names of those five men. He briefly considered passing those along to Helen, but that would probably be too much. Better to wait for his own chance to even the score.
Randidly’s emerald gaze sharpened. One of the benefits of an extremely high Intelligence Stat was that there was no danger of him forgetting to repay this grudge.
“But you read the deal, right? There is a clause that the Zone 1 government can refuse to provide a Village if Erickson Steel’s residential facilities don’t meet their exacting standards.” Chuckling, Randidly cracked his neck and attempted to shift both his own and the two women’s mind away from less pleasant things. “I think they want us to foot the bills for personal palaces for them. What a steaming pile of trashcan lard.”
“Heh, I used to have pity for these people that you were going to swindle by stealing a whole city from under their nose,” Wendy pipped up as she cracked her knuckles aggressively. Tatiana gave Randidly a sharp look that indicated his first impression of the motion wasn’t wrong; Wendy had learned it from watching him. “But now that I’ve met them, I almost wish that you were doing something even more vicious.”
“You and me both. Bah! I still need to order more whiskey from Donnyton,” Tatiana shook her head. Then she glanced sympathetically over at Randidly and Wendy. “No rest for the wicked though, eh? Are you prepared for the final construction? Can Erickson Steel continue to operate while you do it?”
“Yea,” Randidly nodded. “Most of the work will be done underground. Unless we really fuck something up, there shouldn’t be any effect on Erickson Steel. As for the construction…”
When Randidly looked toward Wendy, she shook her head. “Lucretia’s people have finished going through the pieces that you made. Around 13% were flagged, and about half of those look like they need to be redone before we can move forward. You are working too quickly. Finishing on time won’t matter if the moving city experiencing mechanical failure after only a week of operation.”
Randidly puffed out his cheeks and blew out a long stream of air. He knew he was rushing. But it felt like he didn’t have any choice. Then he shook his head. “Alright, give me a list and I’ll go back through. And the help I asked for will be arriving in three days. That’s when we start in earnest.”
The three parted, each with their own packed schedule. The rest of the day for Randidly was a blur of workshops, emerald fire, and the gleam of Engraved Mana. Although Randidly really meant to follow Wendy’s advice, he couldn’t help but allow his body to accelerate through its motions. Somehow, he had the feeling that with the strange change going on through Ignition Essence, the problem wasn’t that he was moving too quickly…
It was that he was too slow.
Yet Randidly couldn’t take the time to explore that budding change in his image. Instead, he created the parts that Wendy had informed him were defective, scanned through his new creations, and redid three more parts that also seemed to have suffered based on the speed of their forging.
Afterward, Randidly did his daily Caress of Nether practice. Despite the bone-deep ache that resulted, he had managed to raise his Nether Resistance by another 11 Skill Levels over the last several days. It was agony, but the pain didn’t stop him from forging. It was one of the few training tasks Randidly allowed himself that didn’t exhaust him mentally. Any suffering that he pushed himself through right now would make it that much easier to survive in the future.
Randidly was, however, quite bitter that whatever pain originated from exposure to Nether didn’t seem to earn him any Skill Levels in Pain Resistance. It seemed like the existential agony that resulted wasn’t really pain, but a deeper sort of Aether-based instinct to avoid Nether. Which was probably why it was such a bitch to handle.
But at least it gives me a chance to sharpen my Willpower on it, Randidly thought sourly as he looked down at his trembling hands. He spread his fingers open against his wrought iron worktable.
From around midnight to dawn Randidly’s training shifted and he struggled with another difficult decision: whether to go into a Dungeon for a brief time so he could refine his Levelable Engravings further.
Again and again, Randidly pushed himself with All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth until he was clenching his jaw so hard it gave him headaches. At this point, Randidly could use it three times in a row to experiment, as long as he kept his requests small. Slowly but surely, he was refining the Engraving pattern that he wanted. An image that would focus on awareness and self-recovery.
Honestly, with Yggdrasil and Ignition Essence as the base, those two objectives were pretty easy to accomplish. It was only a matter of blending them in the right portions.
In addition, Randidly’s accomplishments toward evening out the application of images by enlarging the scale of the Engraving were bearing a satisfactory amount of fruit. In his most recent series of attempts, Randidly created an Engraving that could Level all the way to Level 99. Yet there was a hair of difference between that and Level 100.
It wasn’t enough. What Randidly could do now just wasn’t enough. But if he had another few months of time-
Randidly pressed his eyes tightly shut. The problem with a Dungeon is maintaining the right sort of tension and image. If I go away for a few months, only the last week would be where I make the sort of progress that would make any difference. And if I go for a month, it would be the last few days.
It’s the chemical process of the brain that leads to procrastination… The sliding scale of when to focus and when to explore. I wouldn’t be procrastinating, but the effect of being suddenly freed from the onus of the deadline...
Randidly furiously rubbed at his head. And it's not like I can’t slip into my Soulspace and stretch out time for a bit… the problem is I can’t run any experiments there. I can only think… And of course, the other problem is that there is too much to do in the real world.
Shaking his head, Randidly forced himself to wipe that question from his mind. He could consider it later. If he did decide to go into a Dungeon, it could happen at any time. Once more, he returned to work.
After experimenting with Engravings, Randidly was forced to give himself some time to recover. Truly, what Wendy pointed out after the festival was correct; what Randidly was doing now was pushing him close to his limits. Between finishing the moving city and the Judgment, Randidly would likely need a full day of rest.
But it was unclear whether he would have that time. Definitely he could make sure he had a solid six-hour block, but…
Then, at 10 AM of the day with nine days left until Randidly had to face his Judgment, Nathan finally arrived at the Erickson Steel compound with Tykes.