Sam swore and slammed his fist down, denting the metal of the work table. Tossing the failed engraving to the side, he looked broodingly at his hands. It was just too difficult to Engrave with his mana pool. He couldn’t persist for the entirety of the process, and when he ran out of mana, the engraving suffered for it. Sam hadn’t even finished this version, and he knew it would be inferior to his previous attempt, which was poor at best.
What was most annoying was that most of his morning had been spent putting the fear of god into the new crafting recruits. They didn’t take the system seriously enough. They basically thought that the world had monsters now, but all was mostly the same other than that. Just put the effort in, and create the equipment.
But it wasn’t. For whatever reason, there were certain actions that the system recognized. You had to observe those, and learn to use them to your advantage.
For example, Sam had discovered early on that hammering in sets would increase the quality of a produced item. If you hammered 11 times, took a break, then hammered 11 more times the entire forging process, the item might be an extra stat point higher at the end. If you just hammered normally, you wouldn’t receive this benefit.
Similarly, putting a freshly made weapon into clean spring water would improve its quality over a weapon that was plunged in dirty water, and then cleaned later.
There was no scientific reason for these actions to have actual, quantifiable effects on the forging process. But they were symbolic gestures, which the system recognized. Whereas prior to the system, people who were superstitious were looked down upon. But now, in the crafting corps at least, such little rituals were regarded reverently, as a point of pride. Only with them carefully observed would the best quality product be created.
Regina had wondered, long term, what sort of effect that would have on the mentality of the crafters, but Sam just shrugged. That was a lot less important than making quality weapons and armor. Sam was much more concerned with what these rituals would become. They were simple, small things now, but as they became more elaborate, it was possible that they would manifest themselves as a skill.
Of course this was only a pet theory of Sam’s, and he didn’t have enough time to test it. But a brief discussion with Clarissa had given him some hope. She seemed to think it perfectly obvious that such things should happen, and then she had hurried off to practice using certain hand motions or incantations along with her spells.
In order to make sure the day wasn’t a complete waste, Sam briefly considered practicing more Bone Shaping, but discarded it. His mood was too volatile right now. What he really needed was-
Then he blinked, then frowned, then smiled. He might not go for it, but… if he did…
If Randidly could take the time to learn Engraving…
Gleefully rubbing his hands together, Sam ran out of the forge and off north of Donnyton, looking for his newest, unknowing, student.
Time flowed quickly past. Randidly was numb to it, only following the constant cycle of rot and ash. The more he watched, the more Randidly grew to suspect something was missing. The cycle continued unabated, but Randidly had a strange feeling in his chest. If he could find the source, and push towards it…
It could have been a minute, it could have been a year. Time melded and stretched. Grass grew, rot came, ash burnt it all away. Then there was nothing, for a time.
Then the grass grew.
In his chest, the feeling of wrongness grew stronger and stronger, until-
Randidly blinked, looking up at the sky. Something had pushed him down onto his back, knocking him out of his trance. He straightened, but then fell back down, surprised by the weakness in his limbs. Wincing, he struggled to his feet, Lyra standing with her arms folded in front of him, her mouth in a thin line.
“Don’t do that again.” She said coolly. “If you leave Agony on while you are in that state… Your regeneration is monstrous, but it isn’t that monstrous. Do you know how dumb it would be if you died because you forgot that you had left the skill that burns your health on? Fucking dumbass.”
Randidly opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. He could see the worry in Lyra’s eyes, and he felt rather dumb for forgetting about his skill. Even now, he could feel his strength flowing back into his limbs. It was almost a nostalgic weakness, one he had not felt in a very, very long time.
He hadn’t felt like this since that first day, when the world changed, and he was casually brushed to the side by a ram, reducing his health to nothing instantly.
But he had gained two skills from that situation, Iron Skin and Meditation, which had been invaluable for his survival early on in this system world. For that, he would be forever grateful to that ram’s ass. Randidly chuckled in spite of himself as he raised a health potion to his lips.
Lyra scowled furiously. “Funny, is it? Well fuck you. Go find Mrs. Hamilton, she has your training schedule. We will see how much you laugh then.”
Several minutes later, Randidly frowned down at the training schedule given to him by Mrs. Hamilton.
“Is there a problem?” She inquired sweetly.
Randidly slowly shook his head. “No… I suppose not.” The first two days were continuations of what they had been doing thus far. It would be difficult, but manageable. After that, there was a bump in difficulty each day, culminating at the end of two weeks with what Mrs. Hamilton believed was his “full potential.”
The difficulty was that Randidly would not be looking at notifications or using PP in that time. Therefore, the increases would come purely from his skill gains and from mental endurance. Perhaps the first increase would be manageable, but the 2nd… and then the 3rd increase in difficulty… all the way to the 12th…
“No.” Randidly said again, this time much more confident. He would walk the path before him to see where it led him. There was no point in worrying about it now. “There’s no problem-”
Both Randidly and Mrs. Hamilton turned, to find a dusty Sam standing in front of them. Without waiting for any real response, he plucked the paper from Randidly’s hands, and then studied it for a while, scratching his chin.
“Hmm… A lot of physical and mental strain…” Sam muttered to himself, eyes flicking up to Randidly. “This… this might not be possible… well…. If you had a hobby…”
Sam handed the paper back and then nodded seriously. “You’ve come to the right person. I think I know how to help.”
“No one came to you,” Mrs. Hamilton said, her expression bright. Sam didn’t appear to hear.
“It’s a bit of a rough time for it… but we go back a ways. You can come work in my shop a little, clear some of the cobwebs out of your head. No need to thank me. But we might as well start right now.”
With that, Sam started dragging Randidly away, leaving a chuckling Mrs. Hamilton.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning!” She said, waving softly at the rapidly departing figures.
As they were escorted through the strange, alien village, Alana noticed several things.
First was that the village consisted of three groups, with the two main ones being the rabbit people and the turtle people. They fraternized a little, but mostly the groups of people they passed heading to the village spirit’s house was made up of one or the other, but not often both. And their philosophical differences seemed to be at the center of what the group from Donnyton had witnessed.
The third group was what Alana believed to be the youth of the village, but they were strangely uniform and shrunken, with tight grey skin. They didn’t appear to be either rabbit or turtle people, and Alana was rather mystified by their presence.
Finally they arrived, and were ushered into a large building. There was a circle of benches, where several aged individuals sat. At the center, a grey haired rabbit and a turtle with a long beard sat, the former on her feet, glowering, the latter stroking his beard.
“Grandma! As you requested, I’ve returned after making contact-” Razor began, but he was swiftly cut off.
“You idiot! Why the hell did you take so long?!?” The elderly female rabbit snapped, smashing her fist down on the table. Alana’s eyes narrowed slightly. Not only was her fist blow obviously strong enough to create a shockwave of force, but the table barely trembled. This was system enhanced wood.
Razor shrugged awkwardly, looking sheepish. “It was just… I didn’t know who to talk to. It seemed like the people over there didn’t even know that the portal was opening…”
“Hmmm…. Be that as it may, your chest, young Fleetfoot.” The turtle spoke, his words slow. “Are those, wounds…?”
Razor’s hands balled into fists. “I’m only wounded because…!”
But this time Razor was cut off by his sister, whose hand clamped down on his shoulder. The room was very still.
“Finish that sentence.” The elderly grey rabbit’s tone was frigid. Her gaze slid sideways to the elderly turtle, who was looking with apparent concern towards Razor.
‘This woman must be Grandma.’ Alana thought to herself. Her eyes scanned to the sides, seeing both Rabbits and Turtles in armor standing around. It would… not be easy to leave this place without their hosts’ assistance. And for whatever reason, it seemed that the other female rabbit was preventing Razor from telling the truth.
Looking at the ground. “I’m only wounded because I fell down a hill.”
“Is that so.” The grey rabbit’s eyes floated sideways to Alana. “So then, strange travelers, tell us, how could you allow my grandson to fall so… dangerously down a hill? But more importantly, how are you willing to make it up to me?”
“With a gift, obviously.”
Alana, Devan, and Razor all blinked. Kiersty, who had been carried here unconscious by Devan, sat up.
“We are going to have to go outside though,” She added, “Plants need sunlight to grow.”
“Well, it’s not exactly simple, but it’s not exactly hard either. Do you think you can manage it?” Sam said, scratching his head.
Randidly looked in wonder at the needle in his hand, covered in a network of runes. He nodded slowly.
“Yes, I believe so.” For when Randidly held the needle, his normally recalcitrant mana trembled. Initially, Randidly had been very dubious over whether he could learn this skill, especially without notifications. That extra hint, that flash of knowledge… those were what he had relied on thus far to learn skills. But he supposed that even without the notifications, he was still gaining experience. So there was no difference.
The second problem that Randidly thought he would encounter was channeling the mana. He had never been able to get his mana to so much as acknowledge him. But the needle… felt like literally a needle, poking that impenetrable bubble that had been around his mana, allowing the mana to flow freely down the needle to the tip.
Of course, he couldn’t do anything but basically control the amount that was flowing down the needle to etch with, and even that was quite shaky. But still. Proof of a concept. It was not that it was impossible to manipulate mana, just that his method wasn’t currently sophisticated enough. Again, Randidly couldn’t help but admire Lyra’s accomplishments.
But for now, he furrowed his brow and focused on the iron shield in front of him, focusing on flawlessly carving the lines of the Bear rune onto it. It really wasn’t all that mentally restive, in a way. Of all the exercises, although the others tired him out, and the letters on the peg were endlessly frustrating, nothing required the constant focus of this.
At the same time, it was enjoyable to lose himself in the focus. It would make, Randidly reflected, a nice hobby.