Alana sat upright slowly, controlling the movement. With a yawn she wiped the sleep from her eyes and then focused on what her senses were telling her. It was about an hour before dawn, her internal clock told her primly, almost reprimanding her for sleeping in for so long.
Snorting, Alana stood. Although her high stats meant she didn't require sleep, it was still something that she preferred, even if just for an hour a night. It always gave her a little bit of an edge that she could use to push just a little harder with in training.
But it was time to turn to the issue at hand. Someone was standing outside her door. And the feeling that she got...
It was familiar, yet foreign, like catching the flavor of your favorite spice in a strange stew. It felt a lot like the Ghosthound, in terms of the strange sharpness and vitality to the energy, but there was also a ghastly pressure, something like a weight of history. It felt like what Alana would imagine a collapsing cathedral looked like, ancient and desolate.
So when she opened the door, and was faced with the Ghosthound, she felt no surprise, just a flash of fear and excitement, in equal measure. Something had changed with him, since their fight last week. Something hugely influential. The very aura he threw off became much more concentrated and multifarious, which was confusing in a way. But Alana had no doubt that it meant that his power had taken another step forward.
"Are you free?" The Ghosthound asked, the corner of his mouth quirking up in a small smile.
Alana grimaced at him, unsure if he was making a joke about her solitary nature in Donnyton, or legitimately asking. Then she had a few seconds of wondering what she would do if the Ghosthound had some romantic interest in her. After all, she admired him a lot, and thought he certainly was handsome, in his loner sort of way... but...
And then she was caught by his eyes, and all the romantic thoughts fell away, replaced by a wariness. His eyes were always green, and the System had somehow magnified them to emerald, letting their color shine incomparably clearly, even in the dark. There were small flecks of gold there, hidden in the rich color, hinting at the wealth of power he held.
But now they were almost lime, lanterns in the dark. Alana couldn't look away.
"I want to test something," He said slowly.
Sam folded his arms slowly. Looked like Randidly wasn't coming, so he might as well get started.
"Alright punks, listen up." His voice cracked like a whip over their heads, silencing them instantly. Long hours of competing with the sound of hammer clangs had taught him how to shape his voice to cut through the chauff. There was as certain sort of voice that everyone recognized, and demanding and insistent one, one carrying an ultimatum. That's what Sam used, and everyone fell silent, gazing at him. It wasn't a bad feeling.
"There are two phases. As you've been told, the first phase is simply the product. You can bring anything you've made so far to compete. I'll judge. Part two is judging a process. You need to perform that process in a 2 hour window, demonstrating how it works, and then letting us judge the product you do in that time. I'll judge that, too. Any questions?"
When there were none, Sam nodded, a rare smile crossing his lips. Thank god that most of the individuals who gravitated towards the production focus weren't idiots. If he had to deal with those who went out for the System Knowledge Assessment...
Once the Assessment was announced to have begun, the people sprang to work, half moving towards the table to get in line to present their pre-made product, the other half here to secure the loans from Donnyton to expand their business, based on the efficacy of their process.
Accepting a freshly squeezed lemonade from an aide, Sam shook his head. He took a long sip. It would be a long day for sure.
"How... how are you so fast...?" Alana whispered, staring at the Ghosthound. No, this couldn't even be the Ghosthound any longer. He was-
Well, her senses swiftly crushed her rising fear. This was still the Ghosthound, using the exact same sharp spear skills to pressure her. His speed had indeed gone up by a level, but it wasn't at the point that she couldn't cope with it. If anything, the changes in his speed were rather simple; he was simply a fraction of a second faster.
No, what caused her the most grief was not the change in speed and strength, but rather... he seemed to never lose his balance, or have a second where he wasn't at his strongest. His balance and flexibility were boosted to an impossible degree, and the Ghosthound casually swiped at her with enough strength to send her sprawling. A new Skill, perhaps...?
If it was a Skill, it was one that Alana was profoundly envious of. The Ghosthound had no problem completely suppressing her with messy spears work alone. It was as though his baseline strength had risen by a whole level...
And more than that... when she activated her Solar Flare Skill for the speedboost...
In the past, it had given her enough of an edge to gain an upper hand. But now, she felt him activate his own Skill, and quicken his own movements. So much so that they were once more of a speed with each other, and it didn't seem to deplete any of his Stamina at all. Very quickly, Alana was overwhelmed, and staggered backwards, looking to establish space.
But the Ghosthound was not one to go easy, even in a spar. He pressed her until she broke, her spear knocked away, her stance destroyed, even her hope extinguished. Sitting on her ass, she just looked up at him in wonder. His eyes glowed as he studied her.
Then, he extended a hand and helped her back to her feet. "...I consolidated some things. It looks like... the effect was even greater than I expected...perhaps it won't end up being a waste, after all."
One of Sam's previous students, a leatherworker, ended up winning the pre-prepared product contest. The leather armor that he produced was almost a work of art, with molded shoulders and complicated patterns sewn into the leather with gold silk. In addition, there were two factors that pushed it above the works done by everyone else. First, the leatherworker had taken the time and effort to contact Franksburg, and purchase a portion of the Tier III Raid Bosses Corpse, and made the armor from its skin. From that alone, the armor stood head and shoulders above its competition in terms of effectiveness.
One could not overestimate the value of high quality ingredients. With them, a master of their craft could truly display a vast amount of power and influence.
The second large advantage that this man had was that Sam had taught him the basics of Mana Engraving. It wasn't enough to actually manage it, but he firmly understood the underlying concepts. From that, he was able to create his own special skill, Blood Embroidery.
Even Sam was forced to sigh in admiration as he looked at the armor.
Tough Leather Armor (Un) Lvl 41: A very durable and sturdy leather armor. Protects the wearer from damage, and the spirit of the animal it is made from infects the user with a bit of ferocity. Bloody Embroidered Stallion II. Blood Soaked IV. Health +200, Endurance +20, Reaction +5.
Bloody Embroidered Stallion II: Embroidery in the shape of a Stallion dances across the armor. The golden thread to make it has been soaked in the blood of a powerful Monster. Strength +7, Agility +9, while moving gain momentum more easily.
Blood Soaked IV: The leather was produced through long periods of soaking in monster blood. The process was devised by a prodigy in the art of leatherworking. Health Regeneration +100 per hour. Stamina Regeneration +30 per minute. User gains 5% Lifesteal.
Even Sam struggled to consistently get one of the bonus features of his armor up to the IV category. That the product that won had reached that level, and in such useful areas, was just proof of the level of competition for this Assessment. In terms of production, Donnyton was at the peak.
Looking at the armor again, Sam whistled. Especially the bonus towards Stamina Regeneration... when this armor was sold, it was sure to generate a lot of interest...
But now he was faced with a tough and annoying decision. It wasn't so hard to pick the winner, and pick the 9 people below the winner that were the closest in strength, but beyond that... ordering them seemed so arbitrary...
Sam's eyes lit up as he spotted Randidly arriving. Hurrying over, Sam hailed the boy, and explained that he should handle the ordering of the top 10 while Sam dealt with the process portion of the Assessment. Then Sam wandered off, but he still kept a close eye on what was going on at the other side. This was another bonus of working long hours in a huge foundry, he had developed a knack for spotting what was going on across the space where he was working.
Mostly he had used it to ferret out when someone was slacking off, but this use was fine too… Sam was looking forward to seeing how Randidly would differentiate between the different contestants, and how they would respond to his choices. Although he had seen it in spurts, this would be a very concrete and small scale test of the Ghosthound’s strength as a leader.