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A note from puddles4263

4/7

Hank’s group was walking on ground that was slowly sloping downward and then came to a lip of a wide gorge or ravine, the details masked by the fog. But what they could see were that there were about 50 men and women below, working with picks to crack off pieces of ice that covered the ground. Above them, and only a few meters below the lip on which they stood, about a dozen men with huge paper fans were sweeping their objects back and forth, knocking the mist rising from the ice out of the bowl and into the surrounding area. LIkely, these fan users were the reason the mist had been displaced and oozed into the surrounding area as much as it did.

What was most perplexing for Hank was that these people were truly mining ice like it was a precious material. He watched as a woman knocked off a small chuck the size of a ping-pong ball, grinned, and then made it disappear. They were also rugged, wild people wearing leathers and furs, to a greater degree even than the previous group they had encountered in the borderlands, lead by that Dinesh fellow.

"Do these people not have refrigeration? Why are they mining ice?" Ezekiel asked, not even bothering to keep his voice quiet. Some of the fanners turned to glance behind them, noticing Hank and his group, but they eventually ignored them, focusing on their task at hand.

"This is not normal ice," Laurel said quietly. "Look, do you see any water? It is not melting. Even if all it does as a substance is produce this mist, would not Ghost still harvest the lot of it to perform experiments?"

Ezekiel had nothing to say to that. And apparently, their presence had caused enough of a stir to merit a response, although Hank couldn't have indicated which of the people below caused it. Two parties came out of the crowd towards them, one of a single person, and the other of a duo. It quickly became apparent that these two groups were in fact from different sources, and as soon as Hank thought that it became obvious. The one group's uniforms were largely uniform, with black leather and seemingly extraneous straps and buckles along their arms and legs. It was certainly a strange fashion statement.

The other group had more heterogeneous clothing, with various furs, leathers, and metal armors. But each of these had a number emblazoned on their armor, at some point. A quick scan of the groups indicated that there were three numbers among the people scattered here: II, III, and 29. There didn't seem to be any discernible difference amongst the buckle people.

Walking quickly, the solo person arrived first. It was a teenage boy, his arms almost unhealthily slim.

"Who the fuck are you?"

About par for the course for a teenager, Hank supposed. Unfortunately, their group also had an individual whose maturity level was suspect.

"Did you practice that line in the mirror? You sound like a minor villain in a Shakespearean play." Ezekiel said dismissively with a snort.

"The day Shakespeare says fuck is the day your balls drop far enough to take me in a fight," The teenager declared.

Ezekiel turned to Laurel. "Did he seriously just say that to me?"

Laurel remained unconcerned with Ezekiel, simply shaking her head. The teenager stalked forward, his eyes burning. At his waist, a dozen or so small pouched hung. He quickly reached into one and removed something that looked like smoked meat. "Say that again!"

The duo arrived. One man was an overly muscled man with a shaved head. On his chest was the number II. The man next to him had his dark hair up in a ponytail, with half a dozen knives strapped to his sides. On his chest was an III.

"Oh, a duel?" The burly man said. Rubbing his hands together, his face split into a grin. "I suppose I call the winner."

"Then I'll fight you when you lose," The knife man replied.

Chuckling, the burly man thumped his chest. "Why, so you can lose to me again? You're truly are a glutton for punishment."

"You cheated." The knifeman replied. "I would say you slept your way to the top, but I think it's more likely you didn't sleep your way to the top. When talking about sexual prowess, Sam on your team-"

"Hurry," The teen interrupted, waving his hand airily. "Get your men to set up an arena."

"Don't we have the one outside of the icemist?" The burly man said, scratching his chin.

The other two nodded. Then, almost as one, they turned and stalked off through the ice mist. The knifeman whistled, the burly man clapped his hands, and the teenager burped. The workers instantly turned, on their heels, and began walking in this direction while chit chatting with each other. Some of the men did arm circles, as though they were warming up for an extreme amount of exertion.

Laurel turned to Ezekiel and patted him on the back. "This seems like a you problem. I'm going to go look at the ice."

After a second of consideration, Affina went to join Ezekiel, who was stomping after these strange Zone 32-ers. His mouth was in that thin line he got when he was about to do something dumb.

Hank flexed his hands, the corner of his mouth creeping upwards. Although he wanted to engage in a more peaceful meeting with the people from this new Zone... Ever since they had encountered these abnormal people, Hank had wondered where he stood compared to them.

A duel seemed the perfect way to lay that to rest.

****

After several hours of work, Randidly gave Foreman Davey 200 bars of his Erickson Steel and received $1000 in exchange. When he traded it in, there was some wariness in the man's eyes, as if he expected trouble. Based on the fact the man was probably aware that Randidly had gone to Ricky Stain's party, he couldn't hold it against him.

Sure, it was likely true that Randidly could have pushed for a higher price, but so what? Although he didn't want to waste his time here, he wasn't necessarily in a hurry. After speaking with Sonya and Gregory at the party, Randidly had gained 5 Levels in Refine and Extract as he used the information he had gleaned about steel to enhance his images. Besides, although Foreman Davey made a significant profit on Randidly, that was how businesses worked. As Randidly couldn't access the exchange, he paid to use FOreman Davey for that privilege.

Perhaps more importantly, a quiet discussion with Griffith on their way to the bar had revealed that Foreman Davey also was a Tier II citizen. Every bar of Randidly's steel that Foreman Davey sold was essentially Foreman Davey certifying the quality. Although that had no current value, Randidly was happy to take less immediate gain so he would have his foot in the door later.

Apparently the fact that Randidly didn't push meant something to Foreman Davey as well because when Randidly asked about the spatial watches, he simply laughed and gave him one.

"Usually, you'd get one when you gain citizenship." Foreman Davey said, a smile on his face. “But we have a working relationship, you and I, and I can understand how not having a wristlet would make things difficult. This was the one that I obtained when I became a Tier I Citizen, it should be more than enough for your needs, eh?”

The item was a basic storage item, of such a size that Randidly wouldn’t even bother to use it. But now at least he could walk around without someone realizing he was producing items out of thin air without one of the watches. Most people would likely assume that he simply had one hidden away somewhere on his person due to his citizenship-less status.

Afterward, Randidly left the town and walked out to the forest again. There, he sat underneath a small tree and checked up on his PP. His two weeks working in the steel factory had given him 14 Levels in Refine, 9 in Extract, 7 in Fire Resistance and Gravity Affinity, and 4 in Potion Brewing and Chosen of Fire.

Although it wasn’t a great amount of PP, the growth was more concentrated than generally occurred with Randidly. But he supposed that he was focusing on more combat-related skills, so it was easy to bring up the production Skill when he finally turned his attention to them.

Randidly was currently finishing the Path Intermediate Soul Bond, and these PP disappeared into the endless, benefitless hole that this Path ended up being. He had chosen this Path because he had suspected that he and Neveah would have to part ways with the opening of the new Zone. Although Randidly could be relatively low key when he wanted to be, Neveah…

Imagining what she was undoubtedly up to with his face at the very moment… it made Randidly shiver. He thought about asking, but sometimes Neveah behaved like a child. If she knew he was paying attention, she would do her equivalent of “showing off”.

After finishing that up, Randidly considered what he should focus on training next, while he was here in Zone 1. He didn’t want it to be any of his flashy Skills, in case it would reveal him to be something that he was not. There was a slight whiff of the Creature in the air, but Randidly was almost just as worried about the local Zone 1 government discovering him at this point. The government might have more tools at its disposal, assuming Ghost wasn’t a pet of the Creature. Plus, when the government discovered him, there was no doubt in his mind that it would do everything it could to control him or influence him in some way.

It honestly sounded like such a hassle.

Therefore, Randidly identified three areas that he could theoretically work during this time, honing his Skills. The first was to work on the Kata of the Ashen Spear, in either focusing his efforts on healing his broken Skill or creating a new one. Randidly had a few ideas for a new Skill, but he remained intrigued by the power that his previously created Skill had displayed. His interaction with the three-headed ogre really infuriated Randidly.

That piece of shit deserved to die.

The second area was to work on Leveling up his minions. He had the almost completely forgotten Plantomancy, but Randidly also now had Call Grove Defenders and Lava Golems. Both of these produced powerful if unintelligent, minions. If Randidly took the time to Level them up, their damage and autonomy might increase.

Lava Golems might set too much on fire, but Randidly didn't’ think it would be a problem to add another place to his swiftly expanding cave beneath the forest. Even as he considered his training options, his Plant Dominance acted to push dirt to the side, creating an infrastructure that would last, and suit his purposes.

The final area of emphasis… could be a Domain. His actions had unlocked the Domains for humanity, and although other people had made attempts, Randidly had no doubt in his mind that he could create a truly exemplary domain, although based on what he understood this would be the task of the three that took the longest time. For quite a while, as he slowly understood his domain, he would see no benefits.

Still… Randidly sat back, sighing.

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