Congratulations, your Skill is 30% complete. Please continue to provide a powerful image to assist in the formation of the Skill.
Randidly sighed. He couldn’t stall anymore, he would have to move to meet the military for the expedition soon. He had hoped that when he put his mind to it, it would not take too much effort to reform As the Sun Stills. But without the assistance of the battle against that spear-user who focused on the sun, he was having a hard time capturing the feeling.
Even now, after reaching 30%, he felt the well of focus on the image running dry; he couldn’t finish the Skill like this. Shaking his head, Randidly stood and stretched a little, then left his little shack to look up at the rising sun.
Although the day seemed to loom before him with a huge waste of time that might result in him revealing himself, Randidly was surprisingly cheerful. He took the time to start a small fire and fry some eggs and monster meat he had stored in his interspatial ring. Very quickly, the smell of cooking food brought out nearby people. Most of them were teens, who didn’t like either their situation at home, or the rules of the Unity Church camps and came here at the chance to work for something better. But there were also some more impoverished families of steelworkers that came out with hopeful eyes.
He hesitated for a few seconds, checked the sun, and then began to cook more food, more than enough to everyone in the area to eat.
Seeing that Randidly, or rather Baloo, was going to provide for the people, many poor families approached with moist eyes and offered to help cook. Randidly thanked them awkwardly and accepted. A few of the more prosperous individuals went back to their homes and returned with a few things to help with the meal.
It was cornmeal mostly, and other bread, but one family had a few jars of fruit juice, and the most valuable bit was a bottle of pre-System honey. Randidly’s neighbor produced some potatoes, and Randidly felt obliged to produce a basket of peppers he had. Very soon there was a breakfast hash going, and Randidly directed some of the children to plant the pepper seeds nearby.
After a moment of thought, he produced some corn and potato seeds he had and gave those to the children to plant as well. When they finished, Randidly pressed his hand into the ground and released a pulse of Aether. It would only have a negligible effect, but it would give the plants here an edge. There might even be some mutations in the future due to that spurt of energy. It was worth watching.
By that time, Randidly was close to running late, and he departed, the people waving him off and continuing to produce food to cook together. Just as he was leaving, he mentioned that it might be easier if some people dug a cooking pit, and made some stationary grills to work on. Then he left, content with his 3 Levels in Cooking, and 1 in Chef’s Palate.
The base of operations for the expedition wasn’t hard to find. They were situated midway between the steelworkers ghetto and the Unity Church’s ‘Re-education’ Camp. When he arrived, Randidly was apparently recognized because one of the two grim sentries gestured for him to follow and led Randidly to a mustering area.
These military types have too much free time, Lucretia commented as Randidly walked through neat rows of tracts and tents. Why must they insist everything be so precise? It is extremely offputting.
‘I suspect you are one of the few who thinks that,’ Randidly thought back, bemused.
Randidly felt her roll her eyes. This is why your people have no understanding of karma. They simply chase the shape, rather than understanding the substance. Neat rows will not let weak soldiers win wars.
‘But it keeps the roads clear for them to flee,’ Randidly pointed at.
As Lucretia cackled with laughter, Randidly moved to join the group of about 30 or so people already standing there talking quietly. Disturbingly, there were about 6 soldiers around, all of them carrying those plasma rifles that the people of Zone 1 love so much. A lot of the people here he recognized with a pang; they were people who traded regularly with Foreman Davey.
A point for him just being swept up in this revenge, which was good. If this blow was aimed more at Foreman Davey and Randidly happened to be happily thrown into the danger area, all for the better. That meant they likely wouldn’t push him into using any of his true strength.
He had checked his reflection this morning, and he hadn’t found any deviations in the illusion. But if anything, that made him feel more nervous. Fine for now meant it would fail later. Hopefully, the timing of that didn’t end up fucking him.
Again, Randidly wondered what Neveah was doing. She seemed to be having a great time, which was good, but similarly worrying. Her sense of fun was a bit… skewed. He blamed himself, for allowing her to spend so much time with the two clowns Paolo and Kayle. Dinesh was supposed to be a calming influence, but he turned out to have just gotten corrupted by them as well. And now…
Now, what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
Very quickly, a figure swayed through the crowd and arrived at his side.
“Hey, Viking,” Tatiana said as if this were the most natural name in the world.
Randidly blushed. It was one thing for people to call him Randidly, and for that to be weird. After all, he could blame the weirdness of that name on his parents. Specifically, on his coo-coo mother. But Viking was a name that Randidly blurted out when he couldn’t think of anything else; it was a moniker of his who foolish making. And explaining that it was just a joke or something now was a bit…
“So,” Randidly said, coughing into his hand. “You are here too. I wondered. They don’t… they don’t seem to be very worried about establishing a working relationship with us.”
“No.” Tatiana’s smile remained bright, but her voice was chilly. “They know what this is, just like we do.”
It was a sobering thought. Around them, the crowd parted again and Gregory and Sonya came forward to stand with them. It was a party reunion, just short Griffith, Randidly thought idly. Around them, the other steelworkers began to cluster. Not joining them, per se, but listening intently.
“It seems we were designated as the leaders of this group,” Tatiana said with an eye roll.
“Must be our stunning good looks,” Gregory said, revealing a gap tooth smile.
Sonya gave Tatiana a long look. “Or our… palpable charisma.”
Just then, a man who appeared to be a higher rank than most of the soldiers strode out of a nearby tent and came to greet the gathered steelworkers. To his credit, when he glanced around at the surrounding soldiers he made a small gesture with his hand. The soldiers that were standing around the group let go of their plasma rifles, so they hung by their straps.
It was a small reduction of an implied threat, but it wasn’t something that the man had to do. Randidly appreciated it.
“Good, you are all here. I’m Sergeant Phillip, I’ll be acting as a liaison between you volunteers and the UHF military- wait,” Sergeant Philip pulled up short as a skinny man opened his mouth to speak. “I have one rule for this; do not say you didn’t volunteer. It will go a lot easier for all of us if you embrace this charade, and we don’t have to enforce the reality of the situation.”
The skinny man faltered. Gregory folded his arms and gave the man a look. “Let’s hear what the Sergeant has to say.”
Either a bigger trp, or this man is more interested in saving people than in being the instrument of the punishment for you, Lucretia mused. If he treats you all as volunteers, you’ll have more autonomy, and both you and he can ignore the ugliness that led you all here. If you force the issue…
‘A waste of effort.’ Randidly stayed still, content to let Gregory take the lead here, especially since he agreed with playing along with Sergeant Phillip’s game.
Sergeant Philip turned to Gregory with a small smile. Sergeant Phillip was an olive-skinned man with short curly hair. “-as I was saying, I am your liaison. Myself and five of my men will accompany you during the mission. We have a 20-mile stretch to cover, and based on our predictions, the border is going to jump anywhere between a half mile and a mile backward. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and it's all residential. At least 10,000 people will need to be located and brought safely back into our Zone. That’s our job.
“You might not know this, but the real danger to the new arrivals to the System is monsters from other parts of the borderlands; because time was frozen somehow prior to the System, there are no monsters in this area. That’s why we will have a detachment of 200 soldiers sweeping the surrounding area, eliminating nearby monsters. Now, as soon as the time is unfrozen, monsters will begin to spawn, but they will start weak. We need to get as many people out before the average Level of the monster reaches Level 30. That’s about the point where the detachment will start to feel pressured by the monster spawns. That’s when we pull out.”
Inwardly, Randidly felt disgusted that Level 30 monsters would be enough to force the detachment on their back foot, but he supposed he couldn’t be that upset. That’s the point where the thick outer skin of monsters meant that it took a lot more plasma to burn through. In addition, that was when monsters began having significant Levels in the Skills. Now, that was probably only about 50 Skill Levels, but that did a lot to slow the burn of the plasma.