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A note from puddles4263

14/14

Annoyed at the seemingly inexplicable trouble with this Skill, Randidly looked up at the three recently created Riders of the Baleful Court. They were slightly larger than the previous duo that he had created, but he chalked that up to the fact that the Skill Level had increased since the previous two had been summoned.

By a lot. More than was explained by Randidly just having them active. Whatever that damned duo was up to so distantly from him, it was certainly earning him Skill Levels.

But no matter how much he pulsed the energies of the Skill, they didn’t return. Was the distant reducing the connection that much? Yet it seemed too much of a reaction to simply unsummon them from a distance... Still. Randidly was not pleased that they were being so uncooperative.

He raised his finger and jabbed it at the three new summons. “Follow the connection. Find your two predecessors and then drag them back here. That’s an order.” As he said the word order, he allowed his Crown of Upheaval and Gloom to briefly manifest above his head. The figures of the riders bowed in understanding. Then they set off.

Which left Randidly standing in front of his little cabin, smoke from the forge wafting upward. Turning around, he walked back inside.

Waiting for him within was the buckler shield that he had been toying with for almost four hours. His first success in creating a growing Skill within an engraving. For his trouble, he had earned ten Levels in Mana Engraving, was enough to push him up to Level 196. He held a lot of anticipation for a new Path opening to him when he reached Level 200.

Hopefully, it would drastically reduce the hair pulling involved with this process.

The Skill contained in the buckler shield was Emerald Barrier. It was only a common ranked Skill and compared to what Randidly could manage on his own, it conjured a positively wispy barrier of thin emerald flames. After some brief experimentation, it could barely block the attack of a monster at Level 9.

Yet its a success, Randidly thought as he suppressed a grin.

Successive uses had raised its Level, even as it depleted its store of energy. At Level 4, Randidly waited patiently for the energy to come back while he continued to further perfect the curving flame pattern he had used to make it.

One big breakthrough Randidly had discovered was that the speed at which energy returned to the item after the Skill was used didn’t appear to be based upon the pattern or quality of the engraving at all. Rather, it was just based upon the materials. The common metals that constituted the buckler had little to no Mana affinity, and therefore the gathering of energy was rather slow. Almost one use every four hours charged up.

Which was why Randidly promised himself that his next attempt would be using more Mana sympathetic materials.

That speed of recovery slowly increased as the Level increased, but it was insignificant. From his observations, maybe the Levels already gathered shaved a minute off of the recharge time. Likely, if he hadn’t thought to check before he had Leveled it, he wouldn’t have noticed the shift in recharge time.

In addition, the text of the Engraving made him believe that as the Level increased, so did the number of charges that could be saved up, up to the Level itself. Which, once the Engraving grew to Level 20 or so and was allowed to charge up, would be extremely useful to those who acquired it.

While Randidly waited for the buckler to charge under the midday sun, he moved smoothly through his spear forms. He practiced both the action, the Skill, and then the image for his Spear Phantom and Ashen Kata Skills.

Randidly looked with pity at the circle of grass outside his hut where he practiced. The alternating heat and freezing cold from his images had turned it to withered brown weeds. Of course, a few hours near him would invigorate the foliage simply by virtue of his continued use of Ignition of the Emerald Essence. But Randidly felt somewhat bad; he was a walking ecological disaster.

When he finished moving through his spear forms, his focus shifted. Instead of combat, Randidly practiced Mana Engraving where his goal was not to create a growing Skill in an item, but simply imbue a Skill into the item. For the sake of perfecting the shape and image, Randidly continued to use Emerald Barrier.

After about seven attempts, Randidly held a tower shield in his hand and looked critically at its attributes.

Sturdy Tower Shield (Un) Lvl 36: A tower shield that was made with quality ingredients. It will hold up well underneath extended periods of violence. Birthed in an Emerald Fire II. Skill Lvl 36: Emerald Barrier (Skill Level limited by Item Level). Endurance +10. Health and Stamina +30.

Birthed in an Emerald Fire II: Strange energies were used to forge this shield. Due to that, the user will be invigorated by the vestiges of that birth. Vitality and Focus +9.

Randidly nodded shortly to himself. He had tested this Skill as well, and the conjured barrier really was about the strength of a monster at Level 36. Most humans could break it with Skills, but against monsters, it certainly served its purpose.

Plus, the greatest benefit was that it wouldn’t drain the user’s Mana pool. Over the course of a long fight, saving every pinch of Mana counted.

Nodding sharply, Randidly prepared to make another Engraved Skill attempt with a higher Level weapon but was distracted by the sound of someone walking up the path toward his hut. He briefly cast his mind around for who it could be, but nobody came to mind. His meeting with the Donnyton leadership was tomorrow afternoon, after all.

Would someone come out to visit him early…?

Obvious he would sense if it was those damned Riders, and he believed he would have sensed long before if it was Neveah or someone else who was touched by his Aether, like Helen. Perhaps it was Sam?

There was a chill in his heart when Randidly walked outside because another option presented itself to his mind. But no, it was not Lyra that walked up the path toward his cabin. It was a gruff man, wearing the distinctive blood spattered leather apron of a butcher.

Slightly bemused, Randidly stood outside of his house and watched the man approach. When he reached the summit of the hill, the man nodded an extended a hand toward Randidly. “Well met. You’re new in these parts, right? I’m Jameson, the local butcher.”

“...Erickson,” Randidly said slowly as he shook the man’s hand. It was a firm grip. On a whim, Randidly scanned the man with Aether; he was Level 42 Meat Artisan.

Inwardly, Randidly whistled. Not just the local butcher, an advanced butcher Class huh? And from the scars and calluses on the man’s hands, he didn’t earn those 42 Levels by slicing meat. It was much more likely that he had served on Donnyton’s Squads for a significant period of time to reach that Level.

Or he was around at the founding of Donnyton and had to go through that meat grinder. No pun intended.

Seeing that Randidly’s expression was friendly, Jameson continued. “Saw smoke from your fire a few days back, made a note to check it out. As a butcher, I’m always looking for new sources of meat. And if a man has enough balls to set up a homestead so far from Donnyton proper… Well, people like you are often the best sources for meat.”

Randidly’s eyebrows rose. “You are here to… buy monster bodies that I’ve killed?”

“That’s basically it. So, Mr. Erickson, anything I’d be interested in? I generally buy things above Level 20, but as a show of good faith-”

“That’s no problem,” Randidly said as he thought of what was sitting in his interspatial ring. The money sent to him from Erickson Steel had, in fact, been running low recently as he continued to experiment with materials to improve the regeneration rate of the Skills Engraved into the items. Making a little extra money from these bodies couldn’t hurt.

One of the few paths that Randidly had never really taken the time to understand well enough to gain a Skill was butchering and extracting materials from monsters. Mostly, he had left it to Sam. There were some exceptions, but that was only when there was something obviously valuable from a corpse that Randidly had ripped off of it with brute force. It barely qualified as dressing a corpse.

Humming to himself, Randidly produced a half dozen of the intact Raptor bodies he had encountered while searching for Naffur. At the time he thought their scales might be useful, but he had completely forgotten about the bodies after that. For good measure, Randidly brought out two Level 71 Shadow Reapers, basically giant hyenas, that he had encountered when he went to observe how the ogres were settling into their new habitat.

The bodies tumbled to the ground like rag dolls, the ring having prevented rigor mortis from setting in.

Jameson blinked in surprise. “Well, well! Looks like coming up here wasn’t a waste. Let me just slice off a piece so I can get a sense of a fair price for the body… wow, these scales…”

In an expert manner, Jameson produced a knife and crouched down next to one of the raptors. His knife blurred as he casually cut at the chest of the raptor. The was a soft hiss as the blade was drawn across the scales, but nothing happened. Randidly looked up toward the sky.

Awkwardly coughing, the butcher glanced up at Randidly then down at the corpse. After a hesitation, he simply reached into the wound Randidly had made in the raptor's side with Acri and cut off a sliver of meat. He examined the meat critically, then popped it right into his mouth.

Instantly his eyes brightened. “Good! Damn good. A little musky and sour, but tender as hell. Where did you get this?”

“Up north,” Randidly said shortly, watching the butcher with a bit of sadness in his eyes. But if the other man wasn’t going to ask.

“I’m not sure about the poundage…” Jameson picked up a raptor experimentally and winced. They were likely almost 300 lbs, although most of that probably wasn’t meat. “But I’ll give you… twenty coins a head? And these two bigguns… they are even a higher Level, aren’t they?”

As Jameson examined the Shadow Reapers critically, Randidly nodded his head in assent.

“Fifty each? Which brings the total to… 220 coins?”

“That seems fine,” Randidly said after a short period of consideration. He wasn’t sure of the value of the bodies, but he had practically forgotten about them so he didn’t mind losing some value. In addition, 220 Donnyton coins was about half the amount that he had gotten from Erickson Steel.

When a few coins could buy several high-quality pieces of metal and processed wood, it certainly seemed fair to give away these high-Level corpses for ten times that.

“So what Level are they, anyway?” Jameson asked casually.

Randidly sighed. No helping it now. “...Level 62.”

“Kkkkgh!” Jameson steadied himself on the imposing raptor corpse, then abruptly stood and idly rubbed his bloody hand against his apron. “And then… these are higher…?”

“Level 71, if I recall correctly.”

Jameson choked on his quickly gathering saliva.

“...Perhaps I should split their hide before you take them?” Randidly offered. Although talented and an impressive Level for a civilian, it was clear this man didn’t have the ability to handle the meat on his own.

With dull eyes, Jameson nodded. Randidly produced Acri and got quickly to work, splitting them down the stomach so they would be easier to work with.

Then, as he finished, a thought occurred to Randidly. He turned to Jameson. “Any chance you would be in the market for engraved shields as well?”

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