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A note from puddles4263

18/21

"Well fuck me sideways," Sam muttered.

In a strange repeat of a similar scene two weeks ago, Donny stood next to Sam while twisting to and fro nervously. The boy certainly had a right to let down his guard at key moments and display his own nerves, but Sam would prefer that he not be included in that trusted circle. This was a bit too much. "What does it mean?"

"It means that they have made more preparations that I thought... and it means we should meet with them," Sam grunted. His mind shifted from the messenger to the message from Zone Seven. In front of him sat a wooden box, a similar wooden box to the one that Donnyton had received earlier. Except this time, instead of hundreds of very low-quality swords, there were three weapons lying within.

One ax, one sword, one spear.

All three pieces of equipment had reached Level 79. It was a Level that made Sam clench his teeth.

Cheerful Butcher's Axe (A) Lvl 79: A weapon imbued with the inner peace of a cheerful butcher. Strikes made with the ax have a high likelihood of inflicting severe damage. The edge might not seem sharp, but the practical intent of the butcher has made this weapon extremely deadly. Strength +30, Endurance +10. Ritual Use III. Spirit of the People IV.

Ritual Use III: This weapon has gone through a series of refinements by being consistently used over a long period of time. When fulfilling the use that the weapon was designed for, the effectiveness of all related Skills is increased by 30%. Resistance +15.

Spirit of the People IV: Each weapon is imbued with the unstoppable spirit of the People, enabling a warrior to continue fighting long after their body would usually run out of strength. Willpower and Endurance +55.

Qilin Horn Rapier (Ru) Lvl 79: The rare horn of a powerful monster that was slain and transformed into a blade. Such was the craftsmanship that the equipment has transcended even the rare nature of the original material. The mystical properties of the Qilin's horn are perfectly suited to this stabbing blade. Elemental Kaleidoscope III. Not of This World I. Spirit of the People I.

Elemental Kaleidoscope III: Due to the materials used to create this weapon, there will occasionally be explosions of elemental Mana during attacks. Such explosions will add as much strength as a Level 30 Skill. Wisdom +20.

Spirit of the People I: Each weapon is imbued with the unstoppable spirit of the People, enabling a warrior to continue fighting long after their body would usually run out of strength. Willpower and Endurance +5.

Spear of the Intrepid Monarch (Un) Lvl 79: A spear held by one who has led many souls into battle. With such a spear, the holder will be seized by the collective will of the army and wield that strength with impunity. The larger the army, the more strength the holder will draw from the army. Strength, Agility, Reaction, and Perception +10. Folded Metal III. Spirit of the People VI.

Folded Metal III: The complex production process has created a beautiful kaleidoscope of color with its folded metal. Perception and Reaction +35.

Spirit of the People VI: This weapon has been made with a very insistent and powerful image for the People’s role in the world. As such, it will be able to help its bearer surpass his or her limitations when following the will of the People. Willpower and Endurance +85.

"So?" Donny asked again.

So at least they have not reached Legendary Rank. But aside from that edge I have over them… this is beyond the current me. Sam sighed. In some ways, Donny was so foolish. So persistent. What can be said that hasn't already been said...? The information was already in front of them. What really mattered was what they did with this information.

Suddenly, Sam felt like Randidly’s words about Donnyton believing it was the strongest was spot on. Which meant that Sam needed to use this as the prodding to push himself forward to a Level higher than this.

Well, if what Donny wanted to know was whether Donnyton was capable of producing something like this...

Sam pressed his eyes closed. Not right now. But soon. I know it. With what I'm about to make for Randidly, I'll blow this away...!

Yet that wasn't now. So Sam opened his eyes and said. "How much do these cost? What did the ambassador want for them?"

"No cost," Donny said with a shake of the head. "He claimed they were a gift."

That was exactly what Sam hoped he wouldn't hear. Sighing, Sam looked up at the sky. "No such thing as a free lunch... hey, talk to Sydney and get her to send some of those elemental manifestations South to us. We are going to need to send a gift in return to our neighbors... and we need to make fucking sure it blows their socks off.”

Sam had been focused on so many things the past few months that he had forgotten to raise the bar of what was possible. But this, combined with Randidly’s rejection of his initial equipment, lit a fire in his chest.

It was time to remind the world of the power of the Dawn Smith.

****

Randidly frowned down at the ground, sitting cross-legged in one of the deep burrows that Thorn used as its home. Even here, not all of Thorn's body was visible; Thorn's core was exposed, but much of his body was spread through the area beneath Scant.

Although the strange, fleshy pink and green core was hanging right in front of Randidly, that wasn't why Randidly was frowning. No, Randidly was considering his next move.

Because through their mental communication, Thorn informed him that Neveah had ordered Thorn to stay here and destroy any of the frog people that washed ashore. And to do it quickly, before anyone saw them, or they saw people. Randidly also learned from Thorn that Decklan was with Neveah, accompanying her.

Perhaps more disturbing was that the connection to his Riders still wasn't close enough to sense their specific location. But he was able to get a faint sense that they were even further to the Southeast, across the wide sea that separated this Zone. Right in the direction where Randidly could feel Neveah's constant and even connection.

Snorting, Randidly stood. "Thanks for the info, and for working so hard. Soon I'm going to need to head across the sea, so you handle everything here, alright?"

Cooing in dissatisfaction, Thorn's core contracted.

Randidly shrugged. "Yes well, you can't very well dig through the sea, can you? Have you tried moving through water?"

Thorn slumped in defeat, causing Randidly to chuckle.

"...yea, I figured it was something like that. Everyone has weaknesses. Even I do. Although if I had to describe them..." Randidly trailed off. Thorn just seemed confused, so he just shrugged and rubbed Thorn’s core affectionately.

It was difficult to climb back up to the surface level through the series of tunnels and cracks that Thorn had created, but from there Randidly was rather undecided on what to do. Very soon after he had headed in this direction to surprise Neveah, he might have just hit a stumbling block that would reveal his plans... After all, Randidly didn't have the heart to try and convince Thorn not to tell Neveah that he was here.

The plant was rather innocent; it simply wouldn't understand the reason for the deception.

So Randidly sighed and opened up a connection to Neveah.

Neveah, I'm headed your way. I have some down time, so I'll help you out with the portal for a bit.

For several seconds there was no answer, and then Neveah sent a wave of pleasure across their connection.

Good timing. Do you have more of these bug Riders? They help with the image.

Frowning, Randidly tried to parse apart what Neveah was saying. What did she mean, help with the image...?

Well, it's not as though I can't make more if they keep Leveling up the Skill... I see you've been putting them to work for the past several weeks? Why didn't you tell me that you were using them? I thought they had gone rogue.

Neveah seemed surprised. Oh. I thought you sent me them on purpose. They just showed up. And they kill well.

Shaking his head, Randidly told Neveah he would be there soon and ended the connection. They just showed up? Well when he had allowed them free reign, he supposed it made sense that they would head toward another being that produced similar energy to himself… Something like instincts?

The sun hung low over Scant, fat and hot causing several beads of sweat to form on Randidly’s neck. In spite of his internal conflict about this situation, he sighed in contentment. Despite the rather... pungent smell of dead fish that was wafting out of Scant, the heat and humidity reminded Randidly of the few vacations he had been able to take into Tropical climates before the System arrived.

Those were good memories. It was hard to come by those, these days.

As he walked deeper into the city, he idly wondered whether there would be a point that tourism became a widespread thing on Earth once more. Currently, most people stayed in one spot because of the external threat of monsters and to sharpen their Skills, but as the years turned into decades, Randidly suspected that the rate of advancement for Skills would fall off a cliff.

And after that happened, the speed of Leveling would fall even more quickly once people lost the ambition they had to grow.

Randidly affectionately dubbed this arms race period between the different Zones early-stage System-ism. The period of growth would likely push them to the limits of what was possible for humanity. After that would come mid-stage System-ism, where the next few generations of children, who would be born into the System, would push a little past the current exploits. After all, with the benefit of experience, they would have an edge over their predecessors.

As for Late-stage System-ism...

Randidly grimaced as he walked past a stall where the reeking innards of fish were heaped into a pile to be sold in bulk. Hopefully, he would be able to overcome the Calamities and give Earth the chance to reach that point. That was why he was here.

Getting distracted by other things was inevitable, but he needed to keep it to a minimum. For now, he should gather information and then head toward Neveah.

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