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A note from puddles4263

3/7

“It was a good plan,” Neveah said, almost defensively. Randidly readjusted his stance so he wasn’t just staring at her with folded arms. He wasn’t criticizing her, he was just… shocked. “They are stronger than humans. Overall much stronger than Earth. If they knew that fact, no matter how peaceful they were, they would eventually invade. So I decided to play the part of evil being invading them. Pretend that Earth was a terrible place to be feared, where monstrous demons are common.”

The two of them, plus a lounging Decklan, were standing in the master bedroom of the castle, which Neveah had constructed after sampling the many preserved horror movies from before the System arrived. Apparently, she had developed quite the taste for gothic architecture. In addition, she apparently had vastly increased her language proficiency through repeated exposure to media.

Randidly was just glad her brain hadn’t melted from watching too much TV.

But if she is pretending to be a Demon King… Randidly thought sardonically. Can I really say that her brain wasn’t melted. What’s that term for 8th-grade syndrome in Japan. Chuunibyou?

Randidly rubbed his temples. What he wanted to ask was why she decided to use his very respectable Crown in such a nefarious way. Would this action influence his image? The two of them were closely connected... But he knew it wasn’t very mature to ask that. So instead, he said, “And? How has it worked?”

"Well," Neveah said, as a pleased smile spreading across her face. Now that they were in a private area, she had returned to using an illusion to create a rather androgynous human visage that looked like she could have been Randidly's sister. "They are a rather fractured people that are led by these Toad Lords. I killed the two nearby to the opening, but they were extremely weak in comparison to most of this world's people. Therefore, the threat of me... has bought time, but more and more Toad Lords are sending agents to investigate. Plus..."

Decklan harrumphed. "Plus, the reason they found the portal so quickly was because after he opened it, that Undying Hero fled inside and encouraged some individuals from the most powerful faction of Toad Lords to invade. The irony being that what Roy said was the truth; humanity would likely lose a war against the Frogpeople..." Then Decklan spared Randidly a glance. "...provided that certain individuals move on our behalf."

To that, Randidly didn't respond. But he did frown as he considered that conjecture. From what he had seen from the Ogre Ravine World, there were people within the depths of the world that would be more than capable of standing up to him. Sure, Randidly would be able to massacre the armies, but they were never the threat.

The real threat was those ancient things that had been biding their time in a world slowly draining of Aether. They wouldn't move lightly, because their age made them cautious. But when they did move...

Neveah tsk'd. "I have not been able to track him down, because my presence is required here. But until the Undying Hero ceases this foolishness, more Frogpeople will gather. And therefore I will be forced to kill larger and larger groups to keep my threat fresh enough to dissuade them. It is… dangerous."

That was the other fact that Randidly had realized as he listened to Neveah's brief explanation of what had happened. For all that they were acting to protect Earth, what they ended up doing was coming into a dying world and killing indiscriminately to protect their own interests. Of all of the options available to them, this was the one that they had chosen.

And the sad truth was the more they killed now, the more likely it was that there would be so much bad blood between them that the Frogpeople might decide to go to war anyway.

Yet what could Randidly say? Elegant and peaceful solutions were nice, but they simply didn't have time or the strength to enter into a protracted war with a starving world that wanted the Earth's energy like a drug. Peace would be the goal down the line, but it would only be possible where Earth controlled the portal. And yet, no doubt the frogpeople would think the same if they understood the circumstances.

But then Randidly's eyes narrowed. Either way, they would quickly become embroiled in a cycle of violence if the Undying Hero wasn't brought to heel. That was the key that would open up a more peaceful alternative.

"Any leads on where the Undying Hero is?" Randidly asked.

Decklan grimaced and looked at the floor. Neveah shrugged. "We can infer generally that he is steadily heading South from the information from the Toad Lords who have capitulated and by looking at who is sending representatives to watch us. But we have no confirmed reports. He moves too quickly, and likely is wearing a disguise; we have heard no word of a human with the description of the Undying Hero moving through frog lands. And the Frogpeople would definitely notice a human."

"Even if you don't know the exact position... can you guess how far he has traveled?" Randidly asked.

Decklan grimaced. "Four days hard running for me, if I went through the night. And moving further South every day."

Grunting, Randidly tried to calculate how long it would take to catch up. It would probably be fair to say that Randidly could move almost twice as fast as Decklan, should he go all out on the attempt. Faster still if he used Inspiration on the active component of Yyrwood Body of Yggdrasil. He still had about eight days until he wanted to get back on Donnyton, so if Randidly left immediately he should be able to make it with time to spare.

The only question was... how would he deal with the Undying Hero when he found him.

"Alright then," Randidly said shortly. "I'll leave as soon as possible. But before I go, tell me what you know about where I'll be going."

*****

Why had the rapier had a third option, yet neither of the other two did?

Sam sat in a wicker chair as the sun rose over the horizon and considered this problem.

Briefly, in a fit of madness, Sam had mentioned his confusion to Donny. But the boy had taken it exactly the wrong way. He was disturbed that so high quality equipments could be made with three different boosts to them. Especially boosts that reached as high as V. Immediately, he had brought up the possibility of buying those production based buildings again.

Sam had harshly shut him down. Then he had proceeded here to think about the issue, and why it was important. Because there was something about it that seemed to suggest to Sam that if he could figure out why he thought this was weird, his smithing potential would explode.

But it was best to look at it methodically, Sam thought to himself. To start, go to the beginning. Then confirm every step toward the goal.

Common doctrine in Donnyton said that the extra options that could be added to pieces of equipment came from three things: Materials, Process, and Unity between purpose and construction. With Randidly's help, Sam was beginning to understand that the Unity they talked about really referred to the image a maker had. So Materials, Process, and Image.

Even with those as a guide, there were many times that a weapon would have a strange option, one that seemed to somehow combine one or two of those categories. Or an obvious preparation process would yield no changes in options. Some of that could be blamed on failures by the smith, but it also seemed likely that they were missing something.

Which was why the details of that rapier continued to tantalize Sam.

Elemental Kaleidoscope III. Not of This World I. Spirit of the People I.

Spirit of the People could be set aside; that was the overarching image that every sword and shield and glove and condom that came out of Zone Seven possessed. They were certainly consistent, in that respect.

The other two were Elemental Kaleidoscope and Not of This World. The problem with these was that both seemed to be attributable to the materials, and neither to the process. It is theoretically possible that elements could be imbued into a material, but that wasn't the case here. The elements came from the monster itself.

It was even less likely that Not of this World was created with a process. How could humans process something to be not of this world? That too was directly because of the monster’s magical nature.

Perhaps Sam was simply shortsighted; he could be fixated on nothing. But that didn't seem to be the case. It seemed far more likely to him, as someone who had forged hundred of items in the System, that he was missing something important. His categories regarding the options in weapons were incorrect.

"Humm...." Sam rumbled, closing his eyes and allowing the sun to just soak into his skin.

"What are you grumbling about?" Regina said. Sam started; she had moved so quietly out onto the porch he hadn’t noticed her. When Sam opened his eyes, he noticed that she was offering him a cup of coffee. He took it and savored the rich flavor.

Grinning in spite of himself, Sam sniffed and said, "Damnit, how do you do it? I haven't had beans like this in years."

"Rarely do people need surgeons with the advent of the System," Regina said wryly. "I've had some time to work at it. And I'm not the type of woman to stop before I've made a quality product. So, you think it's good enough to sell? I harvested about a ton."

"Do you have packaging?" Sam asked skeptically.

Regina punched his arm softly. "Shush. I don't need you to hold my hand through this, I've got it handled. You are just an old tongue whose been around the block so much that I trust you. So, how is it?"

Sam wrinkled his nose, but dutifully took another sip. Rich and oaky, the flavor lingered on his tongue for several seconds after tasting. "Tastes good."

Holding the cup up, he considered the dark liquid in the sun's warm rays. The amber color was inviting and the familiar smell of coffee drifted upward to his nose. "Looks good."

Seeing Regina rolling her eyes, Sam finished with, "And it was made by the woman I love. What more do I need?"

"Uh huh, thank you very much." Regina leaned over and kissed his cheek. Then, as she straightened, she released a helpless laugh. "Really? Looks good smells good? We aren't buying a table, this is just coffee."

Sam rolled his shoulders. "Well design is important in everything. Just because it's a coffee doesn't mean-"

Then Sam paused. He tapped his fingers very quickly against the wicker chair. Was it... really that simple?

"Sorry, I've got to go," Sam said as he lurched to his feet. "I'll uh, take a look later at your packaging. Or maybe tomorrow. I might be in the forge for a few days."

Regina just laughed and waved her hand and Sam was off, furiously comparing his theory to the pieces of equipment and their options that he remembered. Based upon Randidly's insistence, there probably was no way to get away from image as a defining factor for the creation of an item. Plus, there was no evidence to the contrary.

On the other hand... What if, instead of Materials and Process... You thought about the item in terms of design principles.

Which would make the options created by Function and Form.

With a furious scowl, Sam hurried toward his workshop. He would need to perform some experiments to see the limits of this.

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