For Wendy, the month after Randidly Ghosthound had requested a mechanical city built was the most hectic one of her life. During that time, she slept mostly underneath her work table or huddled beneath her desk in her office. Half-finished coffee cups and sheaves of paper were left behind her in some haphazard parade of an overworked engineer.
An overworked GENIUS, I might add… Wendy often comforted herself with similarly phrased affirmations so that she remained grounded in front of Randidly’s almost careless treatment of her assistance.
It wasn’t enough that the man could produce a king’s ransom in metals at the drop of a hat in an attempt to bribe her. It wasn’t even that he even also brought a bunch of chattering and scuttling miniature mollusks that asked an embarrassing number of questions that left Wendy stumped and tearing out chunks of her hair. Questions that required her to use some of her nonexistent free time to develop acceptable responses.
It also wasn’t the uncomfortable truth that Randidly brought Lucretia and her apprentices to assist with the construction, and Lucretia made Wendy extremely nervous. That woman slept with one eye open and one hand always brushing her hair so it eternally possessed salon quality glossiness.
Too many mornings this past month had seen a frumpy Wendy rolling out of a sleeping bag carefully constructed of research papers and scribbled notes only to find that Lucretia was hard at work, as though exhaustion was only a concern for lesser creatures.
No, what truly drove Wendy insane was Randidly Ghosthound himself and his oblivious attitude; he had claimed a large portion of her magnificent office to make a personal workspace despite the fact that Wendy had made several comments about how she worked better without oversight.
To which Randidly responded flippantly that, ‘honestly, I won’t be watching you at all. I have my own work to do.’
That, Wendy thought while grinding her teeth, is beside the point.
Which was why Wendy was currently standing outside of her own office, fiddling with the lock mechanism, offering a silent prayer that Randidly wasn’t currently here. And because Randidly could somehow manifest himself inside her office without using the corridor, the only way for Wendy to find out if he was actually present was to open the door.
But if he was there…
Wendy rubbed her eyes furiously. He’s been locked in my office for the past week! I just want some space to do a crossword puzzle in peace… and hell, no matter what he’s doing, if he’s there, I’m just going to demand he go work somewhere else. This is my office, after all. I’m a genius with my own office, and I need some alone time.
After a few pump-up jabs into the air, Wendy opened the door. She raised her chin and glared around in her best imitation of a hawk, prepared to chase away the pest-like Ghosthound. But of course, what she found rendered her speechless for several seconds.
“Are those… scars…?”
The slender form of Randidly Ghosthound was shirtless, standing in the middle of her office. Without any covering, the vicious wound that left him without a left arm was readily apparent. But even worse than that were the terrible markings that stretched upward from the severed limb like inflamed earthworms.
Randidly glanced up at Wendy, offered her a short smile, then turned back to the mirror he had set up in the middle of the office. With his hands and the reflective surface, Randidly was carefully examining a series of deep runic markings on his shoulder. Tapping his lips thoughtfully, he finished and turned back to Wendy. “...yes, in a way. Your design for the arm was good, but it quickly became clear that the counter would be to target the harness that kept it in place. Therefore, I needed a more permanent solution.”
Wendy silently regarded the stump of Randidly’s arm and the surrounding shoulder. Deep grooves that sparkled with the distinct hint of Mana radiated outward from the shoulder in complex lines. When Randidly dragged his fingers across the markings, they flashed with brighter with reinforced might. It was clear from the tight set of his jaw that he was making adjustments… and it was not a painless process.
The wounds themselves weren’t bleeding or anything… but they were certain inflamed and swollen. Just from looking, Wendy could tell that the process of using Mana to carve them into his skin would have been a bit…
“Did it hurt?” Wendy blurted out, unable to control her curiosity.
Randidly nodded. “Quite a bit. And that’s from someone who hasn’t shied away from pain for a few years. But pain is a lot milder than the more internal forms of torture, so it worked out in the end.”
“Will you need to… ah… how can you adjust the Engravings now that they are a part of you like that? They seem a bit…” Wendy’s fingers flexed. Compared to Randidly’s tan skin, the inflamed lines of the Engraving on his shoulder seemed like the result of some terrible illness. It marred his body in a way that the System didn’t usually allow.
Perhaps that was why Wendy found herself so fascinated by it.
“Mmm… It’s actually not that much trouble for the current me. I can do a lot with simply adjusting the relative Mana density in all of the lines. Even if the design I made at the time is a bit crude, it reeks of necessity. That sort of image in the Engraving would be difficult to reproduce on a second attempt in less dangerous circumstances. Which reminds me, I”m almost finished with my preparations. Did you make the final schematics?”
“Which of the dozens of designs you are extorting out of me might you be referring to?” Wendy mumbled, her resentment once more surging up in her heart. Even if she enjoyed the individual making of the intriguing things that Randidly requested, his expectation that she would do work for him without any sort of warning rankled.
With a grin, Randidly pointed to the stump of his shoulder. “This, obviously. With that glove as the core, I have pretty high expectations. But I’ll be… leaving our current location soon, so I would like it finished before we get back.”
Sighing, Wendy could do nothing but shrug. “Well, yes. The design is… well urgh… it should work. It’s just… that glove… where did you get it? Even among all the other impossible materials you’ve given me, this one…”
Although she wouldn’t admit it on the surface, part of Wendy’s recent resentment stemmed from the fact that as a designer, she hadn’t been invited to any of the actual hands-on work. Randidly brought her around for proof of concept demonstrations for her innovations but then had to do the assembly and crafting work himself.
The stated reason was that Wendy couldn’t handle the materials; they were too high-Level.
When Randidly approached her a month ago, Wendy had sneered at this idea. So she had been sneaking off bits of scrap metal to experiment with to prove him wrong. In her mind, Wendy imagined a scenario that she could triumphantly display her capability to him and he would be forced to allow her to participate in the juicy finishing touches.
After all, the past year had seen Wendy rise to Level 33. She was no longer an amateur.
To her great disappointment, all of her experiments ended in failure. A failure so complete that Wendy had wanted to crawl under all the scavenged bits of spare metal and allow them to crush her to death.
It was around that depressing realization that Randidly requested that she make another replacement arm and use a special glove as the core of the arm. Naturally, Wendy ran some tests to determine the power inherent in the glove.
The results made her want to vomit.
Quite the opposite of the materials Randidly gave, the problem with the glove was that Wendy hadn’t been able to find anything that the retractable claws of the glove couldn’t cut through. Which made it extremely difficult to handle the glove without casually destroying a portion of her own workroom.
It was somewhat satisfying that even Randidly’s metals were ripped to shreds by the glove, but it was a short-lived pleasure. It only took a few accidental eviscerations of Wendy’s carefully assembled work tools for only a dull rage to remain in her heart.
But Wendy was a professional, above all else. Even if Randidly Ghosthound seemed intent on destroying her sense of perspective. With a haggard face, Wendy nodded to his question and offered him a dense packet of designs. “Yes, the design is done.”
“Perfect, I’ll need to start work immediately.” Randidly waved a hand and produced another pile of metal ingots. Apparently, all he needed to do was wish hard enough to create something more valuable than Wendy had ever encountered. What was even more aggravating was one of his emerald flames condensed around him and quickly began to melt in a well-behaved glob of molten metal.
“Ah… before you begin… There’s one thing I want to ask you about.” Wendy interrupted. Not that she wanted to stay here and watch him work, but there was quite a bit of business for them to discuss about the project.
“Sure, let’s talk while I get things ready… ah, shit, I can’t wait to have a left arm back…” Randidly muttered. The molten metal began to spin rapidly. While Randidly somehow maintained control over the molten metal’s movements, it stretched out mid-air until it was as thin as a pancake. Then he increased the speed of the rotation further and brought it all back into a gleaming and unblemished sphere.
At the same time, Randidly quickly scanned through the plans that Wendy had slaved over for the past two days to make the best use of the gloves appalling destructive potential and structural integrity.
Flick, flick, flick.
Randidly quickly proceeded through the dozens of sheaves of paper that contained all the condensed knowledge that Wendy possessed. Even though she knew that the result would upset her, Wendy began to count inwardly.
One, two, three-
Randidly stored away the papers with a pleased nod.
Three seconds. Wendy’s expression was abysmal.
Randidly looked at her in confusion. “Something wrong? I thought you had some issues you wanted to talk about.”