Randidly hid a smile with a hand. At this point, the fearsome Randidly Ghosthound was just marching around with his arms behind his back to look official. Although he was very sure of his knowledge in regards to metal forging, images, and Engraving, the technical details of some of the inventions that the participants in the festivals brought were beyond him.
During his time working with drones, his piss-poor knowledge of mechanical engineering had simply been masked by his prodigious Mana pool and his ability to Engrave. But since Tatiana had somehow gotten the idea to include his guidance as a reward for participation, there needed to be some commentary. Therefore, he allowed Wendy to do what came naturally to her.
After all, very few academics, especially young ones, could resist god-given opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge.
“Fascinating… but poorly designed. Is this only the first prototype…?” Wendy spun the strange circular module in her hand. She barely even seemed to be examining the technology, just spinning it. In the brightly lit lantern light, the silver blur shined and swam before Randidly’s eyes like a fish in water. Although she had no combat abilities to speak of, that didn’t mean Wendy didn’t have her own methods.
But maybe I should have told her that these people had only six hours to make their inventions. She’s been quite harsh…
but then again, compared to some of the timelines I demanded from her, six hours…
The elderly man who created the module was nervously looking from Wendy to Randidly. It was hard to say whether Wendy’s rather dismissive evaluation or her cavalier handling of the module was the source of his worry, but it was clear he was inwardly struggling not to speak out. Likely he would have, had Randidly not been here.
Randidly and Wendy had made it almost 3/4ths of the way through the entrants into the contest over the course of two hours. Although Randidly had intended to create the chance for other people to take a break with this festival, he was beginning to wish that he had a little more time to work on his actual goals during this period of times. Right now, he was effectively just a rubber stance with whatever advice that Wendy gave.
But still, he owed this to Wendy. So he kept his peace and watched. Besides, Randidly couldn’t deny that with Wendy’s criticisms and using Aether Detection to peer into the inner workings of the inventions, he was learning quite a lot. In his mind, the final plans for the moving city were coming into sharper relief.
“Uh… Mr. Ghosthound… actually-” The old man began as his gaze remained fixed on Wendy’s hands. The man licked his lips as he worked himself up to say something. But Wendy quickly cut him off.
“What’s this?” The object in her hands had stopped spinning. Wendy was pointing a series of cramped Engravings that had been added to the back.
“That… what…?” Then the old man paled. “Ah… just a stop-gap method for dealing with some of the overflowing energy that the module experiences while it is used. In short tests, the energy remained under control, but I suspect that over time-”
“This will cause energy discharge, will it not? Not a large amount, but certainly painful.” Wendy sniffed and set the invention down on the stand with an audible clack. “Maybe a good idea… but even good ideas need to be honed before they are released on the market. I hope your next iteration will be refined further.”
Really, to have noticed the issue after six hours seems like plenty, but I can’t deny that having someone with Wendy’s attention to detail help me is invaluable…
Without waiting for the man’s answer, Wendy continued on to the next stall. Despite the fact they had been going on for almost two hours, Wendy only seemed invigorated. She marched forward with swinging arms, and her eyes were bright and curious.
The owner of the next stall was clearly sweating, having watched Wendy’s methodical evisceration of the qualifications of every entrant that had come before. But the next entrant, a woman who had shaved half of her head, took a deep breath as Wendy approached. With his sensitivity to images, he could even feel the thin sensation of emotions when he was this close to the source.
Fear and hopelessness surged in the woman’s heart. Even though Randidly didn’t know everyone in Erickson Steel, he had recognized that the old man that Wendy quickly disregarded was relatively well regarded.
He could follow the downhill flow of the woman’s thoughts:
If his invention isn’t good enough, then my own…
The woman raised her chin and smiled as brightly as she could manage at the Randidly and Wendy. With a very short explanation, she explained the purpose of her invention; it was a one-use battery that would stimulate an individual’s body to cause Stamina to recover at double its previous rate for a short time. The two obvious drawbacks were the fact it could only be used one time, and that the process was quite painful.
Although he kept his emerald eyes unfocused, Randidly’s entire attention was focused on the nervous woman and the rather delighted Wendy. He had remained largely silent during their meandering path through the brightly lit festival for two reasons. The first was that Wendy was a much more precise judge of these things than he would have been. The second reason…
It was for that moment of nervous fear that the woman had as she watched everyone before her fail to achieve the standards that he set. It was for that eyes-pressed-tightly-shut tension right before Randidly and Wendy arrived. And it was for that moment that the woman gritted her teeth and forced out a smile despite the bitter fear of failure.
‘Even if everyone else in front of me failed, I will still step forward and try my best. I can still do it. Even if the chance is close to zero…. I will give it my best.’
That was what Randidly was here to create. A tight deadline that pushed away thoughts and worries, and a tantalizing future to draw people out of their comfort zone. An attitude across the whole of Erickson Steel that would encourage attempting the impossible and pushing your own limits.
There was some risk that he would crush the dreams of these people with the weight of his expectations, but Randidly had no other choice.
Honestly, with not a moment to spare,
Randidly thought wryly. Because of the problems associated with the final Judgement, he wanted to have Erickson Steel ready to get up and walk away in two weeks. Therefore, the people that were here now on Erickson Steel would be the psychological foundation for any image that would cover the city.
Randidly hadn’t seen very much of most of the people who were a part of the compound, so he had carried a worry with him in his heart. But to see all these people now… stepping forward again and again for the sake of advancing their own art… Randidly couldn’t help but relax a small amount.
“…I don’t know of any ready-made solutions to the flaws…” Wendy said slowly. She handed the item back to the woman. “But it’s good you know what the flaws are. If the numbers you provided are accurate… this is an intriguing product. With enough time for experimentation, I believe that both issues can be addressed.”
“Actually, there are already a couple of easy ways to get around the pain…” The woman pipped up. Her voice was high and wavering, but she spoke anyway. “But they all decrease the efficacy so much that the boost wasn’t worth it any longer. And I think… even if it was painful… most people would choose that pain to keep the effect high. If anything… I have been aiming to increase the output at any cost, even if it will result in a more painful usage.”
“Masochist,” Wendy said lightly. But she did offer the woman a soft smile. “If that’s the path you insist on taking… obviously, I won’t try and stop you. Just don’t let this guy’s ideas infect you too much.”
At that time, Wendy kicked Randidly. He endured it stoically, as Wendy’s Strength wasn’t anywhere what was needed in order to actually inflict pain on him. The woman looked between them, seemingly slightly dazed.
“You… you don’t also work for Mr. Ghosthound…?” The woman asked.
“Well…” Wendy’s face crinkled into a deep frown. “I’m… a consultant I guess…? But no, I don’t work for him. It just always feels like I do…”
“Is it really that bad?” Randidly chuckled. Wendy sniffed at him and didn’t bother to answer. Instead, she turned and walked to the next stall and began her inspection of that invention. Above them on the street, a humming drone emitted a soft lavender light that soaked the surrounding area and reminded Randidly of Lucretia.
He turned back to the woman. Even though he kept too much of his focus from gathering and offered her a polite smile, Randidly’s high Perception easily picked up her sharp increase in heart rate.
So when he spoke, he kept his tone even and his voice slow. “I’m not sure how to solve the single-use problem. That would be something that would take me quite a while to work out; I don’t know much about batteries. But if all you are looking for is power…”
An ember of burning blue condensed around Randidly’s right pointer finger. He walked up to the metal stall the woman used to display her device and used his metal left arm to carefully move everything out of the way. Then, as quick as breathing, Randidly traced out a simple, curving rune across the surface of the desk.
His strokes were quick and even. After Engraving Levelable patterns for so long, a single use Engraving was almost a relief. It took six strokes to finish.
The resulting Engraving was a raw and dangerous thing, Randidly knew. So much so that he felt a twinge of regret after he had put it down against the cool metal. It glowed in a shimmering blend of emerald and aquamarine. It would produce power and vast quantities of it, at the cost of destroying the medium soon afterward.
As Randidly pulled his hand away, small bolts of static electricity hopped upward and bridged the gap to his hand. Even with his relatively high Endurance, he felt a few painful twinges from the proximity. Then he turned solemnly to the woman. “A gift. So that you can accomplish what you wish.”
The road will not be any easier. The more impossible mountains you climb, the more you are able to see before you. But if that belief in yourself and in the future you can create never wavers… then there is a one and a million chance you can change the world. And those are the individuals that Erickson Steel needs.
“It’s…” The woman drew closer, her hands reached out toward the Engraving that now covered her stand. When bolts of energy curled upward and jolted the woman’s limbs, she didn’t take a step back. She simply lowered her hands and leaned closer to study it.
She didn’t flinch as the power crackled and hissed.
“…it’s perfect.” The woman mumbled.
“Good luck,” Randidly said. Then he turned away and followed after Wendy. But in the back of his mind, he held a secret, fearful thought.
Will you mutilate yourself, as I have done?
But it wasn’t a question worth vocalizing. Randidly was aware that there were no truly positive and negative images; the world wasn’t such a simple place. Each image, no matter how powerful it was, had its own downsides. For example, the image that Donnyton had been heading toward was one of being undefeatable.
It was certainly a powerful and towering image. But it was rigid to a fault. A single defeat would shatter that image, once it had evolved to its final form. Which was why Randidly had acted to destabilize and alter the image with his Challenge before it had reached that stage. With that proof that undefeatable wasn’t the image for them, some of the lesser virtues in Donnyton could grow to become its dominant ideology.
In terms of Erickson Steel, Randidly was pushing toward an image that had to do with making the impossible possible. It was an image that was based on the premise that if an individual wanted something enough, and dedicated the requisite time to the task, they could accomplish anything. An image of desire and indomitable Willpower.
But there was a long shadow cast by that image.
What if the impossible goal that someone wanted to accomplish was something malicious? Erickson Steel would accept that desire too. Effort and dedication were the two virtues at the core of this image. There was no sense of justice that would steer them from a darker Path.
But Randidly didn’t look backward toward the woman he had given a power that was far beyond her current understanding. And he hadn’t asked why she was willing to endure pain in order to gain Stamina quickly. It was enough that she wanted it, and had the spirit to make her dream concrete. That earned the woman Randidly’s gift, in his mind.
The control comes later. Right now, this place needs power more than anything else. I can’t protect them forever.