The orange haired woman stood to thank her benefactor, shock in her eyes. She was a good 4 inches taller than him. The two flirted for quite some time, so much so that Randidly gave up on learning more about the creature, and walked back to the factory early, shaking his head. Besides, he had no interest in being pointlessly tangled up in more nonsense than he had to be.
He spent another week working, Extracting, Refining, and then mixing monster bones into the metals. It was relaxing, in a way, and his Skills slowly ticked upwards as he continued to work. However, his most recent batch had a slight problem: he had used a different type of monster bone, so the metal was slightly different.
This metal was more rigid, harder, and cracked rather than bent. Almost helpless, Randidly could only take it to Foreman Davey to be tested.
“Formula go awry?” The man asked curiously, regarding the metal. Randidly could do nothing but shrug.
Finally, after snapping two ingots, Foreman Davey seemed satisfied. “I can still give you the $2.50 for this. It’s more rigid, but it has good strength. I’ll take it all.”
So Randidly sold all 300 ingots that he had made, netting himself $750. Including the money he had from his previous sales, he had just below $1000. It was still quite a bit short of the amount required to buy preliminary citizenship, but it would close that distance fast if he dedicated himself to it.
Increasing the quantity would be easy. Randidly had no doubt that he could do almost 1000 ingots a day. But that might draw too much attention. Best to keep the quantity constant, while pushing the quality enough to make more money.
Four hours later, Randidly looked down at a metal ingot with chagrin. It was a dull red, but there were thin lines of emerald running through it, which seemed to pulse with a strange light. Randidly shook his head dourly. He had spent the last hour trying to do ANYTHING to it, but even with his prodigious strength, he wasn’t able to bend or warp it.
Acri could cut it, but barely. His blade got stuck into it after about a centimeter, and it would pull itself out and complain to Randidly. He shrugged helplessly. It was gratifying that the mixture of a Level 65 spine and a bit of his own blood would result in such a powerful metal, but it was… too powerful. Randidly stored it away and began to think about how he could pull back somewhat on the formula strength.
Instead of the potion brewing portion of the process, Randidly decided to focus his efforts on increasing the efficacy of the Extract and Refine portions. If he could strengthen the base materials, he wouldn’t need to work more ingredients into the formula yet.
Plus, the past two weeks of working with the metal further deepened his understanding of it. The more he saw examples of pure iron and steel, the stronger his image would be. So Randidly took two days to just extract and refine, working on forcing more out of his raw materials.
When his progress was frustratingly slow with just the iron ore, Randidly also began refining the bones he had Acri slice up. This avenue bore fruit. Not only did he gain quite a few Skill Levels in Refine for it, but it also seemed to condense the strengths of the prior two metals into one.
He was quite pleased when, after only 8 days, he returned to Foreman Davey with 100 ingots of the improved metal.
“You aren’t a lad that takes many breaks, are ya? Still, this is good. Better than good. I’d like to buy this for myself. $5 an ingot.” Foreman Davey said with a warm smile on his face. “Make sure you come to me with any more experiments, eh?”
Foreman Davey walked off, whistling in the smoggy and hot steel smelting factory. Randidly shook his head, filled with wonder.
He sensed the other approaching but felt no real need to do anything about it. It was only when a hand gripped his arm that he looked up, finding himself face to face with a shaggy looking man with deep bags under his eyes.
Even his smile felt tired and overused. “Congratulations brother. It seems like you’ve been doing a lot of business lately. It gives men who are down on their luck like myself some hope for the future. Say, since you’ve come into such a windfall, how about a night on the town? A friend of mine is throwing a party tomorrow, and I’m sure I could get you an invite. What do you say?”
Randidly’s immediate response was to open his mouth to say no, but he thought better of it. Although it would likely be a waste of time, low profile is key. From the way this situation was developing, he might be muscled more directly into cooperating with these seedy elements if he didn’t seem willing to play ball.
Beating the shit out of these people would draw attention to him if nothing else. If they continued to push, however, Randidly intended to make them regret bothering him so insistently. It had been a while and several hundred Intelligence since he had last exposed someone to the Pollen of the Rafflesia, Randidly wondered if it would be too much at this point, and just kill someone at this level.
The greasy man nodded and then gave Randidly a few more details before leaving. He barely heard the man, just glad to be away. After he was sure no one was watching him, he looked up at the sky.
Almost dusk. Perfect. Randidly walked out of town, and into the growing darkness.
The soft grass felt natural on Randidly’s feet. One thing he profoundly disliked about Zone 1 was the constant presence of roads. It made sense in an annoying way, as the infrastructure here hadn’t been destroyed. Therefore it was easy for truck and cars to continue to operate, although the people here had been forced to get creative with their fuels. But the more Randidly continued to not wear shoes, the more he felt intimately connected to the world beneath him. Through his toes, he could feel the Earth breathing, albeit very slowly.
Now, there were a few annoying instances where he dropped molten metal on his toes, which made him curse viciously, but that was worth a Skill Level in Fire Resistance, so Randidly didn’t feel particularly compelled to change his ways. But he had twisted and crushed that ingot into a useless bit of torn metal, out of principle.
Randidly came tonight out to the nearby forest in order to get in touch with his main goal for coming here: locating the Creature.
The factory complex was Southwest of the main Tier 2 city it was ostensibly a part of, and the forest was a bit further west of the factory complex. Far enough that a normal person without a vehicle would take about half a day to get there, but to Randidly he could sprint that in an almost irrelevant amount of time. Besides, the main rail line that ran East and West was a few miles North. This area was considered a dead zone, population wise. It was common to encounter monsters here, so the average person avoided it. Although they had the tools to deal with monsters at this level, who would take the risk to deal with them? They could get injured, or worse, killed.
The people of Zone 1 preferred to leave these sort of things to the military police.
Meanwhile, Randidly allowed Acri and Sulfur to happily clobber the monsters here, as they were between Level 5 and Level 20. Even Sulfur, who had no offensive weapons to speak of, could use his dense body to weigh down opponents and suffocate them with his carbon plates.
Randidly almost felt bad, releasing these two troublemakers among the monster populations here. But it wasn’t really something he seriously worried about. The only directive he gave to his Soul Seeds were to refrain from killing too many, lest they attract the attention of either GHost or the Creature. Or both, if they were related.
This area was also free of the cameras and sensors that Ghost maintained inside the city limits, and the flyovers happened infrequently. Based on his observations, he had an 8-hour window from 11 PM to 7 AM with which to work. By that time, he would be back to the factory complex, slaving away in the heat, with the AI none the wiser. Ghost would know he left the area, of course. But there were smaller hamlets dotting the countryside. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Randidly to be one of the refugees staying in the camps scattered for the population of Zone 1 without any citizenship.
Not that there were rights given solely to those with citizenship, but the way society was structured here, your label was very clear.
It was dark around Randidly, and he stopped, looking at the nearby trees. Then he closed his eyes.
Plant Dominance began to hum softly inside of himself, as he spread his tendrils of will out to the plants in the area. Very soon, the whole forest was covered. Every plant seemed to be invigorated by Randidly’s touch, growing at an almost visible pace as his Mana flowed through them.
To his surprise, his ‘secret forest’ wasn’t as empty as he thought. There were multiple farms in the deepest parts of it, likely set up by people looking to escape the notice of the authorities. Hopefully, they realized that the ominous AI Ghost was able to spot the farms with its flyovers, but it was likely too small of an issue for the machine to intervene directly. They were safe, although Randidly was more curious as to why they chose to set up here than anything else. A quick, questioning pulse revealed that the plants were of a grade higher than he had seen anywhere but Donnyton.
“Interesting,” Randidly said aloud, his eyes still closed. Perhaps at some point, he would need to go introduce himself to his new neighbors. There seemed to be about two dozen of them, but they stayed near their corner of the forest.
The other surprise guest was a Tier II Raid Boss, a Black Faced Monkey, which seemed to detect the fluctuations of Randidly’s Skills. The monster trembled, gathering its young into the cave that was their main base. This gave Randidly some pause. Obviously, they wouldn’t be a threat to him, but they would be something that would catch the attention of the military, should they become known. That might lead to an investigation, which would be unfortunate.
It was too bad he hadn’t brought Nathan along with him here, he would be interesting to see how the kid’s Class would interact with monsters. He made a mental note to send a message to Dinesh to have them look into it.