Randidly arrived in Donnyton more like an unpopular aunt than a celebrated hero; he arrived silently while bearing his own luggage. Several times during his approach he saw patrols or passed through small country villages that dotted the surrounding area, but he never allowed himself to be seen. The hassle didn’t seem worth it.
In the coming days, he would stand before Donnyton’s population and be known as the Ghosthound, but he didn’t need to deal with such attention now.
Keeping the riders concealed was a bit more difficult, but Randidly’s plant-based Skills gave him a very accurate idea of where other people were. With that forewarning, it wasn’t impossible to avoid the strangely outfitted riders being seen, just slightly obnoxious.
After ditching them because bringing them further into the city seemed pointless, Randidly arrived at the Northern end of Donnyton, slowly walking into an area that looked remarkably quaint. There were candle shops and shoe stores and pubs with wide window displays, as well as street lights and benches. There were clearly paved sidewalks and the streets were cobblestone.
The place was a weird mixture between an 18th-century village and a shopping outlet. It stunk of civilization and commercial success.
Taking a deep breath, Randidly spun slowly. Even now, he could feel Lyra’s touch over the town. That made his mood dim somewhat, but Randidly pressed his eyes closed and shook his head. It was a meeting that he would need to have, but that didn’t mean he would need to have it now. Plus, it had been a long time since Randidly had been in Donnyton; he deserved to savor how much this first Village had grown.
So, as a treat to himself, Randidly approached a small tea shop and bought a crepe. To his surprise, it was honestly one of the best foods he had eaten in a long time. So he bought a whole tray. Although he wasn’t much a fan of sweets, there was something strangely compelling about the nutella and banana within the thin wrapping of sweet dough.
The owner, a middle-aged man, gave Randidly a knowing look. “Good right?”
Grinning, Randidly nodded.
The owner shook his head sorrowfully. “My wife and daughter make everything in the shop. Enchantresses, both of them. I keep saying that we should put up a sign advertising the best desserts in Donnyton, but they don’t like the idea of it. Too ostentatious, they say.”
Then he leaned conspiratorially forward and winked at Randidly. “But you know what would come from such boasts? Income! Money flows well enough when the Squads gather for drills, but when they are out patrolling… just a bit too slow for my taste.”
After finishing off his crepe, Randidly said to the owner, “Just a tip, but I suspect there will be a big influx of Squads soon. Get ready for it.”
Then he walked out of the shop and glanced around. It was still a little before noon, and there really weren’t very many people out and about. Likely they were performing whatever task they treated as their job in the post-System world.
Which made Randidly wonder how the economy worked for the average person under the System’s influence. Although the owner had haggled a bit, he had accepted an ingot of steel for a tray of crepes. Probably he had to, due to the close proximity to Sam’s production enterprise.
Even from here, thick columns of smoke could be seen wafting up into the air. Due to the air flow, some of it was blown in this direction, leading to thick, low clouds overhead.
But Randidly appreciated this man and wanted to give him a little something in order to repay him for such a treat. And because Randidly would like to think that those who encountered him would be better for it.
So Randidly reached out and touched the entranceway to the little sweet shop and closed his eyes. One of the positive results from studying the basics of the engravings that grow was to find some general patterns that could contain a scalable image. It wasn’t just Skills that could be put in such patterns. Of course, the image was suitably basic to be contained in such a medium, but it was still tangible.
So Randidly selected the image for positive emotions and carefully traced it upon the door frame. Ignition of the Emerald Essence burned the pattern deeply into the wood first, then Randidly quickly filled the space with Mana. All the while, Randidly focused on the calming and positive image of contentment and layered it with Mana.
Image. Mana. Image. Mana.
For speed, Randidly let some of his specificity drop, but his broad, rough strokes across the doorframe were remarkably deep and even.
In a few short minutes, Randidly opened his eyes. A strange emerald and gold pattern seemed to sparkle its way across the whole of the door, the doorframe, and part of the surrounding wooden wall. Very quickly that flashiness faded to nothing, merging with the building. All that remained was a barely visible geometric pattern on the door.
Nodding to himself, Randidly moved deeper into Donnyton. When he arrived at the Production District proper, the quiet of the suburb gave way to the pounding of molten metal and the shouts of sweating individuals. The area had both grown and cleaned itself up since Randidly had been here last.
No more were there simply forges spilling out onto the roads; most everything was contained in one of the large warehouses that constituted most of the production district. There was also extremely helpful signage by the door of each, detailing the name and parameters of the group housed within.
It seemed like it was encouraged to simply walk into the area if you were looking for a specific type of equipment or weapon, Randidly noted with bemusement. So Randidly wandered around until he found an area that looked familiar, and then proceeded to Sam’s work area.
Most of the surrounding area was clear, likely as a show of respect for Sam. There were just a few groupings of trees below a handmade wooden hut. Or at least a building that possessed the facade of a wooden hut. The back half was clearly a sprawling metal beast glowing with the heat of a dragon’s fire, but it still retained that rustic exterior.
The building was on a low hill. As Randidly climbed up to the upper portion, he couldn’t help but look to the East and see a deep valley between two other hills that would provide a beautiful view of the sunset every morning. This place would be bathed in dawn’s rays every morning.
Much to Randidly’s amusement, he found Sam cutting down trees with a handaxe when he approached. For a split second, Randidly felt himself sliding back into the past, where both of them were just pragmatic people trying to cope with the wave of changes that the System had brought.
Randidly stopped a few meters behind Sam, who was calmly chopping up squat logs of wood. “We’ve certainly come a long way from where we started. Do you remember protecting those actors and actresses?”
“I remember doing my best,” Sam growled. He brought his handaxe down and split a cord of wood into two pieces. “I remember one particular headstrong girl sneaking off to make googly eyes at you rather than avoiding monsters. It was a hassle.”
Sam straightened and looked over at Randidly. And then he immediately snorted. “Ha! So it’s true, you come back to me like a beggar, asking for equipment. Do you have nothing remaining?”
“I swam in lava for a while. Everything just melted,” Randidly said flippantly.
With sharp eyes, Sam measured Randidly’s response. Then he helplessly shook his head. “Swam in lava, huh. I suppose you misplaced your arm in there too? Bah, you’re too reckless. There are slower methods to accomplish things you know, ones that don’t expose you to as much danger.”
“I don’t seem very good at choosing those prudent paths,” Randidly admitted. Then he waited to speak as Sam approached.
To his surprise, the older man simply embraced him. He raised his arms and wrapped Randidly in a bear hug. The motion almost took Randidly by surprise; Sam’s sort of affection was a far cry from Shal’s. But it wasn’t a bad sensation. Sam’s palms were warm and calloused.
“So, making a plant arm?” Sam asked with a grimace as he pulled away from the embrace and glanced toward the stump of Randidly’s left arm.
Randidly was still touched by the intimate gesture but chuckled. “Nah. I have enough plant parts. I was thinking of designing something of metal.”
“Good man,” Sam said. He gestured for Randidly to follow and walked toward his hut. “Plants are useful and adaptable, but I wouldn’t trust them half as much as I trust solid steel. Oh, Erickson Steel is good stuff, by the way. I don’t suppose you would be willing to give away their secret?”
“Why does there need to be a secret?” Randidly teased. “Can’t it just be good steel?”
Sam shook his head in disgust, opening the door to his hut and stomping into the workroom. “Good steel doesn’t have that coloration, or that ability to shape and set like Erickson Blood Steel. Takes good to crafting method too; it’s very easy to create an item with extra bonuses with Erickson materials. Expensive enough to make a man piss, though.”
The interior portion of Sam’s workroom was densely packed with hanging leathers and plate armor. They were laid across tables and hanging from pegs. Randidly was mildly impressed just to see the vast scope of armor that hung on the hundreds of wood stakes along the walls. The variety was overwhelming.
But Sam continued past these hanging pieces without comment, so Randidly followed into the forge portion of the building. There wasn’t any wall delineating the shift, but it was very clear when the wooden paneled ground shifted to concrete that they had entered into another world. Now the wall wasn’t lined with armor, but warped bits of metal of all varieties.
Aside from thick tables dotted with scorch marks and solidified metal, there were more trinkets adorning the walls. But these were… different.
Some of the pieces were shiny metals hammered into thick globes, others were sculpted into delicate brass flowers. The pieces along the wall struck Randidly less as Sam testing his own limits as the man compassionately take the time to test the limits of each and every material that appeared before him.
It made sense. Before you could really use a material, you would need to understand its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, everything Randidly saw here was just practice. Which was somewhat a humblebrag, considering how understated the vast sea of metal workings was.
“Have any thoughts on armor? I get a sense of your images from you… but it’s fuzzy. Easier if you have an idea what to make. This set will be on the house, as long as you wear it in front of everyone once or twice. Time to show the other Zones what Donnyton can do.” Sam said.
Randidly pondered briefly. He had some thoughts, but a lot of those were quickly reevaluated when Randidly saw the breadth of Sam’s work. Perhaps he should be a little more ambitious with his request.
So Randidly Ghosthound opened his mouth and told Sam what he wanted.
And Sam started to laugh.