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A note from puddles4263

3/7

Randidly was awkwardly pulling at the collar of his fitted suit when he received the message from Dinesh.

Found another base. It’s a big one. About 5 times as large as the previous ones.

Randidly froze. He was sitting in the back of a car with Tatiana and Henrik. Unfortunately, Davey had to cancel to inspect Randidly’s new drones when they were given over to the administrators at the drone complex. This left them with only Henrik to guide him. Henrik was typing excitedly with his assistants, who were examining the drones that Randidly had provided for them earlier. Tatiana was coming as his… date. He had promised to ask her out to dinner, after all.

But in a second, Randidly prepared to throw that all to the side. How many people do they have?

None, right now, Dinesh replied. Randidly relaxed somewhat.

...continue to watch. Although it’s annoying, tonight might yield useful information. But at the slightest hint that someone is in there-

Got it.

Breathing out through his nose, Randidly folded his arms. Tatiana tsk-ed at him.

“If you are uncomfortable, you shouldn’t have worn a suit. It looks good, but not if you are going to glare at everything all night.”

Randidly chuckled. “It’s not the suit.”

Tatiana’s eyes went to Henrik, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. “Ah. Is it… these drones? Is what you did that impressive?”

“You’d be surprised,” Randidly said mildly. He supposed he could try to explain, but he would rather see her face when she witnessed what one of his drones could do. Although that thought made him cringe somewhat. He had tested them a little, but not to the point of absolute confidence. They worked in a laboratory setting, but it remained to be seen how they would fare in the field.

Best leave that to the professionals, however. Randidly was here to finally see what the upper crust lived like. After all, for all the months he had spent here, he had never been actually into the nearby city of Tonna. It was a Tier II city, which meant it couldn’t rival the East and West Providences, but neither was it a border city. People with power would be here, if just in passing for the charity dinner.

It was apparently a big ordeal. So big that they had invited celebrities.

Luckily, Tia and her new fiancee Randidly Ghosthound were forced to cancel. After all, the news was reporting that Senator Firefly was the subject of a kidnapping attempt and only through the heroic actions of Randidly was he able to escape.

Honestly, the thought of criminals trying to get past Neveah to strike at someone was somewhat amusing. There were some rumors floating around that the methods Randidly Ghosthound had used in the defense of Senator Firefly were… brutal to say the least. However, no pictures surfaced, and as such, the statement didn’t make much of a dent in the public consciousness.

But still, Randidly felt a thin jolt of pity. When Neveah fought, she was absolutely vicious.

“Sirs and madam, we are here,” The driver announced.

Annoyed, Henrik looked up from his small laptop. “What? Oh, yes the dinner. Well, I suppose it can’t be helped. Come on in.”

They got out of the car. Randidly glanced at Tatiana, who was looking up at the building with tight lips. It was a tall building in Randidly’s opinion, but that was because it was at least 20 stories. Buildings like that didn’t survive in Zone 32, outside of Franksburg. “Will you be alright, being here?”

“Yes, but it might get a little ugly.” She gave Randidly a toothy grin. “I hope you don’t mind if I use your reputation a bit tonight. I have a feeling my partner will be… exquisitely disappointed to find he missed the chance to get an introduction to Baloo Erickson, drone-maker.”

Randidly reached up and gripped Tatiana’s upper arm. As he did so, his eyes burned into hers. “It’s not a big deal, but be careful. I tried to warn you before. There will be a fallout around me, eventually. I won’t stay as a drone maker forever. The more you are implicated with me-”

Tatiana stepped up on her tiptoes and kissed him.

This was very, very different from the last time a woman surprised Randidly with a kiss. Tia was a child basically. Tatiana was a woman, and very good at kissing.

It was light and purposeful, and it left Randidly burning. Tatiana pulled away and smiled up at him.

“How implicated am I now, Baloo Erickson?”

*****

Mrs. Hamilton coughed lightly. She knew the girl heard her entry into their strange cathedral, but manners were a fiction that two people indulged in to make it work. One of Kiersty’s followers stepped towards Mrs. Hamilton with a glare, but his expression faltered into something more respectful when he saw who it was.

“Ah… Mrs. Hamilton. Regretfully, the Priestess is currently in the midst of preparations for a great ritual. I will let you know when she finishes, and I have no doubt she will contact you immediately.”

“I believe she’s finishing up now,” Mrs. Hamilton said with a soft smile. It was a strange thing, manners. They dictated that she must speak with him, but Mrs. Hamilton knew there was no point in doing so; his words would soon become irrelevant. So it suddenly became about power.

Mrs. Hamilton felt very tired, dealing with the man. She needed a vacation. Maybe she should head down to Franksburg for a spa day.

“Unfortunately-” The follower started to say, his expression darkening, but he was interrupted.

“Ha! How did you know I was almost done? It’s fine Sarran, let her pass.” Kiersty said, walking over towards Mrs. Hamilton.

Mrs. Hamilton just smiled.

“It was those little weavers eh? Gossipy, for spiders.” Kiersty said, shaking her head with a rueful expression. “Well, I suppose it isn’t a secret. Arbor is going to transform soon, we believe. Something big. Even Arbor doesn’t know what’s going to happen. He’s super nervous. Before, the Ghosthound handled everything, and now that he gets to choose-”

Kiersty stopped mid-sentence and shouted over towards several workers, correcting one of their mistakes. Whereas the cathedral had previously just been a spot in the forest surrounded by weaver webbing, now the followers of Arbor were making grand pillars in a semicircle. Then they created staircases and three levels attached to the grand pillars. The weavers then came and draped the entire thing in silk, hiding the true shape of the building. But still, the followers of Arbor worked at the direction of Kiersty. More and more architecture was thrown up within the strange mass of spider silk.

At this point, even Mrs. Hamilton was mystified at what they were making underneath it all. And that was saying something.

Mrs. Hamilton turned and regarded the young girl. Even though she was probably nearing 13, Kiersty was still clearly a child. At first, Mrs. Hamilton had put Kiersty as one of the high-risk individuals within Donnyton. Growing up with people living by your every word has a tendency to warp people.

But it seemed she had underestimated the power of the relationship the girl had with Arbor. Although everyone saw Kiersty as the source, she saw Arbor. That helped her avoid any damage to her integrity. That and her own innocence. But how long would that last…?

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Kiersty asked after she had finished.

Mrs. Hamilton smiled. She did like how efficient the girl was when it didn’t have to do with her rituals. “I’m not sure you recall, but we agreed to offer a planting of Arbor to any who would unite in our pursuit of the so-called Undying Hero. Star Crossing has, of course, sent aid, and their current planting should receive more energy, if possible. But to our surprise, East End is also moving. I was told by Sydney herself that she would personally move.”

Kiersty considered that, kicking at the grass. It was somewhat brown now, having been shielded from the sun by the spider silk. But it was still a suitable distraction. Mrs. Hamilton didn’t press the girl.

“...well I don't’ see why not. Arbor would like making new friends too. It’s just…”

“Mmm?”

Kiersty looked up at Mrs. Hamilton, and her eyes were deep and dangerous like a vicious riptide. Being so connected to a strange plant creature was not without side effects. “The Refuge is supporting the Undying Hero, right? Secretly. And East End was founded by someone else who was close with the Undying Hero before he died the first time, right?”

“That is correct. But I think there was a falling out towards the end,” Mrs. Hamilton said, amused. How much did Kiersty know? Probably everything that Arbor could know. Could it listen through its plantings? Interesting.

“But it was one of her men that revived the Undying Hero.” Kiersty pointed out. “Isn’t this just a trap? What if she moves and helps him escape?”

“That’s possible… but I think unlikely.” Mrs. Hamilton said simply.

Kiersty looked up at her curiously, and at that moment she was just a 12-year-old girl again. “Why?”

“As humans, we chase the wondrous and settle for the predictable.” Mrs. Hamilton said slowly. She could hear in her head the soft click of mandibles. It was the sound of a grey spider testing the tremors on its web. “It’s a cultural thing. The occurrence of each ebbs and flows. When she revived the Undying Hero… it was a predictable act. Helping out an old friend.”

Mrs. Hamilton turned and looked at the horizon. “Now… I suspect that Sydney Harp will chase something more… enthralling. Something more dangerous.”

Again, Kiersty shifted, and there was something ancient next to her. Her pale grey eyes were almost hollow. And when she spoke, she saw through right to the core of it. “Ah. You think she now moves to face her own fears. Is that truly such a wondrous act?

Mrs. Hamilton smiled.

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