Nathan understood the look that the pretty woman was giving him. He was slightly tired of it, but she was more circumspect than most. But what adults always seemed to forget was that as they grew more understanding of what was happening, they were slowly numbed to it. When they could spot things further out in the future, they could afford to be lax.
For children, there was so much they couldn’t understand. So their entire beings were wired to be sensitive to even the smallest change in the environment. Nathan thought himself as growing slowly older, but he felt like even now he was falling further behind Kiersty. It wasn’t a competition, but Nathan knew the day would come where she would need him. He needed to grow strong for that day.
Tatiana tapped her finger lightly on the corner of the desk. “I’m sorry if I seem distracted. Can you explain again what exactly you do for Baloo?”
Nathan smiled as brightly and reassuringly as he could. “I handle class stuff. You don’t really like your Class, right? I can help you find a new one. It’s a little bit complicated, but… basically stuff like that.”
Tatiana seemed anything but reassured. Hesitation was hanging heavy on her every motion and word. “Well… that’s unique. I don’t-...hah, it won’t hurt anything, will it? Okay yes, I’d like a better Class.”
“Okay, so what’s your Class now. Can you hold my hand while you talk please?” Nathan said, offering his hand. He had already used his Investigate Aether Skill to see into Tatiana, but he had found that people were more reassured when he pretended to need permission to do what he did.
That was a waste of time, in Nathan’s opinion. He much preferred times like his operation on Hank, where the other person was unconscious. It saved him so much time and meant he didn’t need to hold back in using his Skills. Still, Randidly had made him promise to keep a low profile. The holding of hands was motivated in a similar vein; he didn’t need physical touch to use his Skills, but people liked the reassurance
Sighing inwardly, Nathan wondered which of them was really the kid as Tatiana took his hand.
“Ah… my Class is Cutpurse. I’m Level 27, right now.” Tatiana said after a brief pause.
She was lying, at least about her Level. Nathan couldn’t see the exact Level, but she was much closer to 35 than 30. He wondered about that. Most people he had met would brag about their Classes by saying they were a higher Level than they were. Nathan’s curiosity was piqued, but he was a consummate professional and did his best to let it pass without comment.
“Level 27 huh,” Nathan couldn’t resist saying, doing his best to sound curious without prying.
Tatiana half shrugged, still holding onto his hand. “Yea, well… even living in the cities aren’t the easiest thing. Monsters sometimes infest the sewers or sneak in through the city limits. Besides, without Leveling up… I started to feel like I was stagnating, you know? I owned a business, but- Ah, this is just me complaining. Anyway, what are you doing?”
“Just getting a sense for you,” Nathan lied. Truthfully, he was testing how sensitive she was to changes in Aether around her. This was most important because how much Aether she could passively absorb had a pretty direct correlation with how much Aether Nathan could shove into her new Class. A person who had a Class that was a bit… insufficient for their images would cope by pulling from the world.
Tatiana was pulling from the world, but a relatively normal amount. Well, normal perhaps an understatement, but it was only about half as much as that man Hank was pulling in. And he was a little bit less than people like Tykes. But Nathan hoped that once Hank realized the changes that had happened inside of himself, he would learn to follow his instincts more directly.
“Okay! Next… what sort of Class do you want? Have you thought about it at all? Cutpurse seems a bit…” Nathan was going to say weak and mundane but thought it might be mean to say to the woman. Besides, Randidly clearly wanted to work long-term with her. So Nathan had to be nice.
He had one brief shiver, saying a thankful prayer that his mom was back in Donnyton, fussing over Kiersty.
“... yea, it’s a bit dishonest, but…” Tatiana’s eyes unfocused, as she looked at something in the sky. Then she sighed and glanced back towards their clasped hands. “Well, my old job was a little on the edge of the law. When the System arrived, this Class just made sense to me. It felt… right. But now… I wonder if I was thinking a little small time. And bound to the city. That, I think, is what I hate the most. I want to go out and help, but… I’m just a Cutpurse.”
Her face pinched as if she was sipping on lemon juice. Nathan remembered he had been disgruntled when he acquired his Soul Architect Class and received the Skill Disarming Presence. But it really seemed to work at letting people forget that he was a child. Instead, they focused inwards on themselves, as his questions guided them there.
“So what do you want to be? Don’t think about it, just visualize it.” Nathan suggested, and Tatiana’s mouth quirked up into a smirk. But she still closed her eyes.
And that was all Nathan needed.
He reached out and touched the surface layer of the System, that displayed the notifications. This would let him see the notifications that Tatiana would receive. Nathan had a sense of what his changes did in the people he helped, but those were times when he was navigating primarily by touch. It was much easier if he could use System notifications to confirmed his guesses on what the different feelings meant.
Plus, this would be the first time working directly on a Class without Randidly present. It was… exciting.
Nathan conveniently shushed the tiny voice in his head that said Randidly hadn’t explicitly given him permission to work on her alone. In fact, he had sent a message that “they” would work on it. Now he might have meant that Randidly and Nathan would work on it, but perhaps he also meant that Nathan and Tatiana would work together on it. Right?
As Tatiana’s mind got more behind her images, Nathan felt the Aether stir. She called out to be something more, and the energies of the world heard her, gathering around. This wouldn’t cause any notifications from the System, but Nathan reached out to touch the energies. It would give him a flavor of what she wanted. With that information, he could help guide things later.
From Tatiana, Nathan felt patience and determination. He felt her proclivity for decisive action and shadows. The rustle of silk. A door slowly opening. A blade rubbed in soot so there was no refracted light off the metal blade. Drawing slow, leisurely circles with the tip of the weapon.
Some sort of Assassin? Nathan scratched his cheek. He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. There were a few natural links between being a cutpurse and an assassin. But of course, for someone coming right out of the world before the System, they probably weren’t as ready to be violent, right?
Nathan knew a lot of adults had this problem transitioning to life in the System. They simply were horrified that violence was a necessity. But that was the way it was. Even if there were people who could protect you, someday you would encounter a monster in a place where there was no one who could help. If you couldn’t even fight, your life would end right there.
It was another problem entirely to be good at fighting. Even Nathan, who had spent time with some of the best fighters in the world, wasn’t any good. But on that cold night where he was alone with something that would try and kill him, he would fight and survive for as long as he could.
Nathan blinked, then he smiled broadly up at Tatiana.
Her images had infected him! She was… insidious, that was the world. Subtle sometimes. Her violence was ideally neat, but if forced, it would be violent.
Nathan saw one image that began to dominate the others, of a woman with a smile so sharp and twisted that its jagged edges resembled that of a knife wound.
There it is.
Instantly, Nathan focused intently on Tatiana’s soul. First, he used his Skill Revert Energy. Her Class shook soundlessly, then began to melt like a snowman in sunlight. It would be a gradual thing, but it definitely softened up the Class so it was more pliable to the changes that Tatiana was focusing on.
Then he activated Spark Evolution as Tatiana began to get caught up in that image of the woman with the crooked smile. That smile began to dominate everything. Sometimes the woman was whistling, sometimes the woman was waiting, sometimes she was walking down the street with a basket in her hands. But all the while, her eyes were sharp. She did not wander, she approached always.
There was a target, and she would have it dead by the day’s end. A legendary killer that-
Nathan shook his head. Jeez, were all adults so childish when no one was watching? He had already gotten the sense of the image that Tatiana wanted, so when she veered off with these new thoughts and images, he ignored it. Instead, Nathan began to carefully Donate Aether to her, fueling the shift in the Class.
The Class seemed to shiver as threads of Aether wove themselves into it. They destroyed, but they also created. The Class seemed to be melting, but as Nathan upped the amount of Aether he was donating, the Class could regrow itself around the newly acquired parts.
As Tatiana lost herself in that strange dream state fueled by Nathan’s Skill, there was a small smile on her face. Because right now, she was dreaming.