“I don’t blame the people, it is just unfortunate that your property was affected by it,” Maude said after she had made tea and they drank it across from each other.
Randidly took a sip. “This is because… you are a believer in the Unity Church.”
“That is correct. Well, they dislike me because of that. But recently, the Unity Church released a series of rules for its followers… One of those rules was to refuse the touch of the System whenever possible unless you are all called to ministry.” Maude said, her face completely serious.
Randidly twitched. He was aware that the sentiment in town was shifting towards the Unity Church. After all, the church attempted to undermine the drone initiative, which was the big industry of the town. It was no wonder that discontentment was brewing. But why was that enough for all this…?
These weren’t political statements, they mostly boiled down to personal attacks. But what left Randidly floored was that the Church was pushing its members… away from using the System?
“When you say refuse the touch of the System…” Randidly said slowly.
“Skills. Classes. Taking Paths. Everything. It is a cursed power, which I have come to see as true. The people of this country have been warped by it. The way the obsess over Citizenship Tiers is sickening. It is an illusion constructed by a machine. Sure, we always loved the successful in the past, but that was a recognizable thing. These Tiers…” Maude paused. “They come out of nothing. How are we to know what they mean? No, a human is not meant to wield the power of a god. Some must embrace this to protect the congregation. But I believe that is not my path.”
Maude looked to the window. “It started when the some of the people of the town… you know Ricky Stain and his gang, yes? They want to move towards being recognized as a higher tiered city. To do that, you need a certain number of higher tiered citizens, and also a certain amount of people with Classes.”
Again, Maude paused. “They were seeking signatures on this very street. They seemed to believe I would be in support of their childish endeavors. Perhaps it wasn’t very neighborly, but I dumped a batch of wet tea leaves on the leaders and shoo’ed them away. They were nice about it at first, but then I told them how abhorrent their reliance on this devilish System is, and how God-”
Maude stopped, looking at Randidly. Randidly sat very still, staring at her intently.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Maude snapped. “Sit up and say something. This is a conversation; I’m not giving a lecture.”
“You were telling a story,” Randidly said evenly, looking at Maude coolly. “Is it so wrong to listen?”
“I knew it. You are just like those godless people out there. Well, I suppose that’s no matter. I’m not so juvenile to judge someone on their mistakes.” Maude sniffed. Then she sipped her tea.
“It was wrong what they did,” Randidly said to put the thought into the air. “But the Unity Church has done some… sinister-seeming things recently. And they will do some in the future.”
“It’s just fear,” Maude said dismissively. She daintily wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin and then said. “They are afraid of the Unity Church because of how many people have been touched and changed by the Lord’s Grace. Jealousy breeds in darkness. Which is why I will wear these smears proudly. This location will be a place that all who believe in the Unity Faith will be free to come, without fear-”
“No, it won’t.” Randidly cut her off.
Maude blinked at him. “What?”
Shaking his head, Randidly ignored her question. “When I was a child… I had a friend. She was something of an idiot, and she often didn’t want to spend time with me, but when we did spend time together… we used to play a lot of imaginary games-”
“I hardly see how-” Maude tried to cut in, but Randidly released a bit of Deific Mien of Yggdrasil, and she stuttered to a stop.
“-one of them was Queen and Knight. We would play under the tree in her backyard almost every day. I was the knight, and I would do my best to accomplish whatever my queen ordered. Except for one day. And on that day, I was fed up with being the knight, so I went to her and said ‘Why do you always get to be queen.”
As he spoke of his childhood, another figure appeared in Randidy's mind. one he had not wanted to think about for a long time. Randidly held up three fingers. “She told me the three weapons of the monarch. The first is the Weight of Tradition. Because she was always Queen, it was very difficult to change. This is my house, for all I have let you stay here. If you choose this, you will not remain here any longer.”
But Randidly wasn’t done. He remembered the power that had been unleashed against him. “The second weapon is the Voice of the People. When the monarch speaks, she speaks with every voice: every farmer, merchant, and even knight. Hers is the will of all. I did not want to be Queen, I simply was tired of being the Knight. You will not use this location to rise in the ranks of the Unity Church. You may think you want that, but you don’t. They... they will take until you are empty.”
“Now see here-”
“The final weapon of the Monarch is the greatest… and the least. It is a spark of magic. It is the Mandate of God. It is the weight of Fate that rests upon your shoulders… She told me I simply didn’t have it, and that was that. And now, I say the same to you. You do not have the backbone to do what you plan. Right now you are protected because you are associated with me, a Tier II Citizen here. It would not go so easily if I was not here. Now leave, and learn what it’s like to live without having something above you.”
Then Randidly leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure why he thought of those old memories of Sydney, but they were sweet and nostalgic now. He missed those days.
“We live in a democracy,” Maude whispered, but Randidly had largely stopped trying to restrain his aura for the moment. It seeped outward, and she was being overwhelmed by it.
Smiling sadly, Randidly reached upwards with his Aether senses. It had only been a few hours, but already Randidly could feel thousands of blooms of unique and bright images in the darkness of the night. People had fed on the Aether that exploded outward from the power plant and had grown strong.
But towering above them, at a height that simply made it as insignificant as grains of sand, an ancient tree holding aloft seven different lands stood. This was simply the difference in quality due to exposure to Aether, and life experience. This was why Randidly had felt free leaving Donnyton and traveling to this Zone to explore. But by the same token, this was why Randidly couldn’t simply let things go.
For the first time in a while, he felt the weight of responsibility settle on his shoulders. Just because he was fighting against the Creature didn’t mean he could simply ignore the rest of the world and force them to deal with those problems on their own; it simply meant he could not afford to baby them. He would need the world later when the System turned against them.
The Unity Church and Father Foster was his problem to deal with. Randidly turned his gaze to Maude. “No. This world… is a democracy no longer. Now leave. You may get your things tomorrow. But for tonight… you cannot be here.”
And of all things, she left, without a word. Randidly snuffed out the candles while whistling tunelessly. Not a second too soon, too, for the large group of dark figures that had slowly surrounded the town were moving closer. Randidly wasn’t sure what they were attempting to do, but they were the strange black exosuits that had attacked him at the bases.
Had they tracked him to this identity? That was troubling. Still, they would take him where he wanted to go. The only problem was now…
Randidly scratched his cheek awkwardly. Could he defeat most of them and follow the retreating ones back…? Or maybe follow their trail back to their base after he beat these ones …?
But both plans felt hollow. It would be difficult to accomplish either. He was no tracker, and when they fought previously, these guys didn’t break. They simply died.
Randidly felt as 10 split off of the group of 100 and snuck into the town proper. Randidly raised his eyebrows. Did they think 10 could take him? Perhaps these were simply messengers? Or-
Slapping, his head, Randidly laughed aloud. He had initially assumed that they were here for him, but they might simply be here for Baloo. If these were the servants of Unity Church, it made a certain amount of sense that they would come and try and assassinate him. Henrik had contacted him with barely contained glee when Randidly had given him three more of each drone, with slight improvements. Apparently, the tests of their effectiveness had gone well. They would be deployed across the Zone within the week.
But that made Randidly sigh in irritation. That didn’t help him figure out how to get them to lead him back to their base, however. If they tried to kill Baloo, even if he faked dead, they wouldn’t drag his body back to their base. His only hope was that the Unity Church wanted him alive, and would attempt to capture him. After all, in their mind, he was just a drone engineer. His stats would skew towards the mental.
Sure enough, when the group came close, a sniper set up on the roof across the way while the rest circled the perimeter. Acting casual, Randidly began cleaning off the tables in the tea house, working his way around the room. And when he was bent over a table by the window, a bullet smashed a hole in the window and hit his arm.
Randidly grinned, then swayed. Holy hell! His entire arm was numb! This shit was strong.
As Randidly collapsed to the floor, it was only partially faked. And he felt a cold sweat run down his neck as he laid there. By the time he touched the floor his Vitality had banished it from his system, but still. If that had struck him during a real battle… Randidly made a mental note not to be such an idiot in the future.
The black exosuits swarmed in, grabbed his body, and hustled him away. Bemused, Randidly just lay there with half open eyes as they buoyed him away. There was only one time that he almost gave himself away, where his eyes twitched. He had wanted to open them fully and gaze East.
Because at that moment, there was a strange burst of Aether from that direction that made Randidly cautious. But he was being taken West.