In spite of himself, Randidly couldn’t help but grin and spin around to tackle Arbor when they were out of sight of the solemn-faced group beyond the treeline. Ever since he acquired the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom, it was slowly dawning on him what possessing such a crown would mean, but he had largely ignored it.
For all that he was slowly acquiring the tools to influence a larger group, that didn’t make him comfortable using them.
He was much more comfortable feeling the comfortable interplay of Aether between himself and Arbor. They play fought, wrestling around in mock struggle for almost a minute. The two rolled around in a scuffle, Randidly feeling largely overwhelmed due to his single limb.
Randidly’s two riders stood to the side. He could sense in them their curiosity toward him and the status of this thing he struggled against, but Randidly had made his will clear, so they left him to it.
It was a small thing, that he noticed just in passing as he considered the watching riders, but it almost appeared that their intelligence was slowly improving the longer they were summoned. Was that his imagination, or were these riders capable of growth?
Very quickly, however, Randidly lost that suspicion as he allowed himself to be carried away by the joy of interacting with Arbor.
“How have you been?” Randidly asked with a grin. Flowing back from Arbor was warmth and happiness.
Nodding sharply, Randidly asked. “And Naffur? What is he like?”
This time, the flow of images from Arbor was more complex. But it boiled down to two distinct concepts. The first was of barely controlled mirth and not a little concern. Something that combined equaled an adjective like silly or clumsy. And the second…
Okay then Neveah, Randidly thought with a wry smile. I suppose Naffur was a good choice.
As if he was a devil to be summoned by his name, Naffur hesitantly walked up to the spot where Arbor and Randidly were playing. Some part of Randidly wanted to cease the struggle against Arbor and appear distinguished before this member of the Order Ducis. After all, this was someone who obviously looked up to Randidly and wanted to emulate him.
But Randidly valued this rare moment to relax and spend time with a plant born of himself too much; he would rather sacrifice something of his dignity to savor it.
He had too few moments like this on Tellus, and somehow Randidly suspected that the impending threats hanging over Earth would make such breaths of release even more difficult to come by here.
Finally, he allowed Arbor to pin him to the ground and sighed in defeat. Arbor chirped happily and hopped off, dancing around his defeated foe. It made Randidly laugh, loud and long, watching the pure glee in Arbor’s movements.
Moments like this… are why I fight, Randidly thought, as he stood and turned to Naffur. Although most of the joviality drained away, he was still in a good mood.
“You can take off your mask. I’d like to see what you look like.” Randidly said casually.
Naffur flinched but nodded. Slowly, he reached up and removed his mask, revealing a pale-faced teenager. Strangely, the uncertain worry in Randidly’s eye made him reminisce about the origins of the System; Donny had looked at Randidly in a very similar way as he had been told to lead the village.
So young. Even younger than Simon… Randidly thought, but he said. “Nice to meet you Naffur. I’m Randidly Ghosthound. Did you have something else to say? Or questions? I’ll stay here for an hour. As the leader of your Order… I suppose it’s my responsibility to offer you what advice I can.”
This revelation hit Naffur hard; he stammered for several seconds. Finally, he coughed into his hand and said. “I… well, it seems like you know Ajax. Is there… something wrong with him…? During the fights with the ogres, he was the bravest of us all. So… I hope you can forgive him.”
It clearly took a lot of nerve for Naffur to speak his mind, and he immediately wilted afterward. Randidly had to suppress a chuckle; there was no need to embarrass the kid with how amusing Randidly found him. Instead, Randidly considered the question.
Ajax was… an enigma to him. The Creature had been duped in Zone 1 or allowed itself to be duped for a purpose that Randidly couldn’t glean from the information available. The Creature’s soul had been used as an Aether power plant, granting electricity and energy to the terrible experiments performed on humans by the Church, crossing them with monsters.
When Randidly shut down the power plant, he had watched as the Creature’s soul was extinguished. This had only been another avatar, but the conscious portion of the Creature had been eradicated. Which left a body. A body that had escaped while he attempted to trap it.
That body was the being now calling itself Ajax.
It was a certain sort of irony that Randidly couldn’t resist chuckling at that Ajax was a cockroach, because that was very close to the way Randidly viewed him. But when his eyes landed on Ajax, he had scanned the body furiously. What he had found was… confusing.
It was like being told your least favorite spice was part of a dish, but your nose was unable to detect the scent of the spice. Randidly could see that Ajax’s Soulspace was engraved with Aether runes that prevented him from peering more deeply into his Class and Skills. After leaving the suppression prison, Randidly had grown a knack for feeling out other’s information by probing them with Aether.
These runes prevented that.
Now, it was entirely likely that these runes were made from when the Creature inhabited the body. And it was possible that its ability to produce Aether had been lost when the Creature’s soul was immolated. After all, there wasn’t even the faintest whiff of the Creature’s Aether flowing out of Ajax. But there was no proof. Everything lay behind those obscuring runes, locked away.
So Randidly had decided to trust this Ajax. There were two reasons for this. First, because people are often who you expect them to be. Your attitude shapes how people act. If you treat a child like a delinquent, they will act like a delinquent. Perhaps giving Ajax the space to grow and know humans will curb any… untoward attitudes that he retained from the Creature.
But the second reason was perhaps the less idealist and more realistic motivation. The runes that Randidly had seen on Ajax were incredibly complex. The Creature’s superior ability to shape Aether still wasn’t in doubt. To actually push through the runes and crack what was going on inside of Ajax… Randidly suspected it would take him a few weeks at least, perhaps even a month.
And with his high Intelligence, Randidly had memorized the shape of the surface runes he had seen. He could begin to discuss with Lucretia and work on countermeasures for the future.
Which, in a way, was putting off the eventual decision Randidly would have to make: was he willing to risk eliminating an innocent individual to stomp out the possible threat of the Creature? To rifle through the soul on a chance, albeit a reasonable one, that the Creature hid within?
For now, after wrestling with Arbor and considering the naive faced Naffur, Randidly let those issues slide away from his mind. “Ajax… The context I met him in previously was compromising. It made me suspect his involvement with… the Church experiments. But I never saw any evidence that he was guilty. And to know that he worked so tirelessly that he has been named to my order… Everyone deserves the chance to prove themselves.”
Naffur nodded uncertainly.
Randidly tilted his head at the teenager. “So? Any other questions I can help you with? Things about Skills, Classes, the System…?”
Normally, Randidly would have offered an Aether connection, especially considering how important Nafur would become for the image of his Order. The Order Ducis wasn’t something he particularly would focus on, but it couldn’t hurt to have a positive influence on the world. But Neveah had already given the kid that. So he could only offer some guidance.
And honestly, now that he was missing an arm, it was high time that other people viewed him as a font of wisdom.
After a brief hesitation, Naffur said. “Well… I can hold my own, well enough in battle, but if you had any tips or tricks…”
Immediately, Randidly thought of his time with Shal. He couldn’t help it; the memory of training with Shal in the Dungeon, the start of this whole adventure, brought a smile to his face. “Ha, if it’s just that… I certainly can help with that in an hour. Alright, let’s spar a bit; let me see what you’ve got.”