It had been a while since Randidly had used his hands rather than his Skills to work with plants. Part of him felt somewhat strange at first, digging around the plants and pulling out weeds, pruning the dying stems from the flowers. Idly, he flicked the odd bug from the underside of leaves.
But the more that he did so, however, the more he began to experience a strange sense of connection to the flowers. All things fed into images. For a long time, Randidly had understood the growth and power of plants. Their ever-present ubiquity in our lives. But this was a different side of plants. The fragile and foolish immortalization of emotions in a garden. The naive pursuit of an immaculate flower.
Chasing perfection in an unknowing entity that simply wished to grow and proliferate.
“Sir, please step away from the flower garden.”
Randidly looked up idly, his hand and his plant hand continued to work smoothly in tandem to feel every stem and leaf and check for imperfections. The two police officers were there, but both were staring nervously at his plant arm. With them were two drones. Not ones of his make, but variants; they were around the size of bobcats and likely designed for private use.
Randidly returned his gaze to the flowers. “Ghost, I assume you have a microphone? I meant to contact you while you were in the city.”
There was the sound of static, and then an answering voice. “Yes. It pleases me greatly to hear from you. I have waited with much relish to see the body you promised me.”
Grinning, Randidly said. “I left the plans at Erickson Steel headquarters. Hopefully, all the parts are made by now. If they haven’t been able to finish the engraving themselves, I’ll come and finish it personally.”
“Hey, you fucked up plant stalker,” The Brute interrupted, “I don’t care who you are, but-”
“He,” Ghost’s slightly tinny voice interrupted. “Is Randidly Ghosthound. And I suspect that there are none in the entirety of the Orchard that could keep bar his path. That’s enough, officers. I’ll take it from here.”
Although he didn’t look, Randidly could sense the Brute wavering between disbelief and fury. “If that man is the Ghosthound, I’ll eat my giant black baton. He’s missing an arm, for Christ's sake!”
“Truly peculiar, but then Mr. Ghosthound was never normal,” Ghost drawled. One of the two bobcat drones prodded the Brute. “Miss Alexandra was informed of the situation and has requested that the officers be escorted off the premises. This way please.”
Before they departed, Ghost called back. “I will be waiting, Mr. Ghosthound.”
Randidly nodded idly, running a finger along the stem of one of the lavender roses. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation. Images are built from small truths. If I’m here, I might as well take what nuggets of meaning I can…
Despite his initial misgivings, Randidly found himself spending almost an hour amongst the flowers. And when he stood and allowed his plant arm to fall away, he was immensely satisfied. His right hand was covered in dirt. The garden before him already looked greener; despite the fact he didn’t use any Skills directly, Ignition of the Emerald Essence seemed to have found a way to invigorate the garden.
It didn’t possess the loving precision that it had previously, but Randidly’s touch certainly made it glow with life.
“You are… not Neveah…?”
Randidly turned calmly to face the new arrival. The lovely young woman was wrapped in an oversized grey hoodie, her perfectly sculpted brows scrunched into a frown. As Randidly rubbed his dirty had against his pants, he grimaced.
This is why people think you are a beggar… find a sink or something.
Then he turned to Tia. “Yea, I’m the actual owner of this face, Randidly. I believe we met before, briefly.”
Tia nodded. The two looked at each other, Tia with much more intensity than Randidly.
Finally, Tia said. “You know… I’m sorry you got dragged into the thing with the police… and that you had to come here to work on the garden. I never… I honestly didn’t think Neveah would keep up with it when she promised to always care for it…”
Randidly agreed immediately it was a foolish promise. One made from a strange being to an honest and bright young woman who fascinated her. But despite how foolish it seemed to him, it was a promise that Neveah fully intended to fulfill. As tiring as that truth was. “Neveah doesn’t make empty promises.”
To that Tia sighed. “Can you tell her something from me?”
Randidly finally realized the strange feeling he had in his chest as what he was; it seemed like he had somehow stumbled into the middle of some far-flung soap opera for the System-era. Were they being recorded?
But in spite of that weird bemusement, Randidly assented with a nod.
“When she gets back from wherever she is… I’ll meet her for dinner. As friends, of course. But…”
After saying a short goodbye, Randidly departed. And this time, he made a beeline for Donnyton. He actually hadn’t spent much time with the two tasks given to him, and he certainly learned something from both of them. But that didn’t mean he now wasn’t very curious as to what Neveah was dealing with that was so pressing that she couldn’t spare a few hours to do these tasks herself.
Besides, Randidly wanted to talk to Sam. His experience with the police officers left him slightly bitter. After all, for all that he was dressed… well, as a dirty, wounded soldier, he was Randidly Ghosthound. It was the modern world; shouldn’t everyone recognize his face?
His faux vanity aside, Randidly couldn’t help but wonder when he would completely lose touch with normality. He couldn’t deny that already, his life was probably far from most people’s daily existence. After all, once Randidly departed the Orchard and joined up with his two riders, be began to streak across the countryside with such speed that he was gaining ground with the train he was running parallel with.
These days, most of his activities were training or addressing impending threats. Very few moments were like his time wrestling with Arbor, ones that allowed him to simply enjoy living. Not that most people lived in some idyllic sort of wonderland where these peaceful moments were pedestrian; everyone had their own struggles.
But Randidly’s struggles were a bit less personal, as a rule. And a few orders of magnitude higher on the ladder of capability.
Oftentimes Randidly did his best to avoid thinking about his own growing capabilities, but his memory of challenging Donnyton’s Squads brought it back to the fore of his mind.
If he did it again, would he be able to overcome them?
He was inwardly torn. He had obviously seen some of Alana’s fight against the ogres. Although he missed most of it, he had a fair assessment of Alana’s strengths from what he had seen. She was weaker than Helen was, back on Tellus, but not by much. Most of what she was missing was a powerful edge to her images.
Randidly had impressed on Donnyton the importance of images, but that wasn’t enough to teach the way the upper echelon of Tellus could wield the simplest image like a blade to sever the lives of those weaker than them. It was something that would take a while to get the hang of, but Alana’s strength would increase by leaps and bounds if Randidly trained her for a time.
Her high Level and Skills would see to that. All that was missing was the proper application of the mental component.
But a squad of 25 people working together…? With all of the strongest of Donnyton working together against him…?
Randidly surprised himself with how much he was looking forward to the prospect. Even though at the back of his mind, he almost worried more that he would win. What would the population think, when their worshipped squads were defeated by a single person?
What would it mean for Donnyton?
...what would it mean for the common person, to know he held so much power?
Then a weird truth occurred to Randidly. Instantly, his thoughts back to Earth. Not because of the reactions from others, but because of one factor which he had forgotten to consider: Helen.
Randidly sighed. There is no way that she would let such a large fight going down without insisting on being a part of it. The only problem is… which side would she be on…?
Then Randidly shivered as something else occurred to him. Better not let her back into the Soulskill for a while. If Azriel finds out…