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A note from puddles4263

10/21

Randidly watched the emerald flames dance across the fingers of his one remaining good hand, entranced by their vivid hue. It was a lively and demanding shade of emerald, one that grabbed the attention of the viewer and pulled it into the flame's depths. Partially it was the color, but there was another variable at play; the power of flame was simply that compelling to humanity.

This fire was special, of course. It was Randidly’s own Ignition of the Emerald Essence. Of all his images, it was his newest and perhaps the portion of himself that Randidly understood the least.

A fire of inspiration. A fire that jump-started humanity. With fire, food could be cooked. Work could be done after dark. It attracted the attention of beasts in the surrounding area, but those creatures of the wild had always implicitly feared that light which they didn’t understand. Perhaps the first human that would harness fire had feared its strange secrets too.

Yet she approached, and the whole world changed.

Randidly clenched his hands into a fist and snuffed the fire out. Although he would love to continue refining his images, he had told himself that he would accomplish something rather… unpleasant today; he was going to go speak with Lyra.

He had let this particular wound fester for long enough already.

Even if it wasn’t something he wanted to do, he needed to do it. For all that Lyra had betrayed him on several levels, she was the Village Spirit of Donnyton. And due to that, she was connected with the larger System. She had somehow usurped control of the Village from Nul almost two years ago and installed herself in an unassailable position. Even now, the consequences of that action were still difficult to name.

At the time Randidly had been somewhat shocked and impressed. But those reactions had been largely eclipsed by his fury for how foolishly Lyra had endangered her life in order to achieve her goals. She had shown exactly zero concern for her own survival when she had recklessly allowed the Tribulation into their Village.

More than that, she had brazenly allowed such a dangerous individual into the Village, where it could have harmed so many of the people who lived in Donnyton. All because she was ‘confident’. Because she was sure of herself.

The reality was she was a fool. But for all that, she was likely the human who understood the System the best. Even more than Randidly. Especially because she was a part of that System architecture and had been for several years.

Sighing, Randidly stood and stretched. It was the middle of the night, and Randidly began to walk East from Donnyton. When he had mentioned it casually to Donny, the younger man had commented that Lyra was largely absent from Donnyton these days. All the facilities still worked, but they didn’t interact with her directly very often.

Especially since Randidly had arrived in Donnyton, Lyra had been invisible. She hadn’t made a peep. Which, Randidly supposed, was out of concern for him. But he had already resolved himself to speak with her. There was no point in delaying it.

Of course, Randidly knew that although her absence was true, the reasoning Donny provided was not; Lyra was, without a doubt, preparing for something. Randidly could feel the swirls of Aether from the location of her abode, swirling in the sky in strange patterns. It wasn’t a dangerous working from what he could tell, but it was slightly obnoxious to note that Randidly couldn’t quite parse apart what Lyra was doing.

Which was perhaps a reason not to go talk to her. It could be a trap.

By the same token, that was a reason he absolutely needed to talk to her. He couldn’t let such a caldron bubble so close to Donnyton without knowing what it contained.

Randidly didn’t think it was something that would actually pose a threat to Donnyton, however. Lyra had been within his Soulskill and had pushed Alta toward violence, but while she had been within himself, Randidly was able to sense a portion of her motivations for acting the way she did.

It was, of course, another on a long list of violations of his trust. Lyra was sorta predictable in that manner; she was rather self-absorbed in what she believed was important and seemed to assume you shared her opinions. But her transgressions were also not malicious moves. It was motivated by genuine curiosity and a powerful fascination with Randidly.

Which didn’t exactly make him feel better. But it did mean that he would risk talking to her in order to find out more information about the System and her strange construct of Aether.

After all, when Octavius spoke about the society that ran the System… that had given Randidly pause. It was one thing to be fighting against the general System and also the strange overlay System that provided the information regarding Skills and Classes to the people governed by the System. It was quite another to have managers periodically checking in on what was occurring.

The latter was much harder to fool.

Which was basically the warning that Octavius gave Randidly. Most people wouldn’t notice his… deviant activities as long as he no longer interfered directly with his own Class, Skills, Soulskill, etc. What Randidly sought from Lyra was a little context so he could figure out the danger associated with this society.

If they brought their resources to bear, what sort of threat would they present?

After all, Randidly had no doubt he would be forced to alter his own Aether makeup once more in the future. He just wanted some guidance as to the cost he would incur from doing that.

And moreover…

The Creature… had been conspicuously absent since their last confrontation. There were supposedly thousands of iterations across the universe in Cohort 7, seeking to accomplish its aims. Yet there had been no real moves to threaten Randidly, who had forcefully escaped the control of the Creature. He had been prepared to find sinister happenings across the Earth when he returned, yet there was… nothing.

It was almost worse than if he had found his home planet burning. His formidable determination was losing its guiding focus of resisting the influence of the Creature.

Was it as Randidly continuously feared, that his current path was exactly what the Creature desired? Or was it as Lyra had suggested previously, that the Creature was seeking to make itself Randidly’s greatest fear, so it could make use of the Second Calamity? Would it simply bide its time until then?

Yet the Creature was not a being that Randidly would suspect to be willing to wait patiently. If it could be active and prepare, it would.

Frustrated, Randidly scratched his head. Then he grimaced. Hair was getting longer. He would need to get it cut soon.

It was exactly for this internal struggle that Randidly moved to see Lyra, even though he couldn’t trust her, even though she represented an unpredictable element, even though she would betray him in a heartbeat if she thought it was for the best of the Earth.

There was that, at least. Randidly implicitly understood that all that Lyra did was for the sake of the Earth. And perhaps that was the reason that he was willing to risk approaching her for information.

Lyra had set herself up in a flat grassland that was wide and filled with lush grass rustling in the wind. In the middle of the grassland, there was a tall oak tree with gnarled and crooked branches, its reach spreading over a rather large area. Calmly, Randidly walked into the shade of the tree and took a few seconds to inspect the irregular waves of Aether radiating off of it more directly.

It was a complicated array of rotating lines of power… and even when inspecting from this distance, Randidly wasn’t able to tell what it was. It was a mesmerizing series of wheels and extremely complicated Aether constructs. But somehow it seemed quite familiar…

And then it hit Randidly. This was a variation on what he had seen within the Raid Dungeon. This strange machinery… removed the overlay System and only allowed the main System within the area hidden inside of the tree.

With this in mind, Randidly studied the engineered Aether more critically. Now that he knew what he was looking for, Randidly was able to focus his intent and get a better picture of what was going on. This seemed to be a much more sophisticated version of the previous one because the swirling motion somehow sucked more of the System Aether into the immediate surrounding area. But why-

Ah, of course, Randidly thought with a dawning realization. The concentrated System Aether must be used as a cover. This variation has the added ability to hide this construct from the System…

Which was a dangerous proposition, but it was about in line with what Randidly had expected to find when he came here. But of course, considering the warning he had received from Octavius, perhaps staying here very long wouldn’t be a good idea…The System overlay wouldn’t be pleased if he passed from its purview after the antics he pulled in the prison.

Randidly stopped short of the trunk and slowly circled the tree. There was nothing distinguishing about the trunk to his normal senses, but that was fine. Randidly retreated out of the tree’s shade and sat, content to wait.

He luckily didn’t need to wait long.

“I’m surprised you came… you seem like one to hold a grudge.”

Randidly looked up. Lyra stood there, looking every bit of the lovely young woman she would have been, had she still been human. Her tawny hair curled down around her face in ringlets. Her lips were pursed somewhere between a pout and a smirk, which were her two favorite expressions. And her eyes. Those were what grabbed Randidly’s attention.

Violet-red, the eerie color of Aether.

“Of the two of us… I think it’s pretty obvious which of us would hold a grudge,” Randidly grunted as he stood up. “Didn’t you chase me after I refused to take you out to hunt monsters with me?”

Lyra flashed a bright smile at the sudden memory. She was, obviously, a beauty capable of being a movie start even as a teenager. And now that she had time to mature…

Yet Randidly felt a strange bitterness in his heart. You no longer have a true human body… just like, perhaps, I no longer have a true human soul. We can shape ourselves however we wish, with enough preparation. What is within, without. Without, within. Therefore, that beauty, my strength… can it truly be called the providence of humans…?

That line of thought quickly became too dark to bear, so Randidly shook his head and focused on Lyra.

She rolled her eyes. “Well, you were being an ass. It was rather misogynistic to refuse to let me help you just because I was a young lady.”

“I mean it was because you were sixteen.” Randidly retorted. Then he frowned. “Or am I misremembering? Were you even younger?”

Lyra smirked. “It’s rude to inquire after a lady’s age, young man.”

They both looked at each other, feeling the traces of the bond forged by being the original sword and sheath for Donnyton. That compelled connection by the System. But now it was just a memory, just a decipherable old construct of Aether between them.

As one, both of their faces became serious.

“So, why are you here?” Lyra asked quietly.

Randidly raised his chin. “To talk. Both about Earth… and about the society that runs the System.”

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