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A note from puddles4263

14/14

Randidly was about to go back to his Path screen and select what he would be receiving next, but a figure approaching the spring gave him pause. Sighing, Randidly straightened and prepared to receive the guest.

Lyra smiled like a mischievous fey as she stepped into the clearing. “Am I interrupting something?”

“What are you here for?” Randidly asked, doing his best to keep his annoyance from his voice. Although he had made his peace with Lyra, that didn’t mean that he trusted her. Just that he had believed they had an understanding that they would keep to their own business until the first two Calamities had passed. They were not in the sort of relationship where a sudden visit was a good thing.

Especially since she came immediately after his challenge against Donnyton. In order to spend some time examining the growth of his images, Randidly had been carefully suppressing his Willpower. If she forced him into a fight right now...

Lyra raised her hands. “I understand, you don’t believe I have any good intentions. Because I rarely come without trying to get something from you. But today, I want to make a trade. A fair trade. Between equals.”

That immediately had Randidly’s hands tightening into fists. It was clear from Lyra’s tone that something she had seen in the challenge had powerfully affected her. Even more disturbing than this young woman’s change of heart, Randidly couldn’t help but notice the nearby wind quieted. There was a silence in the air as if existence itself was waiting for an answer.

The babbling of the spring faded away. The leaves were shaken by a strong wind and then faded to oblivion. The air was cool and clear, like inside of a snow globe. Randidly frowned and scanned the area with Aether, but he could detect nothing that was amiss. The surroundings seemed completely normal.

Yet who could deny that the natural world reacted to something that Lyra said?

No gifts, but a trade. Yet… this is certainly one aspect of our karma. Randidly thought tiredly. He considered calling Lucretia out in order to see her perspective on the strange natural phenomenon, but ultimately Randidly suspected that she wouldn’t find anything.

Unbidden, the memory of fate related Skill that Randidly had forcibly destroyed came into his mind. For several seconds, Randidly simply studied Lyra. Today she wore a dark blue corduroy dress, the front of which was covered in stitched pockets. Rather than a being that had casually sold her soul, she had the sort of presence that you would expect from a childhood friend from an anime, all bright eyes and wide smile.

That is, aside from her overly pale skin and luminous violet eyes. That part of her screamed villain.

Like Randidly, Lyra probably spent far more time in this new world ruled by the System than a calendar would indicate. Therefore, she stood slender and lovely as an orchid, looking like she was in her early 20s. Her tawny hair curled down her ears to her jaw. As Randidly looked at Lyra, he realized that she was looking at him just as intently.

Seeing that Randidly had no intention of doing anything but studying her, Lyra smiled awkwardly. “As you expected, I’m going to ask you to do something that… should not normally happen. But I assure you, Octavius will not become aware of your actions. Until I’m ready, I will not reveal what you have done.”

The hairs on the back of Randidly’s neck prickled. Mentioning Octavius was not a way to make him feel relaxed. The strange being that ran their Cohort was very clear what would happen if Randidly flaunted the natural order of the System again. “Is that a threat?”

Finally, this sweetly smiling mask that Lyra work broke and she scowled at him. “Randidly, I don’t want you to die or be thrown in fantasy jail. Without you, even with the seeds you’ve just planted, it’s still slightly doubtful that the Earth can pass the First Calamity. And being cut off from Aether and relegated to a doomed planet is not what I want. Although most Village Spirits can just return to their original world, how would that help me? If Earth goes to shit, I’m fucked. I’m on your side.

“For now,” Randidly said softly. But as Lyra pursed her lips in annoyance, some part of his inner suspicion faded away, leaving amusement in its wake. I’ve spent so much time forcing my body to relax today to control my images. Isn’t it just like Lyra to show up and spoil all that hard work?

Randidly chuckled as that amusement continued to bubble forth. That caused Lyra’s frown to deepen.

“What are you snickering at?” She snapped.

Randidly shrugged helplessly. “It’s nothing, just been a long day. So, I’ll bite; what do you want from me?”

“I want a Class,” Lyra said with a dazzling smile. Randidly snorted and ignored her blatant attempt to charm him as he unpacked that statement.

Obviously, Lyra couldn’t obtain a Class the old fashioned way with her Status as a Village Spirit. Therefore, Randidly thought it was likely that it meant that outside of her very specific sphere of influence as a Village Spirit, Lyra was lacking in capability. Whether that was due to lack of Stats or Skills, it wasn’t clear. But obtaining a Class would allow her to grow. A more powerful Lyra was dangerous, but Stats only could do so much. Her natural affinity for Aether was much more dangerous, and why she could become a Village Spirit.

Was he missing something? Was there another function that a Class could fill? It could assist in the formation of images, but other than that…

Then Randidly’s eyes flashed. A Class also leads one to obtain a Fate… and if I were to give her a Class, there would be another connection between us. Those are possibilities. Is the Class just a ruse in order to establish a firmer connection…? I could ask Nathan to do it, but it’s unclear if he would be able to, simply based upon experience and ability… I have no doubt that this wouldn’t be a normal case of providing a Class…

But also… I suspect the fact Lyra came her after the challenge isn’t a coincidence.

As Randidly considered Lyra’s request, she opened her mouth once more. “I can see from your face that you are thinking. Thinking very hard. So let me try and explain some details. It is only due to my… unique Path to this situation that I can get a Class. Although I have infiltrated the role of a Village Spirit, I still have a distinction under the System of once being human. But since I don’t have a “human” body, it’s just a matter of grounding the Class in a physical object that I can carry with me.”

“What are you offering me in exchange?” Randidly asked. Before he proceeded further, he needed to judge whether entertaining this experiment was even worth it.

Lyra held up two fingers. “I’m offering two things. The first is rather simple; during the process of giving me a Class, you’ll have complete access to my Soulspace. With the defenses I’ve painstakingly gathered these past months, you’ll be able to see and understand the structure of energy that creates a Village Spirit. I’ll hold back the restrictive formation of the System to provide you this information. Interesting, yes?”

Randidly folded his arms. Although he was idly curious about the shape of the Aether and had no doubt that it would be a significant boost to understanding the System itself, it wasn’t worth pointlessly giving Lyra another tool in her arsenal.

As though reading his unwillingness, Lyra sighed theatrically and shook her head. At that moment, it seemed as though all of life’s toil and struggle were pressing down on Lyra’s feeble shoulders.

The corner of Randidly’s mouth quirked up. Sometimes he forgot that she had been a child actor until those moments where she indulged in meaningless theatrics. Of all Lyra’s traits, this was one that he didn’t mind.

“Although you treat it so casually, I want to stress again that this is not easy for me,” Lyra said tiredly. “In addition, my Status as Village Spirit gives me a lot of… information regarding the equivalent of Paths available to my affiliated entities. I cannot speak of it due to certain limitations… but if you were to view the levers of control I possess, you would undoubtedly have some small amount of… prescience.”

That made Randidly pause. Although the language is flowery… she’s basically saying that she can see the future possibilities for Donnyton? Or Villages generally? It could be another false lead, but she has been relatively straightforward about the benefits offered in deals with her in the past. She shared that trait with the Creature. Is there some secret about Villages generally hidden there…?

But the reason she can be so honest about the benefits was that the consequences were so deeply hidden. As it was with the Creature… so it will also be with Lyra.

Randidly unfolded his arms, in no hurry to speak. Only when he saw Lyra’s mouth twitching in annoyance did he finally open his mouth. “And the second thing you are offering me?”

Once more, Lyra’s beaming smile returned. “Information regarding your friend Shal. He finished ascending and has returned to Tellus. If you help me, I’ll tell you what I know about he endured, and his result.”

“Can’t I just ask him directly, if he finally finished?” Randidly asked wryly. But when Lyra’s smile didn’t waver, he knew something was wrong. After sending a quick message to Shal, Randidly realized that the problem was larger than he had assumed.

Warning! Contact with the targeted planet is currently cut off while the Third Calamity occurs. If this contact is related to an emergency, please contact the Cohort 5 Overseer so your request can be considered.

“Randidly, I would never offer you something worthless,” Lyra scoffed. “But with my connections, I can obtain information that you can’t; our Paths and reach are very different. That’s why there is no one else but you that can help me.”

Feeling a stirring in his chest, Randidly reflected on his past interactions with Lyra. Always demands and teasing never trades. But also no true gifts had been exchanged. As such, the karma between them was… complicated. Which meant that there wasn’t a forced gift in either of their futures, but it also meant that the outcome of their interactions felt extremely messy.

Just like my parting with Donnyton became messy… Randidly thought while twisting his mouth. Then he shook his head and asked Lyra. “Why do you want a Class? If you give me the honest answer, I’ll think about it.”

“I’m sure you’ve already guessed it, at least partially,” Lyra said as she wrinkled her nose. “It’s to have access to images. As a Village Spirit, we are extremely limited as to releasing our own images. To prevent a higher Cohort from spoiling a lower Cohort, I imagine. I was confused for a while, why you would ride so roughshod over Donnyton, you know? But then I noticed that spear mark you have. After making some discreet inquiries, I learned that it prevented your images from being used for Earth to ascend.

“You might have started as a farmer, but you’ve become a warrior. No matter how many seeds you spread now, we need more assurances for Earth. And I have no doubt that when you learn more about the System and the Nexus, you’ll be too busy preparing for grander problems to push Earth’s images to the next Level. And like I said, I don’t want the Earth to fail before the Third Calamity. So giving me the ability to use images myself is a win-win.”

More than that… giving you a Class gives you the ability to condense a Fate. And later, I have no doubt that you will attempt to complete a Great Path… Randidly immediately realized.

“What do you mean, I’ll be busy preparing for grander things?” Randidly asked.

Lyra shook her head. “That information is part of the reward you’ll get for helping me. I won't sell it cheaply to a pretty face.”

Randidly ignored her joke. Then he gritted his teeth. “...I’m sure you understand my unwillingness to give you another weapon. I’ll need some time to think about it. Come find me in a week. Hopefully, I’ll have made a decision by then.”

“Won’t you have left the area around Donnyton? It’s difficult for me to travel so far, you know.” Lyra pouted.

Randidly didn’t bother to respond.

Seeing that her emotes didn’t sway him, Lyra’s face became serious. “I understand your Crown’s Pride will not want to give others control over Earth’s fate. But we are small fish being tested in a pond. After your travels, I’ve no doubt that you’ve seen that. And I’ve seen the ocean that is the Nexus as a Village Spirit. We need this. We need every weapon we can bring to bear. Even you cannot manage everything alone. And like I hinted at… there’s something that only you can accomplish. If you don’t realize what that is in time, it will be too late.”

Then Lyra disappeared. Her energy signature dissipated quickly, dwindling to nothing as Lyra moved her projection away from him. After waiting a few seconds, Randidly released a blast of Aether, clearing the lingering particles out of the air.

Even her words as she was leaving sounded like half a threat…

Yet Randidly didn’t dismiss her concerns out of hand. Truly, he knew too little about the System itself, let alone the Nexus and the various powers that gathered there and competed against each other to indoctrinate new worlds into the System’s ways.

The question was whether that information was worth the price of handing Lyra a way to directly influence the Earth. Randidly’s immediate answer was no, but the ambiguous pressure he felt from not knowing what would happen prevented him from refusing immediately.

Randidly scratched his head. Truly, this won’t be an easy week…

Then he released a deep sigh to exercise all of the stress that the meeting with Lyra had injected into his previously cleansed psyche. As the sounds of the spring and the wind slowly returned, he sunk back into his peaceful state. Then he returned to his Path screen, intent on spending the remainder of his PP.

Randidly’s immediate instinct was to move onto Fiery Sharpshooter and Mana Lich, but a newly released Path gave him pause: Experimenter II 0/250.

Well… I suppose it won’t hurt to just grab these three midsized Paths all at once… if the Experimenter II Path improves the performance of the Skill I obtained, so much the better.

So Randidly rapidly dumped away another 1100 PP. From Fiery Sharpshooter, Randidly obtained 1 Perception and 1 Intelligence every 25 PP. From Mana Lich, Randidly received 100 Mana every 50 PP. And finally, from Experimenter II, Randidly once more received 1 Control every 5 PP spent.

Congratulations! You have completed the Fiery Sharpshooter Path! Through combat and strife, you have honed your ranged abilities to an explosive deadliness. In terms of destructive power, your Path is unrivaled. As you head toward the summit, your existence will become increasingly fearsome. Congratulations! You have obtained the Skill Offensive Array (Un) Lvl 1! You have obtained the Skill Hell’s Lance ® Lvl 1! You have obtained the Skill Agonizing Heat ® Lvl 1!

Synergy Detected! Offensive Array has been absorbed by Ignition of the Emerald Essence. Performance of the Skill slightly improved. Hell’s Lance has been absorbed by Ignition Bolt. Performance of the Skill marginally improved. Agonizing Heat has been absorbed by Ignition of the Emerald Essence. Resulting flames slightly improved! Skill Levels have not changed.

Congratulations! You have completed the Mana Lich Path! At this point, the very structure of your body has become accustomed to the flow of Mana. Energy has become a part of you in a way that cannot be underestimated. In the future, all Skills relating to Mana will be cast more quickly. Your ability to gain Skill Proficiency in Mana related Skills has greatly increased. Your ability to understand Mana has become as simple as seeing. Mana Regeneration +100. Congratulations, you have obtained the Skill Mana Physique (Un) Lvl 1!

Mana Physique (Un) Lvl 1: All damage you receive is slightly reduced by your current amount of Mana. Reduction increases as Mana increases. Effect increases with Skill Level.

Congratulations! You have completed the Experimenter II Path! Your curiosity knows no bounds. From the mundane to the intangible, nothing is safe from your piercing gaze. As the Path begins to veer from the well-established Path, the benefits you received become sparse. But those few gems that you are able to locate completely warp your worldview. The performance of each point in Perception is slightly increased. The Skill Creator’s Luck Lvl 1 has evolved into Creator’s Knack ® Lvl 1. All prior effects are slightly improved.

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