Hours later, Randidly stood on the roof of the Erickson Steel building with his eyes closed. His Aether Detection Skill hummed at full capacity, feeding him constant information about people, structures, and materials in the surrounding area. Periodically, Randidly released pulses of charged Aether, granting him an almost omniscient view of the surrounding miles.
Slowly but surely, he was creating the final details of his moving city plan in his mind. Although he could gather plenty of materials within the Dungeon, he didn’t have any exact information regarding the physical situation in the outside world. Therefore, he had to estimate based on his admittedly acute memory.
Most of the general details he had remembered correctly, but Randidly still wanted to go over the specific state of reality with a fine-toothed comb. What he was doing was already rushing a rather intricate and complicated project with an extremely aggressive timeline. So he had to at least do plenty of due diligence to ensure that any small mistakes would be covered by the larger umbrella of preparation.
Twenty-three and a half more days… Randidly’s eyes opened. After he had finalized and stored the details in his head, he briefly slid through the almost redundant divide between himself and his Soulskill. Unlike how Randidly didn’t truly exist in his Soulskill until he wanted to possess an avatar, because his entire body was the Soulskill itself, Randidly’s real body still stood on Earth while his attention was focused inward. So he quickly found one of Wendy’s aides and passed on the very exacting details that she had demanded.
Still, it wasn’t that he wouldn’t be safe in Erickson Steel. Honestly, with his Physical Stats, most people would have a hard time hurting him even if he didn’t do anything. But he was expecting a visitor. One Randidly didn’t want to be surprised by.
Then, on a whim as he was hurrying to leave, Randidly made sure to tell the aide that Wendy should keep her schedule open a week from now. All deadlines would be pushed back a day to allow for it.
Then Randidly was back on Earth, turning slightly to smile at the lovely young woman who had condensed on top of the building next to him. As always, terrible timing.“You are a day early, Lyra. We had a deal.”
“And I figured you would have plenty of time to decide, considering how long you were within the Dungeon.” Lyra shrugged, her hair shimmering as it swayed around her shoulders during the casual motion. “But if you prefer, I can come back tomorrow.”
“No… you are right, I’ve made my decision. But I do have a to ask a question first. And I won’t take no for an answer.” Randidly said lightly. Purposefully, he forced himself to relax. Aether Detection ceased its constant scanning. Randidly looked at Lyra, into her violet eyes, and let all the other methods of discernment he possessed fall away. Some things were worth doing the old fashioned way.
The eyes were the window to the soul, and Randidly peered through to see the inner workings of Lyra.
“Was that Dungeon arranged for me?”
Although Randidly was relying on solely his eyes, his gaze was no longer that of a simple individual. He wore a Crown and his inner world was illuminated by the emerald flame of insight and innovation. The weight of his attention took on an almost irresistible quality. If someone who was less unusual than Lyra was on the receiving end of that look, it might have knocked them unconscious.
But Lyra bore it stoically. There was no tightening in the lines around Lyra’s eyes at the question, just an easy smile of acceptance. There was no guilt there, but there was responsibility.
“...Yes, in the spirit of honesty.” Lyra said finally. “But I would point out that Yystrix simply located that variant, hiding within his own Aether. The meeting between you was arranged… but you are both actors who control your own fate. The words and stories that were exchanged were your own.”
Randidly couldn’t help but chuckle bitterly at that, thinking of the Touch from Beyond Skill that he had possessed, rather obliviously, for several years. But at least she had been honest about their involvement. That was one test that she had passed.
Still, Randidly’s lip curled upward. “I thought the Creature had been… absent from Earth. Since she tried to take over my body, as I’m sure you recall. So then how did it manage to arrange this? Are you trying to tell me that it somehow predicted I would be looking for a high-Level Dungeon on the banks of Lake Apollo.”
Lyra shook her head sharply. “No… of course not. She’s gone from Earth, for now. She didn’t put the Dungeon in your Path-”
“You just said-” Randidly began, but Lyra pointed to herself.
“-I did. I had the information left from when Yystrix and I were in contact. There were several such variants that the Creature discovered in her travels; she made it her job to study such things. Considering your reluctance about our deal… I wanted to give you a taste of how dangerous the Nexus and its ilk really are. What better way than to put an individual who had been crushed by the System before you?”
Randidly regarded Lyra for several seconds, letting that information slowly percolate through his mind. To Randidly’s senses, Lyra appeared completely honest. He wasn’t sure which was the more intimidating truth: that she was deceiving him and the Creature was still around or that she was honest and had been hiding the capability to somehow arrange for him to enter into a very specific Dungeon.
Had she manipulated him or had she somehow moved the Dungeon?
Scratching the back of his neck, Randidly shook his head. He had certainly learned a lot from the Dungeon. It had given him perspective on a lot of things. How under the System, people were forced to devour each other to grow in strength or accept their doom at the hands of the System. He had seen the truth of the System’s eternal pragmatism in how Chulroon’s world was treated after he had been wounded.
But could Randidly trust that it hadn’t all been arranged?
Perhaps not, but Randidly had immersed himself in the aura of timelessness for quite a long time. It was an image that had been created by Chulroon and wasn’t something that could be easily faked. And there was no dishonesty in that image; Chulroon sincerely believed his own story was real.
The deal with Lyra was simple: she would provide information about Shal’s result and in exchange, Randidly would arrange for her to receive a Class. He would receive more information about the System and about Shal while he gave her another lever of influence that she could use to affect Earth.
To even affect Earth’s image.
It was a worrisome possibility, but Randidly’s sharp nose sniffed out that something was very different about Lyra’s and the Creature’s goals.
Previously, their main goal was simply to find a way to hide from the System. Escape from the constant pursuit… but now I’m learning that the System’s main goal is a war with Nether. If it’s truly putting all of its efforts into fighting this war, does the System really have the time and attention to search for a single person…? Were the memories I obtained from that clone of the Creature lies…? What am I missing…?
Randidly looked down at his right hand. Despite the System’s healing, there was a patch of skin at the center of his hand that was discolored to look as grey as slate. It was the spot where his newly evolved Nether’s Caress manifested.
What changed…? As I recall, the Creature was grooming my Soulskill to be a bomb. And now… I’ve been handed a knife? Is it just a distraction? There’s too much that I don’t know.
And it wasn’t like there were many avenues that Randidly had to gain more information. But he suspected he would learn a lot soon from his final Judgement, but having more information prior to that obvious exposure to danger had quite a bit of value. Randidly’s Crown of Upheaval and Gloom buzzed in his chest. For the first time, Randidly felt his loyalties split.
Creating a Class for Lyra might endanger the Earth… but it might also give him enough ammo to protect his Alpha Cosmos. It would allow him to guard those that followed him. Erickson Steel would benefit from that protection.
A fraction of tension fell from Randidly’s shoulders. Some decisions would echo for quite some time after the fact, and every time they needed to be made over and over again or everything you had gained would be lost. “...fine. I agree to your terms. In two weeks, come find me and I’ll make you a Class. Make sure you bring a strong image, or I’ll just overwhelm your will and make your Class something like, ‘Servant of Randidly’.”
“HA!” Lyra bellowed out a laugh, then regarded Randidly with obvious affection. “I would love that, you know. Not because of the stupid titles and associated benefits that would come with that role… but because it would be a joke. Like between… between what we used to be to each other.”
Randidly looked at Lyra. Then he turned away. “We haven’t walked that Path for a long time, Lyra. And I hope, for your sake, that the information you give me is worth it. Because otherwise…”
Lyra disappeared without waiting for him to finish with a sigh. For several seconds, Randidly remained still and waited for anything else to emerge from the surrounding air. After five minutes, he swept the area with a thick curtain of Aether. Truly, she was gone. Randidly tapped his lips and wondered whether he should do something to address that Aether construct that would observe her after the Class was made.
Probably not. If she had to deal with her own Judgement, that would at least keep her distracted.
Sighing, Randidly turned back to his own issues. Unlike most things under the System, image training was a return to a pre-System world. You continued to work at something, barely able to feel the small changes you made every day. Sometimes it felt like for every step forward you took, you inadvertently took a step back in another area. It was like building a sandcastle on a beach with frequent waves, where you are too busy frantically digging ditches to view how high you’ve managed to get your towers.
Still, Randidly enjoyed the daily struggle of savoring his images. As he realized the vast space for images inside of himself, they had spread slowly out to fill a larger area, which in turn let him improve further on the individual details.
In addition to images… Randidly flexed his hands. Need to keep working on the plans and Engraving. It’s time to get to work.