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A note from puddles4263

4/7

Vye shook her head. It wasn’t even that difficult of a decision. “No, I’ll keep it. It might be painful… but its also powerful. I recently got the Pain Endurance Skill as well, so I’ll be able to Level that up while using it…”

Randidly chuckled and Vye frowned at him.

Shaking his head, Randidly said. “Sorry, you just reminded me… of me. Of a crazy sort of masochism that I learned from someone very precious to me… And you are right, What you have here… is extremely special. And because of that, powerful. Even I haven’t seen anything like this before…”

The emerald flames dancing across his hand died out, but for another minute Randidly continued to poke and prod at Vye’s hand. It wasn’t painful, but Vye found the whole procedure rather awkward. Rather than an individual brought to a manager’s office to be rewarded for her work, Vye felt more like a patient in a clinical trial that Randidly was running.

Finally, Randidly took a step back and let both of his hands fall to his sides. His expression turned rather stern as he looked at her. “Still, Pain Endurance will help, but it’s a Skill that raises your capability to handle pain without really dulling it at all. Don’t push yourself too hard before you are ready.”

Vye gave Randidly a look that she hoped wasn’t as incredulous as she felt at the moment. “With all due respect… Would you have heeded that advice, if it was given to you early in your experience with the System?”

Smiling wanly, Randidly shook his head. “Of course not. But won’t I seem like a heartless boss if so casually expect you to endure pain for my sake? I have to tell you not to do it, in order to keep up appearances.”

Vye didn’t have an answer to wry humor, so she smiled politely and then asked a question that she had been thinking of after listening to Naffur speak about the looming problem of the borderlands. “By the way, I wanted to ask… why are you only accepting ten people into the Order Ducis? If the borderlands were expanding that quickly, won’t it be helpful to recruit more people?”

Randidly snorted and shook his head. “Well, obviously more powerful individuals would be better for us. But there are two problems. The first is maintaining the integrity of the spirit of the Order Ducis. Frankly, that’s more Naffur and Ajax than me, but they raise a good point. Image is important, and since we are part of an organization, each of us is doing our part to shape the direction that image is taking. Therefore, taking in too many people at once would dilute that image. Plus, rapid expansion lowers our ability to screen the undesirable elements who want to come into the Order.

“Which brings us to the second problem; who the hell is going to train all of you?” Randidly grinned at Vye. “Naffur and Ajax are running themselves ragged arranging all of the training for just 50 people. But that’s really just a method of identifying 10 that they will take the time and effort to genuinely assist in growing. Plus, it's not like they’ve stopped training themselves…

“Being an instructor, especially with the sort of harrowing pace they’ve taken with you all, is a full-time job. I’ve arranged for someone to take over some of the more physically demanding tasks, but there is a limit to how many people we can give targeted attention to.”

“And you? What about you?” Vye asked quietly. “They don't talk about it much… but it seems like you are going to be leaving again soon. Is the Order Ducis… not high on your priorities? Ah, I don’t mean it as an insult. I’m just… worried about something so important that it will pull you away from saving people freed from the borderlands...”

That dropped Randidly’s cheery expression into a frozen tundra. After a long sigh, he shook his head sadly. “It’s not that I’m choosing to address an issue that’s more important than that. It’s just… well. What I leave to do is unavoidable. Because I’ve taken shortcuts in the System… I’m being punished for it. It’s a Judgment I cannot escape.”

Then an extremely strange smile wandered out across Randidly’s face. His eyes began to sparkle. “But maybe you are right. I should take a more direct approach to this. Before I go… I should take some time to get to know the cute applicants to my Order. It’s worth touching the image of all of you directly before I go.”

Strangely, Vye had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that reminded her of the times in university that someone inadvertently reminded a professor to assign homework. And Randidly’s expression… contained a bit too much sadistic joy for Vye’s taste.

Before she could figure out what the feeling meant, Randidly extended his hand toward her. “Well, that’s enough chit-chat. First, the reward for being the best with images. And then… if you want, I can still give you that gift I mentioned before, if you are willing. Now that I know about your hand, it will take a different form, but it will definitely be a powerful addition.”

“Yea. I want the power to travel this world with impunity. If your gift will provide that… by all means.” Nodding, Vye reached out and offered her hand once more.

As he held her hand, Randidly started muttering to himself. “First… the connection… easy. Hmmm. And if your Skill really formed its own Soulspace, then it should be possible to…”

Vye’s left hand twisted as the warmth hidden inside of it began to spiral into a tight seed in the palm of her left hand. Of course, as that warmth focused into a smaller point, the heat of it rose sharply upward. So much so that Vye winced as Randidly’s grip tightened on her hand.

And then System notifications appeared before her eyes.

Congratulations! Due to your deviant Skills, you have achieved a great benefit! You have unlocked the ability to Dual-Class! You have obtained the sub-Class Alfen Priestess!

Due to limitations in your Soulspace, benefits acquired from your sub-Class are diminished. Due to the high-Level of your main Class, you will only acquire experience for Alfen Priestess until the Level of your sub-Class equals your main one.

Warning! Possessing two Classes will consume a great deal of energy. Please see your Village Spirit for details.

Warning! Please note that illness and death may result from your Dual-Class!

Congratulations! You have received the class of Alfen Priestess. You have gained the Prayer to Nature (Un) Lvl 1. You have received the skill Ritual: Consume (A) Lvl 1. +1 Health per Level, +4 Mana Per Level, +1 Stamina per level. +1 Perception per level , +2 Wisdom per level, +1 Free Stats per Level.

“Uh…” Vye blinked as she looked at the notifications. “It says that… I received a Dual-Class… and that illness and death may result…”

Randidly was staring almost fanatically at Vye’s hand, but he looked up and waved off her concerns airily. “Relax. Although it sounds rather intense, the issue is a relatively minor one. The reward I gave you to start should solve it.”

“Okay... and as someone who has lived with this System for a few years, I respect your knowledge of these things,” Vye said slowly. She drew in a long breath. “But didn’t you say that you are about to be punished for taking short-cuts in the System…? Is there any chance that this is related to that?”

Randidly chuckled with too much nervousness to assuage Vye’s worries. “Probably… not?”

*****

After Vye left, Randidly was still thinking about how she had obtained the Dual-Class.

That hand of hers functioned in a similar way to the architecture that the Creature had assembled in the Raid Dungeon, Randidly frowned down at his own hands. It isolated the energy somehow. Luckily, it didn’t completely bar the System’s gaze. In this case… it had stolen a portion of Vye’s Soulspace and place it in her hand…

The effect was extremely strange. Whatever Skill Vye had used had set up an independent space and tied it to her hand. As far as Randidly could tell, Soulspaces weren’t actually physically present anywhere in the body; they existed in another dimension altogether. So to see the Aether of the Soulspace actually spiraling around Vye’s hand…

Which was probably why the activation was painful. Those Skills had housed themselves in her physical hand, so her hand was enduring the rapid movement and resonance of Aether every time she used that Skill. Hopefully, she would develop a Skill related to the body that would make her physically capable of handling that flow of energy rather quickly.

Destroying the isolated space and restoring Vye’s Soulspace to its original appearance wouldn’t have been especially difficult, but it would have taken some time for Randidly to either figure out the reason the Skill shaped Aether in this manner or simply use brute force to crush the isolation. Without harming Vye, of course.

But that would have missed out on all the benefits that such a strange arrangement could provide. So Randidly had offered Vye his assistance. Originally, he wanted to remake her Class, but to make a smaller Class in the miniature Soulspace wasn’t difficult. Besides, Randidly had wanted to see what would happen if he stabilized the space.

...the only unfortunate thing is that the benefit she received from it was so small. 6 Attributes and 4 Stats… Honestly, my Class basically has five of those sub-Classes all rolled into one. Giving more to myself would be superfluous. Plus, the sorta Aether utilization methods that accomplished it are exactly the sort of thing that Octavius was warning me away from… screening the System’s view of me is a no-go.

But even if I can’t use it for myself, this might be exactly the sort of thing the Order Ducis needs in order to get an edge…

Humming softly to himself, Randidly sent a message to Naffur. He didn’t mention the Dual-Classing yet, but he did ask that Naffur bring all of the Order Ducis applicants to a nearby Dungeon at noon tomorrow to receive personal training from Randidly. Randidly figured they could stay in the Dungeon for two weeks or so pretty easily, which would be plenty of time for him to get a firm grip on their personalities and images.

It would also mean that the Order Ducis would have time to prepare for the departure of the city scheduled for tomorrow evening. Barring no setbacks during the Engraving process, today might be the last night spent here in Zone 1 for quite some time.

Plus, mindlessly thrashing the applicants would be a refreshing break after a night spent Engraving an entire city.

After that thought sprung up, Randidly couldn’t help but grin. Shal, it really seems like your teaching style has rubbed off on me… but no one can deny that it’s effective. I just wish it was a bit less intense sometimes...

Randidly looked sharply up at a noise from the front of the tent, but he quickly eased up. “Wow, I’m actually surprised that you managed to get this close without me noticing.”

“I can’t do it for long, but one of my new Skills lets me swim through the air,” Helen said as she pushed the tent flap aside. To demonstrate, she spun mid-air, seeming to drift into the center of the tent on capricious winds. “You rely too much on the plants for information. If I don’t touch the grass, you won’t find me.”

“...I’ll keep that in mind,” Randidly said drily. Although he knew that Helen took protecting him very seriously, sometimes she focused her attention in the wrong areas. But Randidly could admit easy enough that hubris was a problem even for him, so he made a note to think about refining his threat detection process. “So, what’s their standard like?”

Helen folded her arms. “Worse than Donnyton by a lot, but probably about as good or better than anywhere else I’ve seen. Plus, you can definitely fucking tell these are your followers; there a bunch of weirdos here. Someone is copying your habit of refusing to wear boots.”

“Weirdo followers includes you, you know,” Randidly said with a soft smile.

But Helen glared at him. “These are trainees, Randidly. I have no problem with raising them, of course. Often teaching is one of the best ways to learn the way of the spear. But what I do have a problem with is that I cannot come with you to face this next challenge. Especially when I see how nervous you are about the Judgment.”

“Do I look nervous?” Randidly asked in surprise.

Helen pressed her lips together. “Even if you are pretty good at keeping yourself under control, that ash monster image you have inside of you isn’t. I can feel flashes of it, sometimes. Leaking out of the edges of your body. All violence and frustration and darkness.”

Randidly could only shrug at that. Hopefully, Helen’s insight was only due to her experience with images. The last thing Randidly wanted was to shake the spirit of Erickson Steel or the Order Ducis before he left by having the Grim Chimera float gloomily behind him.

“I can help you,” Helen said in a low voice. “If you are going to the battlefield, there’s no one better to have at your side than I. Tellus was all the preparation I need.”

“And what happens if war comes to Earth while we are both away?” Randidly replied in a voice just as soft. “It’s my home planet, Helen. Based on what I heard… I’m unsure how long I’ll be gone. A month? Three? But that will definitively be a time where I cannot help the people of this world. I have the Riders, but they can only do so much. That’s why I need you here, pioneering the borderlands.”

“I don’t like it,” Helen grumbled.

Randidly smiled but didn’t respond out loud. Do you think I like it? But I don’t have any choice. It’s time to face the accusation of being a Heretic head on. Even if I’m not guilty of the crime of which I’m accused, it’s much better than the System finding out the truth of what I am.

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