“I think that is enough for today.” Mrs. Hamilton said lightly, smiling at them both. Randidly collapsed on his knees, sweat dripping off of his face, which was very pleasing to Lyra. But she herself had her hands tightly grasped behind her back, suppressing the trembling in her fingers.
She had overdrawn herself by a small amount, keeping control of the circles of birds for long enough to exhaust Randidly. But she would rather tremble for a while than let him win in this contest, that wasn’t really a contest. With an annoyed motion, Randidly shucked off the weighted vest and collapsed on the ground, his chest heaving.
It wasn’t until Mrs. Hamilton spoke again that Lyra realized she had been staring at his naked chest, mesmerized, for almost a minute.
“Why was it easier for her to control the birds, than it was for you to dodge them?”
Randidly was silent for a long time, before sitting up, scratching his head, his hair messy and sweaty. It was in moments like these, Lyra felt those old pangs in her heart, struck by how beautiful his green eyes were.
“...I would have said skill level, but she was so bad at it to begin with… I guess that using the circles helped? But I’m not sure how.”
Lyra’s eyelid twitched. Mrs. Hamilton laughed.
“Yes, it was that plan that gave her an advantage. The reason why is simple; part of what she was doing was routine. Whereas your movement technique is the most… sophisticated I have ever seen, it's like manually doing simple addition, rather than multiplying. You need to think more systematically about the moves you are making with your feet, and then figure out how to use them efficiently.”
Randidly stayed silent looking at the ground.
“I will return tomorrow. Lyra, practice the other subroutines I taught you. We will continue with the other two exercies tomorrow; they require a bit more preparation. But I believe with what I saw today, it will be ready promptly tomorrow morning.”
With that she left, leaving the two tired individuals to mulling over their own inadequacy. Lyra opened her mouth, ready to speak, but to her surprise, Randidly beat her to it.
“Thank you.” He said, looking at her seriously, his green eyes bright, even in the dying light. “You are… I mean, you are really important to the village, so… I appreciate that you are taking the time to help.”
Lyra could have said that it was trying for her too, but she remained silent. Then, slowly, she said. “...then let’s make a deal, so it’s more fair. I’ll help you every day, and you… you need to answer one question of mine, completely honestly.”
Randidly chuckled, as if he knew that she was deriving benefit from it too, but just nodded. Inwardly, Lyra was just glad that he didn’t know she had inherited some of Kimmy’s powers, and could maintain a projection a short distance away.
“So what’s your question?”
“It’s just…” Lyra hesitated. Randidly was so strange to her. He didn’t fit into any of the easy to understand types of people she had dealt with her entire life. The fans, the superior folk, that flatterers… he was just profoundly contained within himself. And that made her, even now, curious. “What do you want? From all this?”
Leaning back against the ground, Randidly looked at the sky. He was silent so long that Lyra was beginning to believe that he had forgotten her question, but he finally answered, breaking the dusky silence.
“I don’t really know. Since the system came, I’ve wanted a lot of things. First it was to survive, then it was to find my friends… I’ve survived, and I’ve realized there are no clues about my friends. They are probably dead. All of my connections to my past life…” He winced just slightly here, but then continued on. “Well, they don’t mean much anymore now…”
Almost instinctually, Lyra opened her Eyes of Wonder.
“Now… now I’ve taken the time to help nurture this village. At the end of the trials, as I stood there, holding that spell… I knew in my heart, I could wipe it all away, burn everything clean.” Lyra kept her gaze locked on him, agreeing that he had that power, if he was willing to sacrifice everything. “And I didn’t want that.”
Here he paused, pushing back his drying hair. Then he turned to look at her. “...So I guess I want this to continue. I want this town to grow. Because in a way, it was a seed that I planted. And to protect it…”
His eyes narrowed. “I’ll push myself into the ground.”
He stood slowly, and slipped back on the vest. Then he began to move slowly, using his strange movement technique in small bursts, looking at his feet. She retreated, reforming her body some distance away, and watched him with her Eyes of Wonder.
That brilliant emerald aura surged around him constantly. She could also see how he was constantly using his skill to control nearby roots, working mana the entire time during the exercises. His steps became increasingly slow, then fast, then back to slow, and she could make out the small frown on his face. As she watched, in the middle of his chest, it was like a door opened, and thin tendrils of violet energy slid outwards, running through him.
Lyra leaned back on her heels. So he was using it to accelerate his growth. Not consciously yet, but if he could learn how… Briefly, she considered telling him about it, and doing her best to teach him. But her previous attempts demonstrates pretty clearly that wasn’t her role. Her skill set did not include teaching a person like him.
Perhaps, she consoled herself, it was just that he wasn’t teachable in that way. He was stubborn, almost obsessive, and weirdly implacable. There was a growing vicious streak in him. All one could do was set obstacles in his way and watch him struggle to overcome them, learning the hard way.
Maybe that was what she liked about him. About how he insisted on doing everything the most difficult way. Even when there were simpler answers available.
Lyra turned her attention inwards, and brought out the complicated diagrams that Mrs. Hamilton had prepared for her earlier. To be a good obstacle herself, it was time to start homework.
Razor gaped, looking at the strange scene in front of him.
A tall, slender tree stood in the center of a clear, surrounding by a small path, its leaves burning. Around it, dozens of people, mostly children, but also quite a few adults, were doing a weird dance. After viewing the scene for several seconds, Razor had to admit that it appeared that the tree itself was dancing, and everyone was imitating it.
“What…?” He said aloud, almost instinctually, and the little girl that led him here released a tinkling laugh.
“This is Arbor. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
To Razor’s shock, he was led up to the tree. He was asked to introduce himself. The tree seemed to listen, then seriously extended its branch towards him, as if to shake his hand. Nonplussed, Razor obliged, finding the bark of the tree to be oddly warm and comforting. Although he did earn a hand of greasy ash for his troubles.
Afterward, the dancing continued for a while, then people began to leave, as if a ritual of some sort was over. Razor was somewhat mystified, but this at least was something the elders had prepared him for. Some foreign cultures had extremely strange or primitive religious beliefs, and the elders had urged him to exercise the utmost respect, should he encounter any.
Although, Razor didn’t believe that the elders thought he would have to spend QUITE so much time over here, experiencing the culture, before he would find someone in charge. He tried to approach a few people during the tree dance thing, but most had just shushed him and continued dancing. Helpless, he remained with the two children. Only when everyone departed, and it was only the 3 of them before the wiggling tree, did the girl again turn to him, with such poise and grace that Razor was slightly shocked. Her eyes burned brightly, lit by the flaming leaves above her. Perhaps these people appeared younger than they actually were.
“Thank you for your patience. What is it you came here for? If it’s within my power, I will give it to you.”
Razor almost blushed. Was his impatience so obvious…? It was slightly disturbing that this little girl saw right through him. “I… simply wish to talk to the elders of this village. To discuss our future relationship. If possible, I was supposed to bring a group back to our village, for a show of goodwill.”
The girl considered this for a moment, then nodded seriously. “I believe I can help. But it must wait until tomorrow.”
“Uh? Oh.” Razor asked, somewhat disappointed.
“It’s bedtime soon,” The boy added. Then he stuck his hand out to Razor. “I’m Nathan. This is Kiersty. We really want to help you Mr. Bunny Rabbit, but our mom will be angry if we aren’t in bed soon.”
“Oh that’s… Okay. I’ll just-”
“You are probably tired too, right?” The girl, Kiersty, said brightly, her eyes glittering. “Why not come and stay with us?”
Razor wasn’t sure how he wanted to answer, either that he had already napped away most of the day, or that wasn’t it strange to sleep with strange children, but he was given no chance. The two grabbed his arms and began dragging him forward.
Before 15 minutes had passed, he had been whisked into a house, into a dark room, and wrapped in a large blanket, sleeping on the floor between Nathan and Kiersty’s beds. Honestly, it was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Razor wasn’t sure where these creatures found the material for their blankets, but he fervently made a mental note to figure it out.
Then, after he was starting to doze, in spite of his already sleep filled day, the door opened slightly.
“Nathan, Kiersty? Both here?”
“Yes Mom.” They chorused, and the door started to close, but then Kiersty spoke again.
“Mom, is it okay for Mr. Bunny Rabbit to sleep over? He’s from another world and has no place to stay.”
The door paused. “Mr. Bunny Rabbit eh? Won’t his mother worry?”
“I think he was sent here on purpose.” Kiersty said.
“He’s an ambassador.” Nathan added.
“Oh? Indeed.” The woman outside the door now spoke with a very amused tone. “Well then make sure he gets his sleep too. Goodnight, Mr. Bunny Rabbit.”
Razor opened his mouth to answer, but felt a hand clamp over it. He turned to find Kiersty giving him a disapproving frown. The door closed all the way, and the sound of departing footsteps were audible. Only after they had traveled a fair distance away did Kiersty speak.
“She doesn’t know you are actually here. She thinks you are imaginary. Why were you going to speak up? Don’t you have mommies where you come from?”
Razor Fleetfoot could only shrug, feeling embarrassed under Kiersty’s withering stare.
What sort of place was this village…?