Looking at the boy in front of her, who so quickly discovered her, Lucretia couldn’t help but laugh. “Ha! You are truly just as… unusual as they say. Turn around, so I can have a look at you.”
Lucretia kept her mocking smile in place as the boy slowly pirouetted to face her, but her eyes glowed with curiosity. There was… something about him, that had affected so many people around him, moving them in directions that she hadn’t expected. Whatever the boy had done had kept Shal from capitulating to her for a long time, eventually forcing Lucretia to intervene herself, directly. The seeds she planted around him seemed to curl up and die, unused.
How could he cause so much trouble for her…?
But Lucretia wasn’t bitter. If anything, it simply excited her. She had wandered around this world for a long time. She had found a whiff of a path out of this world, leaving the System behind, allowing her to gain eternal life, but even after years and years of experimentation and exploration, she felt she was only barely progressing on that Path. It required a monstrous 10,000 PP to finish, but Lucretia was no stranger to subverting the system.
Although she had already spent 3k towards that path, she had discovered methods of using Aether given to her freely to take the place of that PP. But she didn’t have much time remaining. She was old, very, very old. Aether was ultimately a source of life, but she hadn’t spent many of her stats increasing her Physical Defense stats, which would increase her longevity. So although the “fire” that was Aether was still burning brightly, the house of her body was starting to crumble from wear and tear.
Which was why an unexpected element was profoundly interesting to Lucretia. She wouldn’t know it, but her thought process was very similar to that of Azriel, who saw in Randidly not a path forward, but a chance she couldn’t predict.
But when the boy turned around entirely, and their eyes met, Lucretia’s face froze, her mouth going slightly slack. Because she suddenly realized why he could have so many profound and confusing effects. Why he would fill those around him with enough hope to resist her seeds. Why he was an influence she hadn’t been able to predict or calculate, even after she had become aware of his existence.
Why all of this had been worth it, to meet him.
His emerald eyes burned, a rich, pure, untainted Aether flowing through them. Although it was incredibly well contained in his body, in a strange, almost profound flow, the rushing tides of Aether within him couldn’t be hidden before her eyes. After all, could any in the world boast that they were more experienced with Aether than she?
She was the Eternal Witch, Lucretia. And although she didn’t know how, this boy contained within him a vast amount of Aether, so vast that she had her suspicions that it wasn’t a finite amount. If he had a source…
Immediately, a vicious hunger rose in her chest, and she almost reached out and ripped that source out of him by force. But at the last moment, she stopped herself, biting off the tip of her tongue to silence her emotional outburst. The path she had chosen, that she had invested so much into, was one of Dark Karma. Although she was far from completing the Path, she was already firmly on it, and even she would not be able to suppress its effects.
Any boon forcefully taken, will one day be forcefully taken from you…
So after a brief struggle, she settled down, and continued to smile at him, wondering what of her thoughts had shown on her face in the past second.
For his part, the boy looked at her with serious eyes, first beginning confused, and slowly narrowing into certainty.
“Lucretia.” He whispered.
Lucretia smiled, while activating one of her most trusted skills, Examine, to see his status. Unfortunately, the thick, confused, mass of Aether signals that rushed towards her was so far beyond even her ability to comprehend that she took a step back, a sharp pain emerging in her head. His frown deepened, and Lucretia cursed inwardly.
The more she examined it, the more it seemed that he possessed a prodigious amount of skills, so many that she couldn’t contain her shock. But the real problem with using Examine was that there was something… absolutely monstrous and complex inside of him, so much so that the white noise of its Aether drowned out most of the details of his other skills.
Based on the shape, she immediately discounted a class-
Which was when Lucretia took another step backwards. Because she could not detect the familiar trail of Aether from him, away towards the source of his class. He was…. Unbound by a village…?
Lucretia had achieved something similar, but that was only by destroying the village she started at, and performing some very… grotesque Aether surgery on herself. And even then, the lingering ghost of the System stayed on her, faint but present. But this boy…
“Where…” He continued. “Is Shal?”
“Ah?” Lucretia said, smiling slightly, her mind whirling at 1000 rotations per second, distracted by all these developments. Then her focus snapped back, and she felt a profound sense of satisfaction. She obviously had her own reasons for involving herself with Shal, but having him also work as leverage was very satisfying. “He’s taking a nap. Why do you ask?”
His eyes narrowed further, and he regarded her silently for several seconds. This was endlessly amusing to Lucretia, because she could intuit that his immediate reaction was the same as hers, to strike at the other immediately, but he also stopped himself. But for a completely different reason. It seemed that he had enough sense to realize that the confrontation would not go well for him.
“...I don’t believe it is that simple.” The boy said curtly.
Lucretia laughed aloud. “Hahaha…. Perhaps… your name is Randidly Ghosthound, correct? Perhaps we can come to an arrangement. I originally came here just out of curiousity, but… I can see what’s inside of you, my cute little Randidly. How about giving me a bit of a taste? You seem to have heard about me. I’ll give you some gifts too, to make it worth your while…”
Instantly, his expression tightened, and Lucretia instantly felt the conflicting emotions of irritation and excitement within her chest. He did seem to be familiar with her, and her gifts based on the unwillingness. But also, he didn’t refuse her outright, and seemed to struggle internally, so it wasn’t that he wasn’t thinking about it.
The silence slowly stretched, and Lucretia was content letting it do so. After all, she could slowly begin to parse through the flush of information that Examine gave her from him. But as she began pulling apart that monstrous apparatus of Aether in his core, he spoke.
“I won’t accept any gifts… but if the stories were right… perhaps a trade.” His words were slow and even, and he seemed profoundly conflicted, but he spoke. Lucretia was instantly disappointed. This would effectively avoid the talons of her Dark Karma path, as it wouldn’t leave either of them with any lingering attachments, unless one’s bargaining chip far outweighed the other. But, if it gave her access to Aether for her to experiment with…
Well, perhaps it was not the time to talk now. Let him stew a little. It seemed he was aware that Lucretia had Shal, but clearly not the extent of her influence. Then for now…
“Let’s part ways and think about it, yes? Oh, but don’t let those pesky Styles here know I’m near, or, well, Shal….” Lucretia said lightly, backing away. She didn’t even give him a chance to speak, and phased off, teleporting away.
Back in her clearing, she looked at the trapped soul, the bodiless Yeti head, and Shal’s dozing form. Her smile spread wide. She supposed she had enough bargaining chips at this point to deal directly with him. All of her other plans were discarded- well, not discarded, just moved to a lower priority.
Sowing chaos and obtaining some gifted Aether in the process was interesting, but this boy… he was the motherlode. She had never seen anything like it.
Although her handling of him had been rather abrupt and hasty towards the end, which she cursed herself for, she couldn’t help it. Seeing the Aether in his body… it was exciting and enticing. So much so that she just out and said what she wanted.
It made her somewhat embarrassed that the Eternal Witch Lucretia had swooned from a mere glance from a boy…
“Well, he’s not just a boy, now is he? My dearest Shal…” Lucretia murmured, walking over and touching Shal’s face. “He’s much more to me than that. After all, he is your disciple…”
With the same sort of fearsome abruptness, the beautiful woman with long purple hair was gone, disappearing from Randidly’s room. Sweat poured down his back, and he let out a breath that he had been holding for a long while. Lucretia’s appearance was certainly bewitching, and Randidly could understand why someone would accept gifts from her. She had a voice that reminded him of the Siren singer from Franksburg, but Lucretia used no skill, it was all raw charm and experience.
But even so, the fact that she had appeared, just as he had been thinking about Aether Donation, and asked for one….
Just how had she known…?