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A note from puddles4263

7/10

Randidly turned to Thea first. Of them all, he expected the surly and conflicted woman to be the easiest to handle, at the moment... “Congratulations.”

To his horror, Thea started to shake her head, slowly at first, but then with increasing speed, her brown hair bouncing back and forth. “No… no. I’m so sorry. I didn’t deserve this at all… I just… cleaned up. And I almost messed it up…”

She straightened, her eyes bright, and offered Randidly a stone that she produced from her pocket. It glowed softly, filled with strange crimsons, violets, and emeralds. “Here, I can’t do anything about the skill, but… you deserve this. You did all the work. You… are really the hero.”

“Thank you… but no, keep it.” Randidly said, waving his hand. “I wouldn’t have been able to kill it alone. That belongs to you.”

Her eyes widened, the shock clear on Thea’s face. Then she became uncomfortable, biting her lip. But still she held out the stone, and reluctantly said. “No… you don’t understand. This is the Stone of Fate. With it, you can-”

“Oh I get it.” Randidly said shrugging. “But… don’t you need it much more than I do? Believe me, when I’m fully healed, I’m much more capable than this.”

Sure, he was interested in it, but his experience going to Shal’s world had taught him that he couldn’t be everywhere at once. There were some paths that were not his to walk. It was probably better for the health of the area if Thea grew in strength, rather than more strength being concentrated within himself. Although he did plan on asking her later if he could watch her use it. If his new skills gave him insight into how that process worked…

He turned away from a very pale Thea before she could continue. Instead, Randidly decided to focus on the Wild Rider. “Thank you for your help as well. My companion needs a body, I was wondering-”

“Of course,” She answered smoothly, her voice reverberating strangely out of the hood, seeming to be composed of the calls of many animals, rather than a voice of a young girl. “There should be another parade soon anyways. There are many who have pledged to me who desire a bond that will last a lifetime. The ceremony will take a week, but if you are willing to agree…”

After thinking it over for a minute, Randidly nodded. He did have some things he wanted to do in the meantime, but this week would be focused on healing himself, now that he had a much more direct way to manipulate Aether. And as time went on, he should grow more skilled anyways. A week wasn’t much time.

The Wild Rider turned and regarded Simon, who seemed abruptly very nervous by the Rider’s gaze. “You, too, Simon, are welcome to participate. Your skills… are lovely.”

After a moment of hesitation, Simon nodded. Randidly chuckled, but said nothing. Honestly, of all their skills, Simon’s were probably the weirdest and most creepy. The kid hadn’t tested it yet, but his skill could manifest almost ANYTHING while he was in his Astral form. He could create a monster. It would be a good idea if he took a few tricks from this past Raid Boss’ group.

In addition, his healing skill was called “Mending Fluid” which Randidly had had a very hard time not laughing at at first when Simon presented him with it to drink-

The Wild Rider snorted, which sounded extremely strange through the voices of 1000 animals, but then covered it up with a cough. Randidly blinked, and both Thea and Simon turned to her, curious.

Even through the hood, Randidly could almost sense the little girl blushing. “My Regalia gives me a certain amount of telepathy… reading minds at a very surface, immature level…”

Randidly chuckled, but said nothing, while Thea and Simon seemed incredibly confused. So she enjoyed crass jokes? Randidly hoped she was older than she looked-

Now the Wild Rider stamped her foot, then turned on her heel and left the tent, heading outside. This time Randidly didn’t bother to hide it, and chuckled aloud. The sheep gave him a very unamused look, but Randidly could only shrug. It’s not like he was out to impress this random sheep.

After it huffed, it turned and left, and Thea and Chrysanthemum followed. Simon hesitated, then gave Randidly a searching look. Randidly nodded, encouraging him, and they left, leaving him alone.

Then he sat cross legged, his eyes burning emerald in the dim tent. Hopefully someone would come back tomorrow and tell him what he would be required to do for this ceremony, because otherwise he would miss out. But for now, it was time to see how much he could heal.

So his will flowed back into his body, and instantly Randidly smiled, his lips curling up at the edges. It had been a good haul, although he had to nearly die to do it. With the assistance of that being that now traveled his body, until he found it one of his own, he now could quiet the Aether shrapnel and remove it at least 10 times as fast, and without the assistance of Simon’s Mending Fluid.

It was going to be a long night.

*****

It was the second day of their participation in the ceremony, and Simon was already dead tired.

He blamed this on two different sources. The first was that the “ceremony” was just a glorified name for chores. As the Wild Rider gathered more and more animals of different species in a giant fenced in area for the ceremony, the Pledgees (and David) took care of them. They carried water up, in increasing quantities, three times a day, the first being long before dawn.

They grew and harvested food. They provided for every animal’s weird diet. They made sure every animal was happy and situated, and that everyone had received enough attention and exercise for the day. IN ADDITION to all that, they had their own individual tasks.

Which was the second reason that Simon was dead tired. The tasks were different things that people had to do, but it made sense for only one or two to participate in. Simon, the fool, had chosen laundry as his chore, and the previous laundry person had only been too happy to give it up and allow Simon to take over.

What should have been a manageable amount of laundry a day spiraled out of control because they had to deal with a lot of animal shit, and a lot of animals who didn’t like to smell other animal’s shit, so the Pledgees had to change their clothes often to keep animals calm and resting.

There was one bright note. Simon had no idea why, but instead of any sort of manual labor, David had chosen to handle the farming and cooking duties. People were dubious that he could manage both at the same time, but the Wild Rider’s weird attitude towards David meant that most of the Pledgees let it slide, ready to pick up the slack if he failed.

David did seem able to keep up, but he was definitely running himself ragged doing it. He was constantly either cooking or checking his plants, and didn’t seem to ever stop moving. It soothed Simon’s heart somewhat to see the other man pressed towards his limits, even if it was just with chores.

There were almost 30 Pledgees, including Simon (and the non-pledging David), who split the chores. Of these, there were three main groups. One was the military leaning people, who possessed classes and came from either Star Crossing or the Refuge. They were here to increase their combat prowess by earning themselves a partner. This group was typified by Heather, from the Refuge, and Kirk, from Star Crossing, who were the most serious and meat headed as glorified animal herders could be.

The second group seemed more to be here due to their love of animals, which was led by Lally, a tired seeming woman who acted as de facto leader of the Pledgees, divvying up their work every day. Her job seemed impossible and thankless, because part of the ceremony was for this group to care for all the animals and monsters, with no guidance, while every day the Wild Rider returned with an even larger group.

The final cohort of people were just the dirty and desperate, who flocked here for safety. There was only a few of these people, but they all kept to themselves and had scared eyes. At first, when Simon asked for their clothes to wash, they almost seemed aghast, before he explained it further.

It was… sad in a way, that these people so quickly forgot the trappings of modern life. Washers and dryers were a thing of the past. Of course it was possible that these people were poor enough they never had these things, but that just made Simon depressed for different reasons.

Still, they were all here now, and working hard. So although it was somewhat of a miracle to make it to the end of the second day, Simon did it, and collapsed into his pallet, satisfied, to his very core.

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