Vandal hopped on one foot to the other, while he watched Copper, who continued to sit, staring at the board, his eyes blank.
Well, his eyes were always blank. All he had was a skull. But this was a particular brand of blank that Vandal was sure was not even healthy. Feeling bored, he skipped over to the dead fire, sniffing. There had to be…
Vandal found a bit of vegetable that had fallen out of the pot and was hidden in the coals. Although it was charred, Vandal happily gobbled it down. You couldn’t imbue vegetables with the same power you could meat, or at least he couldn’t, but the vegetables that the Donnyton individuals carried were the most nutrient dense and delicious he had ever seen.
‘They truly had the highest quality ingredients,’ Vandal thought with a wistful expression. If he could get his hands on a bit of Lucifer’s body… or even better yet, the Ghosthound…
Clenching his hands into fists, Vandal repeatedly cursed that zombie man who had beaten him up. Vandal spared a glance for Drake, who was still watching Copper. Everyone seemed to be waiting for Copper.
The chess board remained untouched, from the point where the two individuals had drawn, and then, rather abruptly, the Donnyton squad departed. And yet, although Iznock was eager to leave, he remained, because Copper’s behavior was so profoundly strange. Why was he locked into his focus so much…?
People had spoken to him, but he had remained still, ignoring them. At Drake’s weary insistence, they had waited. Copper wouldn’t do this to them without a reason.
Vandal kicked a stone. It rolled forward a bit, and then it stilled, spinning to a stop. He turned to Drake. “At least we made it out safe, right? And the Donnydums didn’t find out what the Skeleton Knight’s Regalia is. What’s a Regalia, anyway?”
Vandal hoped it was meat. It was not.
“A Regalia is like… proof of being a Champion. It channels the System’s rules through a Champion’s body, limiting them in some ways, but giving them other powers in exchange. It is well known that the Skeleton Knight’s Regalia is his sword,” Drake answered absently, his eyes still on Copper. “The Regalia was just an easy bait. Clarissa knew we would be too curious to resist coming, and would take the risk of betting on a chess game once we knew who was here… and they were perfectly fine with allowing us to dally...They had another goal for keeping us here, but…”
“Part of it was drawing,” Vandal supplied. He had seen some of the more sneaky moves the others made in the shadows, due to his increased sight in the dark, courtesy of a cat he had for dinner. “They made sketches of us all.”
“I wish it were that simple.” Iznock rumbled. But of course, after his cryptic comments, he remained silent, regardless of the small stones Vandal kicked at him.
Vandal sighed. Tormenting someone without any meat was impossible.
There was a cough, and then Copper straightened, reaching up and scratching the bone of his skull. After a second of hesitation, Copper turned to Iznock, announcing. “I know why Donnyton is moving so far North.”
Iznock remained still, seemingly unsurprised.
Continuing, Copper said. “They… are after the same thing the Skeleton Knight is, I believe. Iznock… what happens when an individual who is not a Champion holds both of the Regalias?”
“Perhaps… his feelings for you are not as strong as we once believed,” The Creature said, almost mockingly, as she looked across the scrying pool towards Lyra.
For her part, Lyra said nothing. She had, in her mind, a mental list of sins that she would make Randidly pay for, slowly. Not too painfully, perhaps, but uncomfortably, at the very least. He had earned himself MANY such inconveniences in his time on the other world. Even thinking about it made the blood begin to pound in Lyra’s ears and her vision go dark. This would be just another comeuppance heading for him.
It took an effort, but Lyra filed that away for later. One issue at a time. She turned and regarded the Creature, wearing her body, as if it was her. Which, lately, it practically had been.
In the past 6 months since Randidly had left, Lyra’s hair had grown down past her shoulders, continuing to come in a tawny cascade that was full and thick without being too frizzy. Truly, hair that some people would kill for. In addition, weight had been redistributed on her body, moving from her calves, arms, face, and neck, and settling down near her thighs and core, a strong center of muscle while Lyra barely ate enough to survive.
Her features hadn’t really changed, except her eyes, in a way that wasn’t immediately noticeable. Her irises were still that violet of Aether, but now the small burst veins in her eyes also had a violet tint as even her blood was slowly warped by overexposure to the icy, fiery element. Honestly, Lyra wasn’t sure how Randidly managed to stoically completely ignored his exposure to the stuff.
She looked older, sure. But older like a single mom of three, not older as in more appealing to older men. Not that some older men wanted the mature look…
Lyra tried to squelch her sour thoughts, and spoke to the Creature, as if they were equals, “Well then, what’s next?”
The Creature just shrugged. “Irregardless, he will return. One way or another. Better to focus on nominating our own Champion in the meantime.”
Lyra slumped to the side, sighing. So she continued to wait in the darkness, slowly working towards her goal.
Randidly continued to work on refining his process of Engraving, which was proving more difficult than he imaged. The real issue was that there was a very noticeable mental switch to go from dynamiting the subject with Mana to carefully shaping it. It was abrupt, almost too much so. Still, he would get used to it in time.
Very gradually, the switch became more natural.
Aside from that, Randidly continued to improve his Cooking, Chef’s Palette, and Soul Bond skills. It was a time of refinement for him, as he began to immerse himself more and more in the Engraving encyclopedias, in between the rather amusing periods spent trying to learn to ride Neveah.
Not only did Neveah have a very hard time remembering to keep the same side of her body facing upwards, due to unfortunate rolling habit, she also couldn’t really judge the amount of acceleration she moved with. Very often, she would abruptly jerk forward, thrust upwards by her Earth Surfing skill, which was still rather clunky in her hands.
Randidly wondered whether poor usage could cause someone to LOSE Skill Levels. If someone could manage it, it was Neveah.
However, on other fronts, her development was impressive. Her language skills grew, because she could speak with other animals and people, most of whom were deathly afraid of her, rather than just hearing an echo of language through Randidly’s body. The speed at which she improved demonstrated how intelligent Neveah truly was; she simply didn’t have an experience with the world.
On his off moments, Randidly would wonder idly where she came from. Why was this spirit living inside the Aether Crossroads inside of him…? Were they connected somehow…?
Still, even asking Neveah produced no answers. She seemed unsure what exactly Randidly was asking, and just responded by having a rolling fit. Laughing, Randidly backed off, and moved on from the question.
The rest of the pledgees appeared to be going through some sort of special training, learning to ride in formation with the different groups. This kept them busy, and because of it, Randidly hadn’t seen Simon or Jemma, or even Thea, in the past few days.
Still, one of the days Randidly’s senses started going crazy, but when he looked around, he found nothing. Then he spread out his Aether Detection skills, and he was able to feel a strange ripple in the air. For several minute, Randidly sat stock still, furiously wondering whether the Creature had finally come for him.
But then he realized that the presence would come, and then disappear, at pretty regular intervals throughout the day, that matched up with the pledgee training. Randidly slowly relaxed. So that was just some feedback from Simon’s Astral Projection skill…? Still, it really shook Randidly up, and made him realize that although he had a brief break now, he couldn’t take it too easy. His enemies continued to move.
The Creature would not wait for him.