As the breathing of the Thief became a little less ragged, Randidly turned to Lucretia. “So what’s your game?”
Although her eyebrows rose, Lucretia said calmly. “As I stated previously, I simply want to recover here, and to be transported-”
“No, with her.” Randidly gestured to the Thief. “You chose meeting here. I sincerely doubt that you care much for her life, if there wasn’t some effect on your own. What’s your game? Answer honestly, or there can be no deal, and I will dedicate every ounce of my effort to crushing you.”
Lucretia stilled, her smile frozen. Then she relaxed, chuckling. “Do you really think you would have the spare time for that, if you fight with a Champion…?”
Randidly said nothing, staring at her.
Waving her hand, Lucretia continued. “Relax, I honestly thought you wouldn’t notice, but I don’t mind sharing. I wouldn’t have beaten around the bush if I knew you were something other than a spear head. It is, perhaps, just a result of spending so much time alone on my own world… but I digress. I brought you here as an indirect gift to her, because I knew you would save her. After her third gift I give her, I very much expect she will surrender the heavy weight of her destiny to me, in order to find peace.”
Randidly gazed at Lucretia while she gazed wolfishly at the slowly breathing form on the ground. Eventually, Randidly looked away first, feeling oddly cold. Sometimes it was easy to forget that such an attractive and charming woman was just a mask that a monster showed to the world around her.
“I could kill her now, and foil that,” Randidly pointed out. Lucretia just laughed. They both knew it was a bluff, because Randidly could intervene in other ways, ways that would hopefully shift the narrative of the gifts, and the girl could have the opportunity to meet that final choice in an unexpected way. And also, after saving her, killing her immediately seemed a little spiteful, even for him.
Instead, Randidly pressed forward. “Why do you want her fate?”
“Because the System is all about patterns, patterns that you cannot escape.” Lucretia said, finally turning her attention away from the Thief, and looking up at the sky. Randidly said nothing.
Laughing, Lucretia said. “I know what you are thinking, that you are one who is not bound by the patterns of the System, which in a way is true. But in another way, I think you will discover you are bound even more tightly than the rest of us.”
“What do you mean?” Randidly said slowly, forcing his posture to remain relaxed. It was extremely difficult to not take everything that she said as an overt threat.
Gesturing around, Lucretia said. “Because the patterns are what is important. You might not need to follow them, but you make them. Every rule you break sends a ripple through the System, and it adjusts in your wake. For example, Ten’Malla… and the Champions generally.
“I have never heard of a rule that allows a third party to take the two Regalia’s, and have a third party wear them to ascend and become the remaining Champion,” Lucretia said slowly. “Yet… in this world, it is clear both from narratives, and the construction of the cages around the Champions, that this is eminently possible. In the past… did you steal something that didn’t belong to you?”
Randidly frowned but said nothing. Lucretia continued to speak.
“And from that opportunity… I bet that someone was able to usurp another position, that shouldn’t normally be possible. Just through lack of other options… I’m guessing someone from your world stole the role of Village Spirit? That is… profoundly fascinating.”
Randidly had never thought about it in that way, but he had stolen the Aether Spring from Turtletown’s Tribulation. And because of that, their Village Spirit was just a little weaker when fighting against Donnyton’s Tribulation, which had the opportunity to invade Turtletown after Randidly had acted. In that small disparity in power, and through the element of surprise, Lyra had managed to seize control, with her own unpredictable strength.
“There is a precedent, and almost intuitively Ten’Malla can sense it.” Lucretia continued. “What she wants is to assume someone else’s role… a cage that wasn’t designed to hold her powers. Like you have been creating your entire time in the System. Even just by looking at the structures here, I can sense it, the world is waiting with bated breath, Randidly… what will you change next?”
There was a long moment of silence. The Thief’s breathing became even now, her eyelids pressed thankfully closed. Inwardly, Randidly began to examine all of the past events, fitting them together, figuring out where his influence had shifted things, and what that could mean for the future. But very quickly, he became helpless. He didn’t have the sort of methodical and categorical mind to carry out such an analysis.
So he simply filed it away for another time. There were others that would be able to do more with this information. For his part… he considered one last fact. Should he inform Lucretia of the existence of the Creature…?
Because ultimately, while Randidly was the tool by which these shifts were made, they were really engineered by the Creature. Without her influence, none of this would have occured. Although he had no proof, the more Randidly experienced the System, and heard other people’s stories, it was very strange that he had spawned in a Dungeon to start. No one else claimed such a genesis.
Of course, that might be because everyone who did had died. But more than that… it was a Dungeon where Shal was present. At first, Randidly had attributed this to Shal himself, and wondered how he had gotten into a Dungeon on Earth. But when released from the Dungeon, Randidly had spawned in a strange spot with no Dungeons around it.
If it wasn’t Shal that had moved… perhaps Randidly himself was in a Dungeon in another world. Of course, there were perhaps flaws in the System, but it was a stretch to believe that such a huge, convenient flaw that had given him such an advantage was present, and hadn’t been addressed. But if it was the actions of someone else…
The downside of telling Lucretia about the Creature was obviously the chance that she would betray Randidly and receive assistance from the Creature. But the more Randidly thought about it, the more this worry faded. Of all of her flaws, Lucretia was not dishonest. That was what was so shudder inducing about her. She would tell you very directly how she would fuck you, and you would let it happen, and not realize how your life was collapsing until the last moment.
“...There is something I need to tell you.” Randidly said slowly. “True, I am the agent of such change… but there is something monstrous pushing the pieces on the board around. I call it the Creature. It can assume anyone’s shape, and can create using Aether. The reason I grew strong… was due to its prodding.”
Lucretia just watched him, her eyes glittering, a small smile growing on her mouth. And Randidly felt it too, a strange reversal of their previous interaction. He was being dragged forward by her dark karma, pulled into speaking.
And really, he didn’t care, because the depth of his resentment and fury towards the Creature overpowered all else. “The core of this world you want to help me understand… it was a weapon, designed by the Creature. I am willing to allow you to stay here, but I don’t just want understanding… I want your assistance to kill her. Or at least remove her influence. In exchange...I’ll remove the limiters on our Aether connection, in addition to letting you stay here. Deal?”
Hopefully, the additional bait of the connection would be enough to get Lucretia more actively interested in giving assistance. In addition, although it made Randidly vulnerable to her in some ways that he didn’t really understand fully, that was swiftly changing as his Aether related skills grew. And Lucretia received those same vulnerabilities, and she didn’t have the benefit of skills.
If it came down to a direct confrontation, Randidly was confident that he could overcome her, given enough time. Although it did scare him a bit that she always seemed to choose the right moment to strike. He could only suspect that there was a part of her skill that gave her near perfect timing to accomplish her goals, which was a disturbing thought.
Her light purple hair fluttered around her as she smiled. “It is a deal, Randidly Ghosthound. May we be bound until both our goals have come true.”
Something shifted, Randidly felt, between them. Like suddenly two puzzle pieces clicked into place, their individually powerful wills coming together. The fact that the shift was felt though, was a little unexpected, and it made Randidly profoundly wary, even as he could feel his instincts no longer recognizing her as a threat.
Something to watch out for.
“I’ll begin investigating the mechanisms of this world,” Lucretia said, turning away “Try not to jostle me around too much. You can feel it here, you know, when you start drawing too much Aether.
“Oh, and one more thing.” She said, “You shouldn’t fear betrayal so much, especially from me… it will make you miss the detail we bargained for… that will benefit me so much more than you. And that wouldn’t be very much fun, now would it?”