Randidly just looked at Lyra’s smile for several long seconds. The expression was just as beautiful as he remembered it, and for a moment, his heart trembled. But then it was gone, replaced on her face by something else, something older, deeper, and more tired. “Now I have a question, Randidly, and this one is ad libbed: Do you trust me?”
For a second Randidly started, due to the strange resemblance to the Creature’s aura, but there was just a solemn, teenage girl looking at him. That was it. Or what used to be a teenage girl, before…
Still, this was a girl who had been held captive by a hyper powerful and intelligent alien monster. She was not without scars from her time here. Even her personality was likely warped by the presence of the System.
Lyra must be 17, probably partially on her way to 18 by now, and her face had shifted towards becoming the woman she would eventually be. Although he had seen the growing changes with the Creature’s imitation, it wasn’t animated in the same perfect was as Lyra was.
More than that though, the Creature looked to have been in the peak of health, whereas Lyra now…
As his eyes focused more on the details, a new picture of Lyra emerged. Her cheeks were bony and dry. Her lips were thin and white. The bags under her eyes looked like a bruised plum. More than that though, her eyes were piercing and focused, while the body around them was slowly sagging away. She was still lovely of course, but Randidly was reminded of Coppernicus, the Skeleton Man, in the way the body seemed to fail, but the spirit only burn brighter.
His smile fell away too, because the fact that she had actually used his name meant something. He wasn’t sure what, but the moments of banter had passed; they were back to their roles of hero and damsel. An ad libbed line…? Randidly couldn’t see through what he wanted, so he just answered honestly.
She smiled at him. “... your lack of hesitation almost makes up for the time I watched you fuck another woman. Alright here, take this. Read me the three…. Errr… the threee….. Mmmmrrrrr…..”
Lyra could only bite her lip and frown, and dissolved into silence and small groans. It was only after almost two minutes that something clicked in Randidly’s head. This reminded him of when she had struggled on the bindings of the System that prevented her from sharing some of her knowledge too early. Very quickly, Randidly stepped forward and took the indicated piece of metal, which had made up part of her bindings. On it, scratched carefully into the metal of the thing, there were three numbers, and after each…
Randidly furrowed his brow. After each was a question. He glanced at Lyra, who was still breathing heavily, but she managed to nod, her eyes so bright.
“...what will happen if I attempt to absorb this… construct….” Randidly said slowly, reading the words directly from the page. Lyra’s face instantly contorted.
A low rumble ran through the Aether construct. Gritting her teeth, Lyra spoke. “Currently… it’s impossible. It’s been tied to the air here. Unless you deal enough damage to shatter it, it will resist your attempts. But if you did manage to absorb it… there should be…. No side effects. It’s brand of Aether is different than yours, but… so… so… so… is the sssss… the System’s… and you have incorporated that without any detrimental abnormalities, so….”
“Detrimental abnormalities” was certainly a phrase that Randidly would have liked to revisit a bit, but the expression on Lyra’s face made him grit his teeth and ignore it. She wouldn’t lie to him, but those abnormalities sounded like future problems.
Then his lips twisted. Compared to Lucretia’s presence, how detrimental could abnormalities of Aether really be anyway.
‘I heard that,’ Lucretia whispered, but she seemed amused. That was what annoyed Randidly most, how well she took the fact he very uncomfortable with her presence. But for now, that was another issue that he was forced to ignore as his full attention was on Lyra, and the surrounding space.
By the end of the question, the whole construct was buzzing, and as Randidly looked around, he opened his senses once more, and saw that huge currents of Aether were pressing down towards their location. As he followed its flow, he saw that it surged inwards, flooding the halls, heading directly for… for Lyra, and surrounding her, spinning and pressing.
It was the System, attempting to stop her from speaking…?
But Randidly’s eyes were grabbed by something else: Lyra’s body. While he had his Aether Detection vision open, her whole body glowed and pulsed. Where as most flows of Aether were direct and sharp, with varying depth to add meaning to it, the flows that ran through Lyra’s body were wide and shallow, like a swamp.
The swirls were strange and unpredictable, and beautiful, like an oncoming hurricane, in slow, deadly motion. More than anything else, it looked like in her body, Aether was forced to combine with the substance of a physical form, slowly warping it. Perhaps so much so that even Randidly was shocked.
He had dealt with Aether, but that concentration, that force… that chaos in her body… how could she endure it…?
No matter how high her stats were, if she were in a human body, the damage that would inflict… perhaps it was only due to the shape shifting body she inherited that she was able to withstand the strange fusion that had occured. That was occuring, before his very eyes.
Because as he watched, Randidly could suddenly see how there was a light, shallower shape of Aether drawn in Lyra’s body, unfilled in, some strange, twisting, drunken pattern. But Aether didn’t flow towards those areas. Unless there was pressure….
Now, as the System squeezed downward, there were cracks in the current pattern, and it began to expand towards the desired one.
‘This girl is a genius…’ Lucretia whispered, quickly making notes of the patterns in Lyra’s body. But the foreign voice brought him back to himself. Lyra was making use of the pain yes, but it was still painful. So painful that she was sobbing silently, looking at him with her burning eyes, insistent and furious.
Randidly glanced down at him. Lyra knew him, and he trusted her. What was she doing…? That was probably the goal the first question, then. To inform him of his role. She was… attempting to dislodge the giant apparatus here, so he could absorb it…?
And the second question… after reading it, Randidly frowned. Not any help in what she meant for him to do, but… perhaps….?
The final question… even more general, seemingly even more useless. But strangely focused enough that Randidly was sure the System would act, moving to stop Lyra from speaking, and would accomplish their goals. So then, it was the first two questions that were important, because in all likelihood, the System wouldn’t let her answer the third one.
Slowly, Randidly said. “Why… is… the Creature… trying so hard to use me…?”
“...She...Fears…. The System… seeks her…. Wants her… power….” Lyra could barely speak, and the words were a breath of a dying child. But Randidly grabbed them out of the air, focusing on the information. The Creature was afraid. The System was looking for her, actively it seemed. That’s why she was so desperate, why she continued to push him. Although how she intended to truly use him was a bit...
The stones of the fake castle around him were withering and transforming, being warped by the effect of the pressing forces of Aether. It really seemed like the System was angered by that question. Which was slightly peculiar, because… if it was aware of the subject matter, to censor it, and the System was really seeking the Creature… wouldn’t it be able to find her…?
And perhaps she would be content in sitting in a Raid Dungeon, forgotten by the System if the Zone around it died…?
All of these questions spiraled together in Randidly’s mind. Lyra’s earlier talk of inciting action, then the abrupt switch to these questions… What was the point of the earlier talk then? If the first question was aimed to give him a concrete goal, then perhaps that earlier talk was general, safe information she could give him, for a broader goal…?
To change the ending, she had hinted. But the ending of what…? Was it simply enough to continue to incite…?
The present demanded Randidly’s attention, and he returned to it. At least the answer to the second question did make the third question make more sense, although not enough. “What would the System do with that power?”
“The System-” Lyra began, her breath more Aether than air at this point, but the Aether streams began to howl and seethe. A huge force pressed down. The Aether construct cracked and shattered around them, muffling most of the force, btu even Randidly was smashed backwards.
Lyra’s body was flung away, as the forces rushed towards her, pressing inwards, and as Randidly recovered he found himself floating mid air, slowly beginning to fall, huge chunks of Aether around him. He wasn’t sure what they would do when they dropped on Donnyton below, but…
Gritting his teeth, Randidly hoped Lyra knew what she was doing, and reached outward with his Aether Manipulation, clumsily seizing the huge chunks of Aether that were falling around him. They began to slowly drift towards him, but it wasn’t enough.
Randidly growled. Inspiration.
For the first time, Randidly was paying attention to what was going on with his Aether senses, so he could feel how the part of his soul that seemed to control and generate mana, modulated by the System, almost exploded, and a flood of a strange, ethereal substance streamed out, moving towards the Aether Manipulation Skill.
It itself wasn’t Aether, but it flooded into the Skill, and the Skill swelled, growing larger and larger. Randidly’s eyes burned, and this time he didn’t reach, he pulled the entire sky towards him, creating a howling maelstrom of ambient Aether and the remnants of the Creature’s construct, absorbing them all.
Everything was happening so fast, so only Randidly’s battle reactions were kicking in, driving him forward, ignoring the why for his actions, though he would probably want to dwell on him later. No, for now he just defaulted to that first question.
He trusted Lyra. Although they had probably only had one or two minutes of interaction before she shifted, forcing them towards this, that he knew for sure. He trusted her.
So… he was the Inciting Action, eh? He would need to look into that.
When he crashed to the ground, his vision was flickering in and out, because in his chest, those strange, huge chunks of Aether were inside of him, fizzing and spitting, as the Aether from his Aether Crossroads rejected it. It certainly was different a different feel, something alien and calculating and twisting and endless-
Neveah acted, creating a bubble, and area of no man’s land around the new Aether, where they could slowly mix, rather then pressing against each other so violently. The fizzing stopped, the pain departed. A problem not solved, but addressed. And now Randidly could turn his attention to other things. What the fuck had just happened…? Where did Lyra go….?
But before that… Randidly looked around. He had landed in a farm, cratoring the entire thing. He scratched his head awkwardly. Good thing he had a lot of clout around town…