Mrs. Hamilton sipped her tea as the young woman, or what had once been a young woman, stood next to her.
“It’s time,” Lyra said, her mouth curling into a smile. “That idiot is finally starting to move. Took him long enough. It’s not easy to keep the Administrator distracted. We are almost out of time.”
Mrs. Hamilton said nothing, simply looking at the cooling liquid in her cup. There was a lot she wanted to say, about Lyra’s choices, the dangers of the the bets that she was making, about Randidly and the changes he was going through, about the broader changes that were happening due to the System. But they would simply be rehashes of old discussions with Lyra. Although the girl was willful, she had good instincts.
Even though it was difficult for Mrs. Hamilton to let go of control, she simply had to; the other player had the better hand. And it was going to be a long game of poker.
“Are you coming?” Lyra asked, squinting at Mrs. Hamilton.
“...must I?” Mrs. Hamilton asked, surprising herself. But she really dreaded this, in a way, because what they were doing… what Lyra suggested they do…
...was to change this boy’s fate. To interfere in his path. To cause the strength of his ability to incite action to be bent to their plan, their agenda. Mrs. Hamilton was no stranger these days to manipulation, it was her bread and butter. She thrived on using other people by helping them see the path that would benefit both of them.
This was… something else. Was this a path that would benefit Randidly as well….?
“Yes.” Lyra said decisively. “I cannot, and there is no one else that knows the fate of this land.”
Mrs. Hamilton looked sadly at the ground. “...You’re sure?”
Nodding, Lyra said. “It hurts to admit, but the Calamity isn’t fucking around. I cannot go into details, but if we don’t do this…”
In Mrs. Hamilton’s sigh, she shed a weight of responsibility. It was feather light, compared to her other loads, just the small ounce of pure and unthinking trust that a young man put in her to run this town. In a way, she needn't shed this; the actions that Mrs. Hamilton was taking were for the good of the town. She was adjusting them towards a long term course. This was the way that it had to be.
But.... to this small weight of responsibility, it felt like a betrayal. Finally, she was asking him to give up something that he couldn’t easily spare.
‘I’m not going to apologize…’ Mrs Hamilton thought to herself. ‘But… I just want it on record that I will never forget this moment.’
She brushed off her shoulders as she stood, that bit of responsibility falling away. The heavy weight of the safety of Donnyton crushed down on her shoulders, abruptly much more pressing and urgent. Her eyes were cold as she nodded at Lyra.
“Then let’s be off.”
To the Northeast, in a manner that was visible to the naked eye, Aether exploded in a storm, shaking the ground and shaping the sky into a large typhoon.
Careful! Neveah’s warning was full of anxiety as the small anchor point became an all devouring black hole, but Randidly couldn’t help but allow the smile on his face to grow ever wider, stretching across his visage like a fault line. There was just… a manic glee to him now, a rightness…
The Aether around him began to roar as his Indomitable Will of Yggdrasil urged it onwards, creating a huge darkening mass of Aether at the center, that continued to condense, becoming more and more compact, more and more refined. Randidly had taken note of Neveah’s methods, but he suddenly found them unnecessary.
Sure, this Aether was filled with strange bits of meaning from Mrs. Hamilton, or Helen, or Arbor, but so what? That was who he was. The image that was going to be the basis of him, the anchor that held his Class together, was not a single thing. He had become many things to many people, learning through his experiences how to use different Skills and fighting styles.
His strength came from his multidisciplinary nature, and his ability to multitask, utilizing the best approach for each situation. He needed that depth in a Class too, if it was going to be the path of his future growth. He needed more than a single golden seed to create the effect that Randidly was aiming for.
“What are you doing?” Lucretia howled, her eyes bulging as she watched all of her carefully arranged layers being absorbed into the old anchor that was struggling to grow by any means necessary.
Randidly wouldn’t say that he laughed, but he was decidedly amused at the strange expression on her face. “We were too light. We were too cautious. The Class would have destroyed itself as I demanded more and more out of it. Better to go the other way, and make it too heavy.”
“You fool,” Lucretia hissed. “How can you just say that? Do you think we didn’t already think of that? But beyond what we had, the complexity of doing it on your own-”
“Why do we need to make it on our own?” Randidly asked, his smile sharp. More and more Aether was snapping into motion, drawn upwards by the momentum of the surrounding Aether, and slowly, Randidly realized, something more. There was… a gravity to the gathered Aether, a presence to it that pressed down over them all.
It felt… strangely familiar. It took Randidly several long moments of examining the sensation to realize that it was a strange combination of his past Skills, a lot of which had been absorbed into his new Yggdrasil themed Skills. He could feel the dull burn of Agony, the strange whisper of Bacterial Regeneration, even the extremely old Grasping Roots. Everything he had experienced was wrapped up in this Aether that had surrounded him for years now.
Although it was easy to forget, even in the beginning the Aether Crossroads had been in him since he had killed the Tribulation of Turtletown. Ever since then, every breath that he took, every thought that he had, every interaction, every image, every ounce of strife and every desperate fight, everything passed through the Aether that was at his core.
And though not much at all was taken each time, that slowly added up. The struggle to figure out how to reach out to people, the long days of fighting in the prison, Randidly’s struggle in Shal’s tournament… the slow and agonizing recovery…
There were more and more moments and images rushing by as the Aether gathered above them, filling Randidly, making him feel a strange profound joy. This was his, this was his and only his, unlike the static thing that Lucretia had been creating, this would have the strength to support him.
Lucretia was still gazing at him incredulously. “The whole basis of this was that you refused to get a Class from a Village! If you hadn’t stubbornly insisted on such a foolish, prideful move-”
Calm. Bigger Skill-
“Both of you are fools! If we miss this chance, if we waste this much Aether, if your soul space implodes based upon the weight of this Aether… We know nothing about how to handle this! Can you feel that? Look at how it's changing! That’s not an energy source anymore, it’s a fucking bomb!”
“It’s me,” Randidly said, his face twisting further, his eyes brilliant and emerald, illuminating even the soul space. Lucretia backed away, her face drawn as she watched the last of the layers she made being slowly absorbed into the old anchor.
“You are right, I didn’t want to get a Class from a Village. But I realized…” Randidly stared intently at the huge sphere of Aether that he had created, infusing with his images. Very rapidly, it started to shrink, losing size and gaining density, as well as qualitative increases in the strangely heavy aura it threw off, the baleful weight of it.
This continued until it was the size of a marble. A marble that felt like it would crack and sunder the earth if it was allowed to touch the ground, such was the weight and gravitas contained within it.
“I realized that the System isn’t the enemy, it’s just a shape. What we hate… is the dirty fuel that the System runs on. So as long as we borrow the shape and use our fuel…”
The last of the layers were absorbed into the anchor, which pulsed strangely in the aftermath of it, plaintive. The marble of Aether that Randidly had created this time around pulsed in response, almost in answer to the first. The two were still for a second, and then the higher marble of Aether exploded, long spikes of Aether rushing down, crashing into the already gathered Aether, the whole of Randidly’s soul space vibrating with the force of it.
But the anchor held up, devouring it all, greedily lapping up every last strand of Aether. First 5 or so, then a dozen, then hundreds of these spikes shot out of the marble and aimed downwards, crashing towards the anchor.
Give me weight! Randidly’s burning eyes said for him, as his voice remained silent. Ground me!
The soul space began to warp with the force of it, everything twisting and winding its way inwards, everything drawn towards the anchor. Even the Skills began to be pulled, inexorably drawn by the force. Randidly went to smile, but that smile froze on his face.
Because his body was warping. Well, his soul version of his body.
“Fool,” Lucretia snorted disdainfully. “This is what you get.”
The world twisted further, and all three of them along with the remaining Aether, were ripped from the soul space and pressed into a singularity of possibilities.