Mrs. Hamilton stumbled slightly as they emerged through the portal that Lyra had created. Brushing herself off, Mrs. Hamilton felt slightly embarrassed. It had been quite a long time since she had behaved as anything but graceful, and she half suspected that the other woman had done a rough landing on purpose, to cause her to stumble.
Not that there was any proof, but ever since Lyra had become involved with that… strange being that had been parading around with her face, she had gotten even more deeply mysterious and pompous.
Still, Mrs. Hamilton didn’t really begrudge her for that. Lyra was a brat who was truly a genius. But that didn’t mean she would make the right decision, or even one close to correct, all of the time. But Mrs. Hamilton had no choice but to rely on her as a source for information. And as a lever that she could exert influence over, to control the fate of humanity.
Because although they had stayed ahead of things so far… the next portion of the System’s trials might be the most difficult they had ever faced: interacting with other segments of the human population. Those could perhaps be even more dangerous than a Raid Boss, if left unattended, and the fact they were progressing another level made the possibility of a Tier IV Raid Boss appearing likely…
A small part of Mrs. Hamilton twitched, wanting to raise the morality of what they were attempting to do now, but she instantly squashed it. She had made her decision; Mrs. Hamilton was not one to act squeamish when she decided to roll up her sleeves.
“Fucking doggy. The ONE time he moves quickly,” Lyra hissed, and Mrs. Hamilton looked around. They were on a dull grey platform, with darkness surrounding them. The material of the platform seemed to be ivory, because there was glossy smoothness to its greyness. At the center, there was a stone table, upon which Randidly was lying, dragons and snakes composed of Aether spiraling around his body, biting into him, piercing through him, and emerging from the other side.
But floating above Randidly was a spiraling sigil, hanging in the air, slowly condensing. As Mrs. Hamilton looked at it, she couldn’t suppress a shiver. There was something… almost evil, about the rune that was there. Somehow, it filled her with a cold sense of dread. Its cool light touched her skin, and invigorated her, but it also filled her with an unholy unwillingness, almost like a geas. Very quickly, she looked away, controlling her breathing.
Mrs. Hamilton glanced sideways at Lyra, and clicked her tongue. “That’s his Class then? We were too late?”
Lyra nodded glumly, but her eyes were filled with glittering calculations. “Perhaps… perhaps not….”
Mrs Hamilton controlled her face, even while the other party was pointlessly being a bitch. The problem was the girl was too used to playing a role, so she was constantly in this snarky character. Mrs. Hamilton was aware that it wasn’t the girl’s true personality, but she was also losing touch with Lyra’s true personality, buried under the play acting and muddied with the influence of that strange being, that Randidly called the Creature.
What was worse was that Randidly encouraged her irreverence, which Mrs. Hamilton supposed he couldn’t be blamed for. He just wanted to be treated normally. And verbal derision seemed to be a sort of interaction that he understood, and was comfortable with, but…
Lyra took several steps forward, and waved her hand. The rune trembled, and then slowly stretched, opening up, spreading apart. Between the two sides of the rune a finely detailed network of energy lines emerged, weaving together and connecting the two sides. Those little connection nodes glittered with dangerous power, almost hissing, when exposed to the air.
Imitating Mrs. Hamilton, Lyra clicked her tongue. “Well… we can’t shape his Class now, but we can… weave our own influence into his Class, as long as it follows certain guidelines. The effectiveness of it will depend on whether he accepts it, and has images to back it up, but-”
“Ah, I wasn’t first? A rare tardiness on my part, my apologies ladies.”
Mrs. Hamilton turned calmly around, while Lyra spun. Inwardly, Mrs. Hamilton sighed. Why not just announce to the world you weren’t expecting this, and you are now nervous…?
There was a creature walking forward, a wide smile on its Rhinoceros head.
“...Octavious Shrike.” Lyra whispered, her eyes narrowing. “I thought-”
“-that your distraction would be sufficient? No. Your arrogance is distasteful, child. I allow you to play your games, but this is something I can’t miss.” Octavius arrived at the low grey table Randidly was lying on and waved a hand. An ornate golden chair appeared, and he seated himself comfortably. “It is quite rare that a being achieves Transcendence. And oh, every alarm in the 7th Cohort is ringing like mad. I need to be here, so I can make an accurate report.”
Lyra’s eyes narrowed even further, lending her a very melodramatic air. Mrs. Hamilton performed a small curtsey. “Octavius Shrike. A pleasure to make the acquaintance of the being who oversees all of our Cohort. I must say, I much admire your work so far. I would be delighted to join you to witness this… Transcendence, if you would be so kind…?”
Octavius turned and exchanged a glance with Mrs. Hamilton. In his eyes, she could read a lot, and a lot of it was worrisome. But, there was also a truth there that put Mrs. Hamilton on very familiar ground; this man was primarily a bureaucrat. Then he grinned, because he had seen the same truth in her eyes.
“Of course. Please, allow me.” Octavius waved his hand again and two more chairs appeared, simple, black wooden pieces, with a strange, triangle base, and no real back. More like stools than anything else. But that was just him posturing.
Mrs. Hamilton seated herself, murmuring her thanks, even as another part of herself flexed its legs. The grey spider that sat in the back of her mind slowly woke up, calmly feeling around, testing the web it had weaved around it. Not the best scenario, but… better to go along with it for now.
“Are you here to stop us?” Lyra said. Mrs. Hamilton had 3 problems with the sentence and what it represented, but she knew that the younger woman wouldn’t care. She had her own way of dealing with the world, and her looks had apparently given her no cause to believe that this wouldn’t be sufficient when dealing with the metaphysical overlord before them.
Octavius shook his head. “Of course not. There is ample ambient Aether that you can use, still clinging to his body, to add meaning to his Class. I am simply here to record it all. You, as the first people to arrive, may start. Simply name the Class you would like him to have, and if accepted, it will use images from him to add it to his current Class. An extra bonus for him.”
Nodding, Lyra turned to Mrs. Hamilton. “Just say something like, Hero of Humanity, or whatever.”
Mrs. Hamilton’s brow twitched, and she ignored the foolish girl. Instead, she turned to Octavius. “The System is truly a work of wonder. So it even has contingencies for this situation?”
Octavius nodded, a small smile on his face as he watched Lyra’s twist with annoyance. “Oh yes. By the 3rd Cohort, the modern prototype for the current System was in place. After that, there were increased opportunities for past Cohorts to influence the future, for example, I was originally born on a world in the 5th Cohort, but very rarely has there been any surprises.”
“Impressive.” Then Mrs. Hamilton tapped her chin, thinking. Which, was a mistake, because Lyra cut in, seemingly using her brain in this brief time that her mouth was switched off.
“What are the criteria that would allow a suggestion to be accepted?”
Mrs. Hamilton’s mouth twisted. This….
Luckily it seemed that Octavius didn’t care much about about small talk. Or actually… it seemed he cared very deeply about the rules of the System themselves, and his voice became animated the longer he talked about how things worked.
“Well it’s rather simple. The suggestions you make have to fit ‘inside’ of his created Class. Whether he expected this or not, he created an extremely broad Class, that can be filled with multiple different meanings. In addition, the amount of Aether used to create it is staggering; I have never seen a Class cost this much. And only about half was used. His body is still suffused with the remaining Aether… although it is the Aether of a Heretic, it seems, which is distasteful.”
Then Octavius coughed lightly, before speaking. “And yet his Heretic level is so low… I wonder how he earned this much Aether…..hmmmm…. At any rate, since the circumstances are so ideal, there is only one final criteria: your addition has to mimic his Class. Translated to your language…”
He paused. “.... there needs to be a P, then an F, and then an E. Small variances are possible, but the less the better…”
“So it’s… a word game?” Lyra said, her voice sounding disgusted. Mrs. Hamilton almost smiled.
Octavius nodded, his eyes bright.
As Lyra opened her mouth to make her opinions about such a thing clear, Mrs. Hamilton spoke, her voice ringing clearly. “Protector of Humanity’s Final Enclave.”
There was a rumble…. then a strange dinging noise, as if it was accepted. Below the floating sigil, but above Randidly’s chest, several of those swimming strands of Aether shaped like dragons curled upwards, condensing and shaping themselves. Very soon, they formed another, smaller sigil, below the first. Very quickly, light around it started condensing, growing brighter and brighter.
“It was accepted,” Octavius said, producing a small notepad and scrawling something. “Now… let’s see how well he takes to it.”
The light continued to intensify, so much to the point that Mrs. Hamilton could only close her eyes to avoid blinding herself. Then, all at once, that light was snuffed out.
Now, when she opened her eyes and looked at the sigil, it had… shifted. Or rather… it had been shaped by the image in Randidly’s heart.