I'm from a different world, Lucretia began, taking a second to savor her words as she spoke them. At her initial apology, Randidly's rage spiked upwards, but as she spoke in such a measured tone, it enabled him to suppress it and keep listening to her. You of all people don't need to be told this, but... it means things are different.
Specifically, in our world, the Level 50 is a very... important dividing line amongst warriors. I referenced it earlier, but it is rather well known that Skills can more easily be created immediately prior to Level 50. Not that there is any problem with people accidentally reaching Level 50; without the percent experience that you've received in the Raid Dungeon, crossing that hurdle would have taken quite a bit of time. As long as you don't purposefully seek out battles with monsters or quests, you can sit at Level 49 for quite a few years, sharpening your images.
To make things easier, Randidly sunk into himself and slipped into his Soul Skill. There, he could face her directly. She was still beautiful, but now more than ever, Randidly could see how she was the mother of Shal. The shape of their faces was extremely similar. The sharpness of their nose and the hard cast of their jaw spoke of their shared stubbornness. But of course, Lucretia's soft lavender hair was all hers. She had chosen the location, and he had just moved through his Soul Skill to find it, arriving at the top of a snow-covered mountain. The ice and snow swirled harmlessly around Randidly as he eyed her.
Sighing, she continued to speak. "All of that is just a preface. Now... I'd like to talk about what I was always told happens at Level 50. For that is the time... that a warrior condenses their Fate."
"Fate?" Randidly asked, quirking up an eyebrow. Lucretia shot him an annoyed glance for the interruption, but it only made Randidly more pleased he had done so. She likely had thought very carefully about how this would happen, and arranged every line; anytime Randidly spoke, it completely threw her off track.
Then, Lucretia gestured, and as Randidly watched, his eyes widened. Because out of nowhere, Lucretia created a glass staff. Created, because it wasn't as though she had produced it from an interspatial ring. No, Randidly had watched it grow.
From her hand, the crystal had rapidly spread up to a larger crystal top, and straight down to become a staff of glass. Bemused, Lucretia did a little curtsy.
"A Fate," Lucretia said, brandishing her glass staff. "...to understand my confusion, we need to take a couple steps back. Because based on what just happened... what is really occurring is very much different than what I had always been told."
"We were always told that a Fate was a person's own personal style and Skills, condensed to physical form because they had reached a certain level of strength," Lucretia said with a frown. "This was why so many people train right before reaching Level 50, so their condensed Fate is larger, or denser, due to a higher quality Skill and image. In retrospect, this seems incredibly foolish; why would a Level suddenly mean their strength should... crystallize? It shouldn't, the strength should be dependent on the image if the image is the real impetus for it happening.
"Normally, a person who reaches Level 50 without any understanding of what was going on would acquiesce to the voice of God, or more accurately the System, and they will condense their Fate. But, because they had no warning or understanding, it would be sloppy." Shaking her head, Lucretia slowly walked across the top of the mountain to a snow-covered boulder. She gestured to it.
"...often, the person would be the rock, and their Fate the snow. Without a shape to guide it, the Fate grows like a fungus on the head, arms, and hands. It is powerful as a weapon, but it is still a crystal. And although the amount of the exposed Fate can be shrunk with training... there is something about the touch of the Fate that permanently scars flesh. Before they control it, the first owners of a Fate are like golems, and afterward they are shunned for their disfigurement by wider society. It usually requires a show of the Fate's power to... establish oneself in society. That's why we are trained to establish a start point on our bodies, then control the rest of the Fate to grow away..."
To demonstrate, Lucretia stretched out her hand. Slowly, her "Fate" shrunk back, until she was just left with a bare palm. And in the middle of that palm was a small patch of crystal, still affixed to her skin, about a penny in size.
"How powerful is a Fate? Does Alana have a Fate?" Randidly asked, some of his hostility ebbing away.
Again, Lucretia seemed annoyed, but she humored him. "...well it is strong. It is condensed images, yes? Your personal images. So your own Skills that use those images receive a boost. As I stated earlier, the power of the images affect it, but usually, the boost is around 20%. In addition, there is a cumulative effect. As you grow with your Fate, oftentimes you earn slight increases in Health or Mana boosts per Level. Some people even obtain an additional Stat point. As to whether Alana has one..."
Lucretia shrugged and then frowned. "Based on what we know to have actually happened... she should? Or at least, she should have something that is even superior to a Fate... Or on the other hand, perhaps what happens is you maintain a higher potential for growth. Perhaps the Fate is just a short-term power grab. It is hard to stay, we will have to study-"
Randidly rolled his eyes.
Lucretia eyed him as she continued to speak. "-in order to gain any more information, you know that. Now, that was what I have always been told. As to what actually happened... The System was forcefully excluding the person's images, and they were compressed until they exploded. Without your interference...because she rejected the System, the images would have exploded, likely following her own imperative that the System's influence be destroyed. Of course, the closest thing to it was her own Class, which... as a target..."
"Not ideal," Randidly grunted, rubbing his chin. "So why does it happen then? And happen at Level 50? Why doesn't the System let people use images?"
Randidly expected Lucretia to give him one of her exasperated looks; he had asked this question on purpose to annoy her. After all, they had spent the past month trying to create a Class. Sure, it was based on a very intricate and profound System, but there were also some very strange and seemingly arbitrary decisions made by the System in how things should function. Everything was very artificial and controlled.
He had listened to enough thought arguments between Lucretia and Neveah to know that this would annoy the shit out of her. But to Randidly’s surprise, Lucretia actually smiled.
“In fact, I have a theory. Not as to why, but…” Lucretia tapped her chin. “Not a why to this question, but to a larger why. Why certain things happen. Why the System speaks in such delighted ways even when it pushes us towards paths to kill us. Why someone like you… continues to be labeled as a Heretic, yet are allowed to exist.”
Randidly raised an eyebrow. He really had always been curious as to why a Path was put in place for Heretics. And what it did. “So, you can explain what being a Heretic means?”
“No, nothing that grand,” Lucretia said, shaking her head, her lavender hair swaying. “However, I believe, after careful study… that there are really two Systems, one on top of the other. A System that actually governs everything, through a set of strict rules… and a more flexible System on top of it, that is a glorified translator. It moves everything from forces to understandable phenomenon. It creates the Stats and the Statuses and the quests and the items.”
Randidly pondered this for a second. Then he shook his head helplessly. “...That could make sense, but that really doesn’t help us at all, does it?”
“Oh, but it does!” Lucretia said, her eyes bright now. “You wouldn’t know, but when you reach Level 50, a voice speaks to you, demands that you give in to them, and in exchange, they save you from your images. If this was the voice of the System, it certainly would be unsettling, because it is… a powerful voice. A malevolent one…”
Noticing that Randidly was just looking at her, Lucretia shrugged. “...again, you haven’t heard it, so you wouldn’t understand. BUT! If this was the other System and not the translator… the raw, usually silent one that governs all of the actual happenings… then some things click together.”
Lucretia pondered for a bit, then gritted her teeth and said. “I… cannot say much about the System, but… only those who have condensed a Fate have qualifications to appear before the Calamity. Fates… are frozen images. Level 50 might be arbitrary, but that is a line drawn by the System for the Calamity… dealing with the Calamity.”
Humming softly, Randidly fell silent. It always seemed to come back to the Calamity, didn’t it? Or rather, Randidly’s worries always spun around in a circle until they landed on the biggest, baddest guy that he knew of, heading straight for Earth. Even now, Randidly wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, or why.
Based on every clue, there was a battle aspect involved in it, but… it seemed like there were more parts to it than just that. It was the final transformation of the world, Randidly surmised, just like the Villages, the Raid Bosses, and the Champions were ones. But the final one… was special somehow.
The Calamity would change everything, it seemed.
“So we need to find out whether Alana counts as condensing a Fate.” Randidly finally said, frowning. Although he had definitely saved her life, or at least her ability to utilize the System, the fact that there might be some side effects annoyed him.
Lucretia nodded. “Plus… investigate whether there is any… lingering ill will from the System from being rejected. I suspect that it is too large a behemoth to notice tiny actions like this, which is why things like the Heretic System exist, but…”
Basically, Randidly summed up, they still knew very little. But at least now they were starting to see the shape of things. What he still wondered though, was why the System demanded that they submit to be saved?
What changes occurred in those who agreed to it?