Randidly caught the strange girl who leaped at him by the shoulders, steadying her. She was a slender, lovely thing, but she was only as tall as his shoulders. It was easier than even Randidly had expected to stop her dead. He recognized her too, from looking through Neveah’s memories through their connection.
This was the teen fiance, Tia Alexandra.
Abruptly, Randidly realized the reason she had thrown herself at him; the usage of the Soulbond to teleport him had completely dispelled the illusion that surrounded him. Whereas he previously had been Baloo Erickson, skinny-fat and brown-haired, he was no once more Randidly Ghosthound.
Honestly, it felt somewhat good to be back.
“No matter what, I’ll always love you!” Tia announced, tears in her eyes as she regarded him. Then she squirmed out of his grip, which he had left rather loose, and kissed him.
Now, Randidly could probably have dodged the kiss. But today he had been subject to a lot of unexpected things. And even at the last second, Randidly didn’t expect this strange tiny slip of a girl to kiss him.
Her lips were soft and warm, but Randidly felt no attraction to her, just bewilderment. With a much firmer grip, Randidly pushed her away and held her at arm’s length. To his surprise, she continued to try and squirm out of his grip to get back at him. While keeping her in check, Randidly turned and glared over his shoulder.
For a second, he saw nothing. But then he focused, and his high Perception he was able to pierce through the illusion that Neveah had thrown up. She wasn’t disguising herself currently but just made herself appear invisible.
It had been a bit of time since Randidly had seen Neveah in her true form. Even while attacking the Danger Zones, Neveah had maintained her fake illusion, reminiscent of Alana. But now, she was a two-meter tall being that seemed to be more an exoskeleton of bone than a biological being. On her back, two huge wings of bone were pulled tight against her back. Such was the size of the wings that even folded as they were, they were almost as big as the rest of her body. Her eyes were tiny beads of obsidian, and her mouth was a vast maw of teeth. Undoubtedly, if this Tia were to see the true form of her fiance, her enthusiasm would wane.
What are you doing? Randidly asked mentally.
I can feel you want to end these disguises. This has upset you. I think that’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons.
What reasons? Randidly demanded. But before Neveah could answer, TIa began to speak.
“You… oh wow… you are such a good kisser!”
Randidly turned back to Tia, nonplussed. The girl was looking at him with her mouth wide open. But it seemed she then realized something and peered around suspiciously. “Rand, who were you talking to? Where was the other woman?”
“Other woman…?” Randidly said slowly. Then he sighed. He couldn’t believe he was so distracted by his emotions that he hadn’t noticed Tia outside in the hall. With his Perception, it would have been child’s play to spot her, if he wasn’t so distracted. It also meant that Neveah was right about how this upset him. Did he really want to end the disguises…?
If he was being honest with himself, he did. Part of it was the frustrations of trying to keep his progress with the drones as something reasonable. When he was behaving as himself, he never had to think about something like that. He could just be. The other part of it was that he didn’t feel very comfortable with the fact that other people were using his name and face.
Even though it was Neveah, it was still rather uncomfortable.
“I heard her voice. Do you take me for an idiot?” Tia glared at him. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and pulled at her top, exposing a bit more cleavage. “Where is she? I want to see this woman who is bold enough to come harass my fiance!”
Trust me, Neveah said simply, seeming to ignore Tia’s demands. Walk around as my version of you. I think you will change your mind.
Sighing, Randidly addressed Tia. “...there’s no one here. Let’s go.”
Randidly turned and walked out of the room, practically dragging Tia as she gripped his hand. “I know she’s back there! Hey, wait! RAND, I’m being serious- oh, are you ready to go to the party? I can’t wait to introduce you to my friends!”
Randidly’s growing sourness must have been readily apparent because he received a very amusing thought from Neveah. Do not think that I have put up with her strange whims. If you do not want to do something, don’t do it. That’s a behavior I learned from you.
Simmering, Randidly tried to take some deep breaths as Tia nattered on and led him downstairs. Although Randidly’s instincts were screaming this was a waste of time, Neveah was a part of him in a way that no one else was. If she believed that spending some time as-her-as-him would be worth his time, Randidly would give her the benefit of the doubt. There wasn’t any particular pressing issue, and it would certainly give Randidly some insight into whether he could gather more information as himself, than as a random drone maker.
Plus, t seemed that the excitement of having this party with Randidly present was enough of a positive spin to completely wipe the memory of Neveah’s feminine voice out of Tia’s mind. She was undeniably adorable, even if it was just in her single-minded infatuation for the upcoming party.
In his mind, Randidly considered himself a great deal more worldly than he had been before the System. Hell, in terms of seeing ritzy locals, he considered his stint in Shal’s world as him brushing up against the upper crust. But the ballroom he walked into was a reminder that Randidly had only been a part of the Northern Region of Shal’s world, which was considered relatively remote.
The floor was black marble with gold trimmings, and large granite pillars rose upwards. The ceiling was done in pure alabaster carvings, a veritable menagerie of creatures prowling about the upper area of the room. And in those myriad animals, Randidly clearly recognized Neveah’s handiwork. The splendor of the room did a lot to knock away the rest of Randidly’s resentment, and at that moment, he could see the value in sampling this life Neveah had created.
It was a strange statement, to Randidly’s mind. Because the ground was black and gold, and the upper areas of the ceiling were white with silver. It seemed to say that these people were in hell, while heaven watched from above. He hoped this wasn’t a religious statement.
“Tia! OHMYGOSH, is this him? You didn’t tell me he was a model.” A squeak brought Randidly back to earth, and an Asian girl dashed across the ballroom floor towards Tia and Randidly, who had just walk down the steps. The girl was wearing a cream and red floor length dress, and her shoes clacked loudly on the marble floor as she ran towards them.
Instantly, Randidly felt his internal tension rising. But immediately, Neveah’s cooling influence settled on him. This is so foolish, you always become so involved in people. You are Randidly Ghosthound. If you do not like them, do not give them your time.
Somewhat soothed, Randidly smiled and nodded at the girl, and then stepped past her and continued walking forward towards the group.
“So sorry Aimee, there are just so many people to meet…” Tia said with a pout, but to his surprise, Randidly could sense that Tia was rather pleased with how he handled things. In her mind, it was a statement about status, but as long as it meant that Randidly didn’t have to associate overmuch with these people, he would be fine with it.
Striding forward, Randidly approached the well-dressed group of 30 people that were grouped around a few buffet tables. In groups of twos and threes, they broke off from the central group and approached Randidly and Tia, who was still locked onto his arm like a sea urchin. It made Randidly’s eyelids twitch to hear all these people congratulate him on his recent engagement, but due to Neveah’s plea, he said nothing.
He simply smiled and nodded.
His gaze was locked on an elderly man dressed in a purple suit with a white feathered hat. This was Senator Firefly, who was the political figure who guaranteed Randidly’s validity. If anyone would be able to give Randidly the information he needed, it would be him.
So Randidly shook a few hands and continued walking. It seemed that from Senator Firefly’s gaze, he realized immediately that Randidly wanted something and disengaged his conversation with the two attractive young women who were standing around him.
“Randidly my friend! Congratulations! I don’t suppose you’d indulge an old man for a walk? I believe there are a few tricks an elderly bachelor such as myself can impart on someone of your age, haha.”
Without waiting for an answer, Senator Firefly turned and began to walk. Although he could feel how the two women the senator had left, and Tia for that matter, was filled with disappointment, they remained silent. Almost wondering at this strange social power, Randidly followed the older man out of the ballroom, through a few hallways, and into the gardens
“Pretty early in the season for dragonflies to be active,” The Senator said, as they began strolling down the path. As they had entered the gardens, a pair of the insects had lifted from the ground and buzzed path. Instantly, Randidly was able to identify that these were tools of Ghost, but it was a wonder that this man was able to do the same.
Was it a warning from the other man, or a coincidence?