Randidly let his tongue taste the air; it was salty and full of particles dragged here by strange winds.
This place truly was a sea. It was easy to see how an image of adventure would quickly and naturally develop in Scant. There would be a darker underbelly of that, but if this process continued for a long time...
Behind him, the hunched and suspicious face of Kerrar glanced at him, then returned to his busy work around the boat. Chuckling, Randidly let the thoughts of Scant’s development slide away. Honestly, Randidly was relieved that the man was able to stop trying to upsell him on useless additional personnel after they began talking about the price for being rented out as Randidly’s personal ship for an indeterminate amount of time.
Especially when Randidly revealed how much he was willing to pay.
It was somewhat upsetting that Kerrar insisted on charging a bit more as “insurance” when Randidly wouldn’t pay for guards, but he could understand the other man’s point; if they really did encounter a sea monster, it was hard to simply trust that Randidly would handle it without seeing it for himself.
Which of course was almost comically easy for Randidly. That was just a difference in perspectives.
Yet Randidly said nothing about the ease he could manage it and instead engaged in the haggling. For two interrelated reasons. He very much wanted to actually have a local sail with him out toward where Neveah was located in order to know the gossip going around the islands about what was going on.
After all, Neveah ordered Thorn to both prevent the Frogpeople from landing, keeping them away from humans, and keep humans away from them. What was Neveah trying to accomplish with these interrelated by slightly different orders?
Understanding of the context of what Neveah was doing would be difficult to pry out by simply asking questions, and Randidly didn’t have much use for money at the moment; he didn’t mind paying a little extra for Kerrar’s presence.
The second reason was that because he truly wanted a pair of local eyes to give him context Randidly had spoken with several to find someone with which to work. And that Kerrar was the fifth captain that Randidly had spoken to. All the men that Randidly had met were all blustery and dismissive, sneering at Randidly and insisting that he pay for their guards and their guides and their oracles and their retainers. An endless series of kickbacks that even Randidly wasn’t so loose with money as to allow.
Such was the similarity of Kerrar’s demeanor to that of the half dozen shitty clones before him that Randidly briefly lost his temper during their interaction. Which wasn’t in an of itself special, he had lost his temper with the other captains as well.
But unlike the others, Kerrar froze like a mouse that had looked up to find a hawk sitting on a branch above it with a rumbling stomach. His instincts had detected the brief moment where Randidly had decided that he was done with the conversation and mentally dropped the guise of civility.
In that space, the images of Yggdrasil, Ash, and the Wild Phantom loomed heavy. And Kerrar was filled with fear.
Which made Randidly smile. Perhaps Randidly should be more disturbed about his casual reaction, but he hadn’t used a Skill against the guy; the other was just sharp enough to catch the shift and understand the danger it posed to him. A man with good Perception or a powerful Skill that would notice Randidly’s brief lapse was someone worth working with.
“Ah, It appears there’s… something coming,” Kerrar said, sidling up to Randidly.
Randidly did his best to suppress a grin. “You saw something? Or do you just… have a feeling…?”
Kerrar’s face flushed. For whatever reason, he was extremely sensitive about the treatment of his Skill. “I have detected danger in the direction you have indicated. Normally, we would ask a guide about the local currents in order to navigate around the impediment, but because you refused to pay for-”
“Don’t worry,” Randidly said lightly. He removed a wooden block from his interspatial ring and tossed it into the water next to the boat. “I’ll handle it.”
A pulse of Aether illuminated the surrounding area to Randidly’s senses and a second later thorny vines ripped out of the block and slithered down through the water toward the squid creature that was approaching them from below. Some part of Randidly was tempted to use the boat as the base for his attack, as a small spite toward this man who doubted him, but Randidly refused to let someone’s livelihood smolder to ash just because of disrespect.
He was not so mad with power to think such a reaction was reasonable. Not yet, at least.
But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t tease the man.
Kerrar was frowning, looking at the block that was bobbing in the waves. “What is that?”
Shaking his head, Randidly turned away. Better to show than to tell. It was difficult to see from the deck, but there were already three dozen thick roots heading downwards to deal with the squid. “Full steam ahead, captain. Problem solved.”
After a moment of internal turmoil, Kerrar turned and exchanged a long glance with a silent man named Mack, who was the only other member of his crew who Randidly had begrudgingly allowed. Mack spat over the edge of the ship and shrugged, as if to say, “in life, you can only have money or sense, never both. Did you expect anything less from your patron?”
So they sailed forward.
The squid was killed easily as the thorns punched large holes in its thick skin and allowed it to bleed out in the unforgiving waves. Then, because he wanted to make sure they wouldn’t underestimate him in the future, Randidly slowed pulled the large corpse of the monster up toward the surface.
Inwardly, Randidly wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t intervened and there had been guards to handle the thing; it was Level 39, and possessed an extremely large body. Although it would likely be possible to beat back its long tentacles, very little real damage could be inflicted on its main body from the deck.
So how would they have handled it?
In Randidly’s mind, it either meant the guards were more capable than he had given them credit for, or that Kerrar and his ilk possessed more methods than he was showing Randidly. It was likely a mixture of both. Still, probably wasn’t worth the effort to root out that truth.
“...Fuck…!” Mack swore. Randidly chuckled impulsively; that was the first word that he had heard the morose man say.
Quick as a flash, Kerrar crossed the deck and peered over the side. When he saw the eviscerated corpse, he blinked several times. It seemed that Kerrar had a lot of these, moments when faced with new information where he simply stayed completely still and allowed himself to process this sort of information.
Sometimes such breaks could be dangerous, but Randidly also knew that the small window of weakness compensated for itself by providing a large benefit. Because those moments of stillness meant that Kerrar could shift instantly.
Such was the life of seafarer, Randidly supposed. Always ready to be drawn out of harm’s way by a strong current.
“You did this? And brought it up here… on purpose?” Kerrar said slowly as he turned to look at Randidly.
Because there was no point in hiding it, Randidly nodded.
Kerrar shook his head helplessly, then turned to Mack. “Hey, bring up a fishing line. A strong one. Pulling up this body…” He turned back to Randidly. “Will defray some of the cost of your passage. Hell, if you could bring enough of these, your trip would almost pay for itself…”
Kerrar trailed off as a bright smile bloomed on Randidly’s face. From his tone, Kerrar had been joking about such a possibility. But to Randidly...
Besides, Randidly justified to himself as a pale-faced Kerrar and Mack hauled the body aboard and expertly extracted the usable parts. The experience it gave wasn’t terrible. About three hundred at this Level and I’ll hit Forty-Three.
Plus, Randidly was pleased to note, Kerrar pulled a few of the ropes of the rigging and adjusted the sail of their boat. Instantly, they surged into motion, heading toward Neveah as if drawn by a magnet. Their speed was incomparable to before.
When Randidly gave him an amused glance, the man coughed into his hand. “Errr… I was taking a cautious track. But if your power truly can guard us… I see no reason why we can’t proceed more expediently…”
Randidly would likely have continued to tease the man, but he received a message. When he opened up his menu, his frown deepened as he saw the sender: Lyra.
Heya, I got some juicy info for you, which I’m willing to give to you as long as you answer a question of mine honestly.
Instantly, Randidly was wary. On the one hand, Lyra had very rarely sent him a message. That she did so now, so soon after their previous discussion, meant that the information was probably sudden.
Or perhaps because of the rather amicable parting, she was now advancing a plan to manipulate him in some other way…?
Randidly grimaced. But she did have a line on information through the System framework that he could not get access to any other way. Even if it was ultimately aimed to be a manipulation, there were quite a few possible benefits that Randidly could obtain from hearing her out. And all she wanted was his answer to a question?
What’s the question? Randidly replied.
Could you give me a Class?
That caught Randidly’s attention. Because instantly his mind started racing as he considered the implications of that statement. He had scanned Lyra briefly with his Aether Detection and idly inspected her System structured Aether form, but largely there were portions of that architecture that kept him from being able to view the important sections.
Therefore, he had satisfied himself that she simply wasn’t an incarnation of the Creature at the moment; her Aether was pure. Without wanting to dig any deeper and risk setting off any sort of warnings, Randidly hadn’t pressed the issue at the time.
But whether he could build a Class around that, without fucking up the System stuff and pissing off Octavius Shrike… That was a more difficult question.
Still, Randidly’s expression cooled to a frown quickly. Kerrar, at whose back he had inadvertently been glaring, jumped and looked around wildly.
Slightly embarrassed, Randidly turned away and thought about the question more generally. It was not will you, it was can you, likely to encourage Randidly to think about it and normalize such an option in his mind. It was a pretty straightforward framing to get a positive response. Some part of Randidly was annoyed by that, but he didn’t let that emotion take root.
...Maybe. I would have to do a lot more thorough examinations of you. It is theoretically possible. But I was already warned by Octavius about interfering overmuch with the System. So extinguish your hopes; I will not be giving you a Class.
There was no response for a while, so Randidly stood and looked at the squid’s blood being sluiced off of the damp boards of the deck by an efficient Mack. There was something oddly… detached about the whole thing. It made Randidly realize that in a lot of ways, boats are an omen of death for creatures of the sea.
Finally, the answer came.
Interesting. Anyway, the information: someone above is moving to find out more about you. And very proactively; they’ve interfered with your Judgement. Be careful.
Randidly slowly released a breath. One thing at a time.
So his Judgement would be even harder? His Heretic Path had slowly been evolving toward Fifty. That just made the coming Judgement that much more imposing. It was a looming shadow that was slowly stretching above Randidly.
But also… another question swam around in the front of Randidly’s mind.
Why does Lyra want a Class?