Randidly looked around, and then he froze, because he knew where he was, he knew this memory.
“I’m dying,” Sydney said, looking at him with her usually joyful eyes, now with heavy bags under them.
“Uh…” Randidly stuttered, but the images were already rushing forward. This was months before the System arrived, the day… his friendships began to fall apart.
“I can’t tell Ace. We will graduate in the spring… The doctors say I have a year at least, depending on how the cancer responds to the treatment. I just need you to cover for me. Drive me to my appointments. Keep Ace distracted…”
“Please.” Sydney implored, leaning forward, her hair swung down from the place she had tucked it behind her ears to frame her face. “There’s no one else I can ask. No one else I can trust. You are…we are….”
“…connected…” Randidly whispered. He remembered when he had really been here, when she had said that to him. How much it had made his heart swell with joy. But then how, the more he thought about it, how much it had destroyed him in the coming months.
Slowly, over time, Randidly had realized that the “connection” was only a sort of weight that Sydney couldn’t shake. How, the more moments they discovered in their past were in common, the more it made Sydney tired and sad. How his existence was a necessary evil. Even through the months of chemotherapy treatment, as her condition stabilized, and then slowly frayed away at the edges, as Ace and Tessa grew resentful and suspicious, he could sense how much even Sydney hated she needed to use him for this.
“…Yes, connected.” Sydney said, her eyes glowing strangely as she looked at him. “That’s exactly what I was going to say. How did you-”
“No, I reject.” Randidly said firming, his face twisting with fury. “All of this… this whole mirage… I was weak and let this happen once, but not again. I REJECT.”
A ripple spread outwards from Randidly shaking the world. But this illusion was much stronger than the previous ones, perhaps due to the fact that it led to one of the deepest wounds on his heart, or perhaps he was approaching the innermost rings. But the increase in strength was a big thing.
Just as Randidly was preparing to lash out even further with Battle Intent, ripping the very fabric of the world, Sydney said something that she never did in the past.
“Are you… refusing?”
Randidly paused, a fresh influx of confusion muting his fury for a second. Without any real understanding of what was going on, Randidly simply looked at Sydney, taking in her short hair, her bright eyes, and the strange look of helplessness on her face.
“I get it. I’ve been a bitch.” Sydney said bitterly. “I always push you away. But that’s because…. because… It’s always just been too easy between us, right? Don’t you hate how expected it was? Born in the same hospital, on the same day, your mother cheated with my father, and both marriages ended… we were tied by fate.”
Sydney’s expression began to grow more heated. “I hate that word. Fate. I’d kill myself to break that word if I thought it would break me away. But fate…. always pulls me back. Now… you are rejecting me?”
A tear ran down her cheek, even while she looked, her face scrunched up in frustration and fury and years of pent of tension.
But then her expression broke. “I should be more happy, I guess. I never expected this in 1000 years. We would always move closer, I thought, if I let us. To have you say no… it should make me happy. I’m surprised, and for the first time it seems like the fate that pulled us together is fraying. That’s good right…? But I just feel… so profoundly cold.”
Randidly just looked at her. His anger dying away. This was a conversation he had never had with her in the past. He had always suspected that she had been avoiding him for some reason, teasing him and mocking him, ignoring him, even while she dated his best friend. He had also known that they had gone to the same places as children but…
Being born in the same hospital, on the same day? And his parents marriage… his mother had cheated on his father? And not vice versa? With her father…?
It felt so distant, now. But the small child inside of Randidly froze and began to tremble. If that was true, then his dad..
His dad left…. but maybe it was because he was the broken one. And in his fury and resentment and need, Randidly had never given him a chance after that. Slowly, his father had adopted that persona, giving Randidly harsh lessons in life, all the while ignoring that Randidly always took his mother’s side.
Sighing, Randidly looked at Sydney with pity in his eyes. Were these things true…? Had she been struggling against this fucked up narrative she had in her head their entire friendship? Was that why it had always felt so weird and unnatural, and why, out of the blue, she forced this immense burden on him, hiding her sickness, which would destabilize both their relationships.
“You should have told Ace.” Randidly said, his voice breaking. Then he turned away.
But Randidly was back in the 5th stone circle, and the illusions faded away, leaving him with nothing but a deep melancholy. It had started as a memory, but it had gone very different than he had expected. His influence had a palpable effect there, and shifted the events. Were the things she said true?
It would explain a lot. In a lot of ways. But perhaps it was just his mind trying to fill in answerless questions.
But what it did do was fill Randidly with a burning fury. The Aether in his veins began to vibrate, rising to follow the pitch of his emotions. This place was fucking with him. It was time to start fucking back. So Randidly used Haste and Empower, leaping forward, just throwing himself through the air, heading deeper into-
The images hit him like a truck, making his head spin, but very quickly Randidly oriented himself, finding himself in the back of the car. They were going to visit his mother in the hospital, Randidly remembered. He was 7 at the time. His father was in the front of the car, his hands locked on the steering wheel in a death grip.
In the past, Randidly had sat in the back, confused and scared, saying nothing the entire ride. He wasn’t exactly sure why. From his memory, his father had been home alone with Randidly for a week or so, very tight lipped and strict. Although it was strange to think of this as unusual, this was the first instance of Randidly seeing his father’s true colors, his bitter and cold indifference.
In fact, his parents would probably be divorced within the next two months.
Still, if he was brought here by the trial… Randidly wasn’t sure whether to believe the things he saw, but they all felt true. They all felt like they were real things, he hadn’t witnessed. Times in the past where he had refused to take action, and let himself and those around him walk down a path into a deeper darkness, heedless.
So Randidly spoke to the father he would grow to hate and resent so much over the next 15 years. Or at least he tried to. He opened his mouth, but the words seemed to escape him. They were beyond him. His whole body was trembling, crushed by the brutal weight of the silence of the car. In the same way that the steering wheel was being crushed, so too did it feel like his father’s vice like grip was around Randidly’s neck, keeping him silent.
Randidly’s chest vibrated, even here in the illusion, and he felt the tight grip of the mood loosen. The Aether in his chest hummed its concern. Shaking his head in wonder, Randidly raised his small, seven year old hand and pressed it to his chest. That strange voice inside of him, through the Aether… perhaps it was the… Spirit of his Soul Skill? The Soul of his new world…?
Either way, it gave him the support he needed.
“What’s wrong with mom?” Randidly asked.
Hearing his voice, Randidly’s father seemed to crack, sighing and slumping back in his chair. “I… don’t know, kiddo. She’s been gone for a while, and won’t-…. I just don’t know yet. That’s why we are going to see.”
The silence continued, and Randidly was somewhat at a loss of what to say. After all, his experience with his father… they were extremely limited. After this point, he might see him once a year for a day. And most of that was clouded by his own anger towards the man, so-
But it seemed like the silence still bothered his father, because he continued to speak after a long pause. “She just left for a while, and wouldn’t tell me why.”
Randidly opened his mouth, then hesitated, and closed it. Honestly, he didn’t’ remember that his mother had left for a bit, but in the grand scheme of things, it was swiftly covered up by the divorce and its aftermath.
Then, in a move that shook Randidly to his core his father turned around and said to him, “Rand, I hope you know that I will never leave you like that, okay?”