As his father turned and straightened back, looking towards the road, Randidly was frozen stiff. He…. he would never leave him…? Never…. Fucking… leave him?!?!
“Do you….” Randidly said, his voice raspy and hoarse, his teeth clenched so tight his jaw ached. “Do you really believe that? That you would never leave? With how bitter and brittle you are?”
The words, coming from Randidly’s 7 year old form, probably sounded ridiculous, but either way, his father flinched, causing the car to swerve. “Where… where did you hear that? Did your mother tell that to you?”
Randidly remained silent, grinding his teeth, but his father didn’t need him to say anymore, beginning to rant wildly. “Maybe I am brittle, but at least I’m strong. At least I do my best to work things out in a marriage, and not just fuck around-”
Then he seemed to come back to himself, and breathed in through his nose, out through his mouth. Then he spoke again, his voice much calmer. “No… I might break and leave too. And for that I’m sorry. But Rand-, no, Randidly? You know I love you, right? That won’t ever change. You are my son, no matter whose…. No matter our real relationship.”
Randidly was lounging in a beanbag chair, the night the System arrived. Ace, his hair trimmed short, lay on the bed, looking at the ceiling. Sydney had just left, heading downstairs to get the pizza. The treatments Randidly had taken her to over the last few months hadn’t had the desired effect, but she still kept her hair, and was able to live a mostly normal life. She currently only became short of breath very quickly, but she was never a very athletic person to begin with, so it was easy to hide.
But for some reason, she had decided to volunteer to go get the pizza, and it had taken her a VERY long time to return. After all, she probably had to set the box on the ground and take breaks every 10 or so steps.
Which gave Ace and Randidly time to sit and hang out, like they used to, like they had a lot over the past few years.
But these last few months, things had been extremely strained. Just like Randidly’s memory, Ace spoke, his voice cold. “…Maybe its best you head back for tonight. You aren’t a big fan of Starship Troopers, right? And haven’t you and Sydney… spent enough time together today already?”
Randidly tensed up, just like he did in the past. After all, he took her to the clinic earlier in the day, and thought he did an excellent job of hiding their excursion. In the past, he had immediately nodded, said an excuse, and fled, panicking. But now… in this world that meant nothing…
“Ace, there is something I need-” Randidly began, but he was rapidly interrupted.
“Yea man, I know, you are just being a good friend,” Ace said dully.
“No, listen,” Randidly continued. There was a burning curiosity in his heart… wondering what telling the truth would change. “Ace… Sydney is dying. I’ve been taking her to the hospital-”
But then Randidly stopped speaking. Ace rolled over on the bed and gave him a long look. It was a strange look, filled with fear, rage, and hurt. But no surprise.
“…You knew.” Randidly said, genuinely shocked. Then small pieces clicked together. How Ace would always know with eerie accuracy when they would be gone. The strange comments he made. How disappointed Ace had been when he looked at Randidly, even when Sydney wasn’t there. The strange looks…
“…And the whole reason you were upset… is because we didn’t tell you… no… “ Then it hit Randidly, and his eyes widened in shock. “It was because. I didn’t tell you…”
Ace snorted and leapt up from the bed. “Yea, you fucking asshole. I knew what I signed up for with Sydney, beautiful as sin, flirts with manic-pixie status, and as inscrutable and opaque as mud. But you, man? I thought… This is life changing. LIFE ENDING. And you won’t even tell me? Out of respect for me? Or out of self-preservation? Sydney’s made of tough stuff man, but you? Has anyone commented how tired you look lately? You float around like a fucking ghost. To fucking protect ME. Pisses me the fuck off.”
And Ace walked up to Randidly and threw a punch. It bounced harmlessly off Randidly’s cheek. Apparently his increased stats were present here, even in this dream world.
“Fuck! Holy shit man, what are you fucking made out of?!?!”
Randidly scratched his cheek awkwardly. He supposed it made sense that he wasn’t really teleported to the past, and maintained some of his strength. It was honestly super amusing for the very fit Ace to rebound off of his strike so obviously. But it wasn’t something worth getting bogged down over.
“It was her secret, Ace,” Randidly pointed out. “I couldn’t just tell you. Shouldn’t you be more mad about her failure to disclose? You aren’t being very reasonable.”
“Being unreasonable is my prerogative!” Ace announced, recovering from his injury and pointing towards the ceiling. Then he lowered his hand and extended towards Randidly. “…Because we are best friends.”
“…Yea.” Randidly said, and he felt choked up for a second as he took Ace’s hand and squeezed it lightly. Randidly hadn’t realized how much of a weight that he carried, because his last interaction with Ace had been so laden with resentment and anger that he didn’t even understand. But now, now that he understood… it all fell away.
Ace winced. “Holy shit man, maybe you haven’t gotten any sleep cuz you’ve been slamming weights in the gym. How fucking strong are you? I mean you look good, but… and fucking how didn’t you know that I suspected it? I’ve been giving you stink eyes for weeks!”
Randidly shrugged awkwardly. “I thought… well Tessa made me think you both assumed we were… errr… “
“Cheating?” Ace said, his face twisted in a disgusted expression. “Like, I get she has a nice ass, but I really don’t know why you put up with Tessa’s jealousy. Plus, there’s no way in hell that Sydney has a chance with you-”
Randidly burst out laughing. “No way she has a chance with me? The girl you said was ‘beautiful as sin’? I’m parking ticket beautiful, at best.”
“Ha! You always were so dumb with the things you say. That’s why I keep you around, to make my phrases look smart.” Ace said, throwing his arm around Randidly. “You see, friend, those things you think you will never have? Generally, those are simply the things you don’t reach for…”
Randidly stood in a small room, where a woman lay slumped against the wall, her hands bound up to the ceiling by chains.
Blinking, his eyes focused on her the same time she looked at him. She lifted her head up, suddenly animated.
“Lyra?” Randidly said, rather uncomprehending at the whole conversation.
She gave him a sardonic smile. “Look, I’m doing my best damsel impression. Now you just need to get off your ass and be the hero. Got it?”
Drak Wyrd stood in front of Randidly, raising his spear. Then he began to move, swinging slowly through what Randidly knew was just a training progression. But it was at such a level that it had Randidly rooted to the floor. His spear danced and spun, moving so quickly and so fluidly that it seemed to bend and twist, writhing mid air like a living creature.
Then Drak switched gears, moving from flowing strikes, to rapid, brutal ones. The air hummed with the passage of his spear. The rare power contained in the strikes… even his basic skills were trained to a level that left Randidly in awe.
Was this a current vision? Because otherwise… and even then, he could slow him down with spells, but Randidly would eventually be forced into a close confrontation with him. And at that time, his current spear skills weren’t going to be able to stop Drak for long.
Then Drak’s spear blurred, moving with pure speed as the goal. Randidly narrowed his eyes. Even with his skill level, and his high Perception…. This was beyond him. It was barely even registerable with his senses. So this… this was the strength that made even Aethon Thai unshakably sure that Drak Wyrd would win the tournament. This level of perfection.
But after the training, Drak dropped the spear, his hand trembling. Falling to one knee, Drak shouted “Liam!”
A door opened, and another man ran into the room. “Master, you know you can’t train now. Your skills are already pushed to the limit. This is the result of keeping your level so low for so long. If you gain anymore skill levels, the Aether Starvation-”
“Liam, quiet. It is necessary.” Drak looked up at the ceiling, his eyes narrowed. “Everything is necessary, to open a path for my family to return to its former glory.”