Simon watched the nonsense occuring in front of him, partially amused, and partially extremely concerned. What was perhaps more telling was that most of his reaction was mostly amused, even though the people around him were very close to receiving life ending injuries. There were healers on standby, and Simon was decent enough himself, but…
Unfortunately, the woman, Lily, who had asked for Neveah’s help, was only becoming more and more excited. The stunt doubles who were practicing with Neveah were hobbling off, grimacing, but Lily just became even more intoxicated with the possibilities.
What they were doing right now was trying to figure out what game would be the best to play to keep the audience entertained. The original idea was to have an individual who could make pillars of stone form an obstacle course, that people would run through, away from Neveah. Neveah simply bowled everything over, not slowed at all by these pillars of stone.
This time the pillar maker reinforced them, using 10 minutes for each pillar, making sure they would have the sturdiness to withstand the force of a tractor trailer rushing towards them.
Neveah didn’t even pause. There was only a pile of rubble allowed to remain, the air thick with debris. The pillar man slumped, his efforts for naught.
The next idea of Lily’s was to have a footrace. Neveah was basically a bus on a high, at any point, rushing forward with deadly momentum just based on being in contact with the ground. A man’s hand was literally turned to mush by her lashing tail as she sailed past, too fast for anyone to even register for several seconds.
Thank god the System at least advanced the field of medicine to absolutely ridiculous degrees, Simon reflected.
For her part, Neveah was having the time of her life, bobbing her huge bone skull to Lily’s every word, determined to play the games as best as she could, without breaking the rules. Which she failed at every time, but it wasn’t that she really worried about losing- she was just enjoying the movement and speed she could move at, working together with Lily.
Neveah also didn’t really seem to have many chances to interact with many people aside from the Ghosthound, and was chatting wildly with everyone involved. Which really seemed to disturb most of the stuntmen, who were knocked brutally to the side everytime she moved. But Lily ate it up, soon entering into a brainstorming session with the former Raid Boss turned mount.
Unfortunately, Neveah didn’t appear to have many ideas, aside from things she had heard from the Ghosthound.
Lily then suggested having an object that Neveah would have to protect, and the goal for the other side was to crack it. Which, everyone agreed, would keep Neveah from being able to bring her superior physicality to bear on the situation.
The entire arena was left a wreck in the wake of that experiment, the body of the unlucky test man broken so much that they had to bring a specialist over to heal him. Neveah seemed to understand that she had done something wrong, because, in her broken English, she apologized to the man. This only served to freak him out further, and Lily had to pull the giant wurm away.
Simon sighed. It was hard not to feel for Neveah, to understand how lonely it might be to be so large and powerful, and to not have anyone give her the chance to listen and let her innocence and kind heart shine through.
“She’s… so pure…” Simon said to Thea, who had ignored most of the fiasco in front of them and had just been taking notes. “I almost feel bad that she’s so dissimilar from her rider….”
“Neveah?” Thea said, almost reflexively, her eyes making it clear that she wasn’t really listening. Which hurt Simon, but he just clammed up, unwilling to reveal how much it really hurt. Unfortunately, he would not get his desired peace.
“Really? Do you think they are dissimilar?” The small, tan girl named Ten’Malla asked, appearing next to Simon as if by magic. So sudden was her appearance that both Simon and Thea jumped, which Simon disliked from the shock, but also because it brought to the forefront of Thea’s mind that she just ignored him…
“Uh…” It took a few seconds further for Simon’s brain to move and process what the girl was saying. “Yea. Neveah is so pure, like a child. While the Ghosthound is more…”
Simon trailed off, unsure of how to frame what he wanted to say. That Ghosthound seemed more callous and cold? That this creature didn’t have an ounce of subterfuge in her body…? But it was hard to construct the sentences while Ten’Malla looked at him, her brown eyes gleaming strangely.
The girl was something of an enigma. She simply appeared out of nowhere and insisted on coming with them. But from the way the Ghosthound acted, he knew her, although he seemed annoyed by her presence. She didn’t appear to have a mount, but the only reasonable explanation was that she was related to the Wild Rider, perhaps as a support staff or without the strength to actually become one of the Riders.
Still, her eyes seemed strong and unfathomably deep as she stared at Simon. “Interesting. I would say, if anything, those two are a perfect pairing.”
Shrugging, Simon hunched his shoulders, ready to let the conversation pass. The feelings in his chest continued to swirl, but in a way that just dragged his energy levels down. And there was no way he was willing to let them escape him while Thea was here-
“You know,” Thea said, cutting off Simon’s thoughts. “You’ve really held a grudge, Simon, about his name. Why is it such a big deal? He didn’t do it to hurt you, he just had his own baggage. Give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean, I don’t know if he’s much like Neveah, but…”
Simon’s hands curled into fists, his nails digging into the soft skin of his palms. “They are nothing alike. Neveah is full of kindness and joy. The Ghosthound… the Ghosthound is someone who has learned to kill, and he is callous. He would rather remain silent and let people suffer around him, then-”
Ten’Malla’s laugh was small, but it echoed strangely, filling the air around them, carrying so that both Lily and Neveah looked up from their most recent plan, individually both turning and seeking the source of the noise. Even Toto emerged from his usual calm stoicism, tensing somewhat and moving to stand next to Simon. It was a strange gesture, one that made Simon feel out of his depth.
But his emotions were carrying him now, and he glared balefully at Ten’Malla, who continued to chuckle.
“You… you don’t understand them at all,” Ten’Malla informed him, her smile condescending. Simon’s expression twisted.
“Neveah,” Ten’Malla said, turning to the wurm, some 40 meters away. But even though she spoke in a low voice, the sound carried clear as day. “If Lily were to become Randidly’s enemy, what would you do?”
There was stillness for a second, and then Neveah moved, slowly uncoiling her body, rising to a height of about 8 meters. With the sun behind her, Neveah’s face was in shadow, but still Simon could see the spot on her face where her eyes were, visible by the deep blackness.
There was, however, a deeper blackness, stretching wider and wider as Neveah looked down at Lily. A mouth… no, a maw. A boulevard lined with teeth that would lead straight to hell. In front of that opening, Lily became nothing but a shadow, a memory, a shade, and then that too was gone, sucked into that blackness, leaving nothing remaining.
There was only a wild hunger, and those two sharp eyes.
“Eat.” Neveah said, her voice still gleeful, but now cruel and dark, her sincerity apparent. Thea slowly stiffened next to Simon, but Simon was just gaping.
How could she change so fast…? Was there two personalities? How could this icy mercilessness…
“Oh my god…” Lily said, looking up wide eyed, her breathing quickening. “That’s amazing! We should incorporate that into the trial! Perhaps if they pass the first test!”
“Fun, fun!” Neveah agreed, lowering herself to the ground so she could be eye level with Lily’s body, grinning in her strange, monstrous way. But even that smile was irrevocably changed in Simon’s eyes, twisted and broken. Simon shivered.
“You see…” Ten’Malla’s voice returned to its normal cadence. “You were thinking about this all wrong. To you, all is purposeful. But these two… they have a great weakness in the way they interact with people. That makes it difficult for them to understand your sensitivity. All they know is what needs to be done.
“Morality… to them, it has become meaningless. The System makes it unnecessary. What remains is utility.” Now though, her eyes once more deepened, fading to a glowing black abyss. “If you treat them like plotters and planners, you will be deeply mistaken. They are beasts, that hunt on instinct, and communicate with as much sophistication.
“You are perhaps correct… what he did was insensitive. But don’t you see… that was his own weakness. He does not speak well at the best of times, and his soul was sundered. For him to lie, when so many speak of him, seek him… can you not see how the enemies that chase him are far more deadly than you could understand? This was never about him, was it Simon? This was about yourself.”
Simon opened his mouth to respond, to yell, to tell her she’s wrong… but he couldn’t speak. There was no air in his lungs to speak words. But it wasn’t about him, not really, it was about… it was about how everyone near him turned away from him. How Simon always found himself ostracized, alone.
And in the wake of the System, he had thought he had found a friend, but even that…
Even though he knew that the Ghosthound could have died had he not hidden himself until he had recovered… still… Was this really selfish of him to think this way…?
But the spell of reflection was broken as a group of people appeared suddenly, the air around them heavy with anger. The Ghosthound led the way, flexing his fingers as he looked at Ten’Malla of all people.
“…The Wild Rider’s host was attacked. They were routed.” He said shortly, his eyes burning emerald. “The Wild Rider herself… appears to have been captured, along with her Regalia.”